Communities of Transformation: Formation and Lifecycle of Communities of Transformation


Section 7: Formation and Lifecycle of Communities of Transformation

Our research found that the formation and lifecycle of these communities of transformation (CoTs) closely mirrors the literature on communities of practice (CoPs; reviewed in section 2). In this section, we describe the defining features of each lifecycle phase of a CoT: from potential to coalescing, followed by maturing and stewardship, and finally transformation. The maturing and stewardship phases entailed such important and distinctive characteristics from the traditional CoP literature that we go into greater depth on them in sections 9 and 10, respectively.

The trajectories of these four CoTs were all similar in that they tended to start with developing the philosophy and then materials to support that philosophy. They next moved to dissemination, and, lastly, they thought about community development. Compared to traditional CoPs, the CoTs we studied spent much more time on domain and practice development before focusing on community. Yet, the leaders of each CoT acknowledged that thinking about the community development earlier would have been helpful.

Potential Phase

It is important to note that there can be some overlap in the first two phases—potential and coalescing—as communities are beginning to form. We present different events in these two phases, acknowledging that some of these events may occur in an earlier or later phase depending on how the community is forming. What is clear is that the events in the potential and coalescing phases do fall before the maturing phase.

The four CoTs shared several characteristics in terms of aspects that defined their potential phase, including years of gestation, initial grants, key leaders coming together, efforts to develop and refine the philosophy, and the task of identifying a home.

Years of gestation

Each CoT spent several years refining its pedagogical approach and ideas for STEM reform, eventually resulting in the detailed philosophies each community currently espouses for improving STEM education. During the early years, courses and activities were piloted and tested. Faculty gathered to refine ideas about the STEM reform to be pursued. In retrospect, what seems critical for sustained CoTs is that many years be devoted to refining ideas; this is pivotal to long-term success. For example, SENCER started in 1989 with an interdisciplinary science course on AIDS at Rutgers University, but the course and its accompanying pedagogies were refined for over a decade before the leaders obtained funding and launched SENCER as a community. These early leaders gathered scientists at Rutgers who were concerned about whether conventional science education was adequate to the task of preparing students to solve real world problems. Similarly, the POGIL Project worked over the course of eight years to refine pedagogical ideas that connected guided, process-oriented approaches to inquiry. PKAL gathered for six to eight years to define their approach toward “what works” in undergraduate education. BioQUEST gathered computer scientists, philosophers, and scientists to develop ideas of the way computers could revolutionize teaching and make it more student-centered and engaging.

Grants prior to becoming a formal community. One important way that the communities were able to test their potential was through grants they received to refine ideas. While the work started informally with faculty meeting at disciplinary conferences or within an institution, obtaining grants allowed them the time and resources to work together to refine ideas, legitimating their work to a larger community. Additionally, grants allowed for collecting data about the efficacy of the ideas as they were put into practice. While all early-stage CoTs obtained grants, some ideas required even more support, due to the nature of the innovations they entailed. For example, BioQUEST computer simulations required more infrastructure support to develop initial models, and the community founders accordingly sought corporate and foundation funding for this.

Key leaders coming together

Each CoT was developed by an individual leader or a few individual leaders who had a passion for the ideas. These individuals provided the energy, passion, and resources to articulate the potential of these ideas and help move the communities toward the coalescing phase. It was essential to the success of the potential phase that there was a person who took up the mantle to support these ideas and pursue grants, working to gather people, to identify a home for the efforts, and to create conversations. While leadership continues to be important throughout the lifecycle, it is likely that none of these communities would have been able to persist beyond the potential phase without a key leader (or set of leaders) who drove the work of the fledgling community. Every person we interviewed underscored the importance of Jeanne Narum (PKAL), Rick Moog (the POGIL Project), David Burns (SENCER), and John Jungck (BioQUEST). Without these individuals, it is clear that the potential of the early ideas for reform would not have been propelled forward into the formation of these four communities of transformation.

