A New Community of Practice

Before working with the students the academic staff and archivists met to explore what a new COP might look like. We found that we had a lot in common already.

Sharing practice has resulted in the delivery of two papers to audiences of archivists and academics, and the proposal of a network for creative arts educators in HE and special collections/archives/museums. We plan to develop an online network that will allow the COP to evolve beyond life of the project, and open further dialogue between professionals in HE and the heritage sector. If you would be interested in getting involved contact Kym at kym.martindale@falmouth.ac.uk

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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 http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/research/cetld

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 http://www.english.heacademy.ac.uk/explore/projects/archive/creative/creative3.php

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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Tremough Archive Sessions

On Monday 21 and Wednesday 23 February students had archive sessions using the Patrick Gale and Nick Darke collections at Tremough.

Sarah Introducing the Archive

Sarah Introducing the Archive

Kym and Niamh introduced the sessions, asking the students to complete ‘personal meaning maps’ to find out what archives meant to them. Sarah then introduced the archives, showing students a scrap of paper from Nick Darke’s archive, with the words “Found a pair of false teeth on this beach… Did E?… Yeah. Didn’t fit.” Everyone was surprised to discover that fragments like this would be kept. Students used the fragment to generate ideas.

Ordering the Documents

Ordering the Documents

To understand more about the process of screenwriting, students then worked with facsimiles of letters, treatments, and play scripts. Using clues such as dates, changes in scripts, and other contextual information, students tried to organise the documents in the order of the writing process. This was more difficult than it initially seemed.

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