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  • Writer's pictureKathleen Bortolin

Interested in joining an informal, but still sort of scholarly, professional development group?

Updated: Mar 2

The Idea

I'm starting a professional development group that is relatively informal, dialogue-driven and multidisciplinary. Why? Because it’s the kind of group that I would love to be part of. Think bookclub, but with less homework. Many of us have our people—our go-to’s for professional conversation, career tips, resource sharing. But you can always have more. And some of our community might not actually have their go-to’s yet, so I think there is value in creating a space to help create those connections.

I have been influenced by some of the work I’ve been doing lately, and the literature I’m reading on the importance of safe, inclusive and multidisciplinary faculty groups in higher education. Such communities are often comprised of individuals who share (or develop) an overlapping knowledge base, history and experience (Barab et al., 2000). These groups can be valuable in creating or reimagining practice, solving critical problems, applying best practices, and developing new skills (Wenger and Snyder, 2000). It's a place where colleagues share resources, ideas, and challenges, and where they feel a sense of professional belonging--a safe and inclusive space to discuss professional pathways, goals, practices, and concerns.


This group would meet virtually to start in order to make this initiative as accessible as possible, but with the possibility of face to face meet ups from time to time. I’d like the meetings to be discussion-based and topic-driven, with the topics generated from within the group. As a facilitator, I would curate some key resources related to the topics and make those available beforehand to anyone interested. Example topics might include:

  • How and why do you do research at a teaching university?

  • Institutional culture: What do we love? What do we want to change? Can we change anything? How?

  • What are our professional goals, or what could they be, as early-career, mid-career, or late-career professionals? Can we support one another in reaching these goals?

  • How are we handling AI so far in the classroom and how can we leverage it in our own practice?

  • What other issues are we facing in higher education and how do we navigate these challenges?

  • Academic freedom: What is it, do we have it, how do we protect it, how do we use it well?

I’d like this program to be light-touch for participants, with a low-level of prep required; we’re all busy. The first meeting would include introductions and topic generation. Although I’ve listed some topics above as examples, I’d like to be as bottom up as possible and see where the group wants to go. I can facilitate this process. Maybe we split into a couple of groups. Maybe we pick one topic and do three sessions on it. Maybe we turn it into a bookclub because we all agree there's one awesome book we all want to read. We'll see. There are no rules.

We may also try to get guest facilitators or speakers as well from within our community to join us if topics lend themselves to that. We’ll have two topic-focused, discussion-based meetings this spring, and then we can re-evaluate the program, and consider continuing it next year. I hope to get at least 5-7 interested members, but I’d run it with two.

Next Steps

If being part of this group is of interest to you, please send me a short email and I’ll add you to the list. After I have what I think the group will be, I’ll send out a list of three (1.5 hour) dates for the spring. Rough timeline:

Meeting # 1: Late April

Meeting # 2: Mid-May

Meeting # 3: Early June

Let me know if you’re interested because I’m interesting in knowing you.


Barab, S.A., Barnett M, & Squire K. 2002. Developing an empirical account of a community of practice: characterizing the essentials tensions. Journal of Learning Science, 11, 489–542.

Wenger E. & Snyder, W. 2000. Communities of practice: the organizational frontier. Harvard Business Review, 78, 139–145.

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