Additionally, prior to launching as a community, the organizers of these communities needed to draw in some key thought leaders in the sciences to provide legitimacy and foster involvement of others. In the earlier years, the communities hosted events that drew on the presence of such key leaders to ensure attendance by others. Several communities formed informal advisory boards as a strategy to bring in key leaders. For example, PKAL brought together academic leaders in liberal arts colleges to document evidence of “what works” in undergraduate STEM education. The POGIL Project gathered chemistry innovators in the mid-Atlantic area on a regular basis to discuss challenges in teaching chemistry. BioQUEST gathered computer scientists, STEM faculty, and philosophers to discuss the potential of technology to alter teaching in science. SENCER worked with deans through its connection with the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), which helped to attract faculty to events.

A home

Each community of transformation was not part of an institution, but each found a home that provided a place for them to begin work and to locate their initial grants. While these homes did not necessarily provide resources or support, they did allow them a setting in which to work to centralize the efforts. The POGIL Project found a home with Franklin and Marshall College; SENCER began at Rutgers University before locating its first grant through AAC&U; BioQUEST began at Beloit College; and PKAL was located at the Independent Colleges Office. These institutional homes provided centralized hubs for information in terms of communication, website, and location for grants. They provided an important beginning place for the CoTs, but over time most relocated to more supportive environments as their goals became better refined.

In summary, each of these CoTs share a common history of years spent in the early stages, refining their STEM reform ideas, obtaining grants, finding key driving leaders, bringing in a set of influential faculty, and finding an initial home. These were essential years of gestation that carried each group through the stage of developing their potential, until they were prepared to launch more formally as full-fledged communities. This pre-work ensured that the first workshops and events held by each CoT were well attended by faculty, allowing the community to begin to coalesce.


As the communities of transformation entered the coalescing phase, they pursued several streams of essential work. Communities in this phase work to decisively name the STEM education problem, to connect themselves to the broader STEM reform movement, to develop key philosophical documents to distill the philosophies they had formulated, to foster the formation of their culture, to create key signature events, and to develop meaningful, useful materials.

Naming the STEM education problem

In preparation for effectively coalescing faculty, these CoTs were successful in identifying and naming a significant problem in STEM education (e.g., lack of relevance or contextualization, passive teaching, lack of student-centered approaches) and then offering a new approach to teaching that squarely addressed the named problem. For example, PKAL responded to the urgent need expressed in national reports to address the lack of STEM graduates and the high dropout rates in STEM. PKAL tied this problem to tendency of STEM faculty to use passive approaches to teaching, rather than the best evidence-based approaches. Similarly, SENCER articulated how STEM education was not preparing students for their responsibilities as citizens, including the responsibility to engage civic problems once the students graduated with their STEM degrees. The project therefore aimed, from its earliest stages, at making STEM education focus on key civic problems, like sustainability. By naming a problem and a needed reform, each of these CoTs created a movement and began to draw members toward key areas of interest that could be mobilized to address the task of reform.

Connection to broader STEM reform movement

In addition to naming the work, these CoTs also connected their work to a broader STEM reform community
Members of each CoT talked about interacting with faculty in other groups engaged in this work—members of BioQUEST were also part of PKAL, for example. The communities also organized gatherings with others who shared an interest in improving STEM education, both at disciplinary societies, and at the meetings of national organizations and other interested groups, such as the National Academies of Sciences, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the National Science Foundation. PKAL worked with various STEM reform leaders to develop the ideas for Faculty for the 21st Century, which aimed to scale reform more broadly. These ideas and many others were drawn from the advice of national leaders in STEM reform.

Key beginning documents

Most of the CoTs solidified their philosophy into a key document in the coalescing phase as a way to formalize ideas that had been discussed during the potential phase. It was important to formalize the philosophy in this way in order to attract and recruit faculty to join the communities. Thus, the creation of key philosophical documents built upon
the CoTs’ successes in naming the problems they faced. It worked synergistically with the communities’ new connections to the broader STEM reform movement, allowing them to begin to gather dedicated memberships and become engaged communities. The key philosophical documents of each CoT are named below and briefly described. They are described in greater depth in Section 6.

