Identifying CLEM while working in a support role for teachers in higher education has been an interesting exercise for me, as I have identified several communities of relevance, which contribute in part to the learning organization ‘Academic Services Division’ at the university. Riel and Polin (2014, p. 41) describe the learning organization as “a relatively new description of workplace culture as the source of tacit and explicit learning, that supports and develops the organizational enterprise”.
It’s been helpful in my student and teacher role to understand more about the nature of learning communities and identify the functions of those existing in my workplace and start to evaluate their possibilities for promoting NGL learning further.
Communities contributing to academic development in a university context
eLearning Development (eLD) Community was established to share information related to enhancing online learning and teaching support provided to academic staff in the development of their courses. It was set up in 2012 as a result of a Review and Restructure, where two different but related sections (within Distance Education) were combined and given the task of developing their support capabilities for delivery of online education.
The ICT used by this community is Moodle StaffDesk with the site acting mainly as a resource location to support a range of professional development initiatives and training being undertaken to enhance staff capability. Discussion and interaction takes place face to face in the workplace in formal and informal ways, rather than interaction through the discussion forum facility available on the Moodle site.
This practice based community is characterized by “Learning as the tacit or explicit consequences of ongoing practice; continual redesign and experimentation to solve challenges, accommodate variation, and integrate development of tools” (Reil & Polin, 2014, p. 38-39). It also has elements of a task based community in that a series of well defined topics, projects or problems are addressed, but not all have a clear start and finish time.
Relevant literature, examples and models are shared and I engage with this community by sharing resources online and interacting face to face with this community of work colleagues. I expect to share artefacts from my NGL learning with this community.
Learning & Teaching: Professional Learning Community was formed as an attempt to bring together academic and professional staff within Learning and Teaching Services (LTS) to assist in sharing practice between staff with ‘academic’ knowledge and those with practical ‘support’ knowledge from working directly with teaching staff to develop and enhance courses offered at USQ across all disciplines.
In 2013 this Community of Practice (CoP) started to meet face to face and after several months of limited progress, it was decided that this CoP be established online using Moodle StaffDesk. I’d describe it as a Practice based learning community characterized by members seeking to become more experienced practitioners with participation being voluntary (Reil & Polin, 2014).
The idea is appealing but as in many situations the action and involvement has not become a reality, as the community has had limited interaction since commencing. In asking why, my first explanation would be lack of time – everyone is too busy in their day-to-day work and participation is optional. The main participants are not working across geographic distances, so necessity to communicate online is not as crucial because practice can be shared face to face (Riel & Polin, 2014). There’s also the issue of staff willingness to publish their thoughts and ideas online – not everyone is comfortable with this even though it is actively promoted for online teaching strategies. As Andrew shares in his thoughts posted in ‘Obvious to you, amazing to others’, many adults may just think that their ideas are not that amazing, so don’t share them and I also believe confidence and peer pressures are issues for adults as well as students.
Designing online communities of practice presents new challenges (Riel & Polin, 2014) and although the facilities to communicate and archive information are provided by the Moodle learning management system in this case, it does not ensure an active community for the reasons outlined above. I have not engaged with this online community due to time constraints and lack of a specific need. I think working in a ‘support’ style work environment alters my behaviour and attitude towards this, because the community members are available in person. On reflection I can see that this avenue could be useful to advance NGL issues in learning and teaching.
Riel, M., & Polin, L. (2004). Online learning communities: Common ground and critical differences in designing technical environments. In S. A. Barab, R. Kling, & J. Gray (Eds.), Designing for virtual communities in the service of learning (pp. 16–50). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.