Anthropologists recognize a social structure called a “Community of Practice (CoP),” which they define as a group of people who share a passion for something they do, and interact regularly for the purpose of improving their practice (Wenger-Taylor & Wenger-Taylor, 2015). Over the last 20 years, the geoscience education community has grown to fit this definition, under the influence of Cutting Edge
and other programs that have had community-building as an explicit or implicit goal. Active membership in the community, defined by ongoing participation in professional development activities, has grown exponentially. The community has co-created structures and tools to tackle shared challenges, including syntheses of current best practices, digital libraries of instructional resources, a community review system, and a culture that values sharing of pedagogical expertise and teaching resources. The community-based approach to professional development advanced by Cutting Edge
has moved educational research into practice more efficiently in geoscience education than in other STEM disciplines.
Based on our observations of the GeoEd CoP and other well-functioning communities, we present a conceptual systems dynamic model for what drives well-functioning communities of practice. The model contains three intertwined positive feedback loops: The first loop involves individual learning through participation in community activities. The second loops deals with affect, and controls the individual’s desire to give back to the community. The final loop controls the reciprocal benefits process by which increasing individual capacity leads to increasing community capacity, and vice versa. This model offers two important lessons, both of which are well exhibited by Cutting Edge: First, that both the individual and the collective need to benefit from CoP activities. Secondly, that a collegial feeling of belonging and accomplishment is at the heart of what makes the CoP tick.