Virtual Brownbags to Expand a Community of Practice
I am involved in four inter-institutional GER research groups. I was a little surprised when I counted them out! While a couple people are in two of the groups, most are only in one. Two of the groups are working on externally funded projects, a third is actively seeking funding, and the fourth is currently willing to navigate our work on our own time. A huge advantage to working with these groups is that I am constantly stimulated by different people and a wealth of ideas and expertise. This makes my job much more fun.
The biggest initial hurdle to overcome in forming these partnerships is, well, finding those stimulating partners! The primary way I've joined or started inter-institutional research groups is through interactions at GSA, in graduate school, and at the On the Cutting Edge Early Career Workshop. Often, partnerships have come about during relatively informal discussions around a shared topic of interest. Identifying research partners is an area where I believe the GER community can offer additional support, particularly in connecting early career researchers with their colleagues.
As Secretary of NAGT's GER division, I work closely with Dr. Kelsey Bitting (Northeastern University) to put together our monthly newsletter, which goes out to over 300 people. This platform can be used to help researchers identify others within the community interested in exploring an idea together. As part of this effort, we began a monthly GER Spotlight in May 2015, which features a GER scholar sharing their work, current interests and favorite papers. Being featured can raise an individual's profile within the community, and encourage others to reach out to you. (We welcome GER Spotlight nominations here - https://nagt.org/nagt/divisions/geoed/newsletter.) However, a more active mechanism is needed if multiple inter-institutional partnerships are to be formed.
Kelsey and I believe that a valuable addition to the newsletter could be a monthly interest poll, asking members to identify a topic of interest (e.g. themes like spatial thinking or inquiry-based labs, methods like eye tracking or interviewing, or analysis techniques). Based on the most popular choice, the GER division would host a virtual brownbag discussion around a relevant journal article. This would be a time to bring people together from across the country, all of whom are at least a little interested in the topic at hand. I believe that offering these additional opportunities for conversation has the potential to encourage more collaborations. Sometimes, it's just a matter of knowing there's another interested soul willing to tackle a research question with you!
In addition to fostering inter-institutional GER projects, I believe these virtual brownbag discussions could help people get needed advice (a need identified by the GER community survey), and foster a stronger sense of community between meetings, revitalizing and reminding us why we became interested in GER to begin with.