Cultivating communities of practice: Analysis of 3 case studies using the 7 principles

Sylvia Currie, Patricia Delich, and Paul Stacey

We see learning as an integral part of life. Sometimes it demands an effort; sometimes it is not even our goal. But it always involves who we are, what we do, who we seek to connect with, and what we aspire to become. – Wenger, White, & Smith, 2009.



After completing this chapter, you should be able to provide:

      examples of Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder's (2002) 7 principles of community design in action.

      ideas for nurturing the development of three types of community:

1.    a local community with members from within a single post-secondary institution.

2.    a regional (provincial) community with members across twenty-five public post secondary institutions.

3.    an international community with members from all over the world.


The term Community of Practice (CoP) was coined by Wenger and Lave in the 1990s. Wenger captures the essence of CoPs as "groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly" (Wenger, � 2, nd). In this chapter we present a series of community case studies following Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder's (2002, p. 51) 7 principles for cultivating communities of practice:

1.    Design for evolution
�The key to designing for evolution is to combine design elements in a way that catalyzes community development� (Wenger et al., 2002, p. 53).

2.    Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives
�Good community design requires an understanding of the community�s potential to develop and steward knowledge, but it often takes an outside perspective to help members see the possibilities� (Wenger et al., 2002, p. 54).

3.    Invite different levels of participation
This principle addresses participation on many levels: providing different ways to participate, allowing different levels of commitment based on time and interest, and encouraging members to take on new roles in the community (Wenger et al., 2002).

4.    Develop both public and private community spaces
�The key to designing community spaces is to orchestrate activities in both public and private spaces that use the strength of individual relationships to enrich events and use events to strengthen individual relationships� (Wenger et al., 2002, p. 59).

5.    Focus on value
�Rather than attempting to determine their expected value in advance, communities need to create events, activities, and relationships that help their potential value merge and enable them to discover new ways to harvest it� (Wenger et al., 2002, p. 60).

6.    Combine familiarity and excitement
Successful communities combine familiar routines with �enough interesting and varied events to keep new ideas and new people cycling into the community� (Wenger et al., 2002, p. 61).

7.    Create a rhythm for the community
�If the beat is too fast � people stop participating because they are overwhelmed. When the beat is too slow, the community feels sluggish� (Wenger et al., 2002, p. 62).

The first case is an institution-based, private, hybrid community called the Onliners for faculty engaged in the practice of developing, designing, and teaching online courses at a community college. The second case is SCoPE [1] , an international community for individuals interested in educational research and practice, which is free and open to the public. The third case is the Educational Technology Users Group (ETUG), a grassroots organization of educational practitioners in British Columbia, Canada. Each case describes an educator community with a unique purpose and context.

The three cases in this chapter provide a close look at how decisions about community design and technologies to support community activities were made and revised. This elaboration demonstrates how factors other than user requirements can influence decisions about the selection of technologies and how �communities and technologies shape each other� (Wenger et al., 2005, � 2). By describing our Communities of Practice using Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder's (2002) 7 principles, we are able to acknowledge successes and identify areas requiring further attention. Presenting these cases using a common framework creates a consistent and rich view to help those involved in online and hybrid communities learn from our experiences.

Case 1: Cultivating a Community of Instructors Designing, Developing, and Teaching Online Courses

By Patricia Delich

General Background

In this case study of a faculty community (called the Onliners), I describe the design and evolution of an institution-based hybrid community (part online and part in-person). In my position, I oversaw the design and development of online courses, which also involved designing and implementing a training program to help faculty learn how to do this.

This community�s practice was online course development and teaching at a community college. This involved college instructors who learned how to develop and teach online courses for the first time, and longtime members of this community.

Because of the enormous amount of learning required in a short time, the community was essential in providing support to instructors, and in sharing knowledge, experiences, and resources. To support this process, I wanted to create both a formal and informal infrastructure for the community. Encouraging a community to form was an intentional part of the design of this infrastructure.

Eight instructors had participated in a pilot project in 1999 that launched online course development and teaching at one of the largest urban community college in the United States. The pioneer group learned how to develop and teach online courses by helping one another; no formal learning structures were in place. They had no models to work from and didn�t research how other community colleges developed online courses. One of the pioneers described this period as inventing the wheel and inventing fire and often not knowing the difference between the two. These pioneers had bonded through designing, developing, and teaching their courses by trial and error. Findings from the pilot showed a need to create both formal and informal structures to help sustain planned growth of quality online courses.


Membership in the Onliners community consisted of faculty who were designing, developing, and teaching online courses. Any interested faculty member at this institution could participate in some of the community functions, but the core community was those actively engaged in these tasks. Also in this community were faculty teaching hybrid courses (primary mode of course delivery was online with some in-person classes), and tech-enhanced (primary mode of course delivery was in-person with some online components).

Faculty interested in teaching an online or hybrid course proactively enlisted (or were encouraged by their department chair or dean) and followed an application process before becoming a part of the community.

Technology Decisions

Over a 10-year period, this community college serially used four different course management systems (CMS) to deliver online courses to students and as a platform to support the Onliners CoP. The pioneer group chose the first CMS, and it was used for only one semester because it had serious problems. Additionally, the CMS vendor made promises about software functionality that it didn�t have; the CMS was difficult to learn and use, and the vendor did not provide training, administrative, or technical support. These early adopters learned by helping one another and through self-discovery. Unfortunately, these they early adopters struggled to learn this difficult software, only to abandon it after one semester and transition to another one.

Transitioning to the second CMS involved learning new software and reengineering content originally created in the first CMS. There was no easy or fast way to migrate content from one CMS to another. Many of these pioneers said they were happy to switch even though it meant another steep learning curve; they described the first CMS as a disastrous experience.

About a year after the second CMS was implemented, staff were hired to support faculty and maintain the servers. Having staff available gave the early adopters and the next generations of course developers the ability to focus on course design and pedagogy. Before support staff was hired, the second CMS vendor provided training that faculty felt was not sufficient. Many instructors expressed frustration on how the CMS vendor conducted the training. Once staff were hired, faculty felt fully supported and much of their frustration abated. This second CMS was used for almost seven years. When this CMS vendor merged with another CMS vendor, the college was forced to abandon the second CMS and move to a third one.

The third CMS proved problematic after a short pilot and the college is now transitioning to a fourth CMS, which is open source. Faculty are in the process of migrating their content and learning to use this new CMS.

Each CMS implemented at this college was used both for delivering online courses to students as well as a platform for knowledge sharing among community members.

Design for Evolution

During my first semester working at the college, I met with faculty to determine what their needs were, what the issues were, and how to best design an infrastructure to meet those needs. Additionally, I researched how other community colleges designed their programs and used these ideas to inform how I would design the program at my college. In 2001, very few faculty had experience in online teaching or learning; one essential component of this program would be a way for faculty to gain experiential knowledge as online students. To meet this need, I developed an online course on how to design, develop, and teach online courses. This course was designed to expose faculty to best practices in online course design and teaching, as a way for them to gain knowledge as online students, and as a platform for faculty to share experiences and information. I facilitated this course, which became one of the online venues for the community. The course also situated faculty within the environment where they would eventually teach.

