She compares the results with more traditional teacher professional development (PD) where the research literature suggests that there has been less success - harder for teachers to follow in terms of timing, courses tend to be prescribed by school management rather than designed to reflect teachers' needs, workshops tend to be too short and there is insufficient opportunity for collaboration (e.g. Guskey, 2002). Research suggests that skills taught in traditional PD are not being taken up in the classroom; there is too much focus on theory, and teaching practice is not changing as a result. Overall there is a perceived lack of relevance. Online communities, on the overhand, tend to be more teacher driven and more clearly linked to practice. This motivates the teachers to continue their participation, sometimes for periods spanning several years.
Referring to the likes of Boyle et al (2004) she suggests that the collaborative nature of online communities helps teachers to be less insular and more receptive to sharing practice with their peers. In particular, referring to the literature, she suggests that one of the secrets to the success of online communities is their longevity, the way in which they afford critical reflection in practice and the social space that they provide . This concurs with one of the tentative conclusions I reached in my research on the 12 day learning event (LE) that was focused on developing skills in the use of web 2.0 tools: a longer period is needed to engender a community and support critical reflection, backed by a social space in which the cognitive activities can be complemented by social ones. That said, the LE I followed involved more formal learning, PD being the clear stated intention of the LE. Online communities, on the other hand, are often not specifically focused on learning - though it is a clear consequence. Another result from the survey that concurred with my own analysis was the importance of the emotional support offered by the teachers to each other and the 'sense of belonging and camaraderie' (Duncan-Howell, 2010, p.336). I linked this in my analysis to issues of social presence and the relatively strong ties that developed between participants.
In speaking about communities, Duncan-Howell refers to a definition offered by Leask and Younie (2001):
Online communities (for professional development) may be using any form of electronic communication which provides for the opportunity for on-line synchronous/asynchronous two-way communication between an individual and their peers, and to which the individual has some commitment and professional involvement over a period of time.In her analysis, Duncan-Howell noted that whereas the teachers surveyed indicated a clear preference for face-to-face environments for learning, they also confirmed that online communities provide a good environment for PD. She concludes that perhaps it was a question of terminology and that teachers do not instantly associate PD with learning. I encountered a similar issue in my survey, where I felt that the use of the terms training and professional development led the respondents to focus their feedback on the cognitive rather than the social activities, the latter being (perhaps) perceived as time-wasting or not what one is supposed to do when involved in PD.
(Leask & Younie, 2001, p. 225)
Boyle, B., While, D. & Boyle, T. (2004). A longitudinal study of teacher change: what makes professional development effective? The Curriculum Journal, 15, 1, 45–68.
Duncan-Howell, J (2010). 'Teachers making connections: Online communities as a source of professional learning'. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41 (2), pp.324-340
Guskey, T. R. (2002). Professional development and teacher change. Teachers and Teaching, 8, 3/4, 381–391.
Leask, M. & Younie, S. (2001). Building on-line communities for teachers: issues emerging from research. In M. Leask (Ed.), Issues in teaching using ICT (pp. 223–232). London: Routledge Falmer.