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What is a Community of Practice?

Are you looking to interact with people who are interested in Open Education Resources (OER)? Do you have ideas that you want to share with a wider audience and learn more about OER?  A Community of Practice (CoP) might be the right place for you.

The term ‘Community of Practice’ was created by Etienne Wenger, who offers a social theory of learning – a school of thought that proposes that humans can acquire new ideas and behaviours by observing others. The term has been used in various ways, and usually refers to informal networks that support people to develop shared meaning and engage in knowledge building.[1] A CoP is a group of individuals who share a domain of interest, which they use as a basis for interaction. Members of a CoP for OER might share resources, experiences, problems and solutions, tools, and methodologies. This results in members gaining knowledge from one another and, by extension, contributes to the development of knowledge within the domain of OER and the field of Open Educational Practices (OEPs) more broadly.[2]

A CoP is a great way to conduct advocacy and gain momentum for OER at your institution, within your organisation, or in your social circle. Some CoPs may involve projects like developing an OER strategy or distributing OER grants at an institution, while others may simply be aimed at knowledge sharing.

OER Africa published a report on CoPs, which is accessible here. Parts of this article are based on the report.

According to the report, CoPs have several defining characteristics, as illustrated in the graphic below.

Source: Hoosen, S. (2009). Communities of Practice: A research paper prepared by OER Africa

Important to note is that CoPs can take different forms and they vary across different dimensions; for example, they can be small and tight knit or large and loosely connected. The concept of virtual CoPs has gained increasing popularity as technology and the Internet open opportunities for faster and alternative means of communication with people who are geographically far away from each other. They have also become a very practical means of interacting with people who are interested in a particular subject field since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions it has created on face-to-face interaction and travel.

You can access more resources on CoPs here.

How do I set up a CoP for OER?

The success of a CoP ultimately depends on preparation and involves consideration of a number of key aspects. 

  1. Identify the scope and focus of the CoP for OER: Answer the following questions such as ‘What is the value proposition of the CoP?’ and ‘What will its scope be?’
  2. Build a case for action: Consider the purpose of the CoP and outline key deliverables over the next one to two years, as well as how the CoP will contribute to the OER movement. Think about how the CoP will satisfy members’ expectations.
  3. Identify a CoP facilitator: Since relationships are central to one’s sense of community, a facilitator is central to creating and maintaining a robust CoP. The facilitator should have sufficient time available to dedicate to the CoP and should be motivated, creative, and knowledgeable about OER. The facilitator will be responsible for organising meetings, maintaining and distributing knowledge resources, and monitoring the effectiveness of the CoP.
  4. Identify potential members and criteria for membership: Consider who the best people are to be part of the CoP. It might be useful to think about how to introduce diversity into the group through broad membership, so that there are wide-ranging perspectives. Depending on the scope of the CoP, you might consider approaching anyone from OER practitioners and advocates to librarians and institutional management.
  5. Highlight the benefits of joining the CoP to potential members: Benefits include faster solutions, reducing duplication of efforts, and enabling people to develop and share new ideas or strategies around OER promotion.
  6. Identify potential knowledge to share: Get community members to identify knowledge that would be useful to share.
  7. Decide on an initial technology platform: The platform/s should enable the group to communicate effectively and store resources. They should be easily accessible to all members.
  8. Consider how the CoP will be governed: Establish clear rules for decision-making and accountability, as well as what resources are available, what the key milestones or deadlines are, and who the stakeholders are, to name a few.

 

Once you have done the background preparation, you can start planning the official launch of your CoP. At the launch, it is good practice to develop a community charter. Thereafter, the CoP should determine the roles and responsibilities of community members, initiate events and spaces (such as meetings or OER advocacy activities), build a core group to drive the CoP, and find and share knowledge. Once you have passed the initial phase, here are some tips on ensuring that your CoP is effective and sustainable.

How do I find people who are interested in OER?

Struggling to find people who are interested in your preferred subject area? Here are some options for you to consider:

  • Reach out to your network: It can be surprising how you might share a common interest in OER with people in your network – even if you haven’t discussed it with them before. They might even be able to put you in contact with someone they know who is interested in OER or looking to gain knowledge.
  • Search on LinkedIn: One of the benefits of LinkedIn is that you can search for keywords and come across thought leaders, organisations, different stakeholders, or people with a general interest in OER. You can strike up a conversation by sending a message on LinkedIn.
  • Do your research: Use a search engine to look for resources and websites with information about OER. Find out who is producing this knowledge and approach them to gauge their interest in being a CoP member. 

Access the links below to see some CoPs for OER, and OEPs more broadly, in action:

Ultimately, developing a CoP for OER is a wonderful way of learning, sharing knowledge, and advocating for OER use. As long as you maintain a clear sense of the scope of your CoP and ensure that all of the CoP’s activities contribute to its case for action, it can make a valuable contribution to the OER movement.

 


[1] Hoosen, S. (2009). Communities of Practice: A research paper prepared by OER Africa. Retrieved from https://www.oerafrica.org/system/files/7779/cop1-web_0.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=7779

[2] Gannon-Leary, P. and Fontainha, E. (2007). Communities of Practice and virtual learning communities: benefits, barriers and success factors. eLearning Papers. Retrieved from https://www.oerafrica.org/system/files/7680/communities-practice-and-virtual-learning-communities_0.pdf?file=1&type=node&id=7680


For more articles in this series, click on the links below.

What's New

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa. OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education.