There was a steady stream of newcomers to the community because every semester new faculty applied to teach online courses. At the beginning, newcomers relied on me, but as the community grew and faculty gained experience, the number of old-timers [2] increased. An old-timer�s level of experience ranged from completing course development to teaching it online. Most old-timers were very willing to connect with and help newcomers. Over time, as the community grew, my role as a connector between the newcomers and old-timers lessened as they formed relationships. I saw my role as creating the infrastructure, nurturing the growth of the community, and providing what was needed. The community aspect of the program was essential to the evolution of the program; I knew that the members would play an important role in sustaining much of the needed support.

As mentioned earlier, this was a hybrid community: Some components were online and some in-person. Two online components were the online course and a listserv with community members, support staff, and a few selected administrators. The listserv gave each member direct access to the whole community. Examples of listserv postings ranged from logistical questions to technological and pedagogical issues in teaching and course development. If an issue occurred during the hours when staff members were not available (e.g., weekends and evenings), an instructor could post a message to the listserv, and often received an immediate response from another instructor. Administrative news was posted to the listserv, as well as opportunities of interest to the group. Dialogue on the listserv tended to be more pragmatic in nature than social (Collison, Elbaum, Haavind, & Tinker, 2000), but camaraderie was apparent in the community.

A third online component was a private area accessible only by community members and support staff. It provided access to most of the courses taught online. This private area gave faculty a broad view of how active online courses at this college were designed and taught. This component accelerated understanding of online course design and online teaching, and provided another way for faculty to connect with one another. Most faculty approved of having this common student account in their course because they knew how useful it was to have this access while they were learning about online course design and teaching, and were very willing to help newcomers. Within the community, this private account was referred to by its account login name.

This online venue for knowledge sharing was available only to the Onliners and support staff. To create this access, online instructors were asked to enroll a common student guest account in their courses. When newcomers joined the community, they were given access to this confidential guest account. Most instructors participated by adding this account in their course, which provided new developers direct access to the practice of teaching online at this college, and gave them an opportunity to view a variety of online course designs and teaching styles. By using this student guest account, both new developers and experienced online instructors could acquire ideas and teaching strategies for their own courses. It became an invaluable component of the community for both newcomers and old-timers.

There were three in-person components in the community infrastructure. One was a monthly group meeting that included presentations of issues that faculty were interested in, such as copyright, intellectual property, and emerging technologies to use in teaching and learning. There were technical and pedagogical demonstrations, and, most important, informal time for faculty to share stories and concerns, and show their courses. Both newcomers and old-timers attended these meetings. The meetings provided another avenue for developing relationships and sharing information.

A second in-person component included one-on-one consultations to address individual concerns. Faculty were provided instructional design support, advice on pedagogy related to teaching in an online environment, interface design advice, and technical support. These consultations occurred regularly and were designed to answer specific questions, remove obstacles, and help faculty stay on track with their course development.

A third in-person component was three skills-based workshops. The first workshop was an overview of the development process and an introduction to the CMS. Faculty left with the ability to login to the online training course, use the CMS�s communication tools, and access the course they would be designing. The second workshop focused on how to use the designer tools within the CMS. The third workshop focused exclusively on the quiz and assessment tools. These workshops offered yet another venue for faculty to develop relationships and share experiences with one another.

After course development was completed, pedagogical and technical support continued when faculty started teaching online. They were not only supported by staff members but, most important, by the ever-growing community of online instructors.

Scaffolding the community with the necessary venues, tools, and resources along with opportunities to �connect with the history of the practice and to participate more directly in its cultural life� (Lave & Wenger, 1991, p. 101) assisted in furthering its existence. Additionally, as Engestr�m (1996) maintained, �history is present in current practices� (p. 92). History helped to shape learning by providing an archive of past practices and cultural norms to draw from.

Open a Dialogue Between Inside and Outside Perspectives

Inside and outside perspectives are defined in this case study as the dialogue that occurred among faculty across disciplines. Many faculty mentioned that for the first time they had a venue for reflecting about the practice of teaching and learning with faculty outside their disciplines. Faculty remarked that contact they had with other faculty from different disciplines provided opportunities to consider new ways to design and teach online courses. Another common remark was how the experience of designing and teaching online changed how they taught in-person classes.

Invite Different Levels of Participation

The task of designing and developing an online course for the first time placed newcomers at the core of participation from the moment they joined the community. To support instructors� participation in in-person activities, each newcomer�s teaching schedule was analyzed before the beginning of every semester so that in-person group meetings and workshops could be scheduled around their course calendar. Faculty received release time to develop their courses.

Some newcomers reported that when they first became part of the community, the listserv was often overwhelming because they did not yet have context for what was being discussed. The listserv provided an easy way for newcomers to gain access to experts but at the same time created ��a tension between competence and experience� (Wenger, 2002, � 7). Exposure to experts and discussion among members gave newcomers the pull to greater competence.

The community�s online components provided easier access to participation than some of the in-person components. This community college has several campuses throughout the city. Most in-person meetings were at the main campus because the majority of faculty worked there. For faculty who worked at one of the outlying campuses, coming to the main campus was often difficult—the main problem was parking. An issue part-time faculty faced was other work responsibilities away from the college, which made it difficult for them to attend meetings. Faculty who did not work at the main campus impacted more than just attendance at formal meetings. Informal meetings often occurred by just walking around the campus. Faculty would miss these by-chance opportunities of water-cooler-type conversations. Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder (2002) mentioned that these types of encounters are often the most valuable.

Old-timers participated in informal ways such as answering questions or providing guidance and encouragement to newcomers. A more formal structure was created that involved old-timers conducting a peer review of a completed course before it was taught. These peer reviewers were provided with a rubric to be used for the review. (A community member and I designed this rubric.) This structure worked well for both the course developer and the peer reviewer because the reviews provided the course developer with perspectives and ideas from an expert experienced in course development and online teaching. The peer reviewers would also gain new ideas from conducting the review. They could then incorporate these ideas into their own course. Peer reviews provided yet another platform for knowledge sharing.

Develop Both Public and Private Community Spaces

I have already discussed public and private community spaces developed for the community. Another space I would like to highlight is my office. Many of the one-on-one consultations occurred in my office (although sometimes I would travel to an instructor�s office for the consultation). The walls in my office were covered with photographs I took every semester of instructors who were developing courses. I didn�t realize the impact this would have over time; these photos captured some of the community�s history and provided recognition of community members. These photos also existed in the online course along with the name of the course the instructor was developing and his or her contact information.

While working with an instructor in my office, I would point to a photograph of someone who had implemented a teaching strategy the instructor was interested in. This helped connect community members to one another and created a greater sense of community. Although this was not an intentional design at the beginning, it became a valuable tool in creating a sense of community.

Focus on Value

Knowledge-sharing venues were created to help ease the intensity of rapid course development and to provide support to community members. I have already described many of these venues, but one I haven�t mentioned occurred during one-on-one consultations.

While meeting one-on-one with an instructor, I recorded discoveries made by instructors that would be of interest to others in the community. These discoveries included instructional strategies, ideas for using technology tools, and �ah-ha� moments. The audio file was used as the narration for a slideshow movie illustrating the concept the instructor spoke of. Visuals in the movie contained screenshots of his or her online course.

