Developing online communities of practice through relational pedagogy

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Drama, Theatre and Performance are subject areas in which notions of shared practice and collaboration are of utmost importance. In practical workshop and rehearsal processes in the theatre, the concept of ensemble is, according to John Britton, when people ‘work together for an extended period, rather than a single project’ (2013, p. 5). Robert Cohen concurs with this although he adds that ‘ensemble is a long-term relationship: a day-in, day-out collaboration in shared living, thinking and creating’ (cited in Britton, 2013, p. 5). In contemporary art practice, Nicholas Bourriaud suggests that artists’ work that is relational ‘bring into play modes of social exchange […] processes of communication in their concrete dimensions as tools that can be used to bring together individuals and human groups’ (1998, p. 165). They offer ‘spaces where we can elaborate alternative forms of sociability, critical models and moments of constructed conviviality’ (1998, p. 166).

In a similar way, ‘drama is a relational pedagogy that opens possibilities for dialogue and shared imagining among students, teachers and community. Drama involves creating alternative presents and futures through processes of shared enactment, discovery and collaborative imagining’ (Prentki and Stinson, 2016, p. 5). Whilst this is largely accepted in terms of practical exploration of the subject, these possibilities are less apparent in theoretical exploration of drama which, in many instances, has moved online. Despite the obvious differences between in-person and online teaching and learning, the possibilities for relational pedagogy to be utilised are just as enticing.

Using examples from modules delivered entirely online between 2020 and 2022 on a Scottish university BA (Hons) Performance programme, this presentation explores how discussion forums on Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) Moodle and Learning Experience Platform (LXP) Aula were used to create shared dialogues and processes of learning. Consequently, I argue, communities of practice are developed, which Etienne Wenger (1998) suggests, include the three dimensions: mutual engagement, joint enterprise, and shared enterprise.

When mutual engagement happens, individual participant contributions allow unique positions and identities to emerge, which are ‘both integrated and further defined in the course of engagement in practice’ (Wenger, 1998, p. 76). Thus, individual and diverse voices are not lost in the development of online communities of practice. Rather, they continue to operate within ‘a very tight node of interpersonal relationships’ (Wenger, 1998, p. 76). The collaboration that occurs in the process of joint enterprise is essential to its success and is what sustains the group. Similarly, the patterns of behaviour, routines of working, and shared language become important aspects of communities of practice. As in all settings where people come together, communities of practice have all the usual challenges and triumphs, which are explored in this discussion of online discussion forums.

In concluding, I argue that using online discussion forums as a relational pedagogical approach can be as effective as the shared enactment, discovery and collaborative imagining that occurs in the physical space of a drama studio and that processes of social exchange are a fundamental part of successful learning. Ultimately, this relational approach contributes towards the building of successful and sustainable online communities of practice which can be used interchangeably with in-person interactions and communities.


Bourriaud, N. (1998) ‘Relational Aesthetics’, In C. Bishop, (ed.) (2006) Participation. London: Whitechapel Art Gallery, pp. 160-171.

Britton, J. (2013) Encountering Ensemble. London: Bloomsbury.

Prentki, T. & Stinson, M. (2016) ‘Relational pedagogy and the drama curriculum’, Research in Drama Education: The Journal of Applied Theatre and Performance, 21 (3), pp. 1-12. Available at: doi: 10.1080/13569783.2015.1127153

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022
EventDeveloping Expertise for Teaching in Higher Education: The Artistry of Teaching - Online, Bristol (UWE), United Kingdom
Duration: 14 Oct 202220 Oct 2022


ConferenceDeveloping Expertise for Teaching in Higher Education: The Artistry of Teaching
Abbreviated titleThe Artistry of Teaching
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CityBristol (UWE)
Internet address


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