About my research

My research was set in the context of the European Commission’s eTwinning initiative and it looked specifically at the use of eTwinning Learning Events (non-formal learning). It examined how the community influences the development of teachers’ competence in online collaboration and discourse, and it considered the contribution of social aspects and online moderation.

I am very grateful to my supervisor, Dr. Julie-Ann Sime from Lancaster University, and to my eTwinning soulmate, Tiina Sarisalmi, for their invaluable support. And to my examiners, Prof. Marilyn Leask from the University of Bedfordshire and Dr. Don Passey from the University of Lancaster, for their valuable advice.
Keywords: online learning communities; community of inquiry; online collaboration; content analysis; social presence; social ties; teacher training

Sunday, 10 March 2013

European Journal of  Education

Hi everyone,

Just to let you know that a paper has recently been published on my research in the European Journal of  Education: 

Holmes, B. (2013). School Teachers' Continuous Professional Development in an Online Learning Community: lessons from a case study of an eTwinning Learning Event. European Journal of Education, 48(1), 97-112 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ejed.12015/pdf 

The paper is in a special edition of the journal entitled 'ICT and Education: taking stock of progress and looking at the future'. It includes an editorial by colleagues from the Commission (click on the image for the table of contents).


March 2013.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Final thesis: Online Learning Communities for school teachers' continuous professional development

For those of you interested in my final thesis, please find a link here:

I've added a Creative Commons licence so it may be freely circulated.

It is now being printed and bound. I look forward to receiving my copy when I go across to Lancaster in December for the graduation.

You might have thought that I would now have plenty of time on my hands. On the contrary, I am busy  converting my paper from last year's Networked Learning conference into a chapter of a forthcoming book. It is an honour to have been chosen but also quite a challenge.

I've also submitted a paper for peer review for a forthcoming special edition of the European Journal of Education due for publication next year. In this I have focused on the teachers' CPD aspects of my research and the implications for policy.

I also have in mind to find a suitable conference to present my conclusions, preferably outside Europe to give it a wider audience. If anyone has any ideas, do please let me know.


Wednesday, 22 August 2012


I've almost made the changes needed to my thesis to address the minor modifications requested of my external examiners, Prof. Marilyn Leask from the University of Bedfordshire and Dr. Don Passey from the University of Lancaster .

It took quite a lot of work to revise the thesis, I would say around week in total, but well worth it. I feel that the quality is again improved - I already benefited a lot from the support I received from my supervisor, Dr. Julie-Ann Sime.

I am impressed by the level of detail to which the examiners went. It suggests that they invested a lot of time in reading the thesis. This was also noticeable in the viva which lasted a couple of hours and was a detailed 'conversation' about my research. It was an enjoyable experience - not often that one can say that about an oral exam!

The examiners were enthusiastic about my work and have encouraged me to publish. They suggested three main areas to be addressed in finalising the thesis:

  • summarise the main conclusions of my research as an emerging model for eTwinning Learning Events and their online moderation;
  • explain in more detail what I mean by social constructivism and link it to the work of Vygotsky;
  • address the issue of gender balance and its possible impact on my research, given that almost 90% of participants in the LEs were female.

The first point is particularly interesting as it has encouraged me to summarise my analysis as a short set of guidelines which will hopefully have some practical use in the future. Moreover, I can refer to these in future presentations and papers.

The third point was also stimulating as it made me think about an area of research that I have not addressed, namely gender. After talking to colleagues at EUN, I was reminded about a document produced by Eurydice which includes information about teachers in education in Europe (EU, 2012). It reports that over 60% of all teachers in primary and secondary education in Europe are women and in some countries the majority is as high as 80%. I do not have data to talk about gender issues, however the Eurydice report does suggest that the situation in eTwinning is representative of the situation in Europe overall.

When my thesis is finally accepted, I intend to make it public. Until then, happy researching.


EU (2012) Key Data on Education in Europe 2012, Brussels, Eurydice [online], http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice/documents/key_data_series/134EN.pdf (Accessed 10.08.2012).

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Thesis submitted

Last week I finally completed my thesis and submitted it to the university. Phew. It's been quite a journey to get this far and of course I still have the oral examination (viva) to do in July. However, I do feel a weight lifted from my shoulders.

I've been amusing myself by plotting the word account against time (in the graph above). It shows a steady increase since I started writing in earnest last September. With a reduction towards the end as I completed the final editing.

So what advice might I give to someone going through as similar journey?