Both newcomers and old-timers said that these short movies were valuable. The movies documented strategies and history, and provided a way to highlight and share best practices within the community. Additionally, if we met in the instructor�s office, we had an opportunity to set up his or her computer to record audio files and demonstrate how to create them. These short movies helped community members � � calculat[e] the value of an idea or tool� (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002, p. 175). A common comment from instructors (usually from newcomers) was that they didn�t think they had anything valuable to share but were often honoured and surprised that I had asked. Another benefit was that this sharing promoted confidence; the experience validated that they had something of value to share back with the community.

Combine Familiarity and Excitement

The structure described in this case study created a consistent framework that provided �� stability for relationship-building connections� (Wenger, McDermott, & Snyder, 2002, p. 62). Each online and in-person component used by the community became familiar to them after they spent time either using a particular tool or attending one of the many events. Some faculty mentioned that after they became familiar with how to design their course, they found it to be exciting and fun (although time-consuming). To recognize high-quality work that faculty were achieving in their course design, I began to search for ways to honour them. When faculty began to receive awards for their online courses, this created much excitement within and outside the community. Over six years, online instructors at this college received 13 statewide awards and two national awards from well-known organizations.

The reasons for obtaining these awards were varied. Awards encouraged many instructors to strive for excellence in the design of their own course and helped to create a culture of quality. Some instructors mentioned that even if they did not receive an award, they were inspired to create a high-quality, engaging course. The awards also promoted the online teaching and learning program within the college, which helped faculty and administrators outside of the community become more familiar with it. When prestigious organizations began recognizing our online faculty, those who resisted online teaching and learning at this college became more open to it.

Recognition from outside agencies helped to legitimize online instructors� efforts within the college. The awards helped dispel the notion that some disciplines couldn�t be taught well in an online environment, and encouraged those in other disciplines to consider teaching online courses.

Create a Rhythm for the Community

The inherent rhythm of a college semester provided the backdrop for this community of practice. At the beginning of every semester, a new group of faculty would join the community. The first workshop was offered just before classes started and provided an overview of the development process and an introduction to the community. The one-on-one consultations would begin the following week, and with most faculty, we would meet every week. The second workshop (Designer Tools) was offered in the first month; the third workshop (Quiz and Assessment) was offered a few weeks after the second one. The monthly meetings provided another cadence to the semester.

The online course started during the first workshop and lasted six weeks. The length of the course was later modified to four weeks because four weeks worked better in conjunction with the structure of the face-to-face component of the training. The activity on the listserv varied according to the needs of and participation from the community.

The end of the semester prompted course reviews and sign-offs. Once course development was completed, faculty who developed the course would normally begin teaching it the following semester. These faculty would then begin to have new needs because they were teaching online for the first time.

This rhythm repeated every semester.


Over the years, this community has shown that by working together and sharing expertise, solutions to delivering courses online can be found. The willingness of community members to help one another points to strong sustainability. Just as the early adopters at this college broke new ground, the Onliners continue to bring creativity and vision to online teaching and learning at this college.


In creating an infrastructure based on supporting a community of practice involved in designing, developing, and teaching online courses to evolve, I offer the following recommendations:

      Encourage instructors interested in and excited about new ways of teaching and learning to join the community.

      When your institution advertises for new faculty, include something in the job announcement such as: �open to or conversant in using technologies in teaching and learning.� This will help ensure that in the future a larger pool of teachers will be open to teaching online.

      Make sure that faculty have the proper hardware and software to create and teach online courses.

      Require faculty to attend training before teaching online. Include this in the contract they sign.

      Expect that your program will grow. Ensure that your institution has the funding to support your program�s growth. You will need personnel, and personnel need space to work. Having the proper amount of workspace is often a problem at colleges and universities.

      As you develop your program, consider forming an e-learning advisory committee. Include representatives from all departments that are impacted (e.g., the library, student services, IT, etc.). Include several faculty on this committee. This will help create buy-in, dispel myths, and provide a sense of ownership among all stakeholders.

      Provide opportunities for department chairs to learn firsthand about online learning. They can become advocates of online learning in their departments, which can help to grow the program. The knowledge they gain in online learning can better assist them in the selection of appropriate faculty to teach online. Additionally, this will help in maintaining a high quality of online teaching.

      Frame the transition to online teaching as a process and a journey of discovering how one�s teaching role changes in an online educational environment. Provide opportunities for faculty to reflect upon this changing role with other faculty who have made the transition as well as with those who are in the process.

      Create an inclusive environment for all those involved in the online course development and teaching support structure: other faculty, administrators, technical support staff, instructional designers, media specialists, mentors, and student workers.

      Encourage or require support staff and administrators to take an online course to gain experiential knowledge of online learning environments. For instructors to create high-quality courses, they need high-quality support from staff and administrators who understand the environment from firsthand experience.

      Conduct periodic evaluations of your program to assess whether the program�s goals are being met as well as instructors� and students� needs.

      Provide a creative position for a staff member on your team who understands emerging technologies and how they can be integrated in online teaching and learning. Responsibilities for this staff member could include researching emerging technologies for integration into online teaching and learning.

Case 2: SCoPE – An Open, Online Community

By Sylvia Currie

General Background

SCoPE is an online community for individuals who share an interest in educational research and practice. The project began in 2004 out of an interest to rekindle the popular, moderated seminar discussions offered by the Global Educators� Network [3] from 1999-2003. SCoPE is now funded by BCcampus, an online service connecting students and educators to programs and resources across British Columbia�s twenty-five public post secondary institutions. A primary goal for SCoPE is to showcase and build on the interests and expertise of educators in the province. However, the community participation intentionally extends beyond the BC to provide opportunities for dialogue across disciplines, geographical borders, professions, levels of expertise, and education sectors.


SCoPE has attracted members from a variety of backgrounds and geographical locations. In 4 years it had grown to 2,700 members from 62 countries. Members have learned about SCoPE through word of mouth and personal invitations. Each new seminar discussion topic and special interest group brings in new members, and growth has been steady. Most activities in SCoPE are accessible to the public, meaning that an account is required only to contribute to discussions, edit profiles, and customize site visits. Many individuals choose to participate on the periphery, reading forum posts and accessing resources without taking the steps to create an account. Our log files show that Guest User access (i.e., the user has not logged in) is used daily, with over 3 million page views to date.

Technology Decisions

The process of choosing a suitable platform for the SCoPE community was unexpectedly complex. Our preliminary research did not yield any existing community platforms that satisfied these most important criteria:

      easy to use



      good communication tools.

Several staff members at Simon Fraser University elearning Innovation Centre (eLINC) [4] were tasked with developing a User Requirement document in Fall 2004. The document outlined basic roles, and several use case scenarios [5] to convey typical user interactions with the community environment. While the scenarios did not present terribly sophisticated interactions, there were several features that did not present themselves in existing platforms. For example, it was important to support the transition from lurker to active participant. At any moment that a visitor to the site felt compelled to contribute to a discussion, there should be a simple process to quickly join/log in, then resume engagement. We felt strongly that members should choose to join SCoPE because they see something of value to them in the community. If potential members are attracted to a topic-based discussion, whether by invitation or incidental, there should be no requirement to undergo administrative tasks like creating user accounts or registering for events before given an opportunity to explore how community membership might benefit them.

