CAMEL was originally short for Collaborative Approaches to the Management of E-Learning. CAMEL was a project funded by the HEFCE Leadership, Governance and Management programme. It set out to explore how institutions who were making good use of e-learning and who were collaborating in regional lifelong learning partnerships might be able to learn from each other in a Community of Practice based around study visits to each of the partners’ institutions.
A short report highlights some of the things CAMEL participants found out about e-learning and about each other. One of the most interesting aspects of the project was, however, the model itself. We believe the CAMEL model could have widespread application for many types of people wanting to share experience and learn from one another.
Although CAMEL started out as an acronym we found the name summed up certain things about what we were doing. Camels are versatile animals and can operate in the harshest of conditions, surviving on the poorest vegetation. They produce milk for nutrition and dung for fuel as well as providing transport. There are a lot of parallels with the versatility of e-learning in making learning happen in places where it wouldn’t otherwise be possible and we saw some examples of this in the project. There is also a resonance with the nomadic element of the project and the benefits gained from visiting different locations.
The development of a Community of Practice (CoP)
- takes time to develop – longer than the 12 months we had for the pilot although we made a surprising amount of progress
- requires trust which requires time; however social elements and face-to-face meetings can speed up the process
- requires a shared passion
- requires commitment by all parties
- can stimulate and inspire to give confidence to instigate changes in practice
A CoP takes time to develop to the level where the group becomes the point of reference for a member and such a community needs a ‘raison d’être’, some common interest or passion. The trust element is very important and only develops fully over time; the sharing of food and drink, with the socialising that this brings, is central to the development of this trust. Ideas on how to encourage this trust to develop are part of the CAMEL model.
The telling of stories and problem solving are essential elements of a CoP; they share news and information, build new knowledge and express an identity. The CAMEL model facilitates the development of these elements.
‘Getting to know someone else quite closely you’re more likely to be inspired by them’. Inspiration frequently leads to (confidence in) changes in practice and this quote from a participant in the CAMEL pilot illustrates that this did happen within the pilot.
Where did the idea come from?
Strange as it may seem CAMEL has its origins in a self-help group formed many years ago by a number of small farmers in Uruguay. The credit for the idea of applying a Uruguayan farming model to the UK education sector goes to Seb Schmoller of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) whose uncle was a member of the self-help group.
Seb visited Uruguay back in 1985 and his uncle showed him a folder of documentation from what he described as a farmers’ self-help club. This stuck in Seb’s mind and caused him to reflect on the parallels between education and agriculture. The technology and the process may be different but to be successful at either requires an enormous amount of tacit knowledge, and understanding about how to make things work in a co-ordinated way, and the success has a long time frame.
Farmers from 8 small farms used to meet monthly taking turns to visit one another’s establishments. Participants were provided with prior information including plans and stock lists. On the day of the visit they toured the farm then had a discussion (led by an expert facilitator) about key issues arising and gave views on topics on which the host sought the group’s advice. There was an evaluation session at the end of the day and the outcomes were documented.
Key features of the group that we seek to emulate in the CAMEL model are that the visits were:
- Planned collaboratively
- Documented before and after
- Focused on things which matter
- Expertly facilitated
- Formally evaluated and had a
- Strong emphasis on tacit knowledge and making this explicit
We were fortunate enough to receive some reflections on the workings of the group via an email from Seb’s uncle in Uruguay and this mentioned another critical feature: the meetings had to be ‘calzon quitao’ which translates as ‘with underpants removed’.
He describes this as meaning you have to put all your cards on the table and hide nothing and he goes on to say ‘sometimes there emerged some truths or criticisms which were very painful, and this is what I think helped many to come to terms with reality.’
What is the CAMEL model?
The CAMEL model is based on the Uruguayan farmers’ model. Participants who have an interest (passion even) for a particular topic and who wish to learn more by sharing knowledge, practices and ideas agree to hold a series of study visits. They take it in turn to organise and host a visit to their organisation. The event consists of:
- Presentations by managers, practitioners and partners outlining strategies and practice
- Discussions around the presentations, as follow-up to inter-visit communications, generally on key themes and suggestions and ideas for future practice
- Demonstrations of tools or systems
- Hands-on sessions to enable actual experience
- Review and evaluation of the practices discussed, the day itself and suggestions for themes of future visits and inter-visit communication
The visits give the host the opportunity to showcase their practice as part of the sharing process as well as allowing for discussions and suggestions for change. Honesty is crucial to see ‘the warts and all’.
