This article discusses the creation of a research-focused virtual community of practice (vCoP) for geographically-dispersed third space professionals, motivated by desires for enhanced professional collaboration, visibility and identity. The authors used collaborative autoethnography (CAE) to evaluate their personal reflections as vCoP participants. Data were gathered in two collaborative writing activities and analysed using thematic analysis (TA). The TA identified two connected themes, which capture the vCoP members’ aspirations to transcend their current roles and be research-active through connecting with like-minded professionals. Collaborative writing activities, including authoring this paper, cultivated elements of academic identity such as independence and purpose. A non-hierarchical and supportive vCoP environment allowed the members to work beyond time and institutional constraints to foster the evolution of the community and an emerging sense of professional identity beyond that typically associated with third space roles. The paper offers a model of collaboration that could help groups in similar situations.

Practitioner Notes

  1. Virtual Communities of Practice (vCoPs) can help geographically-dispersed third space, or other higher education professionals connect with like-minded colleagues to meet common aspirations and cultivate a sense of shared professional identity.
  2. Democratic participation and support from fellow vCoP members promote commitment, creative thinking, motivation and an openness to generating ideas and trying new ways of working
  3. Shared activities, such as collaborative writing and reflection, allow a virtual group to work within time and institutional constraints in ways that would not be achievable for each individual working alone. Such collaboration fosters the evolution of the community
  4. The model of collaboration developed by this particular vCoP could be used by other groups to address questions in the changing HE landscape that are relevant to them, and plan activities to strengthen their vCoP’s group identity.
  5. Collaborative autoethnography is an appropriate methodology to research a particular cultural and communal context where participants act as both the subjects and the researchers.