Category Archives: Research

ATEA 2016 – What are beginning teachers looking for online?

A presentation from the Australian Teacher Education Association (Kelly & Kickbusch, 2016) about work we’ve been doing on online teacher support. In particular there is a useful reference list contained in the presentation of recent research from Australia in online teacher support.

What are beginning teachers looking for online? The TeachConnect story (and what can be learnt from it).

TeachConnect is a platform to support pre-service secondary maths and science teachers through their professional experience and into the profession. It has been developed over four years as a design-based research project and now has over 500 users across Queensland.

This presentation aims to share everything that we have discovered during this journey. It contributes a discussion of :

– The unrealised potential for online support for pre-service and early career teachers (to augment rather than replace existing support).

– The design principles for online communities of teachers that have been developed through analysis of existing platforms and multiple iterations of TeachConnect development with input from participants.

– The design of the engagement strategy for involving all stakeholders within the state education system, with a particular focus upon the development of the online group and peer mentoring program.

– Real-world impacts and discussion of future steps.

Finally, the presentation describes how the open-source platform could be used in other states. The work can be understood as a contribution to the vision of an online platform that is as useful as possible for pre-service and early career teachers. In summary, we believe this will continue to be achieved through: (i) widespread collaboration between universities, government and accreditation bodies; (ii) ongoing participant-led design and redesign; and (iii) convergence, for maximising benefits of a large community whilst retaining the benefits of enclosed spaces where deep reflection can occur.

  • Clarà, M., Kelly, N., Mauri, T., & Danaher, P. (2015). Can massive communities of teachers facilitate collaborative reflection? Fractal design as a possible answer. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 1-13.
  • Herrington, A., Herrington, J., Kervin, L., & Ferry, B. (2006). The design of an online community of practice for beginning teachers. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 6(1), 120-132.
  • Kelly, N., & Antonio, A. (2016). Teacher peer support in social network sites. Teaching and Teacher Education, 56, 138-149.
  • Kelly, N., Clará, M., Kehrwald, B., & Danaher, P. (In press). Online Learning Networks for Pre-service and Early Career Teachers. UK: Palgrave Pivot.
  • Mansfield, C. F., Beltman, S., Broadley, T., & Weatherby-Fell, N. (2016). Building resilience in teacher education: An evidence informed framework. Teaching and Teacher Education, 54, 77-87.
  • Prestridge, S. (2016). Conceptualising self-generating online teacher professional development. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 1-20.
  • Redmond, P. (2015). Discipline specific online mentoring for secondary pre-service teachers. Computers & Education, 90, 95-104.
  • Sari, E., & Herrington, J. (2013). Using design-based research to investigate the design and development of an online community of practice for teacher professional development.

Designing Learning Analytics Tools

This post is about designing learning analytics tools and some theory around their innovation.

Having said that, this site is at risk of becoming a litany of posts about papers that have come out, such as this one on teacher support and this one on developing online communities. I’m curious, does anybody have any good examples of academic websites that illuminate? One that I’ve found is the blog by David Jones (USQ) which is extremely generous without being outlandish – a place where new ideas happen as well as discussing established ideas. Something to aspire to perhaps.

This post is about the design of learning analytics tools, and sharing a paper that I wrote with Kate Thompson and Pippa Yeoman. The paper is interesting in that it discusses the design of learning analytics tools in the big picture, before using the innovation of a specific tool to provide an example.

The abstract for the paper:

This paper describes theory-led design as a way of developing novel tools for learning analytics (LA). It focuses upon the domain of automated discourse analysis (ADA) of group learning activities to help an instructor to orchestrate online groups in real-time. The paper outlines the literature on the development of LA tools within the domain of ADA, and poses an argument for conducting tool development based upon first-principles. It describes first principles as being drawn from theory and that these principles can subsequently inform the structure and behaviour of tools. It presents a framework for this process of theory-led design. The framework is substantiated through the example of developing a new tool for assisting instructors with the orchestration of online groups. A description of the tool is given and examples of results from use with real-world data are presented. The paper concludes with a call for intent on the part of designers to connect the design process explicitly to theory on the basis that this has the potential to yield innovation when developing tools as well as the prospect of outcomes from tools connecting back to theory.

