Communities of practice as mediators of change in higher education

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Research and Development in Higher Education Vol. 39: The Shape of Higher Education

July, 2016, 391 pages
Published by
Melissa Davis & Allan Goody

Improving and differentiating the student experience is an imperative in contemporary Higher Education as institutions strive to maintain and increase their market advantage. This often results in directives from leadership to offer a technology-enhanced delivery of curriculum. Teaching staff tasked with implementing these changes often require not only technical training, but also development support that enables them to engage with unfamiliar teaching practices. In the researchers’ context of practice, an institutionally supported community of practice was established with the intention of supporting changes to curriculum delivery entailed by a blended learning approach. Communities of practice (CoPs) have emerged as fertile soil for initiating innovation, professional learning and supporting change, and are often positioned as emerging organically from the needs and interests of participants Interviews with members of an institutionally facilitated CoP were used to investigate the extent to which a CoP approach supported academic staff in meeting the outcomes of a mandated project. Analysis indicates that participation within the CoP had a positive impact on both the participants and the changes they implemented in their practices. This finding is congruent with other studies demonstrating the use of CoPs in higher education has positive impacts on teachers’ levels of innovation in the face of learning & teaching challenges and further suggests that institutionally created CoPs can emulate the characteristics of those that form organically.

Keywords: communities of practice, academic development, higher education