Designing and Sustaining Virtual Communities for Teachers: June 15-July 7, 2006

Let's begin with one virtual community of teachers in mind

Let's begin with one virtual community of teachers in mind

by Therese Laferriere -
Number of replies: 8
I suggest that we first choose a virtual community of teachers (or another group of educational professionals or a group of professional from another sector), and apply to it Engestrom's expansive learning theory.  Here attached I provide an article that could be sufficient for participants to read in order to begin applying the theory.
In reply to Therese Laferriere

Re: Let's begin with one virtual community of teachers in mind-And when I do it myself

by Therese Laferriere -
I am choosing a community of practice in which high school teachers have been participating in since the Fall of 2004.  This is a distributed community of teachers in vocational education, ones likely to work alone in their high school and have close links with the workplace as their supervise students who are in a social and professional insertion program and are likely not to get a high school diploma before they are seventeen years old.

Applying activity theory (Vygotsky), I would describe the onset of the community as follows:

The subject:
A knowledge transfert agent working for a knowledge transfert agency

The object-outcome:
The knowledge transfert agent (and her agency) wanted to explore new ways of transferring knowledge and got interested in the idea of trying the community of practice model. Therefore, the interaction of the agent with the environment in the attempt to provide vocational teachers more information likely to help their practice became mediated by new conceptual and technical tools: the community of practice notion and its three basic characteristics (mutual engagement, joint enterprise, and shared repertory); an online collaborative space named Work2gether with affordances for document sharing and sharing of experiences and thoughts.

The community:
A virtual community that now involves 41 persons emerged. Most of the participants were teachers but they were also a few counselors, one school principal, and one facilitator.

To the above activity triangle, Leontev, as pointed out by Engestrom, added two more (see the attachment provided in the first contribution): one that emphasizes an emerging new division of labor (new roles) in a community that makes use of new tools, and one that points to the new rules and routines that are emerging (within a given community).

The new division of labor:
In this community, the facilitator is still taking an important role, including that of posting documents for participants that prefer to send her an e-mail with an attached file to be deposit in the collaborative space. However participants have exchanged a total of 109 documents between the Fall of 2004 and November 2005, and this is impressive.  And it is clear evidence of peer contributions to one another's improvement of their individual practice, as opposed to the usual way knowledge transfert occurs in a community -- teacher's talk in the classroom.

New rules and routines:
The facilitator goes online almost everyday, and a few participants a couple of times a week.

Enough for now.  How about engaging yourself in a similar analysis with one virtual community that you are familiar with. This process will likely help us to identify possibilities, hurdles, and tips when it comes to designing sustainable virtual communities of teachers (or else).
In reply to Therese Laferriere

Re: Let's begin with one virtual community of teachers in mind-And when I do it myself

by Nick Kearney -
Hello
This is very interesting, we are currently working on something similiar, though not with teachers, so please forgive me if this is somewhat off-topic in terms of context. I suspect though that there may be overlap.
We are working with small and medium size companies (officially less then 250 employees in European definitions though in reality few are larger than 50). Previous research indicated that in this context learning is mostly informal, they dont go on courses, and much of this informal learning exhibits incipient CoP characteristics. So we are trying out the CoP model as a framework of facilitating and supporting the learning processes that takes place.
It isnt easy, one of the issues (which may be a difference with the teacher context Therese describes) is that these learners are largely unconscious of themselves as learners, and their view is that they dont have time for training. So our first hurdle is choosing the right vocabulary to get them interested in participating. Another issue has to do with their expectations about sharing; here we have a vicious circle, once they share they see the value, but until they share they don't. So they are sceptical about getting involved, "Why should I share my secrets ?", they say.
It seems to me - though we havent got to the point where we can say anything clear about this - is that there are values issues here, relating to the perceptions of competition and cooperation of potential participants. It may be that the educational world "understands" cooperation in ways that the business world does not. (Kimble and Hildreth make interesting observations about this, in relation to the CoP concept in business contexts)
At present we are in the process of building /identifying CoPs in various contexts (all in Tourism) in 7 European countries. If people feel its relevant I will report further later. Meanwhile I would like to ask about resistances, passive or active, that people have encountered to the idea of a virtual community.
All the best to all
Nick
In reply to Nick Kearney

Re: Let's begin with one virtual community of teachers in mind-And when I do it myself

by Therese Laferriere -
Hi,
You wrote:
From Re: Let's begin with one virtual community of teachers in mind-And in response to your work in tourism
"[Participants] view is that they dont have time for training." As you mentioned earlier, informal learning has some appeal!

