2010 Knowledge Building Summer Institute: New Assessments and Environments for Knowledge Building. August 3-6, 2010 - Toronto, Canada

Student communities of practice and the role of extra-curricular projects
to embed informal learning experiences into higher education

Thomas Sporer


This proposal presents a study that inquires into student communities of practice and the informal learning experiences they facilitate in the context of higher education. First we illustrate what is meant by these informal groups of students that engage in extra-curricular project activities at their universities. After defining characteristics of those project groups we show that these groups are barely covered by current literature. To understand the life-cycle of these communities and the problems they face more fully, we interviewed the participants of different projects groups at our university and produced “learning histories” that capture the formation of these communities and the problems they have faced. Based on Grounded Theory we analyzed these interviews and developed a model of these communities life-cycle as well as the influences onto their development over time. This model then gets linked to the common literature on communities of practice and group theory and the role of motivation of the participants and the organizational structures that support these communities are elaborated. Finally it is shown how these findings inform a design research project that aims at building a learning infrastructure that enables extra- curricular project activities and the resulting educational experiences to become an integral part of higher education.
Link to draft paper