Last week, Robin June Hood, Director of the Community- Based Research Institute at VIU, and I convened the first community of practice (CoP) for community engaged faculty.  A community of practice (CoP) is a group whose members share a concern or a passion for a topic and who deepen their knowledge by interacting regularly (Wenger, McDermott & Snyder, 2002). The Community Based Research Institute (CBRI) and the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning (CIEL) are collaborating on this project to share resources and expertise in order to support faculty and staff at VIU who are committed to growing their knowledge of community-engaged teaching, learning and research.

Recognizing a potential academic, societal, and economic disconnect between themselves and the neighbourhoods in which they are situated, some institutes of higher education are turning to campus-community partnerships as a way to address this disconnect (d’Arlach, Sanchez, & Feuer, 2009; Strand, Marullo, Cutforth, Stoecker, & Donohue, 2003).  However, creating environments that support faculty development for community-engaged scholarship, and build institutional identity as a community-engaged campus, requires an alignment between faculty identity and institutional identity (Hamel-Lambert, Millesen, Slovak & Harter, 2012).  Premised on these ideas, this CoP looks at the intersections of faculty development and community engagement, and at the collaborative efforts in sharing expertise and resources across campus to support and nurture a culture for community engagement.  By supporting a group of community-engaged faculty we hope to continue to cultivate this identity, and to encourage further discourse related to faculty development and community engagement at VIU and beyond.

We envision this CoP as a place where faculty and staff can share their experiences, build their understanding, and work together to continue to shape the culture of community engagement at VIU.  As this community of practice grows, we hope it will become a venue for information sharing and a place where research, teaching and learning opportunities are exchanged and inspired.   In working together, we hope that members will create opportunities and partnerships that will be valuable to both the community and the university.

Last week was a great opportunity to come together with others to discuss who we are, what we are doing in community engagement, and where we may want to go.   During the session participants discussed what they wanted to get out of this community, and what value the group might provide them.  The following are key words that resonated with us from those responses:

  • Invigorate our work
  • Learn to listen
  • Cross-pollinate with others
  • Spark ideas; be inspired
  • Share leadership
  • Work across divides
  • Be part of the creative cluster
  • Engage with amazing and impressive people
  • Share our stories
  • Raise awareness and knowledge of our work
  • Mobilize our communities internally and externally
  • Work through the layers, the complexity and the messiness; find strategies
  • Conduct research
  • Create tools and sharing

We also discussed how we would like to move forward, and participants suggested that they would like to focus on:

  • Building trust and relationships with other members of the group; listening and sharing our stories
  • Building skills related to community-based engagement (teaching, learning, research).  This might be accomplished through participant-facilitated workshops and/or guest speakers
  • Pooling and sharing resources related to community-based engagement
  • Creating tools.  This might involve frameworks or other resources that emerge collaboratively from participating in the group
  • Collaborating to solve problems.  Some members suggested coming with questions and concerns related to their practice that they would pose to the group, working through them collaboratively.
  • Sharing and showcasing our work and our stories—through research and publication.  There were also suggestions about working with the “CREATE” event in which members might work with students to highlight and/or showcase some of the community-based work happening at VIU.

It was noted that since the group is emerging  and relationships and trust are being built, we will continue for now in a relatively unstructured, informal way.  For the following session, we plan to continue the conversation and see where the discussion takes us.  But we’re pretty sure it’s going to take us somewhere great.

If you are interested in joining this group, or in communities of practice in general, please feel free to contact us.

References

d’Arlach, L., Sanchez, B., &  Feuer, R. (2009). Voices from the community: A case for reciprocity in service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 16(1), 5-16.

Hamel-Lambert, J.M., Millesen, J.L., Slovak, K., & Harter, L.M. (2012). Reflections on community-engaged scholarship faculty development and institutional identity at Ohio    University.  Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 16(1), 129-147.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W.M. (2002).  Cultivating communities of practice. Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business School Press.