Communities of Practice and Situated Learning

The research methodology draws on a combination of object-based-learning (Chatterjee & Duhs 2010), situated learning and a communities of practice model (Lave and Wenger 1991; Wenger et al 2002).

Communities of Practice

Communities of Practice is a term proposed by social learning theorists Etienne Wenger and Jean Lave to describe the social organisation of knowledge and learning. Due to its emphasis on collective and situated learning the COP model has been influential in organisational development as well as pedagogic research and practice. For Lave and Wenger, COPs cultivate new knowledge and better practices through collective learning. COPs have an identifiable basic structure: “a domain of knowledge, which defines a set of issues; a community of people who care about this domain; and the shared practice that they are developing to be effective in their domain” (Wenger et al 2002, 27).

Three Elements of a COP

  • The domain establishes a common ground and sense of identity for those involved. It enables members to contribute within a frame of established meaning, knowledge and practices.
  • The community is the social context in which learning takes place, one which fosters trust, respect and the sharing of knowledge.
  • The practice is the set of tools, knowledges, ideas, skills which the community shares. (Wenger et al 2002, 27-29)

We located the archive and the university (more specifically the discipline of creative writing) as existing domains, which through sharing expertise had the potential to form a new “community of practice”. Our starting point was that if students were to develop knowledge and expertise of using archives in their own work, they would need access to a shared domain which moved beyond the physical and conceptual boundaries of the traditional lecture/seminar learning environment and incorporated new skills, tools and frameworks for creative practice.

Situated Learning

While creative arts students in many disciplines often work on live briefs outside the classroom, creative writing students tend to learn in workshop contexts or rely on industry contact through visiting writers who deliver lectures and workshops within the learning environment of the university (see May 2003 for the prevalence of the workshop model). Workshops have proven value in the process of writing, but they are also artificial contexts for learning, which cannot reflect the range of practices in which a professional writer will find themselves immersed beyond the walls of the university (residencies, pitches, performances and so on). In contrast situated learning asserts the importance of learning in contexts where work or practice actually takes place. The heritage sector is one area where creative and professional writing skills are valued for education and intepretation. We wanted to explore the archive, not only as a repository of knowledge for creative exploitation, but as a space for situated learning and a potential industry context for creative writers.

Object-based Learning

The value of using archives to inspire learning in primary, secondary and lifelong-learning sectors is well established, but there has been little research on the pedagogic value of archives in Higher Education. Anecdotal evidence suggests that archives can facilitate the acquisition of subject-specific knowledge, transferable skills, and generate creative practice. Although archive collections have been underused in higher education as a resource for creative practice, there is an increasing body of work that examines the learning opportunities that museum collections can offer to students in the Creative Arts, Humanities and STEM subjects (see Chatterjee, In Review; Chatterjee and Duhs 2010). Like museum collections, archives provide a hands-on experience that reinforces subject learning and enhances the development of core skills. Significantly for creative writing students archives provide access to textual objects which require the acquisition of high level interpretive skills that are invaluable in the practice and process of writing.


1. Chatterjee, H. J., “Object-Based Learning In Higher Education: The Pedadogical Power of Museums” in University Museums and Collections Journal, (In Review).

2. Chatterjee, H.J. & Duhs, R. (2010).” Object Based Learning in Higher Education: Pedagogical Perspectives on Enhancing Student Learning Through Collections.” Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning Through Design, University of Brighton, available

3. Lave, Jean, and Etienne Wenger. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

4. May, Steve (2003) “Teaching Creative Writing at undergraduate level: Why, how and does it work?” Higher Education Academy: English Subject Centre, available

5. Wenger, Etienne, Richard Arnold McDermott, and William Snyder. (2002) Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge. Harvard Business Press.



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