In order to agree on topics of interest and a schedule of visits, it is helpful to hold a start-up meeting on neutral ground. This allows participants to get to know each other before the study visits. It is at this meeting that the ground rules are agreed and the decision is made as to whether to engage an external reviewer. If funding has been obtained for the project, then it is likely that independent, external evaluation of the project is required.
As project management and facilitation is key to the success of the project, it may be useful to have third party involvement. In the pilot, JISC infoNet and the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) took responsibility for managing the project.
Ground rules and trust
As with the Uruguayan farmers, we found that, although the informality of the network was one of its strengths, it was important to operate within a structured framework and to set some ‘ground rules’.
The sharing of practice is a difficult area as there is often considerable pressure to show your institution in the best possible light and to gloss over the issues representing the ‘warts and all’ that is required for institutions to learn from each other and further develop practice. The group has to find a way of addressing the issues, and meeting the objective of disseminating something useful to the outside world, whilst respecting institutional sensitivities. A quote above from a participant in our pilot demonstrates this.
The Johari Window (Luft & Ingham 1955), named after the first names of its inventors, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham, is a useful model describing the process of human interaction and is commonly used by self-help groups.
A four paned ‘window’ divides awareness into four different types, as represented by the quadrants: open, hidden, blind, and unknown. The lines dividing the four panes are like window blinds, which can open or close as the interaction progresses.
- The OPEN quadrant represents knowledge that is known to all. This can be purely factual but can also include elements of Mission/Vision. At the start of your project the opening of this first quadrant will not be very large, since there has been little time to exchange information. As the process of getting to know one another continues, the window blind opens placing more information into the open window
- The BLIND quadrant represents knowledge that is overt to outsiders but hidden from internal people in the same way one remains oblivious to a smut on one’s cheek whilst it is plainly obvious to an observer. A challenge for your group is to get this information into the open in an acceptable way so that outsiders can act as ‘critical friends’
- The HIDDEN quadrant represents things that are overt to insiders but hidden to externals such as issues relating to internal politics. As trust between the parties grows they will feel more comfortable with the kind of self-disclosure that opens this blind
- The UNKNOWN quadrant represents things that are known to neither insiders nor outsiders. Being placed in new situations often reveals new information not previously known to self or others. In the CAMEL pilot the process of describing existing practice to others gave people some surprising insights about themselves and their institutions. We hope that this will happen in your project
The underlying philosophy of the CAMEL model is based on trying to draw back the shutters so that more information is in the OPEN quadrant. This does not necessarily mean it is in the public domain rather that it is available in a way that is useful to the participants.
Trust is central to the sharing of real experiences and practices and so it is highly recommended that The Chatham House Rule applies. The Chatham House Rule reads as follows:
When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under The Chatham House rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant may be revealed.
If you decide to publish the findings of your community of practice, you will need the permission of all participants and must be careful to obtain permission to include attributable information. This may be a challenge in terms of demonstrating the value of the project to others.
We hope the quotes from participants in the pilot will serve to illustrate the transferable value of a network of this type. The external evaluation report on the pilot noted ‘Considering the short time-frame … it was surprising the extent to which an ethos of open and trusting relationships had developed within the community’. Our CAMEL pilot ran for 12 months.
Managing the project
- is crucial for project success
- can be tailored to the particular project
For a project of this type, a ‘light touch’ is probably the best approach; this was appreciated by our pilot participants who commented that it was the process that was important and they did not feel that the project was results/outcomes driven. However, even with a ‘light touch’ approach there will be occasions when gentle reminders are needed. It helps in managing the project if there is a lead person at each of the institutions and that this person takes on the responsibility for organising their study visit.
A Project Initiation Document (PID) is an excellent way of documenting your project. The main sections are:
- Roles and Responsibilities
- Stakeholders, reporting and communication
- Plan with milestones
- Risk assessment
- Financial arrangements
This will help you clarify your project with the partners so that everyone understands their role and responsibilities. It also ensures that any budget arrangements are available to all so that financial discussions can be open and honest.
No project runs entirely to plan and issues may arise as your project progresses. You may find it useful to document these, together with solutions, so that problems can be tracked and the experience and knowledge is not lost. This will be the responsibility of the Project Manager or a named person within your project.
Documenting your study visits can be done in a variety of ways, for example:
- Digital photographs
- Presentations (PowerPoint, Word etc)
- Post-its (large and small)
- Templates to record group discussions
These can be shared with your group using a JISC Mail list, social software (e.g. Flickr), or a learning environment such as Moodle. The Project Manager could also be responsible for the setting up and management of these communication systems.
