I?m not sure if this should be a new discussion topic or not, but here goes.
I've been working on a small study that has an element on teachers using technology to connect with each other. I presented at two conferences on this study and at both members of the audience said, "They will not use the discussion board." In several cases the individual raising this point said that he or she had tried to set up such boards and the community died quickly.
They said that teachers had no time, no interest, and no knowledge of how to use the technology.
I'm curious about the experiences of others. Have you been part of virtual
communities for teachers? If so, did the communities thrive, stagnate or die?
I was involved in one virtual community for teachers that didn't even make it to a phase that allowed it to stagnate. We had a clear focus (project based learning) and a good platform which used the same familiar software they were using with their students into the classroom. However, it was very difficult to motivate the teachers to participate. I think we simply didn't get to the stage where they could see the value for themselves.
One big learning moment in the process was that the teachers did not communicate and organize their resources as expected. Yet, the model was exactly what they were expecting their students to do. Looking back I realize that we didn't engage them enough in the design of the community environment. In an effort to make it easy for them we designed for the teachers rather than with them.
We discovered a few things:
- Lack of trust in the technology -- even exaggerated assumptions about what might happen in the online environment. At the time I remember reading some examples of this behaviour from Donald Norman, like when the idea of video telephone was introduced people wondered if they could answer the phone naked!
- Fear of making mistakes! These were teachers who had been immersed in this project to implement project-based learning. They didn't want to reveal that they were still uncertain about how to use the software. It was as though they felt they were being assessed on their performance in the project.
- Confusion about membership and worries that their postings might be seen by administrators or parents. This is also related to lack of trust in technology & secure environments, etc, but it does speak to the private nature of
- An immediate assumption that the technology is limiting their options, that an online community is second choice. I think this goes along with assumptions that one innovation or practice will replace another.
I've noticed that a big topic these days is ownership of work and ideas, and in some cases teachers report they're not permitted to join certain communities. Just this week there was a message posted by Joanne Fuller about that on TALO (teach and learn online group), with more about sharing in teacher communities in the thread "Assessing, Assessment, any tools that you think we can use?"
I wonder, is the root of the problem that teachers don't see their work as their own? Do they see themselves as having the abilitiy to contribute to improving education?
Wow Sylvia. Thanks for the great response. You've given me
so much to think about.
I have a few comments about the ownership issue:
- In my experience, the concern about ownership extends outside of just teachers. Other professions are also dealing with this.
- It hadn't really occurred to me before your post that there may be administrators or others telling teachers which communities they may join. Again, I suspect that this is true in other fields. I had not, however, thought that knowledge management concerns like this had invaded education. As a classroom teacher everyone seemed willing to share their resources and lesson plans.
- Finally, do you think that as Gen-X, Y, and beyond become the prominent force in the workplace that the normalcy of open-source, Creative Commons, etc. will overtake the ownership issue or am I too optimistic.
Building on the idea of ownership as a knowledge management issue, yes there are organizations who may want to limit their workers as far as open web-based communications go but they are creating or maintaining a restrictive atmosphone unlikely to facilitate collaboration within their organization, be it a school or a business. I would add that a virtual teacher community may be salvation for a teacher working differently from others within a school. At the same time this person will be expected to some "sameness" within her school. In other words, minimal cohesion is expected in an organization, and found relevant and effective. See the professional learning communities movement (Dufour & Eakes; http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/content/currclum/cu3lk22.htm ). An important article pointed to the issue of having on-site and on-line teacher communities co-habitate. See Schlager, M. S., & Fusco, J. (2003). Teacher professional development, technology, and communities of practice: Are we putting the cart before the horse? The Information Society, 19, 203-220.
I suggest that a creative tension between on-site participation and on-line participation is the best as it allows an on-site teacher community to move beyond its current limits while it allows an on-line teacher community to be locally grounded.
When both contribute to an emancipative approach to teacher professional development, we have the best of the two worlds.
Back to the basics, for an online teacher community to exist, a few teachers have to be involved from day one. The design must be participative as serious teacher professional development is hardly something one does to another. This is not to say that others are not important to one's professional development.
How are Faculties of Education in universities involved in designing and sustaining virtual commuities for teachers? Are you aware of initiatives that bridge universities and school districts? enhance post degree programs for practicing teachers?
Or perhaps a place to start is in professional development (teacher training) programs. How does the curriculum prepare teachers to use communication technologies, create an awareness of open source, creative commons, etc.?
Within the closed communities, voluntary participants adopt the role of 'site facilitator' and can re-shape the space to suit the needs of the group, cohort academic staff can continue to participate as community members-all spaces link to a knowledge bank of electronic college resources (that they would otherwise have no access to upon graduation), an 'ask an expert' forum (run each term with a focus selected by participants), a cross- community fourm, a graduate shared resource knowledge bank,links to educational news/ important websites (the portal aspect)....and it's great!! I am still in contact with graduates who are now in their third year of teaching and my participation has caused me to reflect and refine my own practice/ the content covered within my final year courses. Why do they participate...plenty of social capital exists prior to going online, they enjoy sharing their experiences/ issues/ thoughts with others who can really empathise, understand and help,they believe it helps them develop their vision of themselves as a 'professional', they find accessing the electronic, recommended resources handy...and they like to keep in touch with the staff who participate (as we still manage to build relationships with them within their final year at our place....). I believe it's vital that the whole e-area is addressed well at a pre-service level,but find convincing many staff the tricky part (no digital natives here)...participation within the community helps introducee and reinforce both the pleasures and pitfalls of ICT in learning/e-learning in a most humane way!
Will try to post in the other forum..end of semester so it's all madness and marking.An area close to me heart.
p.s a diagram illustrating the conceptual shape of community attached
Let me share with you that a have a doctoral student who will present his final doctoral hearing today, one that put forward the concept of sociodigital affordance in the design of hybrid learning environments, ones that could extend beyond pre-service education. His name is Stephane Allaire, and he is a young professor at the University of Quebec in Chicoutimi which is located in the northwestern part of Quebec.