What have been the experiences of African Open Educational Resources (OER) initiatives focussed on higher education? What can we learn from these experiences? Although the concept of OER initially gained publicity in the Global North, OER are gaining traction in Africa, with an increasing number of OER initiatives focusing on areas such as OER advocacy, practice, and research. Today, the concept has been mainstreamed around the world, as exemplified through the unanimous adoption of the UNESCO Recommendation on OER in 2019.

OER Africa researched several African OER initiatives to assess their long-term contribution to establishing sustainable OER practices in African higher education. This work explored their effectiveness and identified lessons to enable better development and support of OER practices. It also helped to deepen OER Africa’s understanding of professional development needs amongst African academics to enable more effective OER practices.

To do this, we developed case studies on eleven African OER initiatives in higher education to gain an understanding of the effectiveness of each initiative, followed by an analytical summary report. The report collates the findings from the OER initiatives , highlighting the implications of the findings for better development and support for effective OER practices.

Access the case studies and report here.


Related articles:

 Access the OER Africa communications archive here

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. They continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles.

Image courtesy of Abdullah Elhariry, Unsplash (Unsplash licence)

Museums continue to evolve in their roles and contribution to education as they embrace open access and Open Educational Resource (OER) principles. Museums are joining the open access movement by, for example, providing high-resolution downloadable images free of charge to maximise the ability of people to interact with, share, and reuse their collections.  

Museums tell ancient and recent histories as they collect, safeguard, and make accessible artefacts and specimens that they hold in trust to inspire and enable people to explore, learn, and enjoy. All museums support education as they provide unique prospects and platforms to engage students in their spaces and through their exhibitions, presentations, lectures, and discussion sessions on history, science, mathematics, technology, medicine, arts, politics, religion, humanities and social sciences, among others.

The Shenzhen Declaration on Museums and Collections of the UNESCO High-Level Forum on Museums from 2016 promoted the educational role of museums and the adaptation of museums' contents to provide a variety of formal, non-formal, and lifelong open learning experiences through universal accessibility for various audiences and removal of barriers to disadvantaged groups and persons with specific needs and capacities.

Learning about history and culture includes learning about all the aspects of the human ‘being’ and their day-to-day life. For example, if a student visits a museum and explores an exhibition dealing with historical figures or events involving aviation, the student is likely to be intrigued to want to learn more about flying which may not have been introduced as a vocation in the classroom. In such a case, the museum experience could well be an initial influence on future life choices of the students.

Museums are adopting open access to increase public engagement with their collections, introduce news areas of operation, and collaborate with creators and other institutions of learning, including universities, colleges, and schools.

The challenges of COVID-19 lockdowns in the past two years left museums without visitors, prompting them to accelerate digitization of their collections and adopt open licences for learners and academics to access their holdings as part of their learning or academic research. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 1,000 cultural heritage institutions around the world have adopted open licences to provide virtual access to their collections and resources.

Open access for museums refers to efforts made by museums to digitise their collections allowing for the creation of virtual exhibitions and databases or libraries, which are accessible online, containing high-resolution downloadable collections of digitised images of artefacts and information resources, including text, photos, movies, audio files, maps, graphs, and links to other sites.

Some of the digitised museum collections for Africa and African resources include the following:

African Online Digital Library (AODL) – AODL is an open access digital library of African cultural heritage materials created by Michigan State University in collaboration with museums, archives, scholars, and communities globally.

Smithsonian Open Access National Museum of African American History & Culture – The Smithsonian Institution is the world’s largest museum, education, and research complex, with 21 museums and the National Zoo—shaping the future by preserving heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing resources with the world. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is exclusively devoted to the documentation of the African American life, history, and culture. The museum has collected more than 40,000 artefacts. The images and data are in the public domain under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) licence, allowing use, transformation, and sharing of the open access assets without asking permission from the Smithsonian.

COM Library - African Art – This hub of open access resources for African art features Google Arts and Culture content from over 1,000 leading museum and archives that have partnered with Google Cultural Institute to bring the world’s treasures online. 

Adoption of open access and OER principles by museums increases the diffusion of knowledge for both education and information. It helps students, researchers, and education providers access unique material locked up in museums all over the world. Open access can also help provide the education sector in Africa access to some of Africa’s artefacts in many museums in the global north collected during colonialism.


Related articles:

OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER.

Advocates of Open Educational Resources (OER) often promote their perceived benefits, such as increasing access to educational materials; improving scalability and circulation of resources; and providing opportunities to adapt resources to suit learners’ needs and contexts. However, the past five years alone have seen significant shifts in education systems. Transformative forces such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, leaps in technology development, and global economic reconfiguration mean that now more than ever, education systems need to remain dynamic and responsive.

Key to this responsiveness is ensuring that there is ongoing research on the actual benefits of using OER, so that we can gain a comprehensive, measured understanding of its implementation, benefits, challenges, and lessons. Such research can provide insight on how to most effectively implement the goals of the UNESCO OER Recommendation.

Within this context, OER Africa coordinated a project with members of the Network of Open Orgs, a coalition of organizations that meets regularly on implementing and supporting the UNESCO OER Recommendation. The project involved a collaborative effort among several members of the Network to develop a set of seven research summaries that explore the success of OER. The summaries were then analysed to extract key findings, which were presented in a short report.

The Network aims to make such analyses an ongoing activity to remain abreast of OER implementation around the world. Ultimately, this will assist in realising the goals of the OER Recommendation.

Access the case studies and summary report here.