BioQUEST created the Three P’s: Problem-posing, problem-solving, and persuasion (Peterson & Jungck, 1988). This approach involved more active engagement of students in the education process, through strategies such as having students teach one another and using curiosity and interest inspired by problem-posing to drive learning.

Project Kaleidoscope created a philosophy document called What Works: Building Natural Science Communities (PKAL, 1991). The document focused on active learning that is made relevant by being connected to real-world examples in context. This is achieved using techniques such as service learning, undergraduate research, and other engaged pedagogies, while taking into account students’ diverse backgrounds, thus making science a more collaborative and peer-based enterprise.

SENCER created the SENCER Ideals (see Appendix 4A). The SENCER Ideals focus on capacious questions, context over content, interdisciplinary, and the connection of science to civic issues and relevant problems. These areas of pedagogical concern constituted a significant departure from science education at the time they were written. While the POGIL Project does not have a seminal or key document, their philosophy is summed up in the approach to pedagogy that is their namesake: process-oriented, guided-inquiry learning.

Each of these guiding philosophies for teaching had strong resonance with faculty, who reported to us the efficacy of writing down these philosophies so that they could be used to solidify ideas for STEM reform. In this way, these written documents helped to bring new people into the CoTs by energizing and activating them about the possibilities for change.

Culture formation

During this phase each group also developed a distinctive culture for which it became known. The culture often reflected the philosophy that each community had developed, which had become part of the core values of the group. These cultures also developed around core characteristics related to the leaders who had developed the CoTs, as well as the key and influential faculty who had joined over time. We describe the cultures of each of these communities of transformation below.

PROJECT KALEIDOSCOPE. In interviews, participants identified the culture of PKAL as offering a safe space for experimentation and being supportive of faculty members’ needs, whether those needs be in pedagogical experimentation or career development. Respondents reiterated the roles of mentorship, relationships, and partnerships as underlying core characteristics of this community. As one faculty member noted: “People stay involved because of commitment to each other.” Faculty also spoke about the compelling and cutting-edge ideas at PKAL, the synthesis of many big ideas in science, the engaging sense of urgency for change, and the openness of the community toward new ideas and ways of thinking. Faculty commented on feeling empowered and challenged simultaneously by the culture of PKAL. They spoke about the energetic and friendly environment, and always about the passion around teaching. A focus and emphasis on leadership development was mentioned by most faculty, as well as a sense of accountability that comes with being a leader. Many described how PKAL embraced faculty across different disciplines, which was a strength of the community, since it created opportunities for cross-disciplinary conversations. Many people spoke about the PKAL way of conducting an event, which is one third introduction, one third active, small-group work, and one third reflection and accountability (i.e., what will you do once you leave?). PKAL events also include rituals that help members to demonstrate and reflect upon the community’s on-going commitment to one another. The PKAL practice of developing notebooks for events was also noted as an important resource for expressing cultural values, with inspirational quotes, places for reflection, and research and ideas to inform practice.

THE POGIL PROJECT. The POGIL Project’s culture was guided by the peer-to-peer model, with faculty learning from one another through workshops and other opportunities. Because of the emphasis on active learning and group work epitomized in their philosophy, the culture of the POGIL Project is built around small-group work and highly active interactions. Faculty spoke about the emphasis on feedback and assessment at the POGIL Project as very much a strong part of the culture, a practice that they really appreciated in order to support them as a research- or information-informed community. Participants noted a sense of intensity as part of the culture, which results from constant evaluation, questioning, and a driving curiosity. For some, this focus on evaluation and critique might lead to less of a sense of openness and inclusiveness. However, the POGIL Project also espouses a commitment to creativity, as exemplified by the practice of writing activities. Accordingly, many people describe their interest in being a part of the process of creating pedagogical materials. Many faculty also noted how the POGIL Project’s community was informed by a culture of science, in which it is okay to fail and to experiment, and learning takes place through trial and error. Rick Moog, the POGIL Project’s leader, is noted for the slogan: “We work hard and have fun.” Working hard is expressed through the intensity and sense of values that are parts of the culture, but the creativity, trial and error, and occasional light heartedness in social settings demonstrate the fun aspects of the community. According to our research, that ethic very much characterizes the culture of the POGIL Project.

