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

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

So far so good

Finally held 9 interviews using Skype on Sunday and received 46 contributions by email. A wonderful response and a lot of data to process, so I will not start until the end of the  first intensive period of the Learning Event (LE).

The LE itself has started in earnest and the staff room is buzzing with activity. In addition to the usual hellos and welcome messages, I am already seeing evidence of reflection and critical thinking. People are posing questions, replying with possible answers and relating it to their own experience. Wonderful.

My role is to facilitate and act as a catalyst in these forums. It is a delicate balance between stimulating and encouraging with challenging questions/comments, and allowing the community to develop naturally. I am currently following the approach advocated by Salmon (2000) that moderators should be active at the beginning of an activity and gradually step back as the collaboration takes off. But I also have Dillenbourg whispering in my ear that I should be orchestrating learning, rather than simply being a 'guide on the side'. I hope I have the balance right.

My concern is that the flurry of postings in the staff room represents a temporary interest and that as participants settle down to the cognitive activities, they will forget to visit the staff room. As in the physical world, one has to decide how best to use one's time and going for a chat with colleagues is something that sometimes has to come second place to marking homework, etc. I only hope that people see the value of the social contact and of the meta-cognitive discussions, and make an effort to keep this aspect going.

Tiina and I are sharing our thoughts as we go along and I realise that this will be very important data for my subsequent research analysis.


Dillenbourg, P. (2008) 'Integrating technologies into educational ecosystems'. Distance Education, 29 (2), pp.127 - 140
Salmon, G. (2000) E-moderating: The key to teaching and learning online, Kogan Page.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Great expectations

We have now registered 210 participants from 19 different countries for the Learning Event (LE) that starts tomorrow. Yesterday I contacted by email those who had indicated in the registration process their willingness to be interviewed - in reality I also contacted several who had said No, due to a mix-up with my email lists. Oohps, but they were very supportive in their replies.

I had intended to interview just a few, but as so many replied positively, I have finally arranged for 12 interviews today by Skype or telephone. Plus 45 participants have offered to email me a reply to my questions.

Having started the process, I can see that I get more in-depth answers through a conversation than I do by email. Mainly because with the former I can test my understanding and prompt the person to continue with their thoughts, whereas by email people have a tendency to be brief. On the other hand, the advantage of getting replies by email is that it is already written-up.

Learning English is emerging as a main motivation for participants. This may be a challenge, a catch twenty-two,  as one needs to be capable of participating in the discussions in order to share and learn.  Indeed, a desire to share and learn from others is also emerging as a common expectation. People seem to recognise the importance of social contact and are looking forward to meeting new friends. On the other hand, few have yet to come to terms with the implications of the community as a whole and how it may evolve.

Several people have expressed concerns about their availability and ability to contribute to the LE, as they have busy schedules. Hopefully as the LE progresses they will see the advantage of asynchronous online collaboration precisely for its flexibility in terms of time and place.

We shall see. It's all very exciting.


Friday, 22 October 2010

Report on teachers' vision of the future of learning

An interesting report had just been published on the views of teachers on the future of learning

The Future of Learning: European Teachers’ Visions. Report on a foresight consultation at the 2010 eTwinning Conference, Sevilla, 5-7 February 2010
    * Authors: Kirsti Ala-Mutka, Christine Redecker, Yves Punie, Anusca Ferrari, Romina Cachia, Clara Centeno
    * EUR Number: Technical Note JRC59775, Publication date: 10/2010

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Presentation of research

On Monday I had the pleasure of presenting my research to a group of teachers and academics, via Skype, at a workshop at Lancaster University. I've not had the feedback from my Supervisor yet, but certainly from my perspective it went well. There were some interesting and relevant questions at the end, which at least suggested that people were listening.

I must say I was somewhat less confident the evening before. Having done I dry run of the presentation, I felt it was too much like an academic paper - rather dry and not terribly engaging. So I reworked it with more of the spoken voice in mind, and it was a lot better. Phew.

There is nothing like having to present your ideas to focus your mind and test your own understanding. I realised as a result of this exercise that I need to be more familiar with, for example, the Community of Inquiry framework - how it is used by others and its main criticisms.

So overall a rewarding experience which has helped me to be well prepared for my presentation at Online Educa in Berlin in December.


Sunday, 17 October 2010

The staff room is born

After months of reflection and preparation, the virtual staff room emerges ready for the start of the Learning Event on 25 October. Tiina and I have been working together to decide how best to integrate this social space into the learning environment and the cognitive activities. I think we have achieved a nice balance between keeping it informal as possible, whilst giving sufficient guidance and explanation that participants will understand what we are trying to achieve and what we expect from them.

The round tables are in place within a discussion forum and registration opens 19 October. Soon afterwards we should have access to information which will allow us to allocate the ~200 teachers for the welcome session.

Exciting times ahead!


Sunday, 3 October 2010

Practical stage

I am entering a practical stage in my research when it is time to put into action some of the ideas emerging from the previous cycle of my analysis. Together with Tiina, I am preparing for the next Learning Event entitled 'Exploiting Web 2.0 eTwinning and Collaboration', due to run from  25 October - 5 November and and 26 – 27 November (the latter is a final activity for reflection, after teachers have had an opportunity to apply what they have learned in their teaching practice).

The advantage of action research is that you get to see or even try out some of your ideas. This is both engaging and daunting; what if it all goes wrong? Of course it won't - he says positively - after all, there is no right or wrong way of doing things in education and anything we try out will yield useful results for the future. There, I feel better already.

So having set-up the forum for the staff room in the environment for the Learning Event, called the eTwinning Learning Lab,  I have today been preparing the 20 tables for the sub-groups. Instead of simply numbering them, which would be rather boring, I've given them names of colours. However, to issues come to mind:
- it's not easy to find twenty-five colour names - luckily the Internet came to the rescue and this site helped 
- we face the question What if the teachers don't like the colour of table to which they have been allocated?. Colours represent emotions, so we will have to be prepared for someone expressing a wish to change tables; easy to implement, so no problem as long as such request are few.

Some other good news, I have now submitted by presentation to Online Educa Berlin (session PED 74, Friday 3 December, 14:30- 16:00) for inclusion in the conference CD-ROM. Nice to see this finished. Moreover, I shall chance to practice as I've been invited to present my work to a group of teachers in a workshop at Lancaster University on 18 October via Skype. This will be really useful experience.