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It ain't just what you do and the way that you do it: why discourse matters in higher education communities of practice
journal contributionposted on 2015-01-01, 00:00 authored by Juliana Ryan
A number of Australian universities have established and sponsored interdisciplinary communities of practice (CoPs) to develop teaching and learning. CoPs are popularly defined as groups of people who share a passion for something and, together, learn how to do it better. Without further specification, this definition is of limited use in understanding intentionally established CoPs in higher education settings. The term CoP is used and applied in a range of ways in higher education and has been accompanied by some scholarly debate about the meaning and relevance of CoPs to academe. The prevalent response to such debate has been to propose typologies. While typology can be useful, epistemology and discourse are also significant in understanding and developing higher education CoPs. In this paper I focus on discourse surrounding CoPs as a conceptual and developmental factor which has been insufficiently considered in the literature on higher education CoPs. I draw on findings from interviews with 33 CoP members and facilitators in three Australian universities. My findings indicate that discourse surrounding CoPs is significant in shaping notions of participatory value. Connecting with the literature, my findings also reveal a ‘big D’ Discourse of collegiality whereby CoPs offer social support and knowledge sharing to build capacity, as well as spaces in which a collegial academic identity can thrive. This coincides in complex and unpredictable ways with a Discourse of managerialism. I conclude that discourse should supplement typology and epistemology in adaptively shaping understandings of contemporary higher education CoPs and their future development.