Barriers And Motivators To Utilising A Nutrition Specific Online Community Of Practice Among Early Years' Educators

Early years'(EY) settings offer an important environment to influence children's food preferences, and thus impact lifelong health. Nutrition-specific, online communities-of-practice can contribute support and information required by EY staff to provide healthy eating environments in this setting. Supporting Nutrition for Australian Childcare (SNAC) is a nutrition education website designed for EY staff, a key feature being the forums on which the online community-of-practice was nurtured. A qualitative, netnographic analysis of the SNAC community was conducted which incorporated interviews (n=42), forum content analysis and observations. 1-year post-launch, there were 1045 SNAC members, of whom 91% were passive-active members, 7.5% were intermittent contributors and 1.5% were regular contributors, consistent with the 90-9-1 rule pertaining to some online communities (Nielson, 2006). Members used SNAC as a social container to benchmark their professional competencies and access evidenced-based resources, sharing these with staff and families. Passive-active members, those who read posts without contributing, reported satisfaction with the ‘vicarious support' received; although they avoided posting their own stories for fear of criticism, they received support through reading their peers' experiences. Barriers to contribution included fear of criticism, poor IT skills, role-adequacy perceptions and time availability, which may have limited opportunities for professional development and highlighted how poor perceptions of role-adequacy and legitimacy might affect engagement. Older staff lacked IT skills, impacting confidence to contribute. Online, nutrition-specific, communities-of-practice supported EY staff to provide healthy eating environments for children, despite limited regular contributors. Strategies to increase staff time, confidence and role-legitimacy will enable others to engage fully. Key words: Community development/engagement; health promotion; education Key Messages: 1. Online communities-of-practice are an effective medium to offer information wrapped in support to early years' educators. 2. Early years' educators require sufficient time to engage with professional development opportunities. 3. Early years' educators should be supported to increase their confidence and alleviate historical beliefs around role inadequacy and role legitimacy.

Ruth Wallace

Edith Cowan University

My interest in nutrition education has developed over the last three decades, being most finely honed in the last decade since my return to higher education. This interest was sparked some 30+ years ago, when studying food and nutrition at secondary school, and although there have been some changes in my career path along the way, this interest has been reignited since returning to education. My experience working with a number of different population groups, such as the
elderly and early years educators, has equipped me with the skills to develop, implement and evaluate tailored health promotion and nutrition education programs across a wide range of health topics. I also have extensive experience in tutoring and mentoring university students in health promotion and nutrition units, and combined with my community work for the WA Division of Early Childhood Australia and Nutrition Australia, I am an experienced, confident and innovative leader of population and student groups alike.