SENCER. Participants described SENCER’s culture as highly inclusive of all educators, whether they be students, faculty, staff, or informal educators. Community members described a minimal sense of hierarchy, exemplified by the fact that students were given equal voice to faculty. Those involved spoke about “all ideas being valuable and an openness—this is non-elitist.” There was also much discussion of feeling empowered, and of how this is connected to the lack of hierarchy and support. SENCER fosters a culture that is interdisciplinary, thereby supporting a view among its members that all sciences are important, and that there is no hierarchy related to one’s discipline. While we found this sense of inclusion among members, we also heard expressed a feeling of challenge, driven by a deep intellectual curiosity connected to the SENCER ideal of capacious questions. Faculty reiterated that they stay involved because of intellectual engagement that permeates the culture. The culture was described in terms of emotions, and many people spoke about SENCER helping them to regain their passion for teaching. SENCER’s culture connected them to the original reasons they started studying science. Faculty described how there was also a sense of meaning related to teaching and research, and that the goal of the community was to help people reconnect with a deeper sense of meaning about their work. They told us that teaching is not seen as a skill or strategy in the SENCER community, but as an art form and something that requires personal reflection. Creativity and departure from pre-packaged sets of ideas were seen as key elements within this community. This culture is expressed literally through the community’s insider language that are a part of each annual conference.

BIOQUEST. Like SENCER, BioQUEST was characterized by participants as a culture of “challenge.” The community is designed to encourage faculty to move out of their safety zones. As a leader in the group noted: “This is not for people who like comfort; we are constantly rethinking teaching and exploring new areas of biology.” There is a sense at BioQUEST of being on the cutting edge of biology, anticipating its future. The word “innovative” was used constantly to refer to the culture. Participants also noted BioQUEST as having a culture of creativity; the community does not provide pre-packaged ideas for teaching, but pushes people to develop their own approaches. In this way, teaching becomes a research activity, a scholarly inquiry. This dovetails with a belief that the faculty is just as much a learner as the student. The BioQUEST summer conference puts faculty in the role of student, and it uses active learning to have them explore an issue from that student perspective. Participants in the community used the metaphor of a mobile teaching and learning center to describe their work. As in PKAL, many faculty in the BioQUEST community talked about their future-oriented culture as being constantly on the edge, developing new ideas that will work in the future. An important part of this orientation is the idea of openness—making all materials free and available. BioQUEST also has a very flat and nonhierarchical culture. They use the language of “coworkers,” no one is assumed to have more expertise than another, and there are no explicit leaders. Dissenting voices are encouraged, which participants note as “always welcome and [we] feel this is part of a healthy culture.” Most other CoTs were not characterized by this same sense of debate and active openness to disagreement. Over the years, BioQUEST participants could recount many different areas in which the leadership group itself had significant disagreements over direction. But they felt that the openness to debate helped them shape their direction productively and maintain a healthy community. They noted how, early on, the community was dominated more by men (an artifact of more men doing work in technology), but they described that this changed over time. With the shift to more women in the community, the culture also adopted more of a focus on diversity and social justice.

Develop a signature event

Each group developed a key event that brought people together as a community around the philosophy. This became a regular event that defined the CoT in each case. For some communities, these initial signature events gave way to new signature events, while others maintained the same key events over their entire histories. For example, the POGIL Project developed its three-day workshops, in which faculty are introduced to the POGIL Project approach. These workshops bring together 20–30 faculty to learn from experienced the POGIL Project practitioners. Campuses typically hosted the workshops. The POGIL Project also started an annual meeting to bring together leaders in the movement in St. Louis; thus, it had continuity through maintaining the same setting each year. BioQUEST started a summer workshop—a small gathering of 25 faculty to explore the Three P’s philosophy. This hands-on workshop has now been offered for over 25 years. PKAL started its assemblies that brought together faculty who wanted to support curriculum development around the What Works ideas, bringing together close to a hundred people for each assembly. Later, the leaders developed the Summer Leadership Institute as part of the Faculty for the 21st Century program (F21). This summer institute has remained constant for the last 20 years, even after the F21 program ended. SENCER offers an annual meeting that brings together several hundred people interested in the SENCER Ideals. This annual event has become SENCER’s signature event, and it attracts substantial repeat attendance.

