Communities of Practice for the Development of Adolescent Civic Engagement: An Empirical Study of their Correlates in Australia and the United States

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The relationships between a multidimensional model of school community and civic engagement were examined using survey data collected for the 1999 IEA Civic Education Study from large, nationally representative samples of adolescents in Australia and the United States. This study extends previous research by considering the extent to which multiple dimensions of communities of practice influence the development of various civic capacities, and by utilizing multilevel regression techniques. The investigation also examined the extent to which the various dimensions of communities of practice are related to more equitable civic outcomes, and how these associations vary in Australia compared to the United States.

All schools have some form of social and cultural context that influences learning. This study examined the influence of three specific dimensions of communities of practice in school, the discourse community, the collaborative community, and the participatory community on three capacities for civic engagement (civic knowledge, norms of democracy, and expectations for informed voting). Other measures of school structure, including individual socioeconomic background and school size and composition were also used in the analyses.

The results of the analyses suggest that important, yet subtle, distinctions exist between the association of the various dimensions of communities of practice and civic capacities in Australia and the United States. The findings from the fully conditional models, for example, indicate that both student level and school level perceptions of the communities of practice can help to shape adolescent civic capacities, although the patterns of relationships vary by dimension of communities of practice and measure of civic engagement.

This study offers support for the role of communities of practice in the development of student civic outcomes. Individual student participation in and supportive school contexts for positive communities of practice influences the development of adolescent civic engagement. Learning more about communities of practice and its influence on a broader range of civic capacities, especially in terms of the quality and the extent that communities of practice exist in schools, will help educators and schools to strengthen these connections.