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Communities of Practice

The network of Communities of Practice (CoPs) was formed following a University wide conversation to discuss how best to promote and develop the Learning and Teaching strategy. These Communities were formed for staff to collaborate in the following areas: Assessment, Educational Technology, Student Experience, Classroom Practice, Learning Outside the Classroom, and Curriculum.

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Context

Liverpool Hope University strongly believes in a sustained culture of learning and teaching (L&T) collaboration to foster creativity and innovation for enhanced learner experience. As a collegium we have successfully achieved “excellence” through embedding a network of Communities of Practice (CoPs) to enable our academics to engage in inter-departmental and cross-institutional L&T dialogue. We think this, because the drive towards enhancement will come from ourselves as a collegium. This has been evidenced by several external indicators such as the institutional TEF Gold status, where the CoP network was a crucial part in creating “an embedded culture of valuing excellence in L&T” (TEF Statement of Findings, 2017, p.1); the recognition of the CoPs as a feature of good practice in the recent QAA review where the CoPs were considered “an effective platform for identifying, developing and sharing good practice to enhance L&T (Expectations B3 and Enhancement)” (Higher Education Review, 2015, p.2); and, more recently, Pro-Vice Chancellor, Dr. Haughan, and Director of L&T Development, Dr. Almond were awarded the best paper award for the paper based on their work on the CoPs at the Higher Education Institutional Research Network Conference (2017). Further, the HEA webinar in March 2017 and the workshop and presentation on the CoP initiative at the HEA Conference (2017) were well received.

Origins

Liverpool Hope University adopts a collegiate approach in its working where it strongly believes in engaging every stakeholder in issues pertinent to them including all aspects of L&T practice. Therefore, in April 2013, driven by this desire to engage everyone in the development of its new Learning, Teaching and Assessment strategy, a ‘University Conversation’ was held at the University L&T day to ensure representation of academic staff and students in developing the guiding principles for L&T practice. These conversations were captured synchronously by group moderators using Google Drive collated into a Master document that was once again shared with all members of staff and student representatives to offer them one further opportunity to shape the L&T guiding principles and reinforce the collaborative nature of this endeavour.  The result of this organic bottom-up process was the ten key principles of the Learning, Teaching and Assessment Strategy, created through this mass collaboration of over 200 academics and over 300 students which form a scaffold for enhancement of L&T practice within Hope. This collaboratively-generated Strategy was an institutional promise to students and staff to strive for the very best in L&T. These principles form a substrate which nurture the activities of the learning community and supports the development of excellent practice. The intention being that all L&T related activities and the student experience associated with these activities is covered by aspects of those ten principles.

The University Conversation demonstrated that staff members from across the institution were keen not only to talk about L&T, but also to take the lead on enhancing their practice for better student experience. A recurring theme dominated the dialogue on that day, which was that staff wanted to learn from each other rather than be told how to teach. We recognise that the impact of top down initiatives in which practitioners are informed about ‘best practice’ are very limited. Much like our students, we do not learn particularly well when we aren’t involved in the learning process. In order to facilitate this, a decision was taken institutionally to put into action a process that would create collaborative teams and meaningful learning spaces (the 2016 AV News Award winning Learning Lab) in which staff and students could engage in developmental dialogue in L&T. To ensure this process was led by the academics themselves in a subsequent L&T Day staff and students were asked to suggest L&T communities they would like to see in the network. The result was a collaboratively created network of CoPs;  where staff aligned themselves to communities that were of interest to them.

These CoPs are informed by the ten principles of the L&T strategy and in turn discussions in these CoPs inform the L&T strategy via an iterative process. For example, Principle 10 (Learning opportunities delivered in a high quality physical, virtual and social learning setting) was the driving force behind the establishment of a Learning Outside the Classroom Community of Practice with sub-groups to focus on the themes of Improving the Lecture and Small Group Teaching, the Inclusive Classroom, and Academic Literacies. One output from the Learning Outside the Classroom CoP was a collaborative research project to discover how students spend their time, and how they view engagement as a consequence it gave tutors a better understanding of how best to use the students’ extra-curricular activities for meaningful learning. Further examples include, trialling of classroom response technology Top Hat across disciplines such as the Business School and the Health Sciences as a consequence of discussions held in the Classroom Technology CoP. This intervention helped staff identify areas of L&T practice which needed improvement depending on levels of engagement of students in the various questions on staff. Areas of low response rate indicated aspects which needed further teaching input. This allowed targeted teaching interventions, which led to improved student engagement as demonstrated by increased student attendance/engagement/performance. This has resulted in a university-wide adoption of the software and is already demonstrating improved student engagement. 