"Another issue has to do with their expectations (...) a vicious circle, once they share they see the value, but until they share they don't. So they are sceptical about getting involved, "Why should I share my secrets ?", they say."

In the above quote, you are touching upon the cutting line of what makes a networked CoP a successful one. Yes, until participants get a sense that they save time in their practice by going online and engaging into sharing their practice. Here is a little study J. Benoit did a few years ago. Participants in that CoP understood that they could save time solving problems by going online.

The other issue that you are pointing out, competition and cooperation, is also a critical one. Not sure the education world is better in this case that the business world!

In response to your following request: "Meanwhile I would like to ask about resistances, passive or active, that people have encountered to the idea of a virtual community.", if you read French you may like to go at the following site which reports on a twe-year study in the workplace done a couple of years ago: http://www.cefrio.qc.ca/projets/proj_30.cfm

In reply to Therese Laferriere

Re: Let's begin with one virtual community of teachers in mind-And when I do it myself

by Susanne Nyrop -
Hello dear Teresa, thank you for inviting us to do this analysis together.

I would like to share with you an exceptional language teacher online community of practice with participation from all over the world. I've been sort of action researching a participant myself ever since I met with WIA some 6 years ago one memorable Sunday at 12 noon GMT when they met in Tapped In as usual, a tradition that has been steady since 1998, still kept alive - and I just promised myself and my mentor to document my study for my masters. This means that I can actually use what we share here and now, to enlighten my own work, so than you for calling on us.

Actually, Terese - you were my gate keeper somehow to the teacher community of communities Tapped In back in 2000 at a TLNCE conference workshop in Toronto where we met! But that's so typical for the crossing trajectories merging our online and offline work and lives!

So, according to the expanded Vygotski-Leontjev activity triangle, here's my skecth:
Subject:
Online only peer community of language teachers experimenting with online multimedia tools, strategies and interaction

Object-outcome: participants are moving gradually from beginners to active virtual collegiality and often with a touch of helpful peer mentoring, reporting back to the community whenever something important, puzzling or just fun happens in their teaching career, mostly connected to experiments with computers and internet communication, presentations, conferences, papers etc.

Community:
TESOL language Teachers are encouraged to join free courses every winter where we literally teach ourselves and each other as peers, and the roles are often blurred. It is significant that even participants who were part of a course one year (for example a workshop in collaborative weblogs) would come back and share knowledge with newcomers who are gradually immersed into the community. Many (if not all) of these course leaders are also active WIA participants. There even exists an intro WIA course that was building on earlier experiences with newcomers. Like myself, many masters and PhD students have used this community as their research object or just as supportive validators of their own research, from different viewpoints

Division of labour:
In the begininng, the initiator and role model of this CoP was maintaining a very elaborated homepage with lists and photos from each participant As the community is experimenting with many different online communication tools and strategies, you could find so many footprints online from individuals or temporary teams. Some are more active in the Yahoo group and may not often meet on Sundays, and many are just reading along knowing they may some day need a helping hand or just an opinion. Today, we're into a new WIA 2.0 phase where particpiants are those who document in blogs, wikis and even podcasts, and no real leader or facilitator exists, although the still active "veterans" are often honoured and credited. The flat hierarchy encourages anyone who wish to take the lead - offer a workshop, arrange an online conference, develop an index of some sort, would feel free and encouraged to do so. The positive feedback from participants seem to be very rewarding. I've not been counting active heads lately, but I know for sure that in just one course this Winter we had more that 175 participants from more than 50 countries all over the world!