Develop meaningful materials

In addition to the core philosophy document, each organization developed a series of resources and materials that were supportive of the educational reform efforts that they promote. For example, SENCER developed course modules for what a SENCER-ized class looks like, so that individuals had samples for creating their own syllabi. They also created a journal to enable people to publish information about their revised curricula and pedagogical approaches. They developed assessment materials to help individuals in evaluating their new SENCER courses. BioQUEST created a library of course materials (e.g., computer simulations) that was searchable and kept up-to-date for about 20 years. They have now transitioned to a website with curricular resources, particularly case studies, ways to use Excel for assignments, and other simulation-related materials that require less of a technology infrastructure to use. They made this transition to help less resource-rich institutions to integrate the Three P’s philosophy. PKAL was known for creating reports after their assemblies to capture key ideas related to STEM reform. For example, they had an assembly on revising introductory science courses, and the ensuing report became a resource for ongoing change. The POGIL Project developed curricular activities and branded them as having been reviewed and approved by the POGIL Project professionals. In addition, they created textbooks that included the POGIL Project activities. Each of their workshops is accompanied by carefully developed handouts focused on helping individuals create the POGIL Project materials for themselves.

Thus, each community developed a set of important resources that became invaluable to their members at multiple tiers of engagement: introducing the STEM reform, practicing the reform, and advancing the work on both the individual and institutional levels. For example, the POGIL Project workshop materials were introductory resources for educators, while the textbooks and branded activities were intended to help more mid-level professionals further their practice. Finally, for POGIL, the creation of new materials was often a task for more advanced practitioners.


Expansion was a major activity during the maturing phase for each of these communities of transformation, and we have dedicated Section 8 to discussing their expansion strategies. However, in this section we describe several other important activities that happened during the maturing phase, including creating a rhythm of the events for different stages on involvement, obtaining new grants, building community, leadership development, and the emergence of a distributed leadership. The maturing phase is characterized by considering ways to manage the growth of the enlarging community while also continuing and expanding that growth.

Create a rhythm of the events for different stages of involvement

Each of the CoTs recognized that, to develop the community, they would need to have a rhythm of events that helped people move from introductory relationships with the practice to more advanced work, in which faculty could play an increasing leadership and mentorship role. The POGIL Project first created an introductory workshop, and then they later recognized the need for a more advanced workshop for individuals who wanted to follow up and learn more about creating activities. Those who showed interest in greater leadership involvement were encouraged to begin facilitating workshops, which often led them to be invited to participate in the annual national meeting, where a small leadership group gathered. SENCER had a similar rhythm of events, beginning with individuals becoming introduced to the community through attending their annual conference. In later years, individuals would be invited to be speakers at the summer conference. As faculty became more involved, they were often invited to the Washington Symposium or became leadership fellows. PKAL started off by inviting people to assemblies or to the Leadership Institute as an introduction. Next, engaged participants were invited to be speakers at these events, and then, later, they were more formally designated as mentors. These advanced mentors were connected to newer people who showed interest in becoming more involved in the community. PKAL also has mechanisms for identifying people who want to become more involved and increase their participation. The POGIL Project had workshop leaders designate individuals who showed particular interest, and those participants would receive follow-up contact from The POGIL Project leaders at the home office.