The User Requirement document also outlined several options for forum participation and subscription to topics of interest. A system that could accommodate various levels of participation was important, realizing that a newcomer would need a very basic level of understanding of these options, but a more seasoned community member would be interested in a more advanced level of customization and management.

Following a 10-month process of reviewing platforms and the feasibility of developing an in-house solution, we returned to our original short list resulting from our research during the early phase of the project. [6] Moodle, an open source course management system, stood out as satisfying most of our user requirements. Furthermore, it had a well-established open source community, and was flexible enough to allow members to invent and share new uses. The disadvantage was that it adhered to a fairly rigid course metaphor, and we were concerned that it would also require considerable resources to transform Moodle to a community environment.

Moodle took (literally) 8 minutes to install and following initial installation has required very little maintenance. As community steward I have the access privileges necessary to deal with day-to-day operations. Work to brand and customize was straightforward and we were able to easily incorporate changes that made SCoPE feel like a community rather than a course space.

What�s the lesson? Select tools that match your specific community requirements and context. There is no single ideal community platform so plan for a good foundation to build as new uses and needs emerge.

Designing for Evolution

The initial preparation of the SCoPE site was intentionally minimal in order to facilitate opportunities for the members to shape the environment. The literature and our experiences informed us that it is important to facilitate opportunities for members to shape the environment and to participate in planning future activities. This called for a minimalist design (Wenger, 1998), and a tentative platform (Barab, MaKinster, & Scheckler, 2004).

SCoPE was launched in September, 2005 with a Next Steps discussion. (In retrospect it should have been called First Steps). The purpose of this discussion was to brainstorm initial activities and directions for the community. This 3-week seminar yielded excellent suggestions, many of which continue to be realized. Ongoing suggestions are encouraged in KaleidoSCoPE, a space in SCoPE to broaden, reflect on, and enhance community activities. However, a scheduled and facilitated event provides a more focused discussion about progress and is planned each year.

Where are we in the evolution of our online community? At time of launch our immediate goal was to attract members who are interested in education research and practice, and to connect with individuals who are interested in sharing their knowledge and expertise by facilitating scheduled seminar discussions. We have certainly achieved that, and there is a strong commitment to continue with seminar discussions as the core activity in SCoPE. Seminar discussions offer something unique and also build anticipation from one month to the next. In four years we have organized over 50 seminars on a variety of topics. In most cases, members proposed the discussion. In all cases, members have volunteered their time to facilitate the seminars, some investing considerable effort in planning, consulting on facilitation strategies, and in preparing summaries.

We have also created 42 Special Interest Groups (SIG). These are formed in response to suggestions from community members and have been introduced gradually. Some of these groups are for focused projects, and may come to an end when the project is finished. Other SIGs are intended to support ongoing dialogue and resource sharing based on interest. Several groups have requested a SIG space in SCoPE, but have not developed them further.

In addition to the scheduled seminars and SIGs initiated by community members, several opportunities for partnerships have emerged. The B.C. Educational Technology Users Group (described in Case 3) partners with SCoPE to host 2 seminars each year. In 2008 we hosted a 3-week online conference on elearning research in Canada in collaboration with the Canadian Institute of Distance Education Research and University of Manitoba's Learning Technologies Centre. SCoPE is the main hub for a Professional Learning Series which is coordinated collaboratively by BCcampus, eCampusAlberta [7] , and Alberta North [8] .

SCoPE has clearly evolved into a culture that values mutual exchange of ideas, resources, and time. In 4 years over 90 members have volunteered to facilitate discussions in the community.

Early on we identified an interest in pursuing and supporting research activities related to online communities. Research activities catalyze community development and there is a mutual benefit between the community and the researcher. These initiatives are raising new questions about virtual ethnography (Feenberg & Bakardjieva, 2001; Hine, 2000) and how we should prepare for future research projects. SCoPE is offered as a venue for researchers interested in studying online communities. However, with the exception of the occasional student using SCoPE for course projects, there are no formal studies underway.

Open a Dialogue Between Inside and Outside Perspectives

I am fortunate to have had many opportunities to engage in conversations about SCoPE through participation in workshops, meetings, conferences, and other communities. Much of this dialogue has been focused specifically on SCoPE, as well as online community design in general. Also, as an active member in other online communities and events I am always exposed to new ideas to bring back to SCoPE. Similarly, the partnerships described above have brought in new ideas, perspectives, and expertise that have influenced activities, site design, and communication.

Occasions to show and describe SCoPE at conferences and respond to questions from people who have had no exposure to the community (and in some cases to any community) act as a heuristic for rethinking design. For example, during one conference session I was asked what I have found is the best time to schedule seminar discussions given that members are from so many different time zones. It dawned on me that nowhere on the site does it mention that the seminar discussions are asynchronous!

Invite Different Levels of Participation

Participation in SCoPE is flexible and inclusive. In the public seminars, members may choose to participate by reading along rather than activity contributing to the discussion. There is no formal registration process for events, and once the session begins there is no obligation to participate on a regular basis, or to even continue.

Each topic invites both experts and novices to contribute. For example, a seminar discussion on informal learning attracted participation from a book author on the topic. In that same seminar other participants were wondering what the term �informal learning� means. This open format can lead to a fruitful discussion; �experts� who are completely immersed in a topic are asked to explain their work to people who may be unfamiliar with the basic concepts, resulting in opportunities to examine and rethink their ideas.

In addition, the community environment is intuitive for newcomers. There are very few requests for assistance to carry out basic functions such as posting to forums and updating profiles and preferences. There has been only a handful of requests for help logging in. At the same time, a more seasoned community member may take advantage of the more advanced features to customize and manage their participation.

There are various options for reading member contributions to the community such as RSS feeds from each forum, and the option to subscribe to individual forums by email. These options fully support and encourage lurking behaviour, which allows individuals an opportunity to become acculturated, and to ease in gradually if that suits them. There are �unspoken rules in every long-standing community, and �if you don�t spend some time just reading posts, observing how members of the community interact, you run the risk of barging in like a bull in a china shop� (Sandra & Spayde, 2001, p.167). This open format accommodates busy professionals, and members choose to join a discussion when they feel compelled and have the time. Obviously, not all seminar topics are going to appeal to everyone, but many members choose to read along to keep one ear on the discussion. As Wenger et al point out �successful communities build a fire in the centre of the community that will draw people to its heat� (Wenger et al., 2002, p.58). The scheduled seminar discussions are clearly the �heat� in SCoPE. There have been many cases where members have entered a discussion declaring that they could no longer resist the temptation:

�I've been following this conversation in RSS but you've wormed me out of the woodwork!� Linda Hartley (2007)

During scheduled discussions there have been requests to continue the dialogue past the seminar end date. One member suggested that all scheduled discussions remain open for afterthoughts, a practice which we immediately adopted. In addition to moving the forum to a separate section called Past Seminar Discussions I added to this title �but always open. Afterthoughts encouraged! Even though there is typically very little activity after the scheduled end date, members know there are more options. Also, as mentioned earlier, members may request a separate special interest group for ongoing conversation or projects. Introducing focused projects and new ways to interact add variety and sustain interest.

