Discovering the value of COVID collegiality
“Disco” Learning Community of Practice demonstrates connectedness while in isolation.
The University of Adelaide’s Communities of Practice (CoPs) for Learning and Teaching have been a part of our institutional landscape since 2014. The CoPs focus on a diverse range of domains related to improving the learning environment for our students and enhancing their preparedness for graduate life. CoPs normally meet on campus and in other face-to-face environments, but the COVID crisis has seen the Discovery Learning CoP (aka Disco Learning) pivot to meeting remotely, and along the way playing an authentic role in building collegiality and shared practice.
Members of the ‘Disco’ Learning CoP include around 25 teachers, learning developers, librarians, and professional staff. Students are also included in many of their meetings. With the COVID lockdown beginning just a week before their scheduled face-to-face meeting on 27 March, joint facilitators, Beth Loveys (School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at Waite campus) and Cathy Snelling (Adelaide Dental School) were faced with the disappointing option of cancelling the meeting, knowing that colleagues were dealing with urgent and often stressful teaching commitments.
Rather than send another piece of bad news, Cathy and Beth decided to hold the meeting via Zoom, and were so glad they did. ‘It was a memorable and important part of our CoPs story’, said Cathy. Over the course of the hour and half meeting a rich, supportive, and collegial exchange of ideas dominated the conversation, with the 18 members dropping in and out around their schedules.
‘Our CoP meetings are usually lively and productive, but this one had an extra layer to it’. Beth explains
Many of the members arrived with stressed looks on their faces and tales of trying to ‘pull things together’ to meet very tight deadlines to deliver content online. This generated robust discussion and unleashed lots of suggestions, support and sharing of links via the Zoom chat. It seemed that this environment had engendered the best of academic collegiality.
Beth and Cathy began to record all the good ideas and suggestions and then collated them after the meeting to share with all members of the CoP.
Buoyed by this early success Beth and Cathy had no hesitation about repeating the remote format when the CoP next got together on 17 April, even promoting it as the ‘Disco’ meeting – with virtual disco backgrounds popping up across the Zoom room. This once again showed the strength of a CoP in challenging times. Members shared their COVID-teaching successes and failures and the discussion was bursting with ideas and suggestions.
Beth and Cathy are enthusiastic: ‘In the 5 years that CoPs have been running at our university, the value of membership and participation has been reported at conferences and university learning and teaching events. However, in the past two months the role that this CoP has played for its members has never been more valuable.’
Story by Cathy Snelling and Beth Loveys, co-facilitators of the Discovery Learning Community of Practice