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Jacquie:

Welcome to Lisa Tan from SEGi College, SJ, Malaysia and Bronwyn Bartsch a partner team from our Student Management Office at the University of Southern Queensland. And I’m Jacquie McDonald the community of practice project leader from the Learning and Teaching Support Unit at University of Southern Queensland. Lisa can you briefly tell us a little bit about SEGi College, just to give us the context.

Lisa:

SEGi College is part of a bigger group of colleges and the mother company, or the holding company is SEG International and we have a total of six colleges – one university college and five other colleges. So SEGi College Subang Jaya is one of the three bigger colleges among the SEGi group. We are located in Malaysia but we have two other colleges, one located in Penang and the other one is at Sarawak.

Jacquie:

Ok thank you. And Bronwyn you’ve been working with the staff at SEGi as they’re our important international partners but you’ve also introduce the idea of communities of practice at SEGi. Could you tell us a little bit about that process?

Bronwyn:

Yes, well I was very fortunate to win funding in the Learning and Teaching Performance Fund round of funding, which ... the intention was to work with a partner to look at how we could offer professional development in terms of learning and teaching and how USQ approached it, but also learn from that partner about their approaches to learning and teaching and bring back their feedback to us so we could work on our resources, but also really engage with our partners on a learning and teaching level. So, the project involved travelling up to SEGi and Lisa was kind enough to offer Subang Jaya as the pilot partner to work with us on the project. So, we travelled to SEGi and worked with their staff in a number of workshops, and the basic process was first of all running through what USQ was doing: how our communities of practice worked. Then we introduced how USQ had approached the communities of practice using the structure and framework at USQ; so the shared domain, the community time, the sharing of best practice and working together on that. So, we’d actually run some workshops and run some community of practice ideas. Then in a way we actually left SEGi a little bit to it ...

LAUGHS

Lisa:

Yes, yes you did.

Bronwyn:

And Lisa really picked up the idea and really championed the concept at SEGi, so I might ask Lisa if she minds telling us a little bit how SEGi took up the baton.

Lisa:

You came with Yen, Dr Yen?

Bronwyn:

Yes

Lisa:

Yes, and I did not actually participate in those workshops, but my colleagues did and their feedback was that it was good and the workshops generated a lot of interest. So, I thought it was a very good way to get the people across faculties and across departments to talk to actually each other, because I find that in the university setting or the college setting we are so compartmentalized ... faculty, individual faculty like engineering and early childhood or creative arts and the finance and operation sides. They are so individualized – departments and faculties. So I was thinking that this is a very good ... CoP is a very good way of getting people across faculties to talk to each other on common issues faced by the college as well as faced by lecturers in their teaching and learning and day-to-day affairs. So that’s how we decided to adopt that idea and we said we’d try it out and see what happens.

LAUGHS

Jacquie:

And that was about twelve months ago that you picked up that idea and started to implement it.

Lisa:

Yes, yes

Jacquie:

And then, how did you get started? So, Bronwyn ... there’s been some workshops and your colleagues have fed back that here’s this great idea and you’ve seen how it can be beneficial to your institution or your college. So then what was the next step?

Lisa:

After looking at what CoP ... I mean, how USQ was running it I found that it was a bit difficult for my colleagues to volunteer their time and build communities. So I thought through and I had a discussion with the team in SJ and we found that if we were to implement a voluntary system it may not work, because our culture is very different and people are so busy. So we thought that we have a (05:14) time on a Friday between 11:30 to 2:30, we actually have a prime time called (05:20) time when we don’t have classes and students can then participate in the student activities. So we thought that this would be a good time to get the people, the staff to talk about ... to come together and talk about topics of interest. So instead of getting them to volunteer we divide them into groups. We pick up people ... the staff of various faculties and we join them ... ask them to form groups of their own. So they find that they were very pleased to have been selected by the management team of SEGi Subang, and that gave them a kind of prestige. So and we started in that way. We also have something special for them – we provide a good lunch! Every time they have a discussion it will come with a very good lunch. So that motivates them as well. But they actually want to discuss in great detail, some groups .... and also did some surveys on their own among the students to come up with results and come up with specific numbers to tell us what was going on in the college. So at the end of ... I think we have a six month kind of interaction and then it came to a conclusion and at the conclusion we had a different group of CoPs to actually present their findings.

