Education Focused Communities of Practice – What is the Value?

The three key elements of Communities of Practice – building your education focused community, sharing your practice and growing your domain knowledge – will provide value for time, save reinventing the wheel and create the context for sharing your education focused leadership journey with likeminded colleagues. We are all time poor, although I like to say, “time jealous,” as we decide where we can best spend and get value for our time.

Will cross-institutional Communities of Practice provide value for time? My experience, based on working with Higher Education Communities of Practice (CoP) since 2006, says YES, research and literature also say YES. You may decide to have a cohort CoP – all the VC’s/DVC Academic/Deans etc – or a topic-based CoP – assessment, online learning, engineering education, student engagement or attrition etc. Will membership include senior/middle level/coalface academics, professional staff, students? What about external stakeholders, community groups, funding, and research bodies?

Rather than top-down communities; a bottom-up approach, where someone passionate about a topic invites others to create a community to collaborate, share and grow knowledge to address the topic, has proven a successful approach. CoP focus and agenda items are decided by the members, and these drive the meetings. Allocating time for each of the three key elements of Communities of Practice, community building, sharing practice and growing domain knowledge is an effective way to organise CoP sessions.

It takes a unique leadership approach to convene and sustain higher education communities of practice and this was the focus of my Australian Learning and Teaching Fellowship and Leadership grant. A two-page handout Communities of Practice: Sharing Our Dreams and Schemes provides an agenda template; graphic of a Value Creation Framework to vision, create, sustain and monitor your CoP (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner); and a table to the Phases and Key Issues of a Nurtured Higher Education CoP. If you are keen to explore further, the handout has links to literature including two edited books on higher education communities of practice – McDonald, Jacquie, Cater-Steel, Aileen (Eds.) (2017) Communities of Practice: Facilitating Social Learning in Higher Education, Springer; McDonald, Jacquie & Cater-Steel, Aileen (Eds.) (2017) Implementing Communities of Practice in Higher Education: Dreamers and Schemers. You are also welcome to join our monthly online Social Learning Leaders CoP, convened by myself (mcdonalj@usq, and Dr Alisa Percy (UTS).

About the author:

Jacquie McDonald

Jacquie McDonald is an Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Australia and a Higher Education Community of Practice (CoP) consultant. She previously worked for over 26 years as a Learning and Teaching Designer at USQ designing online and distance learning courses and programs. Since 2006 she has facilitated, researched and coached the implementation of inter/national Higher Education CoPs and led a number of institutional and national fellowships and grants. She is a member of the Australian Learning and Teaching Fellows Alumni. Publications include Springer (2017) co-edited books, Communities of Practice: Facilitating Social Learning in Higher Education and Implementing Communities of Practice in Higher Education: Dreamers and Schemers, and (2021), Sustaining Communities of Practice with Early Career Teachers: Supporting Early Career Teachers in Australian and International Primary and Secondary Schools.


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