Creating and sustaining an effective social learning space: Researching the enabling value of the facilitation role in a research supervisors’ community of practice

Abstract:
Achieving excellence in research supervision is a key objective and performance indicator for universities and academics alike (McCulloch et al., 2016); thus, the professional recognition and development of research supervisors is seen as a priority for both academic and organizational development (TEQSA, 2021). However, research indicates that supervisor professional development is fragmented (Lee, 2018) and occasional professional development activities such as workshops, seminars and presentations have no sustained impact on the professional practice of educators (Prosser & Twigwell, 2020).Since 2009, the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) has responded the need to support the development of supervisors by implementing a research supervisors’ Community of Practice (CoP-RS). The CoP-RS provides an informal social learning space for sustained engagement of members in sharing and growing their supervision practice and evaluation data show members value access to, and sharing of, the cross-disciplinary supervision practices and methodologies found within the CoP context. The facilitator role, quite different from traditional, hierarchical leadership roles, is critical to creating and sustaining an effective social learning space; indeed, the sustainability of the CoP-RS has been found to be largely dependent on the social artistry and commitment of facilitators (McDonald & Cater-Steel, 2017). This presentation reports the findings of an Education Design Research (EDR) project conducted during 2019-20 that used Wenger-Trayner and Wenger-Trayner’s (2020) Value Creation Framework to provide evidence of the positive impact of the facilitation of social learning spaces for USQ research supervisors.Data from semi-structured interviews with four CoP-RS facilitators were transcribed and thematically coded using a grounded theory approach. Emerging themes were then mapped to components of Wenger-Trayner et al.’s (2020) Value Creation Framework and correlated with data from focus groups with supervisors and responses to a CoP-RS member feedback survey conducted as part of the larger EDR project. The data show that by drawing on the three elements of CoP theory (Wenger, 1998)—domain, community, and practice—the facilitators were able to use their social skills to create a congenial social learning space for participants to network, share and grow their practice as research supervisors, providing evidence of the significant enabling role that CoP-RS facilitators play in fostering social learning opportunities that make a difference for members. The findings also contribute to further development of the Value Creation Framework (Wenger-Trayner et. al., 2020) through the identification and validation of indicators of “enabling value” attributable to the facilitation of social learning in the CoP-RS. .

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