Supporting access and participation across the whole institution: our Community of Practice -  from the physical to the virtual

Spacey, Rachel and Sanderson, Rebecca (2021) Supporting access and participation across the whole institution: our Community of Practice -  from the physical to the virtual. In: National Education Opportunities Network Summer Symposium S, 1st-2nd July 2021, Online.

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Abstract

Supporting access and participation across the whole institution: our Community of Practice - from the physical to the virtual
In June 2019, the first meeting of the Widening Participation (WP) Community of Practice (CoP) was held at the University of Lincoln. The need for improved support for staff working in access and participation emerged from the findings of an evaluation of a WP intervention called the "Access Covenant" (Spacey and Sanderson, 2020). The Access Covenant was a complex intervention which encapsulated the ‘whole institution approach’ to WP. Employing staff across different departments (including wellbeing, careers, student support and the library) the intervention provided support throughout the student lifecycle for students from rural and coastal Lincolnshire, noted ‘cold spots’ for Higher Education (HE) participation, with additional support for mature students and students with a disability. The realist-informed evaluation approach was particularly powerful in highlighting the tacit knowledge and exceptional commitment of the staff working on the intervention. However, it was also clear that practitioners were spread out across different parts of the institution and were struggling to make connections with each other and collaborate on projects. Crucially, it seemed like they were struggling to develop a professional identity as WP practitioners. A CoP model was recommended as a possible solution and as part of the development of the new Access and Participation Plan (APP) 2020-25, the WP CoP was established.
Although initially aimed at the Access Covenant staff, the WP CoP rapidly evolved to include professional staff based in marketing, student support, wellbeing, the library, careers; Human Resources based Equality and Diversity practitioners, Students’ Union officers and academic members of staff including lecturers and researchers. The CoP is a helping community which aims to connect members so they feel able to ask for help and to learn from each other. The CoP concept is a familiar one in HE and arguably such communities have taken place as long as people have shared their experiences but the theory was formalized in 1991 (Lave and Wenger). Members share their expertise and are bound by a common purpose and passion - supporting potential entrants from under-represented groups to access HE, do well and have the best experience possible and realise the benefits of HE in their future lives. The CoP meets approximately every two months and the meetings are themed, for example, supporting care experienced students or differential attainment. Colleagues come together to share good practice, have guided discussions, create action plans and plan future projects. The CoP is formally incorporated into the APP project governance structure to ensure the group has a voice to influence decision making, and that decisions and discussions made by senior committees are communicated to and embedded in grass-roots practices.
Our presentation explores the development and growth of the WP CoP since 2019 and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its operation as it moved from a physical to a virtual setting including what members perceive to be its benefits and good practise which can be shared across the sector.

Keywords:Widening participation, community of practice, student support
Subjects:X Education > X342 Academic studies in Higher Education
Divisions:Professional services > Lincoln Higher Education Research Institute
ID Code:45924
Deposited On:03 Aug 2021 15:55

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