The National Convergence Technology Center (CTC) manages a group of IT educators from 60 schools in 23 states collectively called the Convergence College Network (CCN). These like-minded faculty members collectively share resources, discuss best practices, and solve problems. It’s a collection of practitioners working together, different from project teams with rigid deadlines and assigned tasks, or networks where information flows through a single hub to the nodes.
The CCN meets quarterly in person or through formal webinars, but also offers a forum for informal “off-line” discussions between members via phone or email apart from the quarterly meetings. To facilitate this ongoing interaction, the National CTC maintains an updated directory of all CCN members contact information.
At a recent education conference, the National CTC made a presentation on its experience with the CCN community of practice, including a list of five essentials:
- Must be a shared need – Two leaders in the field, Etienne Wenger and William Snyder, define communities of practice as groups “bound together by shared expertise and passion for a joint enterprise.” In the CCN, every IT educator faces similar challenges (e.g. keeping curriculum updated, preparing students for the workforce, recruiting and retaining students). It’s a common goal.
- Takes time – often years – The CCN has taken many years to reach its current level. First, CTC staff mentored other colleges one-to-one to assist them individually in addressing their questions and challenges. But as the group of schools grew, it became impractical to continue the 1:1 approach. Now the mentoring happens across the entire network with the National CTC and seven most mature IT programs guiding the community. (This is why the CCN still has “Network” in its name – the group long ago moved beyond the mentor network format but kept the name for consistency’s sake.)
- Replication is not the goal – A familiar phrase at the National CTC is “adopt and adapt.” Every program is different. The success of one CCN member may not easily translate into another CCN member’s situation. Flexibility and customization is essential. The CCN learns from each other. A famous example of communities of practice in action focuses on Xerox repairmen who shared their group know-how in a way that surpassed what was available through the official repair manuals. They weren’t just mastering (replicating) the manual.
- Structure evolves to meet the needs of the group – The CCN is always evolving, always looking for new ways to address the needs of the community. For the handful of four-year universities who are a part of the CCN, it became clear some of their challenges were different than those facing the majority of the CCN’s two-year community colleges. And so a special “CCN University” subgroup was formed that meets twice a year. Likewise, to address the unique needs of administrators, a special “CCN Administrator” subgroup was formed to meet twice a year and discuss those topics.
- May start as a hub but must evolve into a mesh network – Communities of practice thrive when each member contributes and shares. One of the most popular and successful elements of CCN quarterly meetings are those moments when the members make presentations, whether it’s a simple program update or sharing a best practice. CCN members love to hear what their colleagues are doing.