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Last updated 26 October 2012 15:30 by NZTecAdmin

Exploring the effectiveness of communities of practice for sustainability in the post cluster environment

Case study from Manukau Institute of Technology


To explore effective ways to disseminate and keep alive the principles and practices for effective LN practice through communities of learning.

Research questions

What are the barriers for sustaining and spreading effective LN practices within departments? What are the levers for spreading LN practices within departments? How can a wider community of learning support individuals to work within their departments, overcome barriers and enhance levers?

The AE team comprised a PD specialist (the coordinator), two horticulture lecturers and one construction lecturer, working with volunteer staff (10 in Horticulture – teaching level 2; 7 from Construction – teaching level 3). The team recognised some staff resistance to LN when they first began. However, an organisational drive for improved student outcomes was an initial lever for working with their resistant colleagues.


(1) Two questionnaires for teaching staff asked about: their trade and qualifications; challenges in their teaching; how they solved challenges; their LN understandings; and their professional learning preferences. (2) A plan for ongoing LN work within departments was developed from this data. (3)The AE team kept field notebooks and recorded their ongoing interactions with teaching staff.

Two communities of learning developed: (a) a learning opportunity for others engaged in similar work in their departments; (b) the co-ordinator and AE team discussed progress, problem solved and planned. Data from field notebooks informed key ideas, barriers, challenges and successes in the ongoing LN work.

Summary of findings

Vocational educators need to be recognised as competent adults, who benefit from being connected to a community of others. Many educators’ concerns relate to their students’ reading and basic maths skills. Most tutors talked to colleagues about LN problems. Formal learning from previous LN workshops provided background knowledge about key principles of literacy and numeracy practice: i.e. know the learner, know the subject, and know what to do.

A resource for tutors to keep track of numeracy embedding was developed. The template organises numeracy events within a course, ensures that deliberate acts of teaching occur around that event, and provides evidence for teaching having taken place. The AE project was the means through which staff reflected on interventions, discussed improvements, and supported one another.

Educators preferred informal rather than formal professional learning opportunities, such as: discussions about assessment options; student focussed approaches; using resources; sharing practices; sitting in on colleague’s classes; and working together on group LN assessments. Ongoing peer work around LN was planned as a future focus.

Pockets of support for LN both within and beyond departments in the AE project developed, generating more cross-disciplinary discussions and sharing of LN ideas, increasing the benefit to staff.

Next steps

The Institution benefited from this AE project’s evidence, leading to restructuring and reorganising to better support LN embedding. ‘LN Lead Practitioners’ from within each faculty, supported by a co-ordinator, now work to deliver and disseminate LN delivery with staff. They met regularly as a learning community to discuss common areas of interest; problem-solve; and work toward common, institutionally based LN goals. Through this AE project, three key people also collaborated to make plans for ongoing peer work around LN. It is envisaged that this will grow as momentum develops.

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