‘What do you mean by a Community of Practice?’ – Tracy Zou

As the editor, I received this question from almost all contributing authors when I invited them to write and also many others who were interested in our initiative. I started with a general definition. Communities of Practice (CoPs) refer to groups of people sharing the same passion interacting on a regular basis to advance their expertise in the areai. CoPs can take various forms, from organic informal groups to intentionally established or fostered communities. I also explained our intention to cultivate CoPs to enable people who are interested in teaching and learning to discuss about related topics, learn from each other’s experiences, and develop new and effective practices that are suitable to their respective context.

The articles I received deeply impressed me and greatly exceeded my expectations. They not only broadened my perceptions of the concept, but also brought me to the multiple vibrant CoPs in relation to teaching and learning in the University. I shall briefly introduce the articles here.

The Foreword by Prof. Ian Holliday highlights the value and significance of having teaching and learning CoPs for the University. Using the CoP Project undertaken by CETL as an example, Prof. Holliday envisions a bright future of multiple potential CoPs. He also shows faith in this e-newsletter as one promising way of connecting people and warmly welcomes all HKU colleagues and friends to be part of the teaching and learning CoPs.

The Message from the Director of CETL, Prof. Grahame Bilbow, discusses how the CoP Project has been an important catalyst in providing the Centre with a promising way of connecting people as well as sharing effective teaching and learning practices more widely than ever. Prof. Bilbow also highlights that the insights generated from these sharing activities would be important elements for pedagogic innovations.

The Feature Article entitled ‘When Ideas Meet Expertise’ based on an interview with Dr. Michael Botelho illustrates the synergy emerged from working with people in various disciplines. Such cross-disciplinary collaborations expand the original ideas and make them more feasible. Dr. Botelho also discusses the role of CoPs in the University as well as the potential value of having a stronger sense of community on scholarship of teaching and learning.

The Feature Article entitled ‘Hidden Treasures’ by Prof. Dai Hounsell vividly describes the process of identifying and surfacing effective practices as a treasure-digging journey, aiming at bringing wise practices that reside with individual teachers to be widely shared so that colleagues across the University may benefit from the resources. Prof. Hounsell also previews the upcoming theme of our CoP Project, which will focus on ‘internationalisation in teaching and learning’.

The three Guest Blogs in this issue reflect personal undertakings and involvement in CoPs in a variety of ways.

Ms. Miranda Legg shares her view that there are several formal and informal CoPs in the Centre for Applied English Studies. Discussing about teaching and learning practices with colleagues and friends often gives her useful ideas. She also introduces her practice in incorporating the concept of CoP into teaching through forming students’ CoPs on English writing.

Dr. Cheri Chan applies the concept of CoPs to the design of student learning experiences in a course on critical pedagogy. She brought her students, the teachers-in-training, to meet with practicing teachers in actual workplace. This effectively brings students to the discourses and professional practices of the CoPs to which they will finally be an important part after graduation.

Ms. Alice Lee offers the perspective that CoP provides a vibrant environment for teachers to communicate and collaborate with each other. She believes that the CoP Project undertaken by CETL shows a good example in this regard and urges more teachers, full-time and part-time, to join the community. She also advocates that such a CoP should include students and other relevant stakeholders.

To summarise, this issue opens a wide avenue of teaching and learning CoPs in higher education. It reviews the CoP Project undertaken by CETL with the focus on wise assessment as an example, highlights the prosperity of having multiple teaching related CoPs at HKU, and discusses the possibilities of adopting CoPs as a concept into the design of pedagogy and student learning experiences.

It is indeed fascinating to see the various possibilities and potentials of CoPs. I therefore perceive our role as ‘systems conveners’ who attempt to forge new learning partnerships in complex landscapes that will hopefully bring different people together to engage in teaching and learningii.

Would you like to share with us your opinion?
Given the various definitions and many possible undertakings of CoPs, as a theoretical concept and an education strategy, we look forward to hearing your voices about what a CoP means to you? Please email your views to us (tracyzou@hku.hk) or simply voice your opinion in the Poll through one click.

Would you like to contribute to future issues of ‘Teaching and Learning Connections’?
Please express your ideas through emails to tracyzou@hku.hk. I am happy to discuss with you and assist you in the publication process.

Preview of the next issue

The second issue (May 2016) is tentatively entitled Revisiting Assessment for Learning. It will review some of the wise practices distilled from the CETL’s CoP Project, recap key themes emerging around assessment and feedback, and outline the development along the time in the area of assessment for learning.

Stay Tuned with Us.

Alice Lee
Dr. Tracy Zou

Editor of ‘Teaching and Learning Connections’
Assistant Professor
Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning
The University of Hong Kong


iWenger, E., McDermott, R., Snyder, W. M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press. P.4.
iiWenger-Trayner, B. & Wenger-Trayner, E. (2015). Systems conveners in complex landscapes. In Wenger-Trayner, E., Fenton-O’Creevy, M., Hutchinson, S., Kubiak, C., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (Eds.). Learning in landscapes of practice: Boundaries, identity, and knowledgeability in practice-based learning (pp. 99-118). London: Routledge.

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