On reflection I think there is a combination of factors that have helped me to get this far:

  • As the graph shows, keep at it! Regular periods of writing, using holidays and study leave (if you are lucky enough to have it) to focus and progress.
  • Regular discussions with your supervisor. Mine, Julie-Ann, has helped me a lot to reflect on what I am doing, to plan for the way ahead and to keep my motivation going during what is a long and otherwise solitary  haul.
  • Do the writing in manageable chunks. It reminds me of a training course I did on time management which suggested that in order to eat an elephant, you have to do it is small pieces. I started with the chapter on the findings of the research, as this is the core of the thesis. My feeling being that if I could get this right, the the rest should follow.
  • Focus. Decide that you are writing-up and don't get distracted by temptations to continue researching.
  • Do a first draft of the literature review but then come back to it later. I found it very useful to come back to the literature and to re-connect with it once I was at the stage of writing-up the discussion and conclusions. It also helped me to decide what literature was essential and what was interesting, but not really useful.
  • Bookmark and put to one side for later text which is good, but not necessary core to your writing. Julie-Ann was instrumental in helping me to edit the text, by suggesting that I shouldn't delete ideas but rather move them to one side and keep them for the future.
  • Find someone with whom you can discuss what your doing. I used colleagues at work and my husband Bryan to discuss what I was thinking and bounce ideas. Bryan was also invaluable as my proof reader, looking at what I have written from the point of view of whether it makes sense and is good English (not my strong point).
  • Use opportunities when the arise to present your work and receive feedback. My recent presentation at Networked Learning really boosted my confidence. My presentations was in front of Terry Anderson (one of the authors of the Community of Inquiry model that I use in my research), Peter Goodyear, Etienne Wenger and Karel Kreijns. The questions afterwards were invaluable.
I am sure there are other points, but that's enough for now.  

Over the next few weeks I shall prepare for the exam, reading Murray's (2009) book on 'How to Survive your Viva' and guidance provided by my supervisor. 


Sunday, 1 April 2012

Preparing for Networked Learning 2012

It is hard to believe that my last post was in October 2011. Time flies.

So what have I been doing? Well in a nutshell, keeping my nose to the grindstone writing my thesis.The good news is that I have almost completed a first draft - just finalising the conclusions. The not-quite-so-good news is that I am at 67 000 words and the limit is 50 000. So I have some fine tuning to do. Actually this should not be too difficult. Looking back at what I wrote in September last year I can see how my style has developed and how I can be more succinct. Moreover, it is only when you put the individual chapters together that you see repetition.

I am aiming to complete a first full draft for the end of April, for submission in May and viva probably in June. Fingers crossed; so far it has been a larger elephant task than I had imagined, however its nice to see the end in sight.

Next week I present my results again, this time at Networked Learning 2012, in Maastricht. My presentation is ready and available here: http://www.slideshare.net/holmebn/holmes-online-learning-communities-nl2012. It is similar to the one I gave in BERA last year, however updated to reflect more of my current thinking.

If you are attending NL2012 say hello. I am also looking forward to meeting other members of my cohort in Maastricht. It's going to be a fun week!


Sunday, 23 October 2011

Small steps

I've not posted for a while as I have been focusing my attention on writing my thesis. This takes a lot of concentration and commitment. Moreover, I feel one has to maintain a regular speed in order to keep ideas at the fore of one's mind and to keep,a holistic view. The latter is not easy; for the last two years I've been working on my research, taking one small step at a time. Never really knowing where I might end up, but feeling somehow confident that I was going in the right direction. Now I have to recall the journey and explain why I did what I did when.

So far I have nearly finished one of the main chapters presenting the results and my interpretation. My supervisor has given me her feedback, with some really useful suggestions for change.

I now realise what a major challenge thesis writing is, but I am determined to finish as soon as possible and aim to submit around end of January next year. Guess what I will be doing over christmas!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

BERA conference presentation

I presented my research yesterday at the British Educational Research Association (BERA) annual conference in London - you can find my presentation here: http://www.slideshare.net/holmebn/holmes-online-learning-communities-bera. It was a nerve-racking experience, but I survived and the reaction of the audience was positive. Phew.

The questions asked at the end were interesting. Here is what I remember (thanks to Barry and Moira for reminding me) with my answers.

o Were the teachers involved in the Learning Event (LE) participating in their own time or were they released from their teaching?

 Most were learning in their own time and trying to applying what they were learning directly in their teaching practice.

o Could I comment on the quick learning we get from, for example, Google compared with the longer term learning suggested by my research?

The teachers had benefitted from being able to apply what they were learning in their everyday teaching practice, talk about it with their peers in the LE and reflect on it. However, this required time, opportunity and commitment from those involved. 

o What was the age range of the pupils being taught by these teachers?

The teachers involved were teaching children from primary school level to upper secondary level. We used pupils' age as one of the criteria when splitting the participants up into small groups at the roundtables in the Staff room .

o Did the research show anything about how easy it is for pupils to learn about ICT compared with students in HE?

No, this was not part of my research.

o To what extent was critical discourse dependent on the tutors presence?

The results suggest tutor interventions provoked discussion, reflection and critical thinking. However, there were examples of them taking the  initiative and of critical discourse being provoked by the teaching presence of the participants themselves. 

o What are the next questions that I am trying to answer?

I have started writing up my thesis and if anything I am going through a process of reducing and distilling what I have, rather than adding to it. So the key thing for me at the moment is to confirm the research questions on which my research is based.

o What gap are you filling through your research?

Most research on online communities seems to focus specifically on one aspect - the cognitive, the social  or the teaching aspects, for example. And a lot of research using the Community of Inquiry model is quantitative. My research addresses all three presences in a holistic approach and is mainly qualitative.

In talking about the future, I mentioned the potential to create an  eModeration course for teachers on the basis of the LE and what we had learned. 

The conference is continuing and I am enjoying listening to other researchers talking about their work, especially were it relates to teachers, their use of ICT and their professional development.