Title How communication and sensemaking in an academic community of practice affects individuals’ professional identities
Abstract

How communication and sensemaking in an academic community of practice affects individuals’ professional identities (Education Papers posted on May 10th, 2012 )

This dissertation explored how individual characteristics of members, communication patterns, relative power, and collective sensemaking about the concept of Teaching-as-Research in a community of practice influenced any changes in members professional identities. Teaching-as-Research involves using methods similar to those used in research hypothesizing, implementing, analyzing, and modifying) to develop and apply teaching strategies. The case study involved thirteen instructors of undergraduates in a science department at a research university participating in an academic community of practice. Weicks theory of sensemaking 1993, 1995) provides the theoretical foundation for this study. Major concepts in the conceptual framework include individual characteristics, professional identity, community of practice, and sensemaking, both individual and collective. The study proposes relationships among these concepts, and explores how, over time, they interact to effect changes in the professional identities of individual instructors. The three research questions that are addressed include 1) How do the individual characteristics of participants in the community of practice, including rank, gender, ethnicity, experience and their professional identities affect communication within the community of practice´╝Ť 2) How do characteristics of the community of practice, including norms, values, relative power of members, and the topics and types of communication, influence individual and collective sensemaking´╝Ť and 3) How, if at all, are the professional identities of individual members modified by individual and collective sensemaking about a concept new to the community of practice? Data collection involved interviews and observations. Initial interview questions focused on the individuals personal characteristics, professional identities, and the characteristics of the group. Twelve sessions of the community of practice were observed, and during one of these sessions, members were introduced to the concept of Teaching-as-Research by an outside speaker. Final interviews elicited information about individuals identity as a teacher, researcher, and integrated professional. Individuals were asked to define the term “Teaching-as-Research” during both interviews. In the final interviews, participants were also asked to discuss their opinions about how discussing the concept of Teaching-as-Research affected the community of practice as a whole. Communication utterances were coded according to topic and type of communication as well as rank, gender, ethnicity, and experience. Data analysis involved construction of a profile for each participant, including their personal characteristics, perceptions of themselves as professionals, perceptions of the group process, and who they considered influential. Individual profiles also included summaries of communication patterns, including percent of contribution to total communication and percent of own communication by type and topic. Any changes in the participants professional identities were ascertained from responses to identical questions during both the first and final interviews and then compared to observations of changes in their participation in the group over the duration of the study. Interviews were analyzed for individuals perceptions about norms, values, communications, power, and sensemaking in the community of practice. Findings from this study related individual characteristics to participation in the community of practice´╝Ť nature of participation to relative power within the community of practice´╝Ť nature of group communication to collective sensemaking´╝Ť and sensemaking to self-reported changes in professional identity. First, instructors in the midst of their careers participated more actively than those who were at the beginning or near the end of their careers. Second, instructors who were at their highest academic rank participated more actively in the community of practice than those members who were emeritus faculty members or tenure-ineligible. Third, an individual in a community of practice who initiated and contributed new conversations more than other members informally set the agenda by influencing which topics were discussed within the group. Fourth, collective sensemaking was more likely to occur when members of the group believed they needed to make and justify a decision. Finally, even though no consensus emerged from collective sensemaking about Teaching-as-Research, introduction to, and discussion of the concept encouraged individual sensemaking about the topic which led to self-reported change in professional identity among a majority of participants. Those individuals who indicated they experienced some change in their professional identities because of conversations about Teaching-as-Research talked about the personal impact for them. Those who stated that the discussions about Teaching-as-Research had no effect on their professional identities did not talk about a connection between the concept and their teaching. Based on these findings, the research discusses implications and future research. For administrators who are trying to get a group of faculty members to adapt the concept of Teaching-as-Research, opportunities should be provided for the group to engage in collective sensemaking about the concept´╝Ť e.g., the group should be encouraged to develop and commit to a plan of action that they can share explicitly and publicly.

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Category Education Papers
Subject Education, Higher,
FileType PDF
Pages 174
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Language English
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