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

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Pearls of wisdom

I've been spending a lot of time of late transcribing the interviews that I held with a few teachers after the Learning Event (LE) last year. It can be quite a laborious task which brings you close to the data but risks creating a feeling of 'I cannot see the wood for the trees'. Today I had the pleasure of writing up a long discussion that I had with a more mature teacher via Skype with a camera. I feel that the quality and depth of the dialogue is a reflection of the stronger feeling of connectedness and intimacy that we had, thanks to being able to see one another.

Several reflections were provoked by the discussion:
  • It is perhaps harder for more mature teachers to express themselves online and to feel connected with their peers via their writing. As my interviewee said "may be this is a matter of being an older generation, but anyway I find it really funny just writing my ideas all the time and sending them, as if I were a writer instead of a teacher". She mentioned that as a teacher she has spent thirty years of her life talking and therefore moving to writing is not easy for her. She had noticed that it seemed to be more natural for the younger teachers. This can make online collaboration quite a frustrating experience for the more mature teacher, especially if they have little time to spend online.
  • Despite the lack of time for participation, reading the contributions of others and seeing what they have to share can be very useful (lurking). It can be motivating to see that some teachers have clearly mastered the use of technology with their children and are really adding value to learning "I could get this from the level of the conversation they held". That said, in order to really learn something you need to be applying it: "it is very difficult for me to build-up an ability unless I am using it everyday".
  • Developing a community is more than just posting messages and replying to people, "I suppose I still can’t feel the web community as a real community"; "Simply reading or writing to someone else doesn’t mean we are in the same room or in the same train of thought, and we are understanding each other in the way that we are supposed to really". On the other hand, the LE did engender a feeling of connectedness and it was interesting to see some teachers still posting messages to the forum once the event was over: "at the end there were messages of people asking for help saying 'what is going to happen now?', 'are we being left on our own?', 'is it finished?' ".
  • The situation in some countries concerning the availability of internet connected PCs is far from ideal and for my interviewee she explained that there is only one lab in the school, with ten PCs which often have problems maintaining their internet connection. She is able to use the lab for only a few hours per week and this changes both the opportunity for learning with ICT and the way one learns: "They have to plan everything in their books, in their exercise books. We plan everything ahead, we write, we draw, we do everything by hand and then we go to the PC".  So what we see in these circumstances is that the children are not using the PC to create and produce ideas in situ, but rather they use it to transpose what they have already produced in advance. So ICT is not transforming learning but transposing it.
  • Despite the resistance perhaps of colleagues and parents to using PCs and the internet, my interviewee was convinced that ICT could help to bring teachers and pupils closer together: "even ten years ago they (pupils) were much nearer to us, now they are really just going away because they are using different tools as a means of getting to know each other or just playing around".This concurs with the feedback that I have received from other teachers on their experience of using web 2.0 tools: it seemed to increase pupil motivation and the respect they have for their teachers (pupils are impressed with their 'cool' teachers who know about technology).
  • However, my interviewee reminded me that simply using ICT doesn't improve learning, "being happy with your being very skilled with all the tools that you have learned to use doesn’t mean that you are empowering the way you are teaching children". She reminded me of the fundamental values of teaching and of the need to ensure that we use ICT appropriately to add value. This is why it is important to allow teachers to try out what they are learning in their everyday teaching practice and then to reflect on it with peers.
  • She reported that she had found the staff room useful as a familiar place to come back to and reorient oneself "I found myself going very often back to the staff room just to be able to understand what was going on, because I thought that was the best way, the best place to try and understand if I was being left behind by my lack of time or whatever"
  • Finally she suggested that the LE could be improved by embedding activities which demonstrated progress to the participants, in terms of their own skills, and by having occasional synchronous meetings with visual contact for the round-table groups.
Food for thought indeed.