A Scholarly Community: SoTLing as an ELT community

by Lee Kooi Cheng, Jessie Teng, Happy Goh, & Wong Kah Wei



In recent years, with an emphasis on the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) at CELC, a number of teaching and learning communities have been formed.  There have been different terms used for these communities, specifically Communities of Practice (CoPs) and Special Interest Groups (SIGs).  The common aim of CoPs and SIGs is for members to share knowledge, experiences and practices for professional and personal development.

Wenger and Wenger-Trayner (2005) define CoPs as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (p.1).  They identify three elements that characterise CoPs, namely: (a) domain, with the assumption of commitment and competence of members in CoPs; (b) community, where relationships are cultivated; and (c) practice, where members share and get feedback on issues, problems, practices, and resources. While this concept of CoPs has been widely used in the educational setting, it refers more generally to any context − formal and informal, workplace-related or within a neighbourhood.

Special Interest Groups (SIGs), on the other hand, are a gathering of people with similar interests but with a more specific intended outcome in mind, such as research collaborations for the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia(HERDSA) and Association for Computing Machinery (ACM).  Similar to CoPs, the driving force behind an SIG is learning within a community.  However, the expected concrete outcomes differ.   A CoP may not expect a concrete output such as research grant proposals, research projects, teaching and learning inquiries, or publications (Wenger & Wenger-Trayner, 2015) but there seems to be an implicit understanding that an SIG does.

Be it CoPs or SIGs, sustainability is a challenge.  In this blog, we share our reflection on difficulties we encountered as a flipped/blended approach SIG and lessons that we learned which have implications for sustainability.


As illustrated in Figure 1, we faced two key challenges – first, in coordinating conflicting schedules and accommodating different commitments of all the group members; and second, in collecting data which depended on the availability of students and module offering during the semester or academic year. On a surface level, these seem small and inconsequential.  Nonetheless, our experience is that these are practical constraints that could influence motivation and sustainability.


Figure 1.  Challenges and what worked

What worked

What brought us together was when our interest was sparked at a Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Conference that NUS hosted in November 2017.  The Invited Paper by Professor Magdalena Chi on the ICAP hypothesis (Chi & Wylie, 2014) gave rise to several queries, one of which was how the ICAP hypothesis would apply to the online component of a flipped approach. This interest then developed into what worked for us as an SIG. The lessons we learned from this collaboration that had worked for us are as follows:

  1. Cohesion, energy and collegiality

Cohesion, the members’ collective energy, and the collegial atmosphere that was cultivated supported many of our open discussions.  It helped too that there were refreshments (our favourite teh tarik, nuts and fruits) that kept us alert during our discussions.  Sometimes, there were uninhibited but healthy commiserations. Through these, relationships were built and commitment strengthened in a social cum professional atmosphere.  This idea of building a sense of community in social or semi-social contexts is similar to what Hong Kong Baptist University shares about what has worked for their CoPs (Wong, Cox, Kwang, Fung, Lau, Sivan, & Tam, 2016).

  1. Clear leadership and direction

However, cohesion, energy, and commitment would just be that if not for clear leadership and direction. Collectively, direction was mapped out and discussed, and realistic goals set. The planning and setting of specific and clear goals for individual members gave us flexibility to build content at a pace that fit our respective schedules.  Underlying this, we had the trust that each member would complete the “assigned tasks”.  Just as important was having a member who took the role of driving the project through initiating meetings, assigning the tasks, and determining the outcomes/output to be produced. In our case, we were clear that we would like go through the journey from conceptualisation of an inquiry to publication.

  1. Writing sessions

Perhaps what helped in creating and maintaining the momentum especially during the writing stage was the many dedicated writing sessions.  We intentionally set aside time to come together and draft portions of the paper for publication.

The physical space in which the writing sessions were facilitated was the Writing and Communication Hub at CELC.  We felt that it was the “right” place for drafting, with its book-lined partitions to provide an oasis of peace and calm for writing and discussions.  The space also allowed for pacing around the room when we experienced writer’s block.


Participating in CoPs, SIGs, conferences, and reading circles may be a starting point that seeds the interest in pedagogical research. However, to sustain the motivation, we feel that this interest needs to be pursued through continuous conversations, which comprise intentional or semi-structured dialogues that have a goal such as an inquiry project, an improvement to curriculum or material, a presentation, or a publication.

So, where do we go from here? We are not sure yet.  Indeed, we have completed an inquiry project on the flipped/blended approach but there are many other aspects of this approach that we have yet to investigate and learn about. Nevertheless, this experience has inspired us to start our own research project with other people in the same and different SIGs.

One thing we know for sure through this journey is that we have in one another critical friends (Roxå & Mårtensson, 2009) cultivated through our initial interest of getting together as a community of similar interest.


Share with us …

Some of these communities that we participated in did not work.  This SIG seems to have worked.  If you have experienced participating in an SIG, CoP, reading circles, we would very much like to hear your thoughts and learn from your insights on what worked and what had not.  



Chi, M. T. H. and Wylie, R. (2014). The ICAP framework: Linking cognitive engagement to active learning outcomes, Educational Psychologist, 49(4): 219-243. DOI: 10.1080/00461520.2014.965823

Cox, M. D. (2004). Introduction to faculty learning communities. In M. D. Cox & L. Richlin (Eds.), Building faculty learning communities (pp. 5-23). New Directions for Teaching and Learning, No. 97. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Roxå, T., & Mårtensson, K. (2009). Significant conversations and significant networks – Exploring the backstage of the teaching arena. Studies in Higher Education, 34(5), 547–559.

Wenger, E.C., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015).  Communities of practice: A brief introduction.  Retrieved from https://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/07-Brief-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf

Wong, E., Cox, M. D., Kwong, T., Fung, R.., Lau, P., Sivan, A., & Tam, V. C. (2016). Establishing communities of practice to enhance teaching and learning: The case at Hong Kong Baptist University. Learning Communities Journal, 8(2), 9-26.

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