Communities of Practice: Connecting, Collaborating, Learning

In a community of practice, people come together to learn, share knowledge, and collaborate on a wide range of topics. Organizations can use these communities to support the needs and preferences of individual learners and build overall capacity. Effective implementation is key to building relationships, enhancing learning and connecting people in person or across the globe.

AIR is a leader in the research, evaluation, and implementation of effective online or web-based communities of practice as well as those that are blended (incorporating in-person and online learning). Our experts use research-based strategy to design, develop, and manage communities of practice using the power of technology. 

Our services include:

  • Consultation on and design of the technical infrastructure
  • Management and facilitation
  • Ongoing research and evaluation of in service of continuous improvement

Featured Projects

Connected Educators

Led by AIR and its five subcontractors, the Connected Online Communities of Practice (Connected Educators) project, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology, expanded opportunities for online collaboration toward the improvement of education. Online communities supported the National Education Technology Plan’s compelling vision of connected educators—professionals who are fully connected with the content, tools, resources, peers and experts, and higher education and community organizations that support professional learning, interaction, and problem solving.

Through the AIR approach to research and development, Connected Educators pursued this mission by seeking to understand and promote educators learning and collaborating through online communities of practice and social networks. That pursuit combined research, development, and outreach:

  • Research: Through studying existing communities and networks, AIR asked questions such as the following:
    • How does participation produce value?
    • How can schools and districts as well as individuals benefit?
    • What design and facilitation strategies maximize that value?
    • How can learning analytics using data generated through participation help improve the use of those strategies?
  • Development: Through designing and leading networked learning spaces for educators—such as the CS10K community that supports the National Science Foundation’s efforts to broaden participation in computing careers—AIR tested the results of research in practice.
  • Outreach: Through Connected Educator Month and project publications, AIR raised awareness of and engagement in learning and collaboration through communities and networks. Over the last three years, Connected Educators reached hundreds of organizations and hundreds of thousands of educators.

Connected Educators Month 2016

  • The Connected Educator Month (CEM) initiative networks educators and education stakeholders through connected professional learning experiences worldwide. Over the past four years, millions of educators and others around the world have participated in hundreds of professional development and other educational opportunities, offering highly distributed, diverse, and engaging activities to all stakeholders at all levels.

    Led by AIR, CEM 2016 seeks to create a more fully globally connected, evidence-based movement that fosters collaboration and innovation to transform professional learning and effect educational change.

CS for All Teachers

Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and managed by AIR, CS for All Teachers is a virtual community of practice, welcoming all teachers from PreK through high school who are interested in teaching computer science.

Previously known as the CS10K Community, CS for All Teachers provides a virtual home for teachers to connect with one another and with the resources and expertise they need to successfully teach computer science in their classrooms. With the support of a team of expert facilitators and computing professionals, PreK-12 teachers can get answers to their burning questions from the HelpSquad, share their experiences in small groups, participate in online events, search for resources, and learn new instructional strategies from their colleagues—all in an effort to ensure computer science for all. Whether you are a veteran computer science teacher or just getting started, there is a place for you in CS for All Teachers.

California Adult Literacy Professional Development Project (CALPRO)

Beginning in 2001, the California Department of Education contracted AIR to ensure that California met federal and state expectations for quality instruction. Since then, AIR has been responsible for providing a comprehensive system of research-based professional development for California’s adult literacy providers, including both instructors and administrators.

Intel Teachers Engage

More than 40,000 educators around the globe use Teachers Engage to participate in formal and informal online professional development related to effective use of emerging technology to transform and build their individual personal learning networks through collaboration and social interaction. AIR builds and manages a comprehensive strategic plan, including a thematic editorial calendar of community content and activity, a social media integration approach, and a continuous improvement and success measurement using a variety of online analytic sources. AIR also produces various monthly webinar series on classroom technology tools, 1:1 and bring-your-own-device programs for student technology use, mobile learning, and virtual museum resources. To ensure member engagement, AIR coaches and manages three teams of community moderators: a group of 13 lead moderators who produce content and play leadership roles across the community, 60 rotating moderators who serve quarterly and interact directly with the broader community membership, and a group of community leaders and moderators from Intel Education’s global online communities and professional development programs. In addition, AIR designs and implements Intel Education’s social media strategy and professional learning gamification and badging programs via the community.

Ohio Credit Flexibility

In 2008, the Ohio Department of Education began the process of development, adoption, and implementation of a new proficiency-based credit policy called Credit Flexibility. ODE partnered with AIR for technical assistance to help their districts and schools implement the new policy. AIR has worked with ODE side by side to convene a state team and launch a community of practice to help with statewide implementation of credit flexibility. Driven by the desire to give all students the best experience at school and allow them to earn credit in new and innovative ways, ODE launched a community of practice as a one-stop-shop for districts and schools to share their ideas, experiences, expertise, and questions about credit flexibility implementation. AIR’s guidance, hands-on support, facilitation, and resources have helped position ODE to provide its clients with guidance and support along the way.

This model of implementation support rests on building new types of relationships between the state education agency and taking risks to foster two-way communication and authentic collaboration. Together, a cross-office state team drafted and developed community etiquette guidelines, designed features on an online community of practice (hosted by the IDEA Partnership), and defined purpose and objectives. Through the common site, the field can share the successes that different schools have experienced with credit flexibility and help educators connect with one another to begin creative conversations aimed at expanding capacity in this new area, as well as directly connect with consultants to share success stories and solve problems.

Marshal Conley
Principal TA Consultant
Headshot of Paul Giguere
Senior Director, Technology Solutions