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West Federation


Michael Wray
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Campus Box 60, PO Box 17362
Denver, Colorado, USA 80217

Employing the Communities of Practice Model in Hospitality Programs: The HTM Edge at SDSU

Ever read a really great book that transforms your way of thinking about your profession?  To me, it was Jean Lave and Etiene Wenger’s (1991) book entitled Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation.  In a brief 138 pages Lave and Wenger trace world history of learning through apprenticeship in professions such as; tailors, butchers, and midwives.  At first glance, one might think that this text does not relate to us as educators, but to me it did as the parallels in hospitality management were obvious because we have our own set of customs and norms in professions such as lodging, event management, and culinary arts. New learners to the field are often on the periphery like an apprentice, longing to be at the core of the profession where experts operate successfully as hotel GM’s, Executive Chef’s and Meeting Planners.  This formative text was brought to light to me again while observing presentations from San Diego State University faculty at the West Federation CHRIE conference in February.  The collaborative work of Alana Dillette, Lori Sipe, Sandra Sun-Ah Ponting, and Mark Testa was evident in their presentation on high impact experiences documented in e-portfolios where students communicate their experiences and passions for their profession and their assessment of where they assess themselves from novice to expert. Additional scholarly endeavors were presented related to Kolb’s experiential learning theory, and the graduate program approach toward leadership development.

The combined presentations from SDSU faculty highlighted their program philosophy referred to as the “HTM Edge,” a process of self-directed learning amongst graduate students where participants complete a comprehensive self-study and are guided by industry mentors and faculty facilitators to develop a plan for self-improvement. It occurred to me as an audience member that the participants in the graduate program where very much like the novices described by Lave and Wenger that have a desire to navigate from their periphery position to the core of successful professionals in their field.

But how does one navigate such a path?  The foundation that underpins leadership development in the graduate program at SDSU is the recognition that the respected hospitality experts at the core of the profession are leaders and change agents. Therefore, a valued graduate program functions as a leadership development process geared to developing students to effect positive change in the workplace.  There is less emphasis on a thesis and more upon networking socially with faculty, industry mentors and peers. Gardner (1993) would agree as there are multiple ways to express intelligence and proficiency in the field, much more so than is demonstrated in a single thesis. At SDSU the e-portfolio takes center stage where students must demonstrate proficiency in real world projects facilitated by faculty.  Such learning philosophies are rooted in constructivist learning theory where learning is described as fundamentally social (Bandura, 1977) and that students gain knowledge in reflection of what they thought they knew and are presented with new skills and practices from those that matter to them…industry mentors who can “walk the walk and talk the talk.”  There are multiple points of assessment or what the SDSU faculty refer to as “touchpoints” where students document their development in their e-portfolio. Students devise their own path from a periphery position where they hone the skillset common in their field of study, but more broadly, the leadership skills necessary to effect change in the workplace. Through a process of coursework, self and peer supported assignments, and validation from industry experts, the students gain proficiency and experience in the hospitality profession.  The collaborative nature in which course assignments occur puts into practice much of what we know of adult learning (Meriam, Cafarella, Baumgartner, 2007) where learners seek communities of practice that are situated in their profession.  Learning is sought out of a need to improve upon weaknesses.  Students desire experiences that are in authentic settings navigated by those whom are valued and respected because those experts exhibit the behaviors, skills and leadership prowess that has proved successful in their field.

To me as an observer of these presentations I was taken back by the simplicity of a self-directed leadership program contrasted by the rather complex capacity of the faculty to facilitate a student’s journey from periphery to core of their profession.  I was aghast with the daunting nature of such a task.  The faculty in the L. Robert Payne School of Hospitality Management have reminded us that we have to make a commitment to our students to remain as their mentor closely engaged with their development and facilitate their journey of self-improvement.  We need to remain highly engaged with industry professionals and bring their relevant experience into the process of assessing student progress.  After all, our students are in our programs not because they want to be like their teacher, but because they want to be like industry leaders and participate on a program that they value.To assist our students in their journey, faculty are most effective when they facilitate course work and related projects that are flexible to the needs and values of the student.  Such projects and assignments are geared to hone their skillset and ability to effect change in their profession, particularly with those skills they are weakest in and capitalizing on their strengths.  From my position in the back of the room looking around at the audience, I could see my peers marveling at the value of programs where student needs are front and center and faculty focus less on schooling students and more so on facilitating their development.  Nothing made this more poignant to me than observing several of my own undergraduate students in the audience enthusiastic about how they too might be able to navigate from their periphery position to the core of industry professionals.  Cheers to you Alana, Lori, Sand, Mark and all those students, industry partners, students, faculty, and administrators that foster transformative programs at SDSU.

Related Reading:
Bandura, A. (1977) Social Learning Theory, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Gardner, H. (1993) Intelligence Reframed. Multiple intelligences for the 21st century, New York: Basic Books.
Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning. Legitimate peripheral participation, Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press.
Wenger, E. (1999) Communities of Practice. Learning, meaning and identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lave, Jean (1988). Cognition in practice: mind, mathematics and culture in everyday life. New York: Cambridge University Press
Merriam, S., Caffarella, R., & Baumgartner, L. (2007) Learning in Adulthood. A comprehensive guide, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. (2002) Cultivating communities of practice: a guide to managing knowledge. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press.


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