If you decide to publish findings from your community of practice, the Project Manager could be responsible for the co-ordination of the publications.
A neutral Project Manager i.e. one from outside the partner organisations may also serve as a facilitator. A facilitator is useful in face-to-face and online discussions to ensure that participants all have a fair say and stick to issues that are of interest to the group as a whole.
Choosing the partners
The success of the community will depend upon the members. There are member/partner characteristics that are pertinent to a CoP, and there are some additional ones relating to the CAMEL model itself:
- Enthusiasm for the group topic – this is an important characteristic of a community of practice
- Knowledge/experience of the subject
- Willingness to share knowledge and practice
- Commitment (includes travelling and staying overnight)
- Hosting study visit including preparation and co-ordination of the activities (See the section ‘Organising the Study Visits’ for more detail)
- Institutional support (including financial if there is no external funding)
- Not in direct competition (geographical, specialist areas) as this may hinder the honesty of the communication
It is not always the peers that you would immediately think of that could be most beneficial to you. As the quote above from one of our partners showed.
If individuals are applying to become part of your community/project then you will need some criteria to assist the selection process. The following list gives examples of the type of questions you could ask. The list could also be used by individuals to evaluate themselves (e.g. can you answer ‘yes’ to all these questions?) before joining. You may include some questions that are subject/domain specific:
- Do you want to share achievements that you and your partners are proud of and feel others can learn from?
- Are your ideas/methods/approaches transferable to other situations?
- Can you demonstrate practical, transferable results rather than a project outline or work in progress?
- Can you show how the work ties into your institutional or local e-learning strategy (or other appropriate strategy or policy)?
- Are you able to explain clearly the costs and benefits of what you are doing?
- Could you convince sceptics that what you have achieved is worthwhile?
- Are you committed to sharing practice and learning from others?
In our CAMEL model pilot we found that all our partners were highly committed to the project and this contributed to the trust within the group.
In the resources section you can find examples of the:
- original call for participants to join the project
- example of a call to participate in an internal CAMEL project that one of the partner universities set up as a result of seeing the benefits of the original project
The start-up meeting enables members of the community to start to get to know each other on ‘neutral ground’. It is useful for everyone to introduce themselves, giving their background and that of their institution (or organisation) and their expectation of the CoP. It may be useful to exchange some information beforehand. In the ‘resources’ section you can find the ‘Information Grid’ we used so that each of the partners could supply information about their e-learning activities. The schedule of study visits with possible themes can be agreed together with methods of communication.
It is at this meeting that confidentiality should be discussed so that everyone has a common understanding at the outset. As detailed in the section on ‘Ground Rules and Trust’ we recommend that The Chatham House Rule applies.
If you decided to appoint an external evaluator you may wish to invite them to this meeting and review the terms of reference of the evaluation at this stage.
A sample agenda is included in the ‘resources’ section.
Organising the study visits
It is the responsibility of each of the hosts to organise their study visit but the project manager and other members of the community will also be involved.
- Your schedule of study visits will have been agreed at the start-up meeting and it is a good idea to agree dates as soon as possible after that meeting. Coming to an agreement on this can be quite a complex and time-consuming process but technology can help us here. The system that we used for the CAMEL pilot was ‘Meet o Matic‘. It is free and very easy to use.
- You choose the theme for each study visit based upon discussions at the start-up meeting, internal experience and knowledge, and evaluations from previous study visits. Also some areas of interest or discussion points will result from the inter-visit communications.
- In setting the agenda you need to remember that the discussions, group work, evaluation, hands-on sessions and demonstrations are just as important (perhaps even more so) as the presentations. For this reason it is a good idea to schedule in these types of sessions; otherwise some of your presenters will ignore the clock and use all the time that they can get away with for their presentation. After all – they are usually passionate about their subject and will have lots of interesting ideas and experience to share with the members of the community. Sample agendas showing timings and different types of sessions are included in the ‘resources’ section. Try to include some time at the start for participants to share what they have been doing since the last visit.
- Your presenters, demonstrators and facilitators will need to be fully briefed on the nature of the study visits and understand the confidentiality and trust agreements of the community. As sharing practice is ‘calzon quitao’ your presenters must be willing to share actual experience, what didn’t work so well as well as what happened according to plan, and be prepared to take part in what sometimes can be very difficult discussions. A quote from the CAMEL pilot illustrates these points very well – ‘It’s about practice warts and all – and the warts are more interesting than the practice sometimes’.
