Communities of practice are formed by groups of people with a common interest and passion related to what they do. A Community of practice interacts regularly to share knowledge, expertise, ideas, and resources, in order to foster continuous growth and improvement (Wenger, 2004). They provide an opportunity for peers to share, discuss, connect, learn, grow, and promote increased awareness related to their area of interest within the larger community.
CoPs engage in discussions and activities that often cross disciplinary boundaries (Teeter, 2011). The specific purpose and activities of each CoP will vary, and are determined collectively by its members. For example, a CoP may showcase and share expertise, strategies and resources; collectively address a specific challenge or issue of interest; or develop shared resources to promote best practice within the larger community.
What makes a successful Community of practice?
Successful CoPs are sustained through:
- leadership to enable and help the community develop;
- connectivity and mutual engagement among its members;
- adequate and appropriate membership;
- a defined learning project or agenda to push innovation and imagination;
- tangible outcomes/artifacts (e.g. documents, stories, symbols, websites) (Wenger, 2000).
Although leadership within a CoP is often distributed and evolves internally, they are most often supported by a chair or co-chairs (sometimes referred to as ‘community coordinators’), who coordinate and facilitate meetings, communicate with the membership, and ensure that the CoP’s activities, practices and outcomes are documented (Wenger, 1998; 2000).
How does the EDU support Communities of practice?
In order to foster on-going faculty development, mutual engagement and a shared community of learning, the Educational Development Unit provides a home for a variety of Communities of Practice related to teaching and learning in higher education. The EDU can help:
- advertise the CoP on the EDU website;
- provide a space to share resources on the Teaching Community website;
- provide a shared learning space on the campus learning management system, Desire2Learn;
- provide face-to-face meeting space within the EDU;
- facilitate the CoP’s first meeting to help clarify the purpose, roles, activities and intended outcomes; and,
- provide on-going consultative support to the CoP chair or co-chairs.
Should you be interested in starting a CoP at the EDU, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christopher Teeter, Nancy Fenton, Karen Nicholson, Terry Flynn, Joseph Kim, Muriel McKay, Bridget O'Shaughnessy, and Susan Vajoczki. 2011. Using Communities of Practice to Foster Faculty Development in Higher Education. Collected Essays on Learning and Teaching (CELT) 4: 52-57.
Wenger, E. 1998. Communities of practice: learning as a social system. The Systems Thinker 9(5):1-7.
Wenger, E. 2000. Communities of practice as social learning systems. Organization 7(2): 225-246.
Wenger, E. 2004. Knowledge management as a doughnut: shaping knowledge strategy through communities of practice. Ivey Business Journal Jan/Feb:1-8.