The ‘Community’ in Communities of Practice: Insights from Instructors

The ‘Community’ in Communities of Practice: Insights from Instructors

Teaching at the college level is demanding. Instructors are consistently challenged to stay abreast of new pedagogical techniques, rapidly advancing technology and AI, and the diverse needs of students. Relying on our community is one way to manage the demands: Communities of practice (CoPs) are valuable resources for college instructors, providing powerful platforms for educators to collaborate, share best practices, and continuously improve their teaching methods.

For this blog post, we spoke with three instructors across the college and heard about their experiences in CTLI CoPs. Read on to hear what they said and explore more about the importance of CoPs for college instructors and how they can enhance the teaching and learning experience.

sketch of people holding hands and climbing to the top to plant their flag.

Emphasizing community

Rhys Hakstol, an environmental science instructor, has been part of two CoPs since 2021, Education for Technology and Work Integrated Learning (not through CTLI). As a newer instructor at the college, he was particularly drawn to CoPs for the sense of community and a space to meet like-minded people in different fields and outside of his department. Having a “neat place to talk to people for an hour” has helped beat the isolation of instructing, and he likes that he can check in with the community about new technologies.

Similarly, Stacia Nelson from Exercise Science, who has participated in the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Assessment CoPs notes that in her experience, faculty often work independently, and being part of a CoP counters isolation by fostering collaboration, shared ideas, shared failures, and perhaps most importantly, “shared wins”

sketch of two people looking at a document.

Sharing and community serve as a platform for instructors to seek advice and share solutions to challenges. The collective wisdom of the group can be instrumental in finding effective resolutions and offering much-needed emotional support. Liz Cernigoy, a faculty member for the Bachelor of Nursing Program, brings up a particular example and recalls sharing UDL strategy examples with a group that included “an instructor from trades, an instructor from biology, another from math” and her. Together, they discussed how the different strategies could be adapted to each unique area.

New Ideas, innovation, research

CoPs are also a starting point for innovation and research. Collaborative projects within these groups can lead to the development of new pedagogical strategies and educational resources. Instructors can collectively contribute to research, advancing their fields and contributing to the

broader body of knowledge, tying to the scholarly teaching and scholarship dimension of Lethbridge College’s Teaching and Excellence Framework (TEF).

Liz notes that being part of a CoP has provided “the opportunity to bring new problems, questions and ideas to a table of educators and colleagues from the CTLI team and walk away with new ideas” while Stacia says being a part of a CoP “fosters collaboration”.

Teaching Excellence Framework image. Multicoloured circle.

Continuous learning, improved practice

Education is not static. New theories, technologies, and methodologies are constantly emerging. By participating in targeted CoPs, college instructors have an opportunity to continuously improve their skills and stay at the forefront of educational developments—this commitment to growth benefits both educators and, most importantly, their students.

In terms of teaching practice, Rhys notes that being part of a CoP, particularly in ed tech, has motivated him to be part of the cutting-edge and stay abreast of innovative teaching practices. He says that using new tech in teaching has become “non-negotiable” and he uses it to improve his practice, with support for the CoP. Stacia feels that her participation in a CoP has promoted lifelong learning and motivated her to step away from “doing what I always have” as a mid-career faculty and embrace new knowledge about “how and who we teach”. Meanwhile, Liz says that as an experienced faculty, she “strive[s] to learn about and adopt new strategies” shared via the CoP.

Actually less work?

Instructors who feel they already have enough on their plate to join a CoP may be missing out, and surprised to hear what our participants have to say. Aside from generally being self-paced, Rhys notes that being part of a CoP has not increased his workload because it is about carving out time to have a professional conversation or dialogue that supports his practice, whereas Stacia reports that being part of a CoP has actually reduced her workload: “Keeping up with best practices and evidenced-based research is a lot of work and time, but the CTLI team does the research and shares it with us, and as faculty, we can discuss the application.”

So, what do these instructors say about CoPs in general? Liz says her experience has been “deeply impactful”, Rhys notes that he has “gained so much in terms of tools that [he] uses in the classroom” and Stacia lists out what she likes: the relaxing environment to discuss teaching and learning, the decreased workload and enhanced practice, and the “positive, inspiring, community”.

Currently, CTLI is offering CoPs in:

  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
  • Assessment
  • Educational technology
  • Education for sustainability
  • Niitsitapi proficiency microcredential

Find more on these CoPs here and how to join one through CTLI.


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