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Michael:

Thanks for joining us. I’ve got Associate Professor Jacquie McDonald with me and Jacquie works in the Learning and Teaching Support area at the University of Southern Queensland and I’m Dr Michael Sankey from that same area.

Jacquie is our, I suppose you could say, our champion of communities of practice here at USQ and we’ve been running communities of practice for probably five years now and over that time it’s grown substantially from, originally one and then two, and now about twenty-one communities of practice here at the university.

But Jacquie, there are a number of, or probably three key components or elements to a community of practice that you use in our model here at USQ. Could you maybe explain those to us?

Jacquie:

Right. The three elements – the domain of knowledge, building your community and sharing your practice – has evolved from the literature by Etienne Wenger ... his seminal work on communities of practice. And each of those areas we use to make sure that when we’re meeting as communities of practice the elements are covered. So, the domain of knowledge is the area that the community wants to explore and develop and that’s usually a common ground. For example it could be teaching first year students in business or it could be working with international partners – so that would be the domain area. The community is the people who are involved in working in that domain, so if it was the first year community of practice it would be all those educators teaching into those courses. And of course the shared practice area is the shared practice around that teaching.

Michael:

Okay. Etienne Wenger who you mentioned is mostly known for communities of practice in the domain of business, but in this case we’re talking about education so in what ways can it be applied or adjusted to this realm of education?

Jacquie:

Okay. We use those three elements as an organising structure for our communities of practice meetings and the reason for that is faculty academics, which was our first community of practice, are very time poor, very heavy teaching load and of course there’s the research and community service as part of their component, and they already have a lot of meetings. So we wanted to make sure that the communities of practice covered all the elements but also gave value for time. So we use the three elements as the organising structure and over the five years since 2006 that organising structure has proved very robust and gives the members the three elements, so building that community time and sharing the practice, because often people are very isolated in their domains of knowledge, and so even people teaching the same students across an introductory Business degree often don’t work with the partners outside their domain. So building that community and sharing their practice and building their domain knowledge, the organising structure of our communities of practice let them do that. So the application of those three elements into the education context, we believe is quite unique, but has also proved very robust and sustainable at USQ.

Michael:

So that’s for teaching staff. Can it be equally applied to administrative staff?

Jacquie:

Yes, we have quite a number of across-institutional communities of practice. So for example the Internationalisation communities of practice has professional staff from the International section, people from Student Services and also faculty members who are very passionate about teaching international, so that’s a blend of professional and academic. And then there are professional staff communities of practice as well.

Michael:

Cool. So, obviously the facilitator of that group, or there might be I suppose more than one facilitator even, plays a very important role in the group. What are some of the keys in terms of the facilitation of a community of practice?

Jacquie:

Okay. Well at USQ our model ... communities of practice usually starts when someone has an idea they would like to implement or carry forward or an issue they would like to address: they come to me and say “we believe a community of practice is the way to build the knowledge and share the practice around this particular area”. So quite different from an institutional project group or work team. And that person usually becomes the facilitator because they have the idea and the passion and also know and have links with the people that would be involved in the community. I work with the ... I suggest that person be the facilitator, but also at the first meeting we can call for other people to be involved and quite often there’s a co-facilitator. That person has the role of recruiting members and at the first meeting would facilitate with those members what are the outcomes and priorities for the community of practice. And then they have a role of, partly organising, where they would organise meeting times, agendas, probably a yearly agenda addressing the priorities that the members have asked for, recruiting people to speak – so if a particular priority was picked on, for example assessment for academic communities of practice is important, they would perhaps bring in an external speaker, so they would organise the speaker and the times for the meeting. They also have a role of positioning the community of practice within USQ’s institutional goals and priorities and recruiting a champion higher up who will help create the context where the community of practice can succeed. So they’re managing upwards, looking for resources perhaps for refreshments and perhaps some admin support. But then the other main role is facilitating the meetings, making sure the members are engaged, all the members get an opportunity to speak. So it’s not ... while it’s a leadership role, the facilitator role is very important, it’s about other people also having the opportunity to share.

Michael:

In saying that, that doesn’t necessarily have to be a leader already within the faculty or department.

Jacquie:

No ... so it’s quite interesting ... some of the professional communities of practice ... the staff that lead that aren’t in a recognised leadership role, an institutional leadership role but they are the ones coming forward with the knowledge and passion, and then with the support and using our organising structure they become the facilitator and they actually step up to a leadership role within the community of practice. And when I was doing some interviewing with facilitators, it was quite interesting how those people were looking at themselves in another light and realising they have leadership capacity and other people are recognising that. So it really ...  it’s wonderful for the communities of practice and USQ but it’s also wonderful for those facilitators recognising their ability and other people recognising their ability.

Michael:

Okay, so I mean ... we have a particular way of doing communities of practice and there are other ways of doing communities of practice or what could be known as communities of practice. What do you think actually makes our model work so well here?

Jacquie:

Right. I think the fact that we’ve taken those three core elements which Etienne Wenger had in his book in 1998 and when I interviewed him in ... yes 1998 ... when I interviewed him ten years later I asked were those three elements still a core to his practice of communities of practice, and he said yes. Those elements are the core organising framework and the fact that we’ve taken those to use as a template of our meeting structure, so for our community of practice meetings each element – the domain of practice, the sharing knowledge and the community time – is usually about thirty minutes. So, some communities only run for an hour ... the meetings ... most run for an hour and a half or two hours. So there’s thirty minutes for each of those elements and by making sure that the members experience those elements it’s very sustainable, and there’s outcomes for members.

Michael:

Cool ... excellent. Thanks Jacquie for sharing that with us. I mean, the model here at USQ has been phenomenal over the last few years and I’d encourage you to have a bit of a closer look at that and check out some of Jacquie’s publications. Jacquie is currently an ALTC fellow, an Australian Learning and Teaching Council fellow in this area and is working on a project and there’s some real exciting stuff coming out of that, so thanks for joining us.