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Using technologies to support communities of practice

The following illustrate some of the technologies used by Communities of Practice (CoP) and Special Interest Groups (SIGs):


Social network 

Social networks such as Ning, Elgg and Facebook are commonly used by CoP/SIGs to support communications and stakeholder engagement. They can be used for distributing resources (including multi-media resources) as well as for asynchronous discussions and keeping members informed about events and news. 


The advantage of such tools is that they have free versions and/or accessible pricing models, are hosted and often require minimal technical effort.


The main disadvantage is that some tools do not allow sophisticated customisation and are not always good at providing easy navigation for large amounts of resources.  That said this is often due to user set-up than the actual tool itself so it is important to clearly define requirements from the outset.


Examples include ELESIG on Ning and the University of Hertfordshire CABLE TRANSFER CoP also on Ning. The QA-QE SIG currently use a site based on Lotus Domino. The JISC Emerge network used the Elgg social network. 


The degree to which asynchronous discussions take place within CoP/SIGs varies significantly – probably one of the most prolific sites was the JISC Emerge network, whilst other sites do not seem to attract a great deal of online interaction.

Cloudworks (a sector social network)

The Open University Cloudworks site can be regarded as a sector resource for Communities of Practice and has been developed by the Institute of Educational Technology at the OU (part-funded by JISC under the Curriculum Design programme.) Its aims are to:

  • enable people to find, share and discuss learning and teaching ideas
  • connect people with similar educational interests through social networking
  • provide inspiration on designing learning activities and developing resources
  • showcase the work of individuals and communities who want to reach existing but also new audiences
  • provide a place for different communities to discuss, collaborate and aggregate relevant materials, ideas and designs
  • encourage sharing, especially among people who have not shared learning and teaching ideas and experiences before.


Wiki In addition to using social networks, CoP/SIGs often use a wiki to store key information and resources e.g. ELESIG and MEL – SIG.


Real-time conferencing and collaboration

(e.g. Elluminate)

An increasingly used tool to support CoP/SIGs is real-time conferencing/collaboration such as Elluminate. A key reason for this is that such tools allow virtual workshops, meetings and conferences to take place without the expense (and time required) for travel. Such tools, if properly used and facilitated, can allow a great deal of audience engagement and can also be recorded for later playback by those who were not able to attend at the actual time of the session.


JISC has published a Good Practice Guide for using Elluminate.