Community of Practice

A community of practice (CoP) is a group of people sharing common interests, knowledge, and experiences in a domain (e.g. medicine, architecture, education). A hallmark of such communities is the diversity in the skills and knowledge of their members, ranging from newcomers to experts. Members of a CoP can work together on specified initiatives to produce outcomes that benefit the advancement of the community’s know-how. 

Two things make CoPs different from other groupings, such as social clubs or interest groups:

  •  the rigors of the domain, not just the community itself, establish the criteria for acceptable performance of the practice;
  • mentorship and contribution back to the community is valued.

A prototypical example of a community of practice would be a group of engineers, from newly graduated to professional (P.Eng), where the experts help to guide and apprentice the novices in informal ways. Thereby, novices gain experience and move forward in their understanding of the practice of engineering, and the experts’ mentorship is a valued part of their contribution to the community, as well as an advancement to the domain itself.

Recent efforts to support changing pedagogical practice show the value of working from the ground up in grassroots efforts. Many of these efforts involve teachers being part of supportive groups, or what we are calling a “community of practice”. SALTISE has promoted such developments among its membership, thus this month’s feature story is about these experiences. We have interviewed key members from our various institutions and documented the role that the CoP is playing at their institution as a model for supporting pedagogical change.

The CoP at Dawson College, is a “grass roots” model, coordinated by Chris Whittaker (physics instructor and researcher) and Liz Charles (researcher and SALTISE co-coordinator). The genesis of this CoP can be traced back to 2009 when three members of the physics department came together in an effort to change their lab spaces. Lead by Chris, the group expanded to include members outside of physics and together championed the construction of a general-use active learning classroom (ALC) – completed in January, 2012. The Dawson CoP is tied to the ALC. It is currently made up of over 25 members, the majority being instructors who “teach” in the ALC, and others interested in following this path. They come from a variety of disciplines including physics, biology, chemistry, math, sociology, psychology, interior design, and the list keeps growing. To support the advancement of this community, Dawson’s administration has created a fellowship program that provides 3-4 full-time faculty members with a modest amount of release time. These fellows along with the ALC co-coordinators (Liz & Chris) help to set the agenda for weekly meetings. The purpose of the meetings are fourfold:

  1. to share and discuss best practices emerging from the community’s diverse members;
  2. to design solutions that are a good fit for the unique setting of the Dawson ALC – group dedicated SMART boards;
  3. to mentor incoming teachers; and,
  4. to advance the knowledge and effective implementation of evidence-based pedagogies.

To date, the Dawson ALC community has been involved in producing workshops and presentations of best practices both at Dawson and across the Anglo-college network. In collaboration with Dawson’s Office of Institutional Research, the community is keeping a close eye on the impact of the ALC on students’ perceptions of learning in these new spaces. And, the community is documenting its growing catalogue of best practices – soon to be available on the SALTISE and Dawson College websites.

The community photographed at Open House 2012.

Last Modified: March 28, 2017