Creating a Supportive Virtual Environment for Geographically Dispersed Colleagues: A Mixed Methods Action Research Dissertation
The purpose of this action research study was to examine how membership within a virtual community of practice impacted individual professional development, knowledge exchange practices, and self-efficacy. The G-3/5/7 virtual community of practice (VCoP) website was created to provide members with access to a wide range of career-related content, while also bestowing them with the level of volition needed to be completely in control of when and how they consume content. Feedback from early cycles of research suggested the pilot version of the VCoP wasn’t perceived as user-friendly and didn’t provide a broad range of professional development-related content. Thus, the layout of the VCoP was completely redesigned, and content offerings in the content repository and on website pages were broadened. This action research study is grounded in social cognitive theory, social cognitive career theory, and the community of practice framework. Reviewed literature includes studies pertaining to mutual engagement within social learning environments, facilitating professional development, sustaining communities of practice, and implementing virtual communities of practice. Participants in this study included a combination of Department of the Army civilian and military employees. Over the course of 14 weeks, these employees were invited to voluntarily join the G-3/5/7 VCoP and freely access and use the site for any reason they deemed necessary. At the end of the 14-week period, participants completed a questionnaire and participated in semi-structured interviews. The result of the study revealed members generally found the G-3/5/7 VCoP website to be user-friendly. They also believed the website could help them accomplish professional development goals, exchange knowledge with peers, and produce higher quality work more efficiently. The analysis of results includes discussion on the triangulation of quantitative and qualitative data and connects results to the literature that influenced this study. Also, lessons learned, study limitations, implications for practice, and recommendations for future action research are discussed.