New grants

In order to develop new materials—a need that continues from the coalescing into the maturing phase—and later to expand to new audiences, each CoT developed and obtained new grants. For example, when BioQUEST wanted to reach community colleges, they created and gained funding for the C3 Cyberlearning Project. Similarly, CASE IT! was a grant to create case study activities for molecular biology and to expand reach into less resource-rich institutions. BEDROCK was a grant-funded initiative to create resources related to bioinformatics to get more mathematics into biology courses. These are examples of how their grants and the resultant materials helped them to expand into new sectors, like the community college, or into different courses, such as molecular biology. SENCER was interested in working with informal educators from museums and libraries, so it developed a grant to bring these individuals to their events and to connect them more directly to science faculty within the community. PKAL obtained a grant from the National Science Foundation to expand its regional networks so they could support more faculty in institutions across the country. PKAL also obtained funding to establish a subgroup, Faculty for Undergraduate Neuroscience, that would bring together faculty in this area to learn about more engaged pedagogy. Thus, new grants helped PKAL expand and extend its What Works principles by reaching into a new discipline. In this way, PKAL successfully moved to new types of institutions and across different fields of science, using grants to gather key educators in these new arenas and to develop customized materials to help keep its pedagogical approach appropriate to this new context. Similarly, the POGIL Project began work with high school teachers and discovered that they wanted access to more pre-packaged materials, rather than to create them independently. A grant helped the POGIL Project to create more pre-packaged activities for these teachers, thus extending the impact of the pedagogical innovation. These examples show how, while grants are critical to growth, they are also pivotal to maintaining the communities and their core functions. We will see how grants continue to serve a role in the stewardship phase, discussed in section 10.

Building community

Each community of transformation had several strategies for ensuring or developing community over time. BioQUEST used the strategy of inviting one third new individuals, one third returning individuals, and one third more senior individuals to serve as leaders at each summer institute. Their goal was to have an intergenerational approach, in which faculty who are the new individuals attending the event would be able to interact with more senior people who are returning to the event. SENCER similarly strove for an intergenerational approach by inviting newcomers as well as returning individuals to their summer conference. They encouraged delegations from institutions to include individuals at different career stages when attending the annual conference and applying for their mini-grant program.

Another strategy for building community is to have two-way communication. Too often, intentional communities can be hampered by one-way communication, where individuals in the community receive communications, but they have few mechanisms for communicating with the leadership. Over time, each community we studied developed mechanisms for obtaining feedback, ranging from surveys, time at the end of events for open dialogue, and follow-up after attendance at events. For example, PKAL has a tradition of ending each event with people sharing how the experience has had an impact on them and allowing them to provide feedback to improve the experience for future participants. The POGIL Project has a feedback form that they provide at every event called the Strengths, Improvement, and Insights (SII) tool. The SII garners feedback to improve all of their events and to better understand the changing needs of the people in their community.

Another major strategy for building community in each of these CoTs was to invite individual participation in various activities. SENCER, for example, invites individuals to present at the summer conference, to submit mini-grants, to apply to be leadership fellows, to submit to the SENCER journal, and to create course modules for the library. BioQUEST reaches out to individuals to publish articles based on their work at the Summer Workshop, to participate in submission of new grants to develop materials, to work on creating new teaching tools, and to present at various conferences about new teaching materials. They do not wait passively for individuals to submit materials
or provide ideas for possible grants; rather, they actively reach out to individuals on an ongoing basis to invite their involvement in these activities, thus building engagement with the overall community.

Leadership development

Over time, as the communities developed, there was recognition that new faculty wanted to be mentored and supported in conducting this work. Simultaneously, the CoTs recognized that they needed faculty to lead events, to create materials, and to develop new grants. As a result of this dual awareness, these communities came to recognize the importance of developing leaders. Leadership development is linked to the rhythm of events for different levels of participation, as we discussed above. All the more advanced modes of participation—such as presenting at workshops or conferences, working on grants, serving as mentors, being asked to publish, gaining opportunities to be visiting scholars, serving on advisory boards and committees, and receiving recognitions such as fellowships—are venues for developing leaders and sustaining them within the communities. Many of the faculty we spoke with said that they would have been less likely to continue participation if there had not been ways for them to give back to the community. Leaders in these CoTs recognized the need to create opportunities for participants to play leadership roles to maintain the engagement of individuals who had contributed to advancing ideas and practices. Additionally, these advanced faculty members expressed interest in giving back to their communities. The CoTs responded by providing a variety of opportunities for this next level of engagement.

