Tapping In to Professional Development: Virtual Communities of Practice

Many teachers have created or joined communities of practice in their quest to manage challenges in their classrooms or develop professionally. A community of practice might be defined as an informal group of individuals who work and learn around a broad topic over an extended period of time. In the field of education, communities of practice are typically formed around issues such as raising student achievement or professional development in a particular content area.

Communities of practice are not new. Within each school or district there are face-to-face communities of teachers, librarians, tech coordinators, or administrators. The drawbacks of a face-to-face community are that the members of the community are usually within the same school or district, travel time is needed to meet at a central location, and schedules have to be juggled to make time for meetings.

Moving communities of practice online also has obstacles. Although the travel time is eliminated, levels of technical ability may discourage some educators from participating. Tapped In is an online community of practice that addresses these many needs of today’s educators.


Tapped In is a web-based learning environment created in 1997 by SRI International to transform teacher professional development (TPD) for professional development providers and educators. Through Tapped In, educators can extend their professional growth beyond courses or workshops. It provides the online tools, resources, colleagues, and support educators need to implement effective, classroom-centered learning activities. Tapped In allows for the creation of virtual communities of practice around a wide variety of topics.

The Tapped In interface is easy to use, with no download needed. The environment is built on the metaphor of a college campus with buildings, floors, conference rooms, special interest groups (over 700!), and offices.


Membership to Tapped In is free. Once you’ve registered, you can create a private office (your own online space with no dusting!), join or create special interest groups, and store files and links. All items that are stored or created in Tapped In are there until the member chooses to delete the item, erase the whiteboard, or leave a group.

When logged in, you can “chat” in real time (synchronous) or use asynchronous features such as the threaded discussion boards and whiteboards. You can also participate in real time discussions held by various groups. See the monthly calendar of events for more information.


Elementary teachers will find many opportunities in the Tapped In community to collaborate with colleagues, join special interest groups directed specifically to a discipline or grade levels, and participate in real-time discussions provided by leaders in the education field.

Three groups of particular interest to elementary educators are the K to 3+ Resources group, the NASA Resources K-12 Resource Classroom in the student campus, and the newest addition, Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears. Project staff from Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears host a monthly tour of the current cyberzine issue, and the K to 3+ group holds regular events as well.

The Tapped In calendar of events posts the real-time discussions scheduled for each month. Set the calendar to your time zone to view the events in your time.

Tips and Tricks on the calendar are tours of the main features of Tapped In and provide a user-friendly introduction to navigation, communication, and information about the K-12 Student Campus where teachers can create an online classroom.


Tapped In
The home page for Tapped In.

Tapped In Help: Introduction to the User Interface
A brief introduction to the Tapped In user interface.

Tapped In: Calendar of Events
A monthly calendar of events. Set the calendar to your time zone to view the events in your time.

Tapped In Flyer
Suggestions for what educators can do in Tapped In.

Publications, Papers and Presentations
Published books, articles and presentations that address a variety of Tapped In features and uses for the interface.

This article was written by BJ Berquist. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Kimberly Lightle, Principal Investigator, with any questions about the content of this site.

Copyright October 2008 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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