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    HEA Senior Fellowship Case Study Series: 3 – Facilitating communities of practice at UCL and beyond

    By Matt Jenner, on 14 August 2014

    As a four-part series I am openly publishing my case studies previously submitted for my Senior Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. I submitted my application in February 2014. If you’re interested in this professional recognition programme, please visit their webpages and look through the Professional Standards Framework (PSF). UCL runs an institutional model for fellowships called ARENA, your institution may run one too – speak to people!

    Case study 3 – Facilitating communities of practice at UCL and beyond

    At UCL I have facilitated and been involved in two active communities of practice. One external group called ‘Moodle User Group Greater London’ (MUGGL)[1] is for e-learning professionals with an interest in ‘Moodle’ – an online learning environment. More historically, I helped this community have an agenda for meetings with a colleague, Sarah Sherman in a neighbouring university consortia the ‘Bloomsbury Learning Environment’ [2]. The other, the ‘Distance Learning, CPD and Short Courses Network’[3], is an internal network I help steer for colleagues at UCL. These communities focus on “sharing best practices and creating new knowledge to advance a domain of professional practice”[4]. Drawing on my enthusiasm for e-learning and connecting people, the communities I facilitate take me beyond my desk and into the wider sector (A5, V3, V4).

    People often disappear into enclaves, with daily priorities overarching valuable reflective opportunities. I work responsively to sustain and grow communities with common needs, values, locale and domain of discourse. All too often communities around information technology end up as one-way monologs beset by dry jargon. Instead I plan active pedagogically-focused sessions and encourage sharing and collaboration. This provides a vital source of information, future utility (V3) and cross-sector discovery (A4).

    I regularly participate in wider CPD events and read literature in the areas of distance learning, MOOCs (Massive Online Open Courses) and e-learning to remain current in my understanding and share my experiences within networks and social media (V3). For the internal community, I organise and deliver centralised updates from professional services and the wider context of relevant developments so colleagues can gain purview of the changing landscape of higher education and e-learning (V4).

    Both communities started three to four years ago as special interest groups created around particular foci. I have encouraged expansion of both networks, with events often attracting 50–150 people and a core membership of many times that figure. With this increasing range of members I must ensure to maintain respect for the needs of the group when planning three-four hours of their professional development time (V1). Communities are grown, not constructed, and sharing and learning cannot be “legislated into existence”[5]. I sideline my leadership in alignment with members’ interests to ensure events are planned with consultation and encouragement for active participation in each session. I make events accessible by adding remote attendance options and capturing them on video, to encourage participation and preserve inclusion for the diverse members of the community (V2).

    I have received feedback stating I “did a great job organizing everyone and your presentation was beautiful”. Comments for MUGGL events have noted a “big crowd for the #muggl Moodle 2 meeting today” and “spent the morning at #muggl good presentations from @mattjenner […] we watch and learn!” Connecting people is an integral part, with one group visit commenting “how proud we are to work in such an engaging institution. Most participants left inspired”. In relation to expanding the community a senior member of staff spoke of a well-attended event that “the increase in numbers and interest across campus reflects the importance of this area”. Feedback is can be sporadic, but I take comments on board for future sessions and resolving any issues.

    (515 words)

    HEA Professional Standards Framework links referenced in this case study:

    Areas of Activity

    • A4 Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance
    • A5 Engage in continuing professional development in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, incorporating research, scholarship and the evaluation of professional practices

    Professional Values

    • V1 Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities
    • V2 Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners
    • V3 Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from research, scholarship and continuing professional development
    • V4 Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice


    [1] https://sites.google.com/site/moodlelondon/

    [2] http://www.bloomsbury.ac.uk/ble

    [3] https://www.mailinglists.ucl.ac.uk/mailman/listinfo/distancelearning

    [4] http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/nli0531.pdf

    [5] Dubé, L., Bourhis, A. & Jacob, R. (2005). The impact of structuring characteristics on the launching of virtual communities of practice. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 18(2): 145-166.

    Smarter learning with Social Media? A 10 Step Plan

    By Fiona Strawbridge, on 17 March 2011

    I’ve just enjoyed a webinar led by Jane Hart on how social media (or SoMe as she refers to it) can help orgnaisations to ‘work smarter’.  The basic premise is that conventional training and development fills people’s heads with knowledge in an inefficient and ineffective way, and that online versions of courses – which are often over-engineered, do little better, whilst taking additional resource to develop; this is not sustainable.  Jane argues that much real learning takes place outside the formal work or learning environment, and that social media can help us to learn in new ways, sharing resources, ideas, experiences and expertise.

    The script and slides for the whole presentation are helpfully available at http://c4lpt.co.uk/articles/10steps.html (it would have been even more helpful if I’d known this at the start as I was typing notes frantically as she spoke).

    The 10 steps are:

    1. Raising awareness of the potential of social media for both working and learning – stuff like finding thinks on the social web; keeping up to date; building a trusted network; communicating;  sharing; collaborating; improving productivity – see http://c4lpt.co.uk/workingsmarter
    2. Help people with personal knowledge management – dealing with information overload; filtering info; finding the right resources, and people
    3. Develop team collaboration skills – perhaps by integrating social tools into training activities and helping people to learn and work together)
    4. Help establish communities of practice (or ‘professional practice groups’ as one of the attendees suggested) – apparently this goes down better with managers than “let’s set up a social network”. These groups do need to be nurtured – “seed, feed and watered”
    5. Use social media for ‘performance consulting’ – this rather uncomfortable term means getting to the root of an apparent performance problem and finding a solution rather than automatically sending a colleague on a training course.
    6. Help people design and build their own solutions – help them to own the solution
    7. Help teams build social resources together – a nice example was given of rethinking induction and using social media to connect new staff with existing staff,  ask questions, and access key resources from day one rather than waiting for the next scheduled event.
    8. Build communities of practice into formal approaches – consider incorporating social media into formal training approaches (but take care to make sure that they are seamlessly integrated). Turn your Community of Learners into a Community of Practice!
    9. Integrate learning into the workflow – use the same tools for learning and you do for working.  Yammer was presented as a tool to allow people to share resources, ideas, ask questions, and to work in groups.
    10. Lead by example – use a supported, bottom-up approach. So we should be using social media to help staff develop their e-learning practice, demonstrating its value ourselves.  Watch this space!

    For chapter and verse see http://www.C4LPT.co.uk/10steps.html