New rules and routines
WIA has a tradition of being online (in more places) in an open house or virtual café every Sunday and many sessions are anchored in that moment as the participants always would find someone who would help or listen to a good story about teaching and share tips and problem solving on computer experiments. Teacher students are often encouraged to join us and find out how this works.
Knowledge sharing is a major incentive but also the social aspect of chatting informally with good friends or new faces. Sunday sessions (as well as many other situations) are documented in the format of the logged chat which will be posted to our mailboxes and often (if not always?) also saved online somewhere. As new online tools emerge, the WIA CoP change their meeting venues and experiments, open to anyone who wish to share. As a routine i could mention how WIA participants often get a call from someone who just wish to check an online tool or meeting facility before or during a session with students or colleagues or an online conference. This knowledge of having instant access to someone who might be of help is comforting.


In reply to Susanne Nyrop

Learning from the WIA experience

by Sylvia Currie -
There are a couple really striking elements of the WIA community that Susanne describes:
1) no real leader or facilitator
2) no single venue

What is even more interesting is that WIA began this way, with the tradition of being very loosely organized, almost with a mandate to be adventurous. Part of the appeal for newcomers was the uncertainty of what they were getting into, and also the grassroots feeling of it all. I remember the webpage Susanne mentions from the early days -- nothing glossy or snappy, but rather busy, chaotic, and wild! It all seems so contrary to what we understand about safety, technology overload, and supporting newcomers.

This is also such a contrast to professional development opportunities and introduction of curriculum changes organized locally through school districts. There can be such a contrived feeling about those events and processes, and we can learn a lot from failures to facilitate change.

What is a good balance here of organized versus grassroots? What advice do we give administrators about organizing virtual communities of teachers?



In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Learning from the WIA experience

by BJ Berquist -
Two brief comments:  WIA participants actively participate in the ownership of their learning .  The focus of their meetings is on collaboration.  I think that these two items are the key to any successful CoP. (We want to know xxx. how are we as a team going to achieve that goal, evaluate its success, apply the learning.)  Although there may not be one specific leader during all the WIA events, there is usually a core team that steps forward for each learning task.
In reply to BJ Berquist

Learning from Tapped In

by Sylvia Currie -
BJ, with your experience at Tapped In you must have seen so many spontaneous groupings of members around learning goals. In fact, it seems the answer to many questions about how to design and sustain a virtual community for teachers is Look at what they're doing at Tapped In!

I'll attempt to outline the TI community using the expansive learning framework Therese directed us to. I haven't been as active in TI as I would like, so I'm sure it will need some expanding!

The subject:
Online only community of teachers based on a peer support and project/topic model.

The object-outcome:
- A number of resources organized by and for members through participation in the community
- Numeous opportunities and methods for communicating and sharing based on interests (as well as serendipity!)

The community:
===clipped directly from the TI  FAQ: What can educators do here?===

Tapped In brings educators together both locally and worldwide to cultivate a community that supports each teacher as a professional. We build the capacity of teachers to support one another through peer networks supported by the Tapped In community. Educators

    * Plan and conduct learning projects with colleagues and students.
    * Participate in or lead topical discussions and groups. (See our calendar.)
    * Manage and attend courses offered by TPD providers.
    * Find resources, experts, and new colleagues.
    * Serve as resources for other educators.
    * Try out new ideas in a safe, supportive environment.
===clipped directly from the TI  FAQ: What can educators do here?===

The new division of labour:
In Tapped In help desk volunteers have a very important role. They welcome newcomers, help members find their way to scheduled events, offer "how to" workshops, support moderators, and respond to help requests. The volunteer moderators obviously have important role.

As Tapped In grew, so did the number of members willing to fill a mentorship role. It seems the membership has managed to fulfill the community needs, and the original TI administration/researchers has remained unchanged.

New rules and routines:
- With such a large membership, inactive members are prompted periodically to check that they wish to keep their membership active.
- Tapped In netiquette is an ongoing theme. There are several ways that members are reminded of appropriate behaviour.
- As Tapped expanded to an international audience, every effort was made to accommodate and advise people of different time zones.

In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Learning from the above

by Therese Laferriere -
We now have a few analyses to build on.  I suggest that we prepare to do so but leave until Monday to participants to bring more CoP using Engeström's model.