Jacquie:

And so the surveys and the findings, did you get evidence of impact for the members and those surveys did they have evidence of impact on student learning?

Lisa:

Oh yes, oh yes. We have like, for example on the Teaching and Learning CoP we found that the students were very happy with the lecturers, they rated our lecturers very well but they were not too keen on the support staff.

LAUGHS

And they rated them like 55% satisfactory, so they gave some comments that the support staff could smile more often, and support staff could be a bit more friendly to them. Yes, but it was very good because we did not realize that our lecturers actually had very good feedback from the students and we had a high percentage of them to say that our staff, lecturing staff, were actually excellent. 

Jacquie:

So that’s a great outcome for the community and you wouldn’t have had that information and data without the communities of practice. Then from a management point of view the time that was committed for the communities of practice and the attendance, do you feel that it’s worth continuing now.

Lisa:

Oh yes. It’s definitely worth continuing. We actually stopped CoPs for, I think three and a half months now. The reason being, the college was involved in a project that utilises almost the time of everybody and so we couldn’t continue with CoP. So for that period of time, and after that the management was very busy with the budgets and the upcoming work for this year, so we were very caught up into planning. Now that we have a bit more space we are thinking of going back and start the communities of practice again. Because it is very, very useful and now we find that the colleagues, my colleagues across the various faculties they are so much friendlier; they understand what happens in another faculty. You see, sometimes when we work we are so engrossed in our own department. The Faculty of Business they teach marketing and the Faculty of American Degree Program they also have marketing lecturers but these two don’t talk.

LAUGHS

So the community of practice ... they actually share ideas across and they found that, okay, we are the same actually, we teach the same thing and our student problems are actually the same.

Jacquie:

Yes, so they ... by being in the community were able to share that knowledge and work together on different solutions and ideas.

Lisa:

Yes, and there were informal discussions as well not just the formal topics that was given to them. Just to share with you, we had a Chinese New Year gathering just last week and for the first time we find that there were faculty members, faculty and operations members all sitting in different places. Last time when we used to have gathering it would be like, Early Childhood and Education would be one table; Finance sitting at one table and the American Degree Program, the lecturers and the staff. But this time no, we have a mixture and these people they all mix around.

Jacquie:

So do you think that by being involved in those cross-college communities of practice that’s really broken down those isolated barriers?

Lisa:

Yes the barriers were broken down. There’s more communication now across departments from academic to operations, in fact across the academic faculties as well ... there are more interactions.

Jacquie:

And Bronwyn SEGi as an international partner, have you managed then to build any other relationships with communities of practice at USQ?

Bronwyn:

That was actually one of the aims in the project and it’s something I’m still keen to work on. A lot of our initial energy went into running the project at SEGi and then SEGi took off and ran communities of practice very successfully, so I think the next step is to link those staff with our staff here. So, we have had one session, a video-conference session where there was a small number of staff on each side that were able to come and talk. And that was a really positive session because there was a lot of talk about, for example I think one of the staff members at SEGi said, “Can anyone tell me how you get a student to participate in class or to answer a question” ... and the response from USQ was, “When you find out we’d really like to know too.”

LAUGHS

Lisa:

Actually we share similar issues and problems no matter where we teach.

Jacquie:

That’s right and the community of practice lets you share that common knowledge. With your communities of practice you mentioned you had seven running that were running. And they were meeting for how often ... each?

Lisa:

Fortnightly

Jacquie:

Each fortnight ... for an hour or two hours?

Lisa:

The meeting goes for one and a half hours and then they have lunch for about forty-five minutes. And it carries on ... it carries on after lunch, because we give a lunch and we expect that they will stop their discussion, but many times you find that they were so excited they actually gather together and discuss over lunch.

Bronwyn:

I think one comment I would like to make is, I visited SEGi again in December and the atmosphere and the buzz around the campus was really special, and it was when they were extremely busy with the project that involved the whole college but all through the corridors, in the lifts, everywhere people were talking to each other and the buzz and the atmosphere ... I was really excited to be there because I felt part of it as well.

