Community of Practice for E-Learning (COPE-L)

Award Winner: 
2015 Sloan-C Effective Practice Award
Collection: 
Student-Generated Content
Author Information
Author(s): 
Laurel Vaughan Newman, Associate Professor of Business Administration and the Director of Online Programs, College of Business and Management
Author(s): 
Emily A. Boles, Online Learning and Faculty Development Specialist, Center for Online Learning, Research and Service
Author(s): 
Carrie L. Levin, Assistant Director, Center for Online Learning, Research and Service
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
University of Illinois Springfield
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

A Community of Practice for E-Learning (COPE-L) brings together all areas that intersect with online learning and online students at a university. At UIS this group includes faculty, both full-time and part-time, program coordinators who support online students, faculty development staff, instructional designers, and student support offices like the career center, learning center and admissions.

COPE-L’s purpose is broader than simply providing faculty learning opportunities. As a community of practice, we pursue the following goals:

  1. Share knowledge and effective practices related to e-learning.
  2. Develop informal networks and mutually helpful relationships among community members.
  3. Identify problems and seek solutions to problems shared by community members.
  4. Provide opportunities to explore and innovate in the area of e-learning.
Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

A Community of Practice for E-Learning (COPE-L) brings together all areas that intersect with online learning and online students at a university. At UIS this group includes faculty, both full-time and part-time, program coordinators who support online students, faculty development staff, instructional designers, and student support offices like the career center and learning center.

The Community of Practice for E-Learning (COPE-L) at UIS began in the Fall of 2006 as a result of a meeting between faculty members with leadership responsibilities for online degree programs and leaders from the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service (COLRS). COPE-L was seen as a way to reduce faculty time on the learning curve and to facilitate sharing of knowledge about online learning across academic and technology department silos.

Etienne Wenger and associates have written extensively about the knowledge sharing benefits of communities of practice (cops). They describe cops as “informal groups of individuals who share a concern, a set of problems or a passion about a topic and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in the area by interacting on an ongoing basis.” For cops, social participation is key, enabling contextualized learning through social interaction rather than through individual acquisition of knowledge.

COPE-L’s purpose is broader than simply providing faculty learning opportunities. As a community of practice, we pursue the following goals:

  1. Share knowledge and effective practices related to e-learning.
  2. Develop informal networks and mutually helpful relationships among community members.
  3. Identify problems and seek solutions to problems shared by community members.
  4. Provide opportunities to explore and innovate in the area of e-learning.

Starting a COPE-L: Faculty Champion and Steering Committee
In our experience, it is critical that this effort be organic and not driven by the administration or faculty development offices. At UIS, COPE-L has become a community of interested and engaged colleagues who strive to innovate and improve the online learning experience and who feel a sense of responsibility for its success. Thus, it is important to find a faculty member who will champion the effort.

While a steering committee will provide leadership for the group, at least one person has to be willing to initiate meetings and convene the group. Steering committee members should be thought leaders within their own departments and willing to encourage their colleagues to participate in cop events.

At UIS, the COPE-L steering committee is comprised of

  • 8-10 faculty members who have experience and interest in e-learning
  • Online program coordinators who provide online student services
  • Leaders from the Center for Online Learning, Research and Service

The steering meets regularly to identify issues and interests for consideration at COPE-L events. Since each committee member has a network of department and/or discipline-based colleagues, issues bubble up from a wide group of faculty and staff members involved in online learning. Members of COPE-L will also bring up topics at regular COPE-L meetings.

Events
In recent years, COPE-L has evolved from considering single session topics to dedicated semesters exploring a single theme such as online learning assessment techniques or multimedia applications useful for online learning.

One of the unique things COPE-L does on a periodic basis is to invite students who are enrolled in online programs to speak anonymously to faculty. The panel of students join the COPE-L event through a web conferencing platform and address the concerns they face and answer questions posed by the COPE-L audience. This event never fails to provide valuable feedback for online faulty.

