Communities of practice (CoPs) are defined as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger, nd). CoPs have been promoted as a means of improving performance in a variety of organisations and sectors, including businesses, public sector organisations and the voluntary sector. However, their adoption in higher education has been less widespread.
The presentation focuses on the potential of CoPs to engage staff in the development of learning and teaching practice through exchanging ideas, and through reflecting on and sharing best practice. At the University of Westminster an institution-wide change programme known as Learning Futures is currently underway. As part of the project we are proposing a framework for the establishment of CoPs. It is envisaged that these CoPs will operate across faculties as supportive communities set up to address learning and teaching issues identified by staff and students. The ultimate objective of the CoPs will be to improve the learning and teaching experience for both staff and students, and to encourage innovation.
The author is currently Academic Lead on the project within Learning Futures which is promoting CoPs (on secondment from his post in the Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment). Examples of CoPs established elsewhere are described, and the initial stages of the work at Westminster to establish CoPs are briefly described. Key drivers are identified and issues to consider are highlighted. The possibility of establishing a CoP specifically aimed at the built environment academic community is also put forward, using an example from another discipline.