Communication trends among education professionals point to more use of blogs, RSS, and Twitter for communication, and services such as Delicious, Flickr, and Slideshare for sharing resources. Spontaneous thoughts, questions, observations, opinions, and announcements are posted to personal blogs or in response to other blog postings rather than in a single community venue (White, 2006). SCoPE members are also active in other communities. This cross-pollination of published ideas and dialogue presents both interesting opportunities and challenges for fostering different levels of participation. Experimentation with available social networking platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, has provided new insights into how we can engage members in different levels of participation. Casual conversation and providing new ways to connect by interests and experiences help to build more and stronger relationships.

Develop Both Public and Private Community Spaces

SCoPE is a combination of public and private spaces. Core SCoPE activity spaces, as well as selected special interest groups such as Scheduled Seminar Discussions, Community Enthusiasts, and Marginalia Sandbox, are public and members are free to join and unenrol as they please. The private spaces include:

      Special interest groups with a closed membership, such as Ubah Boleh where participants in a Schumacher College programme are discussing strategies for creative social change program for educators

      TeleSCoPE, where discussions related to site upgrades and customization take place

      Metaforums, where seminar facilitators talk about their experiences

      Practicing teachers enrolled in the Teaching and Learning in an Information Technology Environment (TLITE) diploma program at Simon Fraser University

      One-to-one messaging

As new ideas and requests for separate groups emerge, the issue of creating private space is always revisited. While there are obvious reasons for restricting access to certain groups, such as TeleSCoPE where server security could be in jeopardy with public access to discussions, there are many examples where discussions could be far richer if there were opportunities for broader input. For example, the seminar discussion format has provided opportunities for advancement of roles within the community – from participant to facilitator.

As community steward, I provide behind-the-scenes support for the volunteer moderators to help with planning, and to discuss progress and offer suggestions. We have also begun a tradition of debriefing seminars. Facilitators are asked if they would like to spend some time reflecting on the seminar, and if so, who they would like to include in the process. A private �metaforum� is set up for this purpose. These debriefing sessions have turned into very rich dialogue that will help to inform future SCoPE activities, and in many ways it is a disadvantage that they aren't shared openly. In fact, one debrief developed into a discussion about how to go about conducting public debriefs, and naturally this would have been a good topic for all members to engage in.

During a seminar discussion on informal learning, the facilitators made a behind-the-scenes decision to start a new �public debrief� thread in the seminar. The outcome was mixed: One participant felt that this action essentially killed the discussion. Another member who had not yet participated felt compelled to comment on her observations, so in her case the debrief became her entry into the community discussion.

On the other hand, a private space affords more candid discussions. Members feel safe in a private discussion space. As community steward, I often engage in email correspondence with members on topics that could easily be shared in the community. It is difficult to find a good balance, but to be sure some private space is desirable. It is important to constantly question the value of keeping a discussion private, and the risks of inviting wider participation. I see my role as bringing relevant feedback and ideas forward to advance the community while maintaining confidentiality of the private discussions that members choose to have.

Focus on Value

SCoPE exists to bring together individuals who share an interest in educational research and practice. The purpose of bringing them together is to interact and to share and construct resources related to practice. The community site, then, is about people and relationships first, and this philosophy is intentionally designed into the structure of the site. The main page (figure 1) features random member profiles, access to the full list of members, and information about who is online, or has been online recently. Also, some members choose to provide detailed information about themselves in their member profiles. 

Figure 1: Main page of community

In the initial design of SCoPE, every effort was made to provide several opportunities to communicate and to share resources in different contexts. For example any resource file type can be attached to forum posts during a seminar discussion. Through SCoPE discussions a number of �outcome� resources have been created. These include wikis to gather key points, questions, and resources alongside a seminar discussion. For example figure 2 shows a wiki to support the Exploring Networks of Communities seminar. Final summaries are often prepared in other formats. Figure 3 shows an example using tags to flag topic ideas for future seminars using Marginalia. In some cases seminar summaries are posted directly as a forum post. Also, there are several archived resources that accompany forum discussions, such as transcripts from text chats, conference calls, recorded Web conferences, mindmaps, support documents, and resources contributed as attachments and links as part of the discussions. In addition, all forum discussions continue to remain available after the scheduled end date.

Figure 2: Wiki to support the Exploring Networks of Communities seminar.

Figure 3: Overview of annotations tagged �topic�

From the beginning we were mindful that our service to the community should be to model how resources can be added and created rather than decide which resources would be of interest to members. As stated by John Smith, technologist and coach at CPSquare, �Resources does not a community make.� [9]

However, for the resources we produce and share in the community to be of value to members, we need to find ways to provide efficient methods of organizing and retrieving them. Also, our initial ideas that members would be willing to take extra steps to add content to a repository, and to share ideas, information about events and newsworthy items on an ongoing basis were off the mark. As mentioned, individuals are increasingly relying on blogs and RSS to keep up-to-date and to share and discuss current issues. Likewise, sharing and annotating Internet resources is easily accomplished through social bookmarking. It seems each time we visit the need to organize communal resources, we see new possibilities that are more efficient and very different from traditional file folder metaphors or containers for gathering resources into one place.

Seminar topics emerge from current events, from discussions in the community, or from specific requests directly from members. The request for a seminar on �Supporting and Advancing Online Dialogue� emerged during an earlier seminar on instructional design. Likewise the idea for the �Personal Learning Environments� seminar came about during the seminar �The Use of Open Source and Free Software in Education.� Other seminars coincided with and supported other scheduled events, such as Simon Fraser University�s Symposium on Innovative Teaching. A seminar called �Talking the Walk: Narratives of Online Learner Collaboration� served the purpose of collecting stories related to personal experiences with online collaboration, some of which were published in the first edition of this book, Education For a Digital World (Hirtz & Harper, 2008). SCoPE activities, then, are directly connected with the lives of the members, rather than determined through an administrative process of selecting topics that might be of interest to members.

Perhaps the clearest indicator that SCoPE is providing value to its members is seen through expressions of appreciation and willingness to return to participate in community activities.

Combine Familiarity and Excitement

As mentioned, the core activity for SCoPE is scheduled seminars facilitated by members of the community. Topics for the seminars emerge through participation, and from the backgrounds and interests of our members. These seminars establish a routine, but with new topics each month there is always something new and fresh to build expectations.

SCoPE activities are often organized in collaboration with other communities and events. For example I designed and maintained the Moodle environment for the University of Manitoba�s Future of Education online conference as a mutual exchange of services and appreciation. A seminar on the Educational Value of Podcasting was scheduled in tandem with other community events to form a face-to-face �Podcasting Camp� held in Vancouver. A companion online discussion area was created to continue to the dialogue begun at Simon Fraser University�s 8th Annual Symposium on Innovative Teaching. SCoPE was the organizing sponsor for the Knowtips online conference. Collaboration with these other communities brings in new interest to SCoPE and provides variety to our members. At a Community Enthusiasts event organized in collaboration with CPSquare the idea for quarterly online field trips featuring communities of practice emerged.

