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, 5 June 2011

Knowledge of practice

It is interesting how things can all of a sudden come together.  After weeks of coding the messages in the LE forum and generally looking at things at the meta-level, I decided to dig deeper and read again the teachers messages in the final reflection. I am encouraged to do this by the results from the coding which suggest that participants showed evidence of meta-cognition towards the end of the LE, during this session. The graph below is representative; it shows the results of coding for a participant from her/his first to last message, using the four levels proposed for Cognitive Presence in the CoI model (Garrison et al., 2001). The levels Triggering event and Exploration reflect cognition, whereas Integration and Resolution reflect meta-cognition, according to Garrison et al. Messages 25 onwards were during the final reflection, when we increased the teaching presence by asking participants specifically to post their reflections on what they had done in their teaching practice, what they had learned and the consequences for the future.

Reading the contributions I am encouraged by the depth of thought. The following are representative:
Using blogs, my teaching practice became more active and colaborative. Students had time for reflecting and correcting their mistakes, they became more independent and creative. They were motivated and they learn for 'pleasure and for knowing' not just for 'obligation'.
In general, social networking provides new ways to connect and share information and create networks of interest.  So, while in more traditional learning environments much of this must be orchestrated and planned by the instructor and organized through the grouping and pairing of students, when using a social networking tool this level of connection can happen immediately.
So social interaction and relationships can be an integral part of learning more than ever and can certainly enrich the learning experience for our students.  What is vital to realize however, is that the motivation created by these kinds of networks must be maximized by the instructor to benefit the students in their growth and development as learning community participants.  It is important to move students beyond social interaction to the kind of learning communities that are dynamic, rich, and very much reflective of the students who are participating.
Participants' comments, final reflection
Whilst reading through the teachers' comments I have also been looking at a paper by Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1999). They differentiate the learning that teachers undergo in training institutions, such as universities or teacher training colleges, called knowledge-for-practice, from what they learn in situ by trying out innovations in their teaching practice, called knowledge-in-practice. The first is formal knowledge and theory, including codification of wisdom in practice. The latter results from reflection in practice. Whereas the two are important and are clearly inter-related, the authors also suggest that there is a third type of knowledge that they call knowledge-of-practice, which is 'generated when teachers treat their own classrooms and schools as sites for intentional investigation at the same time that they treat the knowledge and theory produced by others as generative material for interrogation and interpretation'  (Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 1999, p.250). I see this as knowledge generated at a meta level, linking formal and informal, work and life, so that teachers see themselves both as learners and teachers in a community of practice with their peers; or as the authors suggest 'working within the contexts of inquiry communities to theorize and construct their work and to connect it to larger social, cultural, and political issues' (1999, p.250).
I see the community that we formed in our LE as engendering knowledge-of-practice, as reflected in the postings of the teachers in the final session. They seemed to be connecting their prior knowledge to what they had personally experienced in the LE as learners and to the consequences for their own teaching practice. They are seeing their role as teachers as being inextricably linked to their role as learners and the need for them to continually develop their own digital competence and online facilitation skills.
This links nicely to the workshop that I am attending here tomorrow in Seville at the JRC-IPTS, where we shall be looking at teacher collaboration and competence development as envisaged in 2025. I see online learning communities of teachers being the norm in the future, with teachers sharing their experience and knowledge with peers across Europe, generating knowledge-of-practice. With this in mind I shall continue to read the final reflections of the teachers in the LE, as I feel they will continue to inspire me.
Brian in Seville.

Cochran-Smith, M. & Lytle, S. L. (1999) 'Relationships of Knowledge and Practice: Teacher Learning in Communities'. Review of Research in Education, 24, pp.249-305
Garrison, D., Anderson, T. & Archer, W. (2001) 'Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education'. American Journal of Distance Education, 15 (1), pp.7-23