Lisa:

In fact your comment has been told to me by other SEGi staff from the other colleges. They said they’d been at the campus at Subang and they actually see that we work as a family, we are not individuals and we care for each other and much of this happened because people talked across the college and they share ideas. And there’s this bonding that has started and I think it’s very important that across the faculty members there’s a bond between them and the close association that we have something in common. They may not always talk about teaching and learning in their faculty but they find that through the community of practice they can actually contribute and they can say something ... things that they want to say, but they never had the opportunity. And so here’s a group, and each group consists of not just ... we have different groups of people. It could be the administrator and the (14:35) the faculty member, or it could be the manager or (14:39), so it’s a diverse group that comes together.

Jacquie:

So it’s people at all different levels communicating probably ... and do you find that within a community they are communicating as equals?

Lisa:

Yes, in the CoP they are equal. We tell them that very clearly – there’s no head, there’s no subordinate. During the CoP ... and everybody’s opinion ... and we have a set guideline ... when we start we have a guideline and say this is some of the ground rules that everybody has to follow. So people go into a discussion group without hierarchy. I think that that is important because also the lower level staff, when they speak they feel confident that they will be listened to.

Jacquie:

Right, so that’s one of your ground rules, can you kind of give us some of the others? Can you remember some of the other ground rules?

Lisa:

Yeah, another one is that ... we say that when you’re in that group you are not to cross to any other group and you are not to get other members to join you. So, this is a ... so it keeps the group special, that you are specially selected. So it gives them a very positive morale and they felt that ... they’re very eager ... in fact I have been asked many times “when are you going to start again, when are we going to start?” So it’s not only for the free lunch!

LAUGHS

But they really want to contribute and so ...

Jacquie:

So in those discussions if they have an idea or contribution or noticing something that’s happening that needs addressing, what happens then after it’s discussed within the community of practice?

Lisa:

Because there are heads of department in the groups, so they are the ones who bring it up to the management ... we have meetings ... and they can bring it immediately for us to address. We don’t really need to wait until the presentation. In fact we have interim presentations, we have interim ... I think we had two presentations before the finals ones. So we address issues immediately, and that is important in the CoP because they find that whatever they say the management takes notice ... take note of what is happening and we address issues. And that gives them the confidence that whatever they are doing would not go to waste – it’s not just a lip service that we are giving them, but actually we take action and we are mindful of what they say. And during presentation we say that we do not want (17:19) to present, we want somebody else in the group ... that if they do not speak very well we are not bothered with that, but we want to give you the opportunity to go out and present to the group.

Jacquie:

So not just the sharing, but very empowering for the individual members. So Bronwyn, anything to wrap up? You’ve done some interviews and things, are there any things that came out of that interview from the community of practice members that you’d like to share?

Bronwyn:

I think the main things that came out of the interviews I conducted really support what Lisa’s been saying in terms of people felt special to be part of this; they’re excited to be part of it. They were really excited to talk about their experience; they were very open in talking about their experience and when I particularly asked, you know, did you feel comfortable, did you feel comfortable admitting that you had either a problem or you had an issue or you wanted to talk about something, there was a very open and honest atmosphere within their group that they felt that they could share and they could talk openly. They felt that their point of view and their input was acknowledged and that was really important to them. And I think they ... I guess giving them a stake in the shared future of the college, but certainly really positive, excited feedback.

Jacquie:

So congratulations on the initiative and Lisa, you too – thank you. So we look forward to hearing what happens in the next round of communities of practice.

Lisa:

The next round we will do it slightly different. We will do it more voluntarily. We want to give the ownership back to the colleagues.

Jacquie:

And it sounds like people are really ready and waiting to do that.

Lisa:

Yes, and we will also give them the free lunch ... and a good one at that!

LAUGHS

Jacquie:

A good free lunch – that’s wonderful.

Lisa:

I think that is important. Food somehow makes people feel happy.

Jacquie:

And it’s the sharing over food, a bit informal, but as you say a good free lunch so that they also feel valued.

Lisa:

Yes they feel valued, that’s very true.

Jacquie:

So thank you Lisa and thank you Bronwyn.

Bronwyn:

Thank you Jacquie.