'The crucial trigger for the emergence of a professional community is shared interests. If everything is right, what's known in the field of chemistry as activation energy arises. You have to put energy in first, but once it runs, it keeps on running.’
Step 2. Defining the objective and target group of the professional community
In this step, you will determine your community's main objective, any sub-objectives and the target group. These are the fundamentals of your professional community. You will also think about the type of learning materials that your community will focus on.
Decide on the main objective together. It should be something like this: The main objective of the community is to make open educational resources within the subject a success. For example, by compiling a complete high-quality collection of open educational resources. Provide specific details on this in an annual plan, for example: this year, we will develop 50 new learning materials and add them to the open collection.
Make sure your target group are receptive to your objective and identify with what's in it for them. This will help you nurture an engaged community and an objective that you can work towards together. The best outcome, of course, would be that the members support the objective so firmly that they will devote a lot of their time and energy to the community. The community will then grow larger or more productive still.
Do realise, though, that you first have to invest heavily upfront and that the benefits will only come later. It takes time to build a community or a collection, but once a community is up and running, it results in quality enhancements and time savings.
From the article Professional communities, experts have their say about the role of professional communities from a theoretical perspective:
What else do you want to achieve with your community? What do the members want from it and what is feasible? This might include things like:
- Sharing and exchanging knowledge within the professional field
- Collaboration & co-creation
- Improving teaching (including your own)
Source of the first 5 points (in dutch)
As a community, you can have well-formulated, broad sub-objectives, such as' Sharing and exchanging knowledge within the professional field’. Make sure that you make these objectives specific in an annual plan. The members of the community will then have a good idea of what they are contributing to and what they can expect. Your specification of 'Sharing and exchanging knowledge in the professional field’ in the annual plan could be something along the lines of: "We will organise a content meeting with networking opportunities once a year, set up an online community platform and send a newsletter four times a year." Source
What use is a professional community?
Etienne Wenger, Beverly Trainer and Maarten de Laat developed a framework to map out the value of a community for lecturers. They distinguish 5 types of value:
Direct value, such as useful activities and exchanges
Potential value, such as accumulated knowledge
Applied value, such as changes to teaching practices
Realised value; improved performance
Revised value; reformulating success
The framework provides typical indicators and possible data sources for each type of value. It also provides room for less quantitative forms of value, along with instructions for storytelling about value creation.
Question: what's in it for the teachers in your community?
Wenger et al. (2011) Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework, Ruud de Moor Centre
Identify who is working on developing learning materials inside and outside education, and also who uses the resources. Which people play a role in your community? Target groups may include:
- Collection specialists
- Open educational resources (OER) experts
- Information specialists
- Professional experts
- Occupational field
- Professional field
- Professional association
You must clearly express what each target group stands to gain in the community's objectives. If this is not the case, either amend your objectives or omit the target group.
Which learning materials will be in the spotlight?
Determine which existing learning materials you want to share with each other. Together, you can choose to share as many materials as possible that are available within the subject area, or you can make a selection and agree arrangements based on quality*. And will you choose to only include purpose-written learning materials, or can a good explainer video or a clip from a TV programme also be included?
* For more information on the quality of open educational resources and how you can work on them with your community take a look at the roadmap Quality assurance of open educational resources.
Big and small open educational resources
Martin Weller distinguishes between big and little open educational resources. Big open educational resources are made within institutions, are high-quality, contain descriptions of learning objectives and are presented in line with an established standard. They are often developed as part of a research project and therefore also contain research material and metadata.
Little open educational resources are fragments that you can find online, for example, on YouTube or TikTok, and may be created by anyone. They have a low production quality and may not contain explicitly described learning objectives because they can be made for all kinds of purposes. Nevertheless, they can prove very useful for use in an educational setting.
Weller concludes that a mix of both types of open educational resources may be the best way to achieve open learning.
Weller, Martin (2010). Big and Little OER. In Open Ed 2010 Proceedings. Barcelona: UOC, OU, BYU.