Testing a Communities of Practice Model for LIS Education

Joyce Yukawa

St. Catherine University

MLIS Program Monday Night Presentation

April 12, 2010


  • Who are LIS students?
  • Needs of adult learners
  • Communities of practice model
  • Research study
    • Research questions
    • Methodology
    • Findings
    • Future research

Who are LIS students?

































Winter 2009


















Source: ALISE Statistical Report 2006 & the study’s pre-course questionnaire

Adult learners

  • Constructivist learning and andragogy
    • (Larreamendy-Joerns & Leinhardt, 2006; Merriam, 2001; Mezirow, 2000)
    • Active learning
    • Problem solving
    • Dialogue and collaboration

Communities of practice (CoP)
(Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998)

  • Domain, community, practice
  • 3 stages of learning in community
    • Engagement, Imagination, Alignment
  • 5 creative tensions for blended learning
    • Negotiating meaning
    • Negotiating practice
    • Negotiating expertise
    • Negotiating identity & leadership
    • Negotiating face-to-face & online media

Study objectives

  • Test the CoP model’s efficacy in supporting student growth related to core LIS concepts, practices, professional identity, and leadership skills.
  • Develop methods for formative and summative assessment of teaching using the model.

Study population

  • 34 students who completed 3 classes taught in Winter 2009
    • Reference & Online Services
    • Library User Instruction
    • Information Seeking Behavior

Data collection

  • Anonymous responses to 3 questionnaires:
    • Pre-course questionnaire - usability & attitudes toward technology (N=33)
    • Mid-course questionnaire – course strengths, weaknesses, & suggestions for improvement (N=40)
    • Post-course questionnaire - what students valued most about their learning & any changes in attitude toward technology (N=16)
  • IRB approved study with informed consent

Strengths of the study

  • Presents a realistic view of learning as a complex interaction of factors
  • Recognizes that the CoP model is both a stimulus & an outcome (IV & DV) (Hoadley, 2004)
  • Provides reports from insider knowledge

Weaknesses of the study

  • Threat to rigor of a single individual as designer, researcher, and implementer
  • Difficulty of ascertaining whether outcomes result from the design rather than other factors
  • Limitations of the study population
  • Variation in response rates to the questionnaires

Research question

  • How effective is the CoP model for blended learning in LIS graduate courses?
  • Three levels of analysis
    • Micro-level: technological factors (5th tension)
    • Meso-level: social factors (learning stages – E, I, A)
    • Macro-level: learning outcomes (1st-4th tensions)

Micro-level subquestions

  • Student fluency with the online tools?
  • Student attitudes toward the online tools?
  • Usability – navigation, information design?
  • Do tools support interaction?
  • Do tools support learning?

Micro-level findings: More positive attitudes toward technology

  • “I get more actively involved in courses that use information technology.”
    • Strongly agree or Agree 48% -> 82%
  • “The use of information technology in my courses improves my learning.”
    • Strongly agree or Agree 69% -> 88%.

Micro-level findings: Usability

  • Online tools
    • Easy to navigate, organized by objectives & subject matter
  • Online environment
    • Sharing ideas, staying connected, submitting assignments, keeping track of work, balancing workload, peer assessments
  • Face-to-face environment
    • Getting to know each other, creating a collaborative environment, learning from presentations, deeper understanding of ideas initially discussed online

Micro-level findings:
Suggestions for improvement

  • More technology training for novices
  • More strongly encourage students to read each other’s postings
  • More online sharing
  • Make sure the technology always works

Meso-level subquestions

  • Share experiences, ideas, and competence (engagement)?
  • Extend experience through reflection and exploration (imagination)?
  • Converge around vision, goals, practices, and accountability to each other (alignment)?

Final questionnaire

  • “In what ways did working with your peers HELP you learn?”
  • “In what ways did working with your peers NOT HELP you learn? How could this be improved?”

