SEP Community of Practice Handbook
The Student Experience Project is a network of public universities, scholars, and national organizations committed to testing, implementing, and scaling innovative practices that transform the college student experience into one where every student can access the support and resources they need to succeed.
Research shows that when students experience a sense of belonging and support on campus and in the classroom, they’re more likely to persist through academic challenges and earn their degrees. This is particularly important for students from structurally disadvantaged or numerically underrepresented groups, who are paying particular attention to signals from the institution, their professors, and the other students about whether they, or people like them, belong on campus, and are capable of succeeding.
By focusing on building community and a sense of belonging on campus, the SEP is committed to a future of higher education where all students—particularly students who face barriers entering college—feel supported to persist through academic challenges until graduation day.
As a network, the SEP translated the research on belonging and growth mindset into actions that institutions can take to create equitable learning environments. Critical to this work was developing partnerships with faculty and instructors, who have a significant impact on students’ experiences of their learning environment through the tone and culture they set in their classrooms. Each campus brought instructors together with a shared goal of improving student experience, utilizing a common set of evidence-based practices in their classrooms and collecting regular student feedback on their learning experience. These communities of practice served a crucial purpose of providing support for instructors to learn how to successfully implement new practices and opportunities to reflect with their peers and improve their teaching practice over time. Instructors in the community of practice shared insights for adapting resources for their teaching context or discipline, and developed mechanisms for resource-sharing with peers. Many participating instructors are now champions of this work in their departments and across campus, leading their own communities of practice or change efforts.
Results from the SEP demonstrate that these efforts can in fact improve students’ experiences and outcomes. During the 2020-2021 academic year, improvements in student experience predicted a greater likelihood of earning an A or B, and decreased likelihood of earning a D, F, or withdrawing from the course.
About This Handbook
Participating in a community of practice can serve as a transformative experience for faculty and allow for the development of meaningful relationships within a department and across disciplines. A community of practice creates space for instructors to share promising practices and to assist one another in developing new approaches to their work. At the six SEP cohort institutions, faculty expressed that the support and guidance from their peers in the community of practice was key to their ability to implement new practices to improve student experience.
This handbook is designed for campus leaders seeking to bring together a group of instructors in a community of practice to improve student experience. The handbook outlines key steps and considerations to design, launch, and sustain a successful community of practice, based on the experiences of the six public research universities that make up the SEP cohort.
Each institution took a different approach to establishing their community of practice based on campus population, institutional priorities, and change readiness. We provide a few suggested approaches to engaging instructors, which we encourage you to adapt to best fit your campus context.
Click below to download the handbook, and to explore resources to help you establish your own community of practice to support student experience.