Adapting a established community of practice to improve open engagement within the digital technologies sector

Smith, Andrew (2023). Adapting a established community of practice to improve open engagement within the digital technologies sector. In: OER23 Advancing Open Education, 5-6 Apr 2023, Inverness, Association of Learning Technologies.


The situation of learning and associated communities of practice is a long-established paradigm, first explored by Lave (1991), & Wenger (1998) and has been one of the many core tenets of open education – by the creation of diverse open access communities of practice. Examples such as ‘Computing At Schools’ and ‘OER’ in their broadest sense in part prove the principle, and practice.

Within the Cisco NetAcad ( academic community, there has been a paradigm shift, since 2014, moving from a closed, tiered model to a more open, community led academic resource. Principally led by key academic organisations within the UK. This was triggered because of the post 2008 economic crisis, which by 2014 was having a notable effect on the recruitment of sufficiently capable students and undermining the advanced technical training and development of educators.

Rather than having a cost based model, we worked with Cisco and other collaborative organisations to create an open scalable model that would be free for all. Removing financial risk and improving support for educators and students.

This encouraged an iterative approach to remodelling the community of practice, creating greater equality, enabling teachers to be educated in a more flexible equitable format (Howson et al, 2020). Rather than using face-to-face, which lacked scale – the model moved to a hybrid remote learning experience.

The result is that the community of practice in question moved from approx 3000 digital technology, network engineering and cybersecurity students circa 2014 students to approx 35,000 as of 2022. Where the UK collectively, moved from approx. 22,000 students in 2014 to 55,000+ in 2022 and continues to grow.

Also, at this time, there were around 100 educators, within the community, affiliated with around 14 education organisations – while UK focussed, the community now has many international participants. At the time of writing, there are 325 educational organisations, with c9000+ educators, from a total of c16,000+ reached.

The open model, has been adapted, moving into a range of traditional and non-traditional education communities. Supporting gender participation, disability engagement, armed forces veterans, neurodiverse, as well as schools, colleges, apprenticeship providers and higher education amongst others. Supported by open resources, open education and community support that anyone who wishes to engage with the community resource, can do so for free.

As of 2022, the open community of practice within NetAcad is being further adapted, to encourage some of the community members to become equals and therefore community leaders. Sharing with them some of the 325 organisations, and develop new future education, community, and academic leaders within the same academic domain. With the ambition that divesting opportunity, will encourage further growth and new ideas.

This short presentation explores how the community was initially remodelled and is still being adapted, the challenges, the opportunities and also the moments where new unexpected opportunities were discovered. As well as how we have been able to link the professional practice of NetAcad to national education in the UK and support students and educators alike.

Howson, Oliver; Adeliyi, Adeola; Willis, Alistair; Hirst, Tony; Charlton, Patricia; Gooch, Daniel; Rosewell, Jonathan; Richards, Mike; Wermelinger, Michel; Piwek, Paul; Savage, Simon; Lowndes, Charly; Thomas, Elaine and Smith, Andrew (2020). Best Practices in using Technological Infrastructures. The Institute of Coding.
Lave, J. (1991). Situating learning in communities of practice. Perspectives on socially shared cognition, 2, 63-82.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity.

Theme 5: Wildcard. Creative practice in relation to openness

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