The Beach Center on Disability at the University of Kansas utilized funding from the
Research Utilization Support and Help (RUSH) Project to create and investigate the impact of an on-line environment for an Early Childhood Family Support Community of Practice (EC-CoP). Its purpose is to create a web-supported environment to facilitate interchange of ideas about early childhood family support. In particular, we wanted to facilitate interchange of ideas to synthesize best available research about family supports, with family and practitioner tacit knowledge and experience, to produce guides for wisdom-based action that CoP members could use and discuss.
Creation and Implementation of a Web-Supported Environment: We utilized CoP software from Tomoye as the platform for our CoP. Lessons learned about the creation and implementation of a web-supported CoP include:
• Creation of a user-friendly environment that is attractive to a range of stakeholders (family members, researchers, practitioners) requires considerable re-design of the software platform and will continue to require reorganization and structuring as the body of information grows.
• Recruitment of members and facilitation of CoP activities is not a “start up” activity but an ongoing need for a successful CoP.
• To be utilized, the collected research highlights and “real stories” that we upload to the CoP must be linked with discussions and marketed through weekly e-mails to make sure members know and utilize the information.
• Similarly, panel discussions and “person of the month” required aggressive marketing and needed to be introduced through a more user-friendly format (e.g., doing an on-line “interview” with the person of the month rather than a video or written statement by the person) to invite participation.
• The research agenda developed through the CoP consists of practical tools families and practitioners want–for example, advocating effectively in Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meetings, gathering tips for successful vacations, finding supports from other family members.
• We discovered that people tend to visit the site more often than they participate in discussions; therefore, other means beyond discussion analysis are needed to gauge the impact of the CoP. We did find that the average number of page views per visit was 16.47, indicating that visitors to the site tend to spend time there.
• The majority of respondents surveyed found it easy or very easy to navigate the system.
• A total of 66 percent of respondents found the information from the site to be useful or very useful. Conversely, only 31% found the site to be useful or very useful in making friends.
• Over 70% of respondents rated the quality of the CoP content (discussions, contributions, organization) as good or very good. 69% rated CoP content to be relevant or very relevant.
• Respondents rated the system usability of the CoP in the positive range, but there is room for improvement as the site has grown. We draw from this the conclusion that we will need to make changes on a periodic basis to continuously improve the accessibility and quality of the site.
• In qualitative interviews, users identified gains in knowledge and understanding about topics that were discussed on the site. Also, they described an atmosphere of mutual support and welcome as they came to the site.
•Products of the CoP thus far include one how-to manual, three Knowledge Banks synthesizing information, one peer-reviewed journal article, and ten conference presentations.
We will continue both to improve the usefulness and variety of topics on the site, as well as to develop products and information based on the work and discussions of the CoP.