SCoPE offers an ideal venue for showcasing new education technology software and for beta testing. By using a familiar environment (Moodle) for organizing our activities we can integrate and experiment with other technologies that support our work as a community, or that we may use in our teaching and learning practices. For example, SCoPE is the home base for research and development of Marginalia Web Annotation (Xin & Glass, 2005). Marginalia provides a means for members to collect and revisit notes while participating in SCoPE discussions. It is also a valuable research tool and is especially useful for moderators to flag and follow up on key contributions and emerging themes in a discussion. Use of new tools such as Marginalia provides valuable feedback to developers and also attracts new members. We continue to integrate and hook into tools that will help to improve our SCoPE experience and teaching practices. Maintaining a home base that is familiar helps to manage this experimentation.

Create a Rhythm for the Community

Over the years we have maintained a schedule of one seminar per month, usually 3 weeks in length, and have avoided overlap. A regular format encourages members to revisit the community, and also invites participation from new members who are interested in the topic.

All seminar discussions take place in one group space on the SCoPE site. By organizing the discussions this way, members are able to easily enrol and unenrol from the seminar group. In addition, if they have their preferences set to receive forum posts by email, each new seminar discussion is pushed to their email inboxes until such time they choose to unsubscribe. This has proven to be an effective means to promote a seminar and build interest. If it were left to members to decide to participate based on a short description, or take an extra step to register, there would likely be fewer active participants each month. However, this method can take some people by surprise! Here Derek Chirnside (2007) enters the discussion scratching his head about how he got there. Interestingly, Derek goes on to be one of the most active discussants in the seminar.

�Well, I'm not exactly sure how I ended up in this discussion, but I am here. Did someone subscribe me?? Who is here? Is there a list? Has someone got a plan for my life??�

MicroSCoPE, a monthly update on community and member activities, is distributed through the site announcements forum. This newsletter includes upcoming events, a recap on past events, and information about SCoPE members� activities and achievements such as conference presentations and awards. Any questions about the community tools that affect participation are noted, and replies are included in MicroSCoPE. Following each MicroSCoPE issue, there is an increase in activity on the site. However, inasmuch as a monthly newsletter contributes to a community rhythm, a SCoPE community blog would provide more timely updates. A blog does not necessarily reach the same audience as a community newsletter, so we are investigating ways to produce and manage both.


This case study captures progress in attracting members and in shaping the SCoPE community to suit their needs. This elaboration demonstrates how factors other than user requirements can influence decisions about the selection of technologies. Selected examples illustrate how members contribute to shaping the community and to reinforcing design decisions.


Based on my experience with SCoPE over the past 4 years, I offer the following recommendations:

      Be mindful not to over design before launching a community.

      Select tools that match your specific community requirements and context; there is no single ideal community platform so plan for a good foundation to build as new uses and needs emerge.

      Allow for flexible participation, and participation on the periphery so members can get a feel for the community culture and understand the value of participating.

      Focus on people and dialogue, and less on content.

      Watch for and act on ideas for community activities and for shaping the community design as they emerge through participation.

      Provide a designated space for community members to provide feedback and ideas.

      Question requests for private spaces – weigh the pros and cons.

      A community steward role is essential for cultivating a community of practice.

      Make history visible, and incorporate a process for reflection as you move forward.

      Form partnerships with other communities and organizations to add interest and to benefit from distributed expertise.

Web Sites Mentioned in this Section

Alberta North:





Etienne Wenger:




Marginalia Web Annotation:

MicroSCoPE Newsletter:


SCoPE on Twitter:



Case 3: Educational Technology Users Group

By Paul Stacey and Sylvia Currie

General Background

As described on their Web site, the Educational Technology Users Group (ETUG) is a community of BC post-secondary educational practitioners focused on the ways in which learning and teaching can be enhanced through technology.

Members come from across the 25 colleges and universities in British Columbia Canada and include:

o       post-secondary professional staff (e.g. instructional designers, media developers, technical support)

o       instructors and learners

o       academic and technology administrators

ETUG�s core value is a commitment to nurturing a vibrant, innovative, evolving, and supportive community that thrives with the collegial sharing of ideas, resources, and ongoing professional development through face-to-face workshops and online exchange.

As a grassroots group, ETUG has been in existence since 1994 and over the years has presented the following activities and events for its members in support of innovation and best practices in educational technology in BC:

      Annual face-to-face workshops held in the fall and spring

      Annual  BC Innovation Awards in Educational Technology

      Online discussions on topics of interest to members

      Real-time Web-based events

      Institutional updates

      The ETUG News

      The What�s New Resource Blog

A Steering Committee for the Educational Technology Users Group (SCETUG) – fifteen volunteers representing universities, colleges, institutes, and educational agencies in the province, is responsible for organizing activities for ETUG.

SCETUG and ETUG activities are funded by British Columbia�s Ministry of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development (ALMD) and sponsored by BCcampus.

(ETUG, 2010)

Support for educators involved in using educational technology via an online community was deemed an essential ETUG service at the inception of BCcampus in 2003. Prior to this, ETUG members used a listserv for communication. An online community �space� was seen as a way of supporting education technology practitioners at the grassroots level to band together to share initiatives and learn from each other. British Columbia is vast (947,800 square kilometres) and education technology practitioners are distributed widely. An online community was seen as a vital way of aggregating interest across a broad region, alleviating isolation, and building a network of critical mass.


ETUG began as a small group of early adopter, post secondary, educational technology enthusiasts. As a grassroots informal group no formal membership tracking other than listserv participation was done. With the move to an online community defining �membership� became a requirement.

Communities of practice can be open to all requiring no password or login to participate, or closed where participation requires creation of an account and entry of a password to get access.

Members of ETUG felt participation in the community should be reserved for those who were faculty or staff involved with educational technology at one of BC�s public post secondary institutions. As a result the ETUG online community was setup and configured to require account creation with login requiring a password. Joining the community required participants to apply and get approval involving scrutiny of an applicant�s email address to ensure the applying member really was in BC�s public post secondary.

Soon after the launch of the community others also expressed interest in being members including educational technology vendors, educational technology practitioners in the K-12 sector, adult learners, and out of province educators. SCETUG felt that opening participation up to this larger group might cause user group members to be inhibited and reserved in their communication and participation. In particular, SCETUG definitely did not want members to be subject to marketing pitches or having their community participation somehow used as a sales lead. As a result the online community stayed closed.

One of the reasons we all love the Web is that it�s inclusive and open to all. One of the hardest lessons of community is that �all communities are exclusionary to some degree�. (Powazek, 2002, p. 168)

Currently ETUG has 1,100 members, defined as individuals who have created an account on the community site.

Technology Decisions

In 2003 BCcampus was a new startup organization. Provision of an online community for ETUG was really only feasible via an Application Service Provider (ASP) solution where hardware, software, and technical support resources were provided by a host provider.

LearningTimes was chosen as the host provider based on their unique position as an online community provider for the education market and a thought leader and innovator in the use of online community for education. The online community technology is a customized version of Ramius� CommunityZero platform and provides a mix of asynchronous, synchronous, and publishing capabilities.

