Community, domain, practice: facilitator catch cry for revitalising learning and teaching through communities of practice

McDonald, Jacquie (2012) Community, domain, practice: facilitator catch cry for revitalising learning and teaching through communities of practice. Project Report. Australian Learning and Teaching Council , Sydney, Australia. [Report]

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This Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) Teaching Fellowship 'Community, Domain, Practice: Facilitator catch cry for revitalising learning and teaching through communities of practice' contributes to ALTC's aim to advance learning and teaching in higher education through a program of activities designed to build the capacity of Facilitators of Communities of Practice at the University of Southern Queensland. Communities of practice (CoPs) are cited in higher education literature and ALTC applications as a successful way of building and sharing a scholarly approach to enhancing learning and teaching practice. This fellowship builds on the Teaching Fellow, Associate Professor Jacquie McDonald's, CoP leadership role at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), where the first CoP started in 2006 to provide a space for academic staff to build a community, increase their knowledge and share learning and teaching practice.

Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002) describe communities of practice as:
Groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis. Over time... [t]hey become a community of practice (pp. 4-5).

CoPs operate differently from institutionalised higher education work groups, as they are located in the immediate practice field, usually membership is voluntary, and the agenda and outcomes are member driven. The CoP Facilitator role differs from the familiar chairperson roles, so investigation of the complexity and different aspects of the role and development of activities and resources to support and grow the Facilitator role were the focus of the Fellowship. CoPs epitomise distributed leadership (Jones, Lefoe, Harvey & Ryland, 2012), and investigation of, and capacity building of leadership within CoPs contributes to this ALTC priority area.

Aims and deliverables

The Fellowship was designed to build on USQ CoP Facilitators and the Teaching Fellow's knowledge of USQ CoP processes to:

• Identify of the key aspects of a USQ CoP Facilitator role
• Increase the knowledge and capacity of existing USQ CoP Facilitators through workshops and resources
• Establish a Facilitator CoP for the USQ Facilitators to share and grow their practice
• Develop resources to provide a sustained Fellowship legacy
• Engage with national and international CoP practitioners to develop and evaluate activities and resources for CoP Facilitators
• Disseminate Fellowship knowledge and resources across the sector
• Promote ALTC Fellowship activities across the sector

The Teaching Fellowship was focused on building the capacity of USQ CoP Facilitators, so the majority of planned activities and resources have a USQ focus. A distributed leadership approach is a basic operating principal of how the Fellow engaged with, and continues to engage with, both academic and professional staff evolved in Communities of Practice (CoPs). An action research approach used qualitative date collected through semi structured interviews (2010) with fifteen USQ CoP facilitators to identify roles, experience and critical incidents. Grounded theory analysis of the interviews identified key features and issues of the role and a comparative analysis with USA data (2009) identify themes to inform subsequent workshop and resource design. Within the action research cycle, ongoing collaboration with the external evaluator and analysis of summative evaluation feedback informed the planned Fellowship activities. USQ CoP Facilitator capacity was built through these workshops, resources, the establishment of a community of practice for Facilitators and ongoing interaction with the Teaching Fellow.


The Fellow has engaged in round table discussions, seminars and workshops to both develop CoP Facilitator capacity and to disseminate activities to a wide audience. These included:

• Engagement with senior management and CoP champions
• Seminars, round table discussions and workshops
• Refereed conference papers
• ALTC sponsored Fellowship and Leadership forums
• Media releases
• Fellowship resources website <>

The Fellowship web resources include links to the workshop resources, workshop videos and interview audios. The links to the contents page the Miami Facilitator's Handbook, distributed at the February 2011 two and half day facilitator workshop, Designing, Implementing, and Leading CoPs, provide a significant resource and Fellowship outcome. Additional Facilitator resources for establishing and sustaining CoPs are linked to the Phases and Key Issues of a Nurtured Higher Education CoP developed by Star & McDonald (accepted for publication). These resources provide CoP facilitators with ideas and practical resources at different CoP phases <>.


Significant changes are continuing to occur in the ways universities are governed and managed, moving to more corporate and business-like structures, with significant flow-on in terms of academic roles, their working arrangements and staff morale. Within this context, it is recommended to cultivate CoPs as a way of creating a bottom-up, member-driven approach to engage in generative dialogue around learning and teaching practice. Further research is recommended into both the practical aspects of growing and sustaining Higher Education CoPs, and the best approach for identifying and cultivating the leadership role of CoP facilitors. The ALTC Fellowships and leadership grants have generated many excellent resources and academics and institutional leaders are encouraged to make the time and rewards available to ensure their application across the sector.

'With communities of practice – I know I'm not alone.' University of Southern Queensland Community of Practice member

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Item Type: Report (Project Report)
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Additional Information: All material presented in this document is provided under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0 International License. The details of the relevant licence conditions are available on the Creative Commons website (accessible using the links provided) as is the full legal code for the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Learning and Teaching Support Unit
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Learning and Teaching Support Unit
Date Deposited: 04 Oct 2014 22:51
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2017 06:17
Fields of Research (2008): 13 Education > 1301 Education Systems > 130103 Higher Education
13 Education > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130309 Learning Sciences
Fields of Research (2020): 39 EDUCATION > 3903 Education systems > 390303 Higher education
39 EDUCATION > 3904 Specialist studies in education > 390409 Learning sciences
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): E Expanding Knowledge > 97 Expanding Knowledge > 970113 Expanding Knowledge in Education

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