Other popular COPE-L sessions have included:

  • Emerging Teaching Tools
  • Online Student Panels
  • Mobile Apps for Online Learning
  • Managing Instructor Workload
  • Information Literacy for Online Instructors
  • Pechu Kucha presentations on Assessment Strategies for Online Instruction

Retreats
Annual retreats for online faculty and staff are also organized by COPE-L. At these events, a topic is selected for in depth exploration and discussion. External guest speakers with expertise on the topic are selected by the steering committee. At COPE-L retreats, keynote presentations are followed by small group discussions designed to implement the ideas with existing resources and assignments.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

COPE-L events are announced to faculty and academic staff across campus. Meetings and retreats are generally well attended. Average attendance ranges from 20-30 with some events having as many as 50 attendees. Calls for participation are also generally well received as faculty perceive benefits to sharing practices with other faculty and academic staff.

A recent campus survey was conducted to assess the impact of COPE-L on the online campus community. Results indicated that over half of the respondents had attended one or more COPE-L events. Of those who had not yet attended, an additional 1/3 indicated an awareness and interest in the activities of COPE-L. Survey respondents also indicated wide spread support for the goals of COPE-L.

Further details about survey results can be found at http://prezi.com/ptdh1tsspxvs/?utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0...

One benefit of COPE-L has been the process and policy changes that have been brought about through community. For instance, from discussions at COPE-L events, parking policies for online students who visit campus have been modified to reduce parking tickets and help those students to feel more welcome.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Faculty satisfaction
The Community of Practice for E-Learning helps to improve faculty satisfaction by providing networking opportunities for faculty to connect with peers and academic support staff. This addresses an on-going problem noted in the literature: faculty isolation. Faculty members feel they have little voice in the organization, curriculum and planning for the future (Eib & Miller 2006). COPE-L has also fostered research collaborations across departments on the Community of Inquiry framework.

Learning Effectiveness
COPE-L enhances learning effectiveness by sharing effective teaching practices, successful student support practices, and technology-integration strategies across departmental silos. The learning environment is also enhanced by improving university processes for online students.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 
  • On-campus classrooms and computer labs for meetings
  • Web-conferencing platform for some events
  • Website/blog
Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 
  • Refreshments for each meeting
  • Honoraria for retreat speakers
  • Location fee and refreshments for annual retreat
References, supporting documents: 

Newman, Laurel Vaughan. “Keeping Up and Staying Connected: Contributions From a Community of Practice.” Conference Proceedings Paper. Distance Learning Association. 2014. http://hdl.handle.net/2142/73146.

Brown, J.S., and P. Dugid. "Towards a Unified View of Working, Learning and Innovation: Organizational Learning and Communities of Practice." Organization Science 2 (1991): 40-57. Print.

"COPE-L at UIS." COPE-L at UIS. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. https://sites.google.com/site/copel2012/.

Newman, Laurel. "Keeping Up and Staying Connected:." Prezi.com. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. https://prezi.com/jn6kp7ydpzge/keeping-up-and-staying-connected/.

Newman, Laurel. "Taking Stock - Final." Prezi.com. Web. 30 Jan. 2015. https://prezi.com/ptdh1tsspxvs/taking-stock-final/.

Wenger, Etienne. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge UP, 1998. Print.

Wenger, Etienne, and Richard A. McDermott. Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School, 2002. Print.

Eib, B., & Pam Miller. "Faculty Development as Community Building - An approach to professional development that supports Communities of Practice for Online Teaching." The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning [Online], 7.2 (2006): n. pag. Web. 31 Jan. 2015. http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/299/639.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Emily Boles
Email this contact: 
ewelc05s@uis.edu
Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Laurel Newman
Email contact 2: 
lnewm1@uis.edu
Effective Practice Contact 3: 
Carrie Levin
Email contact 3: 
clevi2@uis.edu