Running online CoPs: what are we learning?

Due to the Covid-19 lockdown and the continuing prevalence of online meetings in preference to face-to-face meetings, we are all becoming accustomed to virtual engagements. But are we getting better at them, and are we getting the most out of them? How has online participation affected community of practice engagements, which are based on principles such as interactive participation, networking and collaboration? Do we hear all voices? AT BRIDGE we felt it was time to pause and reflect on these questions, and to this end we sent out a survey to people who had attended CoPs between April and mid-July 2020.

The survey covers thirteen community of practice online meetings (convened at both national and provincial levels) covering six of our CoPs (ECD, M&E, Early Grade Reading, Initial Teacher Education, Maths & Science, and the SAESC) held between 1 April and 3 July 2020. BRIDGE Principals CoPs are not included in this survey as they are closed CoPs and are of a different nature to open, multi-stakeholder CoPs. The questionnaire was sent out to 590 people, representing those who had RVSP’d to CoP invitations between April 2020 and July 2020. There were 39 respondents. The small pool of respondents, and the fact that they had attended different CoP meetings which vary greatly in nature and size, means that we must be cautious about drawing conclusions from the data received. However, respondents made a number of useful and insightful open-ended comments from which we can draw on as ‘lessons learned’ so far in this process.

Most of the questions related to how CoP members have experienced various features of our preferred platform Zoom, and invited comment on BRIDGE’s management and approach to online CoPs. A few key findings are shared here:

–  The preferred length of an online CoP is two hours.

–  Most people thought CoPs should be open to as many people as can log on, although there were a number of strong comments about the drawbacks of large CoPs (over 40 people).

–  The use of breakaway rooms for group discussion was generally seen as vital for active participation and engagement in alignment with CoP principles; it was stressed, however, that these need to be facilitated by prepared and pre-briefed participants.

–  There was strong sense of loss around the networking that has traditionally occurred in BRIDGE face-to-face CoPs; while group work can enable this to some degree, the personal connections made at CoP meetings are lacking.

–  There was general endorsement of how BRIDGE has grown in handling online CoP meetings, in particular in terms of the use of tool such as breakaway rooms and Jam Boards.

To read more about the survey and hear from CoP members, click here.