Evolution

At Liverpool Hope we believe in the collegium; an academic community, which students are an intrinsic part of. All of the CoPs are ultimately focused on providing better L&T experience to our students. As can be seen in Figure 1, there are six main communities of practice each having separate sub-communities of practice. The diagram also represents the diversity of interests and specialities which cover important sector and institutional issues prevalent in higher education. As a result, we are constantly working on innovations and a continued critical dialogue around each of these issues which drives excellence in our practice. This, in turn, provides a unique and powerful opportunity for individuals to develop as pedagogical leaders by facilitating these CoPs. Across the two campuses at Hope there are 37 members of staff who lead and facilitate these CoPs.

In 2016-17 over 240 academic staff voluntarily attended at least one of the 91 CoP meetings, which accounted for around 78% of the total staff at the University demonstrating the value they placed on the CoP for the development of their L&T practice. Unlike the traditional approaches to development of L&T practice such as engaging in a PGCert, the CoP provide a fresh perspective whereby staff could voluntarily choose to engage in professional development which is best suited to their needs. This echoes our belief that enhancement of L&T practice should be a collaborative and voluntary enterprise where everyone’s voice is privileged in informing practice.  We adopt an inclusive approach whereby a CoP can be proposed by any member of staff to ensure there is diversity, which does not stifle innovation or creativity. We currently have facilitators representing every faculty with students, early and mid-career academics, associate professors, professors and Pro-Vice Chancellors facilitating some sessions.

Please have a look at our Communities of Practice Diagram, which illustrates how the network of communities of practice is structured at Hope.

Driven by our desire to actively engage students in this L&T conversation, several CoPs have been facilitated or co-facilitated by students. The Student Experience and Postgraduate Student Experience CoPs, for example, have been co-chaired by students, leading to discussions between students and academic staff. Two PhD students working collaboratively with other research students from across the University facilitate the Integration and Transition CoP.  This provides spaces for student engagement in shaping their own learning and the value of the bottom up approach that facilitates for development of ideas which facilitates this dialogue.

Following the CoP meetings, the facilitators capture action points which have been informing institutional practices such as:

  • In the Academic Literacies CoP, a suggestion for embedding academic literacy at the curriculum design stage is now being considered by the Director of L&T;
  • Request for training in speech communication from specialists and collaboration for the drama department (Lecture and Small Group Teaching CoP). Which is important due to the current changes in the policy around support for students with LSPs;
  • In the Early Careers Teaching CoP recommendations propose for staff induction are increasingly informing the structure of the PGCert and HR induction processes;
  • Promote diversity by looking for interdisciplinary collaboration between courses and lecturers (Inclusive Classroom CoP).

The CoPs not only allow for cross-institutional L&T dialogue, increasingly we now have several external stakeholders who have been engaged in this conversation. Our Network of Hope locations (Carmel, Holy Cross and St Mary’s Colleges), our Outdoor Education Centre, Plas Caerdeon and our partnership with the Catholic University of Lille facilitate pedagogical cooperation and innovation in various contexts. For example, our collaboration with Lille resulted in the development of our award winning collaborative learning space, the Hope Learning Lab.

The Way Forward

The Catalyst-funded second phase of the CoP Project has involved the development of a cross-institutional L&T resource ‘institutional Memory Bank’. A smartphone application has been developed to allow staff and students to search for L&T resources and conversations captured from the CoPs. This project is the first of its kind to allow for a sustainable cross-institutional dissemination of L&T resources and conversations. The app will be a significant L&T resource whereby the ideas and best practice stemming from our CoPs can be utilised by the whole academic community within and beyond the institution. It will also allow conversations on specific topics related to L&T to be picked up and continued rather than starting from scratch on numerous occasions.

Examples of the impact of collaborative work via the CoPs.