Communities of practice in Life Sciences and the need for brokering

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    Etienne Wenger’s work on communities of practice is influential in teaching and learning in higher education. A core work of many postgraduate certificate in teaching and learning (PGCert) courses for new lecturers, it is studied, in the main, as a means to understand how to support and encourage students to achieve more effective learning. Communities of practice can also be applied to academics. In the context of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) and its predecessors, the gulf between research-focused and teaching-Focused academics in life sciences has widened, so that in many institutions, these two groups have evolved into two distinct communities of practice; one whose priority is disciplinary research, the other’s learning and teaching. However, in 2015, the UK government announced that a Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) would be introduced into higher education in England, as early as 2017. While the exact details of TEF remain unclear, it is certain that “excellence” and “student satisfaction” will be high on the agenda. It is vital, therefore, that the two communities of practice, research-focused and teaching-focused, find ways to come together in order to ensure high quality teaching and learning. Wenger proposes that this can be done through the process of “brokering”, which allows expertise from both communities of practice to cross from one to the other, strengthening both. This should be encouraged at departmental and institutional level, but another vital origin of brokering can be forged at a(n) (inter)national level at meetings such as the SEB Annual Conference, where teaching-focused academics have the opportunity to mix with research-active colleagues. While this paper is informed by recent and current events in the UK Higher Education sector, it is of interest to academics who work in an environment where research and teaching have become separate to any extent.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number280
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Mar 2016


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