Establishing effective communities of practice (2014)

Jill Dickinson & Vicky Thirlaway

Against a backdrop of increased student fees and decreased employment opportunities, simulation has established itself as a key ingredient in the success of many H.E. courses.

In simulation modules students are encouraged to work together and with their tutor to develop not only substantive knowledge but also their transferable skills. Having experienced “work” within a comparatively safe simulation environment, students can then feel more confident in applying that knowledge within the workplace; both during work placement opportunities and upon gaining graduate employment .

In a simulation module students take responsibility for their learning; this helps to develop their confidence in problem solving. Placing the students at the centre of their learning not only inspires them but also helps to develop their confidence to take on higher-level modules involving problem-based learning opportunities within an actual work-place environment .  However, whilst the focus of any simulation must necessarily be on the students, the role of the supervisor remains paramount in ensuring a successful experience.

Creation of communities of practice  where students are encouraged to work together to solve practical problems encourages them to take ownership of their work, as they collaboratively explore the application of different ideas and, in doing so, create a new shared knowledge base .

Using the recently-validated, 40 credit Clinical Legal Education module as a case-study, tutors have found that there is generally a direct correlation between the standards that they set for the group and the group’s engagement with the module. Expectations are made clear from the very beginning of the module as to attendance, participation, the quantity of work involved and the quality of work expected. In return, students are supervised by experienced tutors who provide inspiration,  guidance and support, whilst at the same time taking care not to overly direct the students’ learning.

Tutors on simulation modules need to ensure they foster a teaching and learning environment which creates optimal levels of engagement, and results in optimal levels of performance.[1] There is a delicate balance to be drawn;[2] whilst the students may not have experienced a simulation module before, such modules also need to act as key stepping stones towards higher-level, work-based learning opportunities, work placements and graduate employment. Students’ anxieties at the start of the module focus upon concerns about group work, and a tendency to seek direction from the tutor. Tutors find that students develop confidence throughout the year to take the initiative in working out what needs to happen next, and proactively progress their “client’s case”.