With LearningTimes� help the ETUG community was configured, branded and launched within a few short weeks.

Designing for Evolution

With the growth in membership, the ETUG online community evolved to support special interest groups with designated subsets of members identifying themselves as sharing an interest in a particular area. Special interest group areas for Moodle, Second Life, and other topics were created. The creation of these subgroups is an important means of evolving the design as community grows allowing members to quickly access and participate in matters that interest them most.

Having a mix of communication and interaction capabilities that use synchronous and asynchronous tools along with push and pull methods helps ensure that members are aware of the community activities. Inclusion of a synchronous Web conferencing tool (Elluminate) embedded in the community provides an essential �live� ingredient for events, and meetings for Special Interest Groups (SIGs), projects, and SCETUG working groups.

In the past year the ETUG community has become more open, and has integrated many social networking services. More and more, communication and sharing is done through Twitter and blogs with feeds aggregated within the community. (Figure 4 shows a mosaic of ETUG Twitter users.) Sharing is encouraged through online services such as Flickr, Slideshare and most recently Cloudworks. SCETUG working groups are using wikis to plan and organize ETUG activities.

As might be expected with an Educational Technology Users Group new and emerging technologies are always being identified and explored by its members. Design for evolution is an essential part of keeping the community invigorating and oriented to the future.

Figure 4 Mosaic of ETUG Twitter Users

At time of writing SCETUG is involved in a major community redesign project, with special attention on how members have used the community spaces and external services so that these key elements are brought forward.

Finally, an essential component for evolving the ETUG community design is the people who act as stewards and facilitators of the community. It is their human touch, enthusiasm, and energy that bring an online community to life and evolve it over time (Wenger, 1998).

Open a Dialogue Between Inside and Outside Perspectives

The ETUG online community provides a virtual space for informal professional development activities related to educational technology use across all twenty-five public post-secondary institutions. ETUG members are particularly interested in hearing about educational technology use outside their own institution. The ETUG online community provides a forum for members to connect with others engaged in similar work elsewhere as well as hear about new practices beyond those used at their own institution.

Educational technology professional development is only one facet of developing teaching and learning practice. Starting in 2007 BCcampus secured additional Ministry funding to support development of professional learning resources more broadly. This established an open dialogue between ETUG and other professional development groups with a focus on generating greater collaboration, coordination, and sharing across a broader spectrum of teaching and learning professional development including topics outside of educational technology such as pedagogy and scholarship of teaching and learning.

This opening up of the dialogue has led to a Learn Together Collaboratory Initiative involving representatives from ETUG and other professional development groups. The Learn Together Collaboratory initiative identified and targeted six areas for collaborative development:

1. Communication and dissemination

2. Shared resources

3. Expertise inventory

4. Learning Paths

5. Research (scholarship)

6. Leadership, Advocacy, & Celebration (showcase).

As a result of the Learn Together initiative a new online community is under development that acts as an umbrella community of practice for all and the place where the six are being collaboratively developed.

Invite Different levels of Participation

Every ETUG member is free to self-publish anything to the ETUG community 24X7. Each time you visit you can see a visual indicator of the number of members viewing popular content, and who else is online in the community at the same time as you. Sharing knowledge in the community enriches it for all not only by facilitating decision making by by strengthening the links and bonds between people. (McCluskey, 2006, p. 109)

For some, the ETUG online community is a place to get information, to read, to find resources, to see what others are saying and posting. This �lurking� behaviour is perfectly acceptable. Members engaged in this activity are observing, thinking, digesting, and getting accustomed to the social mores of online community life. Other members are active participants initiating or posting to discussions, contributing resources, requesting help, or participating in Web conferences. Members of the Steering Committee for the Educational Technology Users Group (SCETUG) due to the nature of their involvement tend to have the greatest levels of participation. Allowing different levels of participation is an essential part of online community life.

Those new to online communities are often initially shy and reticent to speak out in such a public space. When they do the community steward �highlights� their post to acknowledge that they have taken the step from observer to participant and to encourage others in the community to respond. (See Figure 5.) Highlights also draw attention to all current hot activity in the community the way a newspaper headline does.

Figure 5 ETUG Community Highlights

Having a variety of community activities also invites participation. ETUG partners with the SCoPE community (described in Case 2) to organize and facilitate discussions on topics of interest to members. Each year SCETUG organizes the BC Innovation Awards in Educational Technology, to recognize and honour the outstanding work and achievement of our peers. Ongoing forum discussions, Web conferences, polls, and other forms of activity invite active participation. Email notices and RSS feeds help push communication about these activities out. Figure 6 shows how discussions and resources from various online services such as Flickr, Twitter, and Cloudworks can be highlighted in the community using RSS.

Figure 6 Using RSS to Highlight ETUG Community Activities

Develop Both Public and Private Spaces

The LearningTimes platform supports the creation of both public and private spaces. An unlimited number of �groups� can be established that each has their own private area for file sharing, discussion, polling, or whatever other activities they wish to pursue.

We have experimented with different levels of privacy in ETUG, ranging from completely closed (membership required) to allowing preview mode for certain content. This provides more information to passersby to decide if they are interested in joining. Currently, for membership approval, we are working in �restricted� mode, which allows existing members to invite others to join and participate immediately. Others must submit a request for membership to the site administrator. A next step might be to allow a completely open mode allowing anyone to join the community at any time without requiring approval.

All of these settings affect the degree to which the online community is publicly open or private.

Another important component of this has been the ability to create private member only subgroup areas where activities of the subgroup are only visible to those who have designated themselves as members. While private spaces within a large public community are essential for evolving design, there is also a down side. For example, many of the activities of SCETUG are private, yet this group is involved in community and event planning discussions, as well as important decision-making that impact all ETUG members. Consequently, SCETUG tends to be insular and there needs to be a concerted effort to both raise awareness of their work, and to involve all members in conversations about the community.

Focus on Value

Defining community value can be challenging. Community events, activities and relationships are the means by which value is generated, but how can value be measured and reported out to funders such as the Ministry of Advanced Education? For the ETUG online community a number of quantitative and qualitative measures have been used including:

      Reasons for joining the community

      Number of page views

      Individual site visits (who is coming and how often)

      Number of invitations made (by who, other than administrators)

      Number of posts (who, how often, how many)

      Number of participant posters versus participant lurkers (observers)

      What converts a lurker to a participant?

      Number views of posts (which posts were most popular, most compelling content)

      Number of members, number of new members and attrition over periods of time

      Web conferences – number of participants, audience, archive viewings

      Participation in discussion, number of participants, number of posts

      Graph site visits and participation levels with events (face-to-face and other) a kind of timeline

      Number of groups formed, rationale for forming group, privileges that each group has, implications (positive and negative) of group

As the ETUG community grows and evolves, we find ourselves asking a range of questions: Is there a minimum, maximum, or ideal population size for an online community? Once an online community starts to get really large should consideration be given to breaking it up into smaller separate communities?

In focusing on value we find ourselves trying to strike the right balance between providing online community as a service and encouraging members to be self-service oriented. Human resource requirements along with technology costs and licensing options must be balanced with member value to achieve an effective return on investment.

