Networked learning for a year
Since a couple of months I am involved with a Community of Practice (CoP) at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. The CoP has 15 members, all teachers at Hogeschool Rotterdam. The aim is to let the members explore and learn in a self-steered setting, as a diversification of the internal training methods they have on offer for their employees. Subject matter is how to adapt their teaching to the digital reality their students are already living in, `and the digital reality in place in the fields of work they are educating their students for. The teachers involved come from different disciplines, ranging from social studies to economics to healthcare to marketing and mathematics. As a consultant I have been involved in designing this CoP as well as facilitating the group dynamics now the project has started. Also, as new digital possibilities are part of the subject matter of this CoP I bring my social software/knowledge management expertise into the group as a subject matter expert.
HRO Team
Creating the posters to find participants
I intend to share some impressions of the experiences we are making in this blog. This first posting is mostly about the design process we went through in January and February.
During 2007 a pilot project was run at Hogeschool Rotterdam. Results were mixed some group members created very worthwile results (both with and without use of digital technology, but all consistent with the attitudes and skills that come with social media), others never really got past the ideaphase of their personal projects. These mixed results were in large part caused by a lack of design beforehand and unclear roles in seeing it through. This is what we sought to remedy in the design phase of this year’s project.
Our Pilot From Last Year
Article in the University Magazine about the pilot project
When, as an organization, you create a space for self directed learning you are confronted with a dilemma. On the one hand you cannot specify the outcome of the learning project you are creating, but on the other hand you want to make sure that whatever the results, it will be useful for the organization itself. We seek the solution in enabling the organization to steer the project on a set of quality-aspects and qualitative result criteria, and otherwise seperate the steering within the group and the steering of the overall project. The needed grades of freedom and the needed levels of steering are thus positioned in different dimensions. For the organization, having the CoP is a project, and regular project management applies. The group itself is run internally and presented externally as a community. Community members are doing their own individual projects. These projects combined are managed as a programme by the group and a group facilitator.
The design team consisted of four people. A member of the original pilot group, someone of the internal training department (and owner of the project), someone from the internal innovation and quality department (also currently doing a PhD on work forms for professional development), and me.
Hogeschool Rotterdam CoPBrainstorming
External steering
For the overall project the organization has influence on the usual project management aspects of time, money, quality, information, and organization. Both the budget and time-limit (1 year) have been set beforehand by the management. In the design phase we created the organizational structures that allow us to steer the project and at the same time give the CoP the freedom it needs. It means there is a project leader, and a group facilitator. Both are visible and active in the group, and they work closely together in monitoring the progress the group is making. Information about the project for the organizational stakeholders is communicated by the internal training department. Quality is the main management issue. Some quality criteria were set as barriers to entry, others come in play during the work of the CoP itself.
We zijn gesprongen - Kick off session HZ CoP
Show and tell is fun
Internal steering
The group is self steering. The project leader and group facilitator (me) both are active members of the group. They however, instead of having their own individual projects have looking out for the stated quality criteria on their agenda. Every member of the group has a personal project, defined by themselves, during the year. Learning, collaboration, inspiration, support, all comes from the group. Members run their own projects with the usual project management tools. The project leader and group facilitator manage the portfolio of those individual projects as a programme. Besides that we look at the community of practice design principals a la Wenger et al as a guide for our actions and have connected the programme management aspects to those CoP principals.
We zijn gesprongen - Kick off session HZ CoP
Making plans
Reflection as glue
To make sure that the different levels and dimensions of management and (self-)steering are connected, and are consistent with eachother, we use a reflection process. Individual members, the group as a whole, the projectleader, the group facilitator, and the organizational project owner all continuously reflect on their actions, the feedback of others, the value for themselves, and how that relates to personally stated goals and those of the group and the organization. The quality and result criteria are connected to this too. This reflection is made transparant within those involved. Other stakeholders (students, colleagues, managers of members, and the board of the Hogeschool Rotterdam) contribute to this reflection as well by means of answering questions asked any or all of us involved in the group and project. Reflection is our means of measurement.
Hogeschool Rotterdam CoP
Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences against Rotterdam skyline
Quality and result criteria
We formulated quality and result criteria to be able to give the group enough freedom of movement to define their own goals and construct their own path towards their own results, while making sure all this fits within the goals and boundaries set by the organization.
Here’s a list of those criteria:

  • Connection to organizational goals (Q), used as barrier to entry, personal development plan for 2008 should contain the rationale for participation. We assumed personal development plans are already connected to organizational goals.
  • Intrinsic motivation (Q), for the domain, as well as the work form. Used as barrier for entry. Can participants show past actions or experiences that make this likely.
  • Meaningful personal project (Q, R) for the teacher herself as well as other stakeholders, including students. Built into the reflection process and to be made visible by the participants.
  • Transfer (Q,R) of knowledge gained and lessons learned, to colleagues, to external parties, both during the CoP’s lifetime as well as afterwards when results are there.
  • Fun and joy in working and learning (Q)
  • Commitment (Q). Every participant formally committed to the reflection process.
  • Impact on education (R). Individual projects must have a direct impact on the teaching the participant does, and must concern their own teaching modules.
  • Steps in personal development (R). Built into the reflection process. Participants need to propose steps, and make progress visible, concerning their own professional skills and attitudes as part of their individual project.
  • Work form for professional development (R). The Hogeschool Rotterdam itself wants to use this work form as a regular working format. Experiences made by the group result in a ‘cookbook’ for this format. Partl built into the reflection process.
    Hogeschool Rotterdam CoP
    Ultimate goal, is better education for the students
    Next steps
    The group was formed in March and April and really started mid-April. A next posting will be about those first delicate steps of bringing a group together and handing them the ownership of their own learning path.
    Students conversing