Communities of Practice in higher education

 Members of CoPs working together Members of the Faculty of Arts and Faculty of Business and Law CoPs working together

A community of practice approach to teaching and learning in higher education provides a space for staff to collaboratively reflect, review and regenerate their current teaching and learning practices.

The need for CoPs in higher education

Within higher education, the organisational structures and culture of individualism produce a situation where individuals are often isolated and unaware of the practices of others. While initiatives to overcome this individualism within research endeavours, such as research centres and research networks, are well advanced, these are less common in relation to teaching in higher education.

The consequences of a lack of formal or informal structures for sharing of learning and teaching practice contributes to a lack of institutional memory regarding teaching and learning innovations, little acknowledgement or recognition of the diversity of good teaching and learning practices outside formal award mechanisms, and little support for individuals in need of mentoring or guidance in reforming, improving, or reflection on their teaching and learning practices.

Why communities of practice in higher education?

Against the context of competing tensions within the current higher education environment in Australia, the CoP structure and approach provides a forum for staff to debate strategies to deal with these competing priorities and their impact on teaching and learning at the individual level. Communities of practice specifically grow, or are fostered, to provide a shared space around shared concerns. Individual CoP members face shared challenges provided by their student cohorts, their institutional context, and the challenges facing the wider higher education sector. 

Benefits of CoPs at USQ

These shared challenges provide the basis for a common understanding between members, which at USQ has been further strengthened by the collaborative identification of priority issues to be addressed by the community.

Establishing and nurturing a shared sense of identity provides:

  • the missing element in ensuring the institutional memory and sharing of teaching and learning practices
  • a safe place for reflection and experimentation on teaching and learning for individual staff members.