Academics leave your ivory tower: form communities of practice (should read – Stop trying to impose community)

Academics leave your ivory tower: form communities of practice 

Sheryl Buckleya; Adeline Du Toitb


Institutions of higher education (HE), public and private, are moving through a crisis period of tapped-out states, funding cuts, tuition increases and layoffs. It makes good sense to rise to meet these new realities with new ways of doing things, and the places that succeed will be the ones that do. A holistic approach is necessary whereby excellence in teaching and learning as well as research should be the ultimate aim. Among the various ways to achieve this, is the promotion of communities of practices (CoPs) among the academics. Therefore, CoPs are to be seen as an “extension” of any programme to achieve excellence, because as it has been shown it is the sharing of the tacit knowledge that makes the difference in any organisation in its pursuit for a competitive advantage. An HE institution should be considered to be at a greater advantage than any other non-academic organisation since each staff member is a knowledge worker whose mission is to transmit, create and incorporate new knowledge to the existing knowledge. This paper looks at the possible reasons preventing academics from participating in a CoP. It will be shown that CoPs can play a very important role in a university set-up.


higher education;
knowledge sharing;
communities of practice;

I couldn’t grab the full-text for this one. From the description in the abstract, though, I’d say that the problem is simple. CoPs form not at the behest of an organization, but through the nurturing of its members. The members must find value in their participation, both in full members and peripheral members.

Now, let’s consider academics. Most departments hire faculty not for their similarities but for their differences. They want diversity in their programs. In doing so, these academics share only the same general area of interest. This simply isn’t good enough for active CoPs membership. They want people who can help them and understand them in their specialties. This is way that join and participate in organizations and, even more so, special interest groups inside of organizations.

Now, you may say, “but they are all teachers.” To that I’d respond, “Not really.” Many academics teach in order to do research. They might even teach because they want to focus their own theories and understandings of topics in the field (how many seminars are professors checking out new areas of research?). Teaching is not necessarily what they are interested in practicing.

However, it is true that if there is a common area to be found, it is likely in teaching methods or the localized practice of teaching. Again, though, I have to ask how the university will develop a CoP based on this when there are so many established ones outside of the university.

When they say that academics should leave their ivory tower, I think they should be advocating that they leave their universities. When the world is your potential network, a closed intranet have to offer something really special to keep you inside.

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