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, 4 July 2010

Report from my research on the LE web 2.0

Here is a first version of my report. I'd welcome any comments or suggestions for improvements.

Following this Learning Event has been an enlightening experience for me, both in terms of the results obtained and as a research experience. When I started I was convinced that I would find that socialising and making friendships would be really important. And whereas it proved to be an important contributing factor, participants indicated that they were mainly focused on completing the (cognitive) activities and meeting new people. On further reflection this seemed to be due, at least in part, to the very short duration and intensity of the LE (only twelve days) and a focus on trying out the tools. People were pragmatic and learning was mainly individual (though supported by the group).

The LE gave the participants an opportunity to try out online collaboration and group work, supported by social technologies. However, one of my reflections was that you need much more time to build the trust, shared values and reciprocity associated with a community. So the seeds were sown, in terms of strengthening ties, but they failed to blossom into a community before the close of the event. To carry this forward the implication is that one would either need a longer LE or one could bring the group back together again at some point in the future to share and discuss their experiences, through further planned activities. I feel that simply leaving the LE environment open for further discussion would not work.

This connects well to another reflection I had. If we wish to support teachers to develop their competence in online collaboration and group leadership, then more reflection on the process itself would be needed. I found this meta-reflection missing from the LE. The literature I reviewed suggested that this learning to become autonomous and meta-reflection may need a stronger teaching presence at key points during the LE. That is a moderator or facilitator to support reflection, guide learners who were experiencing problems and generally encourage collaboration.As the group becomes confident and competent, the teaching presence gradually fades into the background.

Concerning the research process itself, I learnt the importance of getting the questions right in the questionnaire, of avoiding dichotomies when respondents see both scenarios as existing in parallel and of the considerable time taken to analyse the data collected. I'll be much better prepared for next time.

Last but not least, I learned how incredibly enthusiastic teachers can be about online learning and about wishing to develop their own competence. I look forward to continuing my research with eTwinning.

Want to know more? Read my report and let me know what you think.


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