Meso-level findings: Engagement

  • Learning from each other (4)
  • Collegial atmosphere (2)
  • Appreciation of diverse perspectives (2)
  • Self-confidence with peers (2)
  • Enjoyable learning (2)
  • Encourages collaboration (2)
  • Encourages respect (1)

Meso-level findings: Imagination

  • Broaden one’s perspective on issues (3)
  • New ideas for completing course projects (2)
  • Better problem solving (1)
  • Feedback on course projects (1)

Meso-level findings: Alignment

  • Convergence around best practices (1)
  • Discussion focus led by students (1)

Disadvantages of working with peers

  • No response (8)
  • “Can’t think of any” or “None” (4)
  • “Not sure” (1)
  • “Some of the activities were too ambiguous so conversation can digress in a group.”
  • “It was very easy to let them do the work.”
  • “I can only say that I wish I had gotten to work with a larger variety of the students. There are a few that I never worked with at all.”

Macro-level subquestions

  • Do students achieve course learning outcomes?
  • Do students achieve CoP learning outcomes?

Final questionnaire

  • What CONCEPTS did you learn/develop in this course that were most valuable to you?
  • What PROFESSIONAL PRACTICES did you learn/develop in this course that were most valuable to you?
  • What PROFESSIONAL VALUES did you learn/develop in this course that were most valuable to you?
  • What LEADERSHIP SKILLS did you learn/develop in this course that were most valuable to you?

Macro-level findings:
Meaning & Practice

  • Highly valued concepts and practices correlated mostly with course learning objectives (CLOs)
  • Collaboration, not a CLO, mentioned as a highly valued practice in all 3 courses
  • While the CoP model may have effectively supported achieving the CLOs, firm conclusions cannot be drawn.

Macro-level findings:
Expertise & Identity/leadership

  • Professional values
    • Collaboration (7)
    • Respect for diverse perspectives (5)
    • Service (5)
    • Integrity (2)
  • Leadership skills
    • Unable to answer this question (5)
    • Self-confidence (5)
    • Collaboration (2)
    • Risk taking (1)
    • Flexibility (1)

Macro-level findings:
New dimensions

  • One important effect of the CoP model appears to be an enhanced regard for the value & practice of collaboration.
  • Indications suggest that the model supported differentiated learning of professional knowledge and skills. 


  • The findings strongly suggest that the use of the CoP blended learning model had positive effects on the learning process.
  • The assessment methods were sufficient for testing the efficacy of most aspects of the model under the limited conditions of this study.

Reflections for future research

  • Face-to-face, blended, & online are different environments, requiring distinctive responses.
  • Each online tool creates distinctive features in the learning environment.
  • CoP learning in online environments may significantly increase the time and effort by students and learning facilitators.
  • Creating an online CoP may require specified conditions not reasonably attainable for all courses.

Selected references

  • Barab, S.A., MaKinster, J.G., & Scheckler, R. (2004). Designing system dualities: Characterizing an online professional development community. In S.A. Barab, R. Kling, & J.A. Gray, J.A. (Eds.), Designing virtual communities in the service of learning (pp. 53-90). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Edelson, D. C. (2002). Design research: What we learn when we engage in design. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 11(1), 105-121.
  • Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. (2007). Blended learning in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Hoadley, C. M. (2004). Methodological alignment in design-based research. Educational Psychologist 39(4), 203–212.
  • Larreamendy-Joerns, J. & Leinhardt, G. (2006). Going the distance with online education. Review of Educational Research, 76(4), 567-605.
  • Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
  • Merriam, S. B. (2001). Andragogy and self-directed learning: Pillars of adult learning theory. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 89, 3-13.
  • Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning to think like an adult: Core concepts of transformation theory. In J. Mezirow (Ed.), Learning as transformation (pp. 3-34). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
  • Preece, J. (2000). Online communities: Designing usability and supporting sociability. New York: John Wiley.
  • Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
  • Yukawa, J. (2010). Using evidence-based practice in LIS education: Results of a test of a communities of practice model. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 5(1), 104-128. Retrieved from http://ejournals.library.ualberta.ca/index.php/EBLIP/article/view/6719
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