Combine Familiarity and Excitement

ETUG activities have featured live coverage of educational conferences, advice on the pros and cons of various tools and technologies, aggregated blog feeds, job postings, calendaring of professional development events, technical help and how-to�s, virtual conferences, podcasts, webcasts, use of virtual offices, and a myriad of other activities both planned and ad hoc. Online discussions have explored a diverse set of issues including how to teach science labs online, how to invigilate online exams, the use of e-portfolios and copyright to name but a few. We have found that �live� events profiling expertise of interest to members often causes a ripple of excitement that can be built using pre-event activities and sustained using post event activities.

Combining text, images, audio, animations, and other rich media into these activities makes the use of the online community interesting and engaging. Members use star ratings, comments and linking of content to other similar content as essential means of highlighting items of particular interest or providing editorial comment.

The community activities have not only served as a vehicle of knowledge mobilization, it has also served to identify and network practitioners with expertise enhancing the reputation of members across the entire public post secondary system.

Create a Rhythm for the Community

Planned activities respect the lives of members by not being scheduled during demanding or down periods of time. Rhythm is supported by scheduling events with defined start and end points during which participation is encouraged. Community updates are automatically generated according to a schedule set by the user, and a monthly newsletter prepared collaboratively by SCETUG members highlight community activities, members� contributions, and upcoming events. These scheduled mailouts contribute to the sense of rhythm, providing members with a quick snapshot of new and recent activity in the community. One of the most striking things for us has been seeing members active in the community all days and times of the week – early morning, during the day, late night, weekdays and weekends.


The ETUG community continues to evolve and expand. The nature of the group is that they are keenly interested in educational uses of technology. Naturally there is ongoing experimentation with tools that will support their work. In addition, there is considerable overlap with other communities and projects. This requires constant communication, research, and monitoring to understand members� needs.


      Profile people and activities more than resources.

      Use an outsourced ASP approach for community hosting and technical support to maximize budget, human resource, and flexibility options.

      Create public/private community flexibility by a network of multiple online communities approach rather than trying to accomplish everything in one community.

      Use a team-based approach to oversee community design and activities. However, be mindful of the need to engage all members in planning.

      An online community steward is an essential role.

      Develop a schedule of activities to engage members and to invite new interest.

      Watch for and expect shifts in levels of participation and satisfaction with technologies.

      Integrate multiple technologies into the community and feature �feeds� from blogs, Flickr, and other sources to show latest current activities of members no matter where that activity is taking place.

Web Sites Mentioned in this Section


BC eLearning Marketplace and Expo:


Education for a Digital World:


ETUG Community:


Learn Together Collaboratory:

LearningTimes Company:

LearningTimes International Educator Online Community:

Ramius Community Zero:


Analysis of Emerging Themes

Each case in this chapter is unique in terms of context and purpose. However, a number of noteworthy themes have emerged from our process of documenting and comparing our case studies.

1.    The communities we describe range in size from a very small faculty community, in the case of the Onliners, to a large international community with an unknown number of participants on the periphery. However we each identified some very similar recommendations for supporting members and sustaining our communities. Considerable effort is required regardless of size.

2.    Tension around private and public spaces in communities is a common trend. While providing opportunities for privacy are essential, it is important to find a balance.

3.    Each case study demonstrates that technology influences participation in the community. An online platform can act as a home base. The technologies should support activities rather than become the main focus. However, there is a need for experimentation and flexibility; it is part of the ongoing process of reassessing needs and future directions.

4.    In each case study, we experienced the value of providing different avenues for members to connect. New encounters will often bring new and unexpected opportunities.

5.    The importance of staff to steward the community was emphasized in our case studies. In the case of the Onliners, faculty could focus on pedagogy and not be concerned with technological issues. Some ETUG community members have found that the increasing volume and ad hoc organization of resources has impacted their participation. In all three cases, designated individuals keep a close watch on how members are participating, and monitoring their needs. It is also important to understand where needed and when, but to also know when to back away and provide leadership opportunities to members.

6.    Each case study recommends using a variety of media for communication and knowledge sharing.

7.    It is important to find ways to showcase expertise and contributions. Sometimes simply the act of asking a member to share can be very motivating.

8.    While we all acknowledge that some members will lurk or may not realize they have anything valuable to share, we also agree that the key to sustaining communities is to create a culture of giving back.

9.    There are many ways to support newcomers – for example, connect them with old-timers or allow participation on the periphery so they can understand the culture of the community and ease in gradually, if that suits them.

10.  It is probably common knowledge, but we reaffirmed that online communities address geographical challenges.

11. In all three cases we found that scheduled activities brought in new excitement, interest, and learning opportunities.

12. There are no foolproof strategies for organizing community resources. However, maintaining a history of community activities is essential.

13. A common thread throughout each case study is the need for communities to be designed to support busy professionals who need flexibility in scheduling and participation.

14. Supporting dialogue is a core requirement in all three cases. Content is valuable, but dialogue is essential.


Communities grow and develop over time, and measuring progress can be a tricky endeavor. Each case presented in this chapter is framed using the 7 principles for cultivating communities of practice, yet each offers a unique context with its own set of opportunities and challenges, and recommendations for community growth. The 7 principles framework is useful for ensuring that you are attending to all aspects of community. Providing a rich view of several cases allows for comparison and a deeper understanding of the variables that influence community design. In each case we have attempted to describe the community and provide examples so that others involved in online/hybrid communities can learn from our experiences.


Community steward. An individual who, through experience, understands the needs of a community and supports the use of technology in the practice of the community. (White, 2006).

Course Management System (CMS). Software used for managing the design and implementation of courses via the Web.

Hybrid community. Communities that combine both face-to-face and online activities.

Listserv. A list that is centrally managed, and provides a means for individuals to send email to members using a single email address.

RSS. An acronym for Really Simple Syndication, RSS enables Web content from one site to be displayed on another.

Rubric. An outline of criteria to guide learners for successful completion of an assignment.

Social networking. The practice of using services that facilitate connections between individuals based on interests and the choices those individuals have made about whom to connect to.

Use Case Scenario. Descriptions using stories or drawings of specific, desired interactions between users and a system under development. 


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[1] The SCoPE acronym initially stood for SFU�s Community of Practice for Educators. Simon Fraser University (SFU) funded the project for four years. Now the S stands for Social, which, from the beginning, would have more accurately reflected the intention to expand beyond the boundaries of the university.

[2] Lave and Wenger (1991) refer to long-time members of a community of practice as old-timers.

[3]   The Global Educators Network was founded by Linda Harasim, leader the TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence, a program funded by Canada�s three research councils.

[4] A short time later eLINC merged with the Learning and Instructional Development Centre

[5] A use case describes possible goal-oriented interactions between an individual and the system being designed

[6] For a detailed account of the pre-launch research see Currie (2007)

[7] eCampusAlberta is a consortium of Alberta colleges and technical institutes to facilitate greater access to high quality online learning opportunities.

[8] Alberta North was established to improve access to educational and training opportunities for learners in northern Alberta communities.

[9] From my personal notes taken during the 2004 CPSquare Foundations Workshop.