- After an initial draft of the agenda has been agreed with the presenters (timings and titles), circulating the document for feedback will keep everyone ‘in the loop’ and lead to a collaboratively organised study visit that is more likely to meet the various needs of the community and be more productive.
- Community members will find it useful if session synopses are circulated prior to the study visit and electronic copies of the actual presentations made available after.
- You will need to agree who will take notes (and possibly photographs) to provide a record of the visit. Video and sound recording provide excellent documentation but require more time, effort and experience in setting up, running and editing.
- The room layout requirements will vary depending on the type and mix of sessions but there will always be a requirement for a configuration that allows for group discussions. In the CAMEL model pilot, we found that a restaurant or cabaret style layout worked very well enabling easy movement from presentation to group discussions. Using a lecture room style with a group facility elsewhere in the room allows movement between sessions with a greater possibility of participants changing groups. If there are a small number of participants, then a boardroom style or ‘u’-shape can work well although group work needs some reorganisation of the chairs. Some group work may produce posters or require templates to be completed and then shared with the rest of the participants; being able to display these on walls or boards facilitates the sharing and subsequent discussions. Room layouts are shown in the ‘resources’ section. Simple things can make all the difference to the energy levels of the group: bottled water and biscuits/fruit available all day, plenty of natural light, a feeling of space and room to be able to move around.
- On the day you will need a chair and/or timekeeper who is ruthless about keeping presenters to time in order to ensure there is adequate time for discussion. Presenters must understand that discussion is just that and not simply questions and answers about the presentation. The chair should act as a facilitator to ensure that discussions are even-handed and relevant.
Remember that the study visit is about showcasing and sharing. It should assist you in the reflection process, put practices into a wider context and challenge assumptions so that hopefully you see things about your institution and about your practices etc that you were blind to. ‘You don’t just share everything that’s good and that you are proud of but you are also prepared to share your problems and issues and perhaps find ways of solving those together’.
Importance of social events
The social aspects of a community are important to the development of trust and sharing and so the evening prior to the study visit should be regarded as part of the event. Staying in the same hotel and going out for a meal together help to establish social relationships. This is an important side-effect of the necessity to travel. Again some quotes from the CAMEL pilot:
During evaluation of the CAMEL pilot this came up many times as a significant factor. Comments included:
It is really important to sit around a table and eat and tell stories and get to know people, on a social or semi-social level, in a way in which you can’t just by turning up and sitting in a room and listening to something.
You only gain that trust by sitting down with people, breaking bread with people and engaging people on a social level and then things really start to happen.
This may appear obvious in hindsight but it is a factor that is very often ignored in projects and many other collaborative activities.
If you organise one (or more) of your study visits to take place one afternoon and the following morning it gives the opportunity for a social gathering that can be more than going to a restaurant for a meal. In the CAMEL pilot our last study visit included a barbecue and music – this was of course in the summer months!
Evaluation and review
In the CAMEL model there are two types of evaluation: formative and summative.
To ensure the relevance of the evaluation the focus of the formative evaluation should be established either at the start-up meeting or during the first study visit and an evaluation session held at the end of each visit. The following are suggested as key themes:
- Project forward review and expectations of the project.
- Matching expectations to date.
- Learning and actions from visits so far.
- Advice on future use of the CAMEL model.
This formative evaluation ensures that the study visits maintain relevance for the community as well as members being given the opportunity for personal reflection and to share that reflection. It is also a chance to amend and update the CAMEL model based upon experiences.
If you are able to obtain funding for an external reviewer then the evaluation will be independent and of more use to your community.
As part of the summative evaluation, the CAMEL pilot supplemented the information gathered from the formative evaluation with a series of 30 minute telephone interviews.
The evaluation and review sessions can be made fun with some creative thought. For example:
- On post-its write notes to other participants saying what you have learned from them. Do not include any names or organisations.
- Collect the post-its and as a group, identify the recipient. Stick on the backs of a representative of the organisation/institution.
Evaluation examples taken from the CAMEL pilot are included in the Resources section and JISC infoNet would like to thank Inspire Research Ltd for the production of these exercises.
The following resources may help you to gain a further understanding of the CAMEL Model and how to apply it to your situation
Evaluation and review - Formative evaluation is an integral part of each visit - the exercise shows that this can be fun!