Introducing communities of practice
MaineLearning.Net builds upon a deep body of collective knowledge, research, and practice. In this section, we share resources for your further exploration.
Portions of the following material originated with work done by US Department of Education Connected Online Communities of Practice project (www.educatededucators.org), the UK Local Governments Knowledge initiative (www.idea.gov.uk), the ConnectLearn21 project (connectlearn21.net), The Connected Educator (21stcenturycollaborative.com/the-connected-educator/) and Digital Habitats (technologyforcommunities.com)
For background on the MaineLearning.net initiative, see (jaycollier.net/strategy/collaboration/discovery/) and case studies from the ConnectLearn21 project: (connectlearn21.net/category/case-studies/)
What is a community of practice?
“Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” — Etienne Wenger, author of Cultivating Communities of Practice
The Community of Practice (CoP) concept is nothing new; people have always found others whose experiences and interests are like their own.
An Online CoP (OCP) supports people who share a common area of interest and a variety of expertise and skills, or have issues or problems to air, share and solve. Good practice and ideas are also shared to enhance the knowledge and expertise of the wider community.
What are the benefits?
Online Communities of Practice for educators provide members with integrated tools for managing their work together:
- Connect with colleagues with shared interests
- Solve problems faster by referencing collective knowledge
- Avoid duplication of effort through transparency
- Share ideas for exploration and evaluation
- Develop new strategies for teaching and learning
- Develop peer and stakeholder relationships
- Manage the effective flow of knowledge
- Help people innovate together
- Reduce the time it takes to be inducted into a new job
- Support organizational development
- Promote the work of educator organizations
What are the ingredients for a successful practice group?
While each practice group is unique with a specific focus, there are some essential ingredients that help a group thrive:
A practice group needs a clear purpose that is relevant to its members. It should specify exactly what the group is for and what will be gained from being part of it.
Every practice group should begin with a team of at one or more facilitators. They will work together to ensure that the community’s purpose and the members’ needs are being met through a variety of online activities and discussions. They welcome new members and keep the community vibrant and focused.
Within each practice group there are a variety of activities, tools and techniques employed to aid and enhance conversations and the transfer of knowledge.
Each practice group should have active members with a lively interest in sharing their knowledge with each other, and experience posting with the knowledge that others will see their content in the future.
A successful practice group must have high levels of management buy-in. Influential executive sponsors will promote the group’s ability to help solve daily work challenges.
What are the roles in an online practice group?
The group sponsor nurtures and provides recognition for the group, encouraging group growth and commitment of resources. A practice group sponsor believes in the value of knowledge sharing, promotes participation in group activities, and provides day-to-day support, while serving as an active, contributing member. The sponsor plays an integral role in the community’s success by energizing the sharing process and providing continual nourishment for the community. The sponsor may also be a facilitator.
Facilitators network and connect group members by encouraging participation, facilitating and seeding discussions, and by keeping events and group activities engaging and vibrant. Trustworthiness and the ability to be a team player are central to assuring the credibility and reputation of the facilitator.
Domain Experts are approachable, collaborative, and cooperative. They share their expertise and serve as documenters of the group’s knowledge and practice. They also play a key role in sharing tacit knowledge with other members.
Contributors should possess a strong desire to collaborate and share their knowledge and experience in the practice. They actively participate in the group by asking or replying to questions in a forum, writing blog posts, uploading documents, participating in events, and in other ways.
A reader typically views discussions and documents but doesn’t contribute. (Sometimes called “lurker.)
Responsibilities of a practice group facilitator
All groups require good, active facilitation and management. Facilitators network and connect members by identifying the needs of the group, encouraging participation, facilitating and seeding discussions, and by keeping events and group activities engaging and vibrant. Some of the key responsibilities include:
- Energizing the group and serving as chief motivator
- Identifying the group’s needs
- Accepting and welcoming group members
- Encouraging participation in group events, discussions and activities
- Working to keep online discussions engaging, flowing, and vibrant
- Injecting insightful comments and making provocative points in online discussions
- Providing closure when necessary and giving constructive feedback
- Capturing and organizing collective knowledge
- Working to network community members with Topic Experts
Please note: the MaineLearning.Net community director (Jay Collier) is available to help you make your practice group active. If a group has no activity for 3 months, the community director will contact the facilitators and offer support. In some cases the group may be closed as we wish to have active, vibrant practice groups.
What are the key skills and attributes that facilitators require?
Personal attributes include:
- Creativity and being innovative
- Good networking skills and enthusiasm
- The ability to motivate and engage community members
- A highly proactive, responsive, trustworthy, collaborative and cooperative nature
Skills required include:
- Experience (or willingness to learn) in online or face-to-face facilitation techniques for online groups
- Good interpersonal and communications skills
- Proficiency and experience in online or face-to- face collaboration tools, software and technology or at the least, a willingness and enthusiasm to learn
What are the features of an online community of practice?
Follow updates in documents, wikis, blogs, people, favorites, and events. See when people mention you in their work.
Follow members who share your interests and receive notification of their contributions.
Share your evaluation of resources, and flag concerns.
Ask questions, post information or respond to other members’ posts. Forums are the best way to get up to speed for new members, especially when they have permanent links that can be shared with others for reference.
Members can add and edit content collectively. Post a document for others’ input or update existing documents.
Online journal entries reporting on your group work, where others can comment.
Live interaction about topics and groups.
Promote relevant upcoming events or meetings, receive RSVPs, share relevant materials, and track attendance.
Where you can share links to course pathways, vetted syllabi, lesson plans, and more.
Allow you to search for content within documents, wikis, blogs, people, and events.
Communicate with colleagues without needing to use e-mail.
Immediate, daily, or weekly notifications of activity from your groups and colleagues, direct to your e-mail inbox