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

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Applying ideas emerging from research

The online learning event (LE) for teachers that I followed in April is being repeated in October/November and this is an opportunity for me to apply some of the ideas emerging from my research. Working with the teacher and domain expert, Tiina, who runs the event, I've been exploring what changes we could apply. It's quite an opportunity but at the same time quite a challenge. These were the ideas that emerged from the previous event:
  • The cognitive activities of the event could be usefully reinforced by social activities to foster the development of a community and provide opportunity for shared reflection on the process of collaboration, thereby supporting competence development 
  • The event could be lengthened to give more time for teachers to apply ideas in their own practice, reflect on their experience and share stories. This will also give more opportunity for social ties to strengthen and the community to develop 
  • The teaching presence could be reinforced at some key points, to provide more structure/guidance and launch the participants on the process of collaboration and reflection 

And in response, this is what we are thinking of doing for the new event:
  • Create a virtual staff room where teachers can socialise informally, reflect on their experiences and share their thoughts with their peers. The aim is to support reflection in practice, meta-cognition and higher-order learning. 
  • After the LE cognitive activities have finished, allow a further period of (say) one month for teachers to try out what they have learned through the LE in their own teaching practice and then reconvene them for a debrief. They will be encouraged to their share stories, think about what they have learned and reflect on what it means for their own competence development.
  • During the one month of practising, leave the LE virtual staff room open to support ongoing reflection and the development of a peer community
  • Reinforce the moderation (teaching presence) at key points, for example during the final activity, to encourage reflection and stimulate discussion
I would again collect data, having obtained the permissions of the participants, and analyse it to see what lessons can be learned. However, I shall also be actively involved as a moderator (supporting Tiina) and therein lies a fundamental question with which I am currently battling: is it a valid research proposition to be both actively involved in this exercise as a participant and as a researcher? How can I ensure that my results are not influenced or biased, and hence my research conclusions rejected?

Answers on a postcard please :)

Food for further reflection, that's for sure.


  1. Hello Brian!
    Hope you had a great summer.
    Good to know that Tiina's Learning Event will be replicated in the autumn. I am sure it has been improved - not that it needed improvement, it's just that growing is part of living... I am sorry I won't be able to judge that for myself, as I am pretty sure I couldn't be allowed to take the course again - or maybe I could be there as a visitor! Something to ponder upon...
    As for your two roles, I am confident you will manage - yet there's not a question of you managing it or not, it's the validity of your research you're unsettled about... I wish I knew what to write to this one but I don't.
    Looking forward to reading other people's advice,
    Greetings from Sibiu,

  2. Thanks for your support Daniela

  3. Hi Brian,
    I've been reading your posts now and then during the summer and enjoying them. What I like here is that there usually are more questions than answers: yours looks like an in-progress pathway and the reader can feel (and maybe take part in) it. I also like the eTwinning's effort in improving LEs taking into consideration your research (which also means, our replies to your survey).
    As for your position in the next LE, I think the researcher should be external to the object of research. It's a matter of perspective: either you look at the community from the inside (then you've to be a teacher taking part in the LE) or from the outside, as an observer. I believe – but that's a non-expert opinion – you'd better keep a guest profile and just look without interfering.
    As a moderator, you'll influence the growing community, as your position is different from that of Tiina, who's a teacher helping other teachers. If you tell who you are, many teachers will not behave “normally” with you and the others: with you, because you're not there as a teacher, so they'll have a special deference for you and feel compelled to act and speak in the way they think you'll find “good”; with the others, because they'll know you'll be looking at them. If you don't tell, you'll be still interacting with those you're supposed to observe, thus interfering with the natural development of the community.
    I think it was fine what you did with the first LE: just observe during it, then ask the teachers for feedback after it. Maybe now there could be different occasions for feedback (ask them what they expect before, then what they're experiencing during, and eventually if their expectations where met & how they exploited their new competences at the end of the LE).
    Anyway, I'm sure the new LE will not only be an “event” this time, but the beginning of something more, maybe lasting in time. For me, it definitely worked as it was (I had lots of learning-fun with my pupils after it) so I thank Tiina who was a great “teacher for teachers”.
    I'm looking forward to reading about your new adventures in teachers' communities' land, so I'll stop by again. Thanks for the ideas you share, and good luck with the next step in your journey,

  4. Laura,

    Many thanks for your thoughtful and very valid comments. I must say I've been thinking a lot about what you said as it struck a cord with my own thinking. You sent me back to basics, revisiting my philosophy for learning and for research, getting me to justify my approach. And I think I have come up with an explanation in terms of action research - see my new posting on this.

    Adopting this approach, however, will require me to be more open about my role, expectations and thoughts. It will also require me to ask more systematically for feedback from the other participants as equals in what is supposed to be a democratic process. Basically everyone participating in the changed LE will be a researcher - participating in the change, reflecting on how its going and giving opinions as to the way forward. Quite a challenge!

    Whereas it is true that I am not a teacher and cannot be equal with the other participants on this score, I am familiar with web 2.0 and online communities, and I do have experience as a moderator. So in this respect, I am a valid participant and - hopefully - a useful moderator/facilitator.