Most leadership development we encountered in these communities was informal, offered through opportunities to engage in presentations, mentoring, and grant activities. However some of the CoTs also have created much more formal leadership development activities. For example, PKAL’s Summer Leadership Institute was aimed at fostering the skills of individuals who could go on to create institutional and departmental changes. The skills participants acquired in workshops such as these were also critical for their growth as leaders within the CoTs.

Distributed leadership

The CoTs in the study recognized that distributing leadership was essential for the growth and health of the community. To distribute leadership meant that a large cadre of faculty participated in leadership development activities, enabling them to become key contributors in planning events, creating publications and materials, serving as mentors, and playing the many important roles necessary for these communities to grow and thrive. While each community began with a small group of dedicated leaders, as the communities grew during the maturing phase they recognized that there would be no way to serve their members well without delegating responsibility. This was the impetus for these leadership development activities described above.

For example, PKAL developed a group known as the village elders that provided mentoring to various faculty, served on advisory boards, and presented at meetings and events. This group of individuals grew over time to perform all of these beneficial activities and roles within the community. In turn, SENCER fostered leadership by setting up regional innovation centers and by training and developing leaders for each of the centers. They also established regional networks and provided leadership training to support individuals working to grow these networks. POGIL used its annual national meeting to bring together a large group of rising leaders, and the community worked to ensure that leadership was distributed among this group. With this broad base of leadership, POGIL continue to develop materials, create new grants, reach out to new groups, and strategize about the future of the community.


Stewardship is about making the community sustainable over time. This was such a larger area of our findings that we devote section 10 entirely to the concepts and recommendations that emerged. The focus on sustainability developed organically for these communities, as their growing impact made clear the need to secure the continuity of their work. For these four mature CoTs, sustainability was central to the task of meeting goals and increasing impact, as we discuss in that section.


As noted in the literature review on communities of practice (see section 2), transformation is the stage when a community faces a crisis that forces it to reexamine its purpose and whether it should continue. Two of the communities in our study, PKAL and BioQUEST, underwent transformations, and they have continued to grow dynamically after that process. We will describe their stories.

PKAL’s longtime leader retired, and the community needed to find a new home for its work; it eventually became a part of AAC&U. The advisory board for the community underwent a process to examine whether the organization still served a purpose and should continue. In response to the retirement of the longtime leader, who had provided so much support, and the known difficulties ahead of finding new leadership and a permanent home for PKAL, the advisory board went on a long soul-searching process to examine the degree to which PKAL still had an important and distinct role to play in STEM reform. While they recognized that many different groups were now focused on pedagogical innovation, they identified that there were no other communities focused on leadership development in STEM. They also observed that PKAL’s strong focus on diversity was not embraced or championed by other groups. Through an examination of their work, the advisory board identified that there was an important need to continue the work of PKAL, and they ended up embracing their transitioning to a new leader and a new home.

BioQUEST underwent two successful transitions of leadership, but its primary transition was precipitated by financial uncertainty. The tight budget times and difficulty obtaining grants in recent years forced the community to examine its purpose and to determine whether it should become a nonprofit, and whether it had enough support to continue. Over the history of this community, there have been several transitions of content and priorities, including the shift from focusing on computer simulations to using other forms of technologies to create engaging pedagogies and curricula. When BioQUEST began, there were almost no other efforts focused on this type of pedagogical approach. Through the reflection necessitated by the financial climate, BioQUEST assessed the landscape and found that their approach remained unique and viable; as a result, they have created a nonprofit organization to continue supporting the community.


This section described how these communities of transformation generally follow similar trajectories, as they recognize their potential for approaching a STEM reform problem, coalesce around the issue and begin to form community, mature into full-fledged communities with expanding impact, and steward the community onward. In response to the inevitable demands of change over time, communities are eventually forced to reflect and transform accordingly.

Some of our findings related to the maturing and stewardship phases provide useful information for future communities. We describe these findings in more detail in sections 9 and 10. First, we turn in section 8 to common challenges these communities encountered over the course of their evolution.