It was reviewed by Chris Teplovs who asks tricky questions around how learning analytics innovators can work towards tools that scale along with the innovations occurring in education. He goes on to discuss the work occuring at the Michigan Innovation Greenhouse, which focusses upon this kind of innovation. To quote Chris:

One question that emerges has to do with the sustainability of the development of theory- and principle-based tools and techniques. Are there better models for getting to scale with educational innovations? Those of us at the University of Michigan’s new Digital Innovation Greenhouse think there are. Researchers are good at innovating but their creations can seldom be scaled up for widespread adoption. They are focused on creating and testing innovations but typically have little experience with developing software that can be supported as infrastructure. On the other end of the spectrum, Information Technology Services (ITS) organizations are very good at staging and supporting mature software systems. Their skills are ill-matched to the loose, rapid, duct-tape development methods of researchers. It is not possible to take code from a research group and hand it off to ITS for staging at scale. We have tried for several years; the mismatch is too large. This chasm between innovation and infrastructure is present in all kinds of technology transfer. Our team posited that higher education needs a greenhouse for propagation; an interim space that understands both why innovations arrive so fragile and how to make them stronger before they’re taken “outdoors.” In the world of entrepreneurial business, these spaces are often called “incubators.” We have adopted an “incubator” model that seeks to take educational technology and learning analytics innovations and grow them to scale. Time will tell how successful we are. Innovators such as Kelly, Thompson, and Yeoman can help usher in a new era of learning analytics tools and techniques that incorporates not only powerful design frameworks but also concern themselves with the design, development, and deployment of robust and scalable tools and techniques.

Both the paper on designing learning analytics tools and the commentary are freely available the Journal of Learning Analytics website. The references for the two papers are:

Kelly, N., Thompson, K., & Yeoman, P. (2015). Theory-led design of instruments and representations in learning analytics: Developing a novel tool for orchestration of online collaborative learning. Journal of Learning Analytics, 2(2), 14-43.

https://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/JLA/article/view/4265/5088

Teplovs, C. (2015). Commentary On “Theory-led design of instruments and representations in learning analytics: Developing a novel tool for orchestration of online collaborative learning”. Journal of Learning Analytics, 2(2), 44-46.

https://epress.lib.uts.edu.au/journals/index.php/JLA/article/view/4606/5091

Teacher Peer Support in Social Networks

Interested in the ways that teachers support one another online in teacher social networks? A recently published paper by myself and Amy Antonio looks at open Facebook groups of teachers to examine the ways in which they support one another.

Some elements of this paper are discussed in another post about the limits and potential of online communities for teachers.

The paper has been published in the journal Teaching and Teacher Education and is titled teacher peer support in social networks (free link).

The crux of the paper is that six roles can be identified that experienced teachers take on to support other teachers online:

  1. Advocates the practical. Teachers help one another with day-to-day pragmatic aspects of the profession, such as finding resources for a lesson or navigating the bureaucracy.
  2. Conveners of relations. Teachers instigate relationships with other teachers, and can make introductions to other useful contacts.
  3. Agents of socialisation. Teaching as a profession has cultural norms. Experienced teachers induct other teachers into these norms, such as in the way that they share stories and the ‘memes’ that they promulgate.
  4. Modelers of practice. Teachers give a rich description of what they are doing in the classroom, providing a model of teaching practice.
  5. Supporters of reflection. Collaborative reflection is often considered the most important kind of knowledge for beginning teachers, to make sense of confusing situations and learn from their experiences.
  6. Providers of feedback. Teachers provide a constructive source of feedback, such as pedagogical and curriculum advice or in reconstructing an event that has occurred.

In a review of existing online communities, it appears that certain conditions are needed for teachers to be willing to engage in the most important of these roles: modelling practice, supporting reflection and providing feedback. Such a connection appears to have preconditions of a trusted environment with stable relationships and a sense of privacy

The logic for reaching these six categories comes from two places. The first is from Clarke et al. who identify eleven roles for co-operating teachers of which only six apply to the online context. Secondly, there is much in the literature on forms of social support onto which these six roles can be mapped:

  • Emotional support in the form of esteem, affect, trust, concern and listening
  • Appraisal support in the form of affirmation, feedback and social comparison
  • Informational support in the form of advice, suggestion, directives and information
  • Instrumental support in the form of aid in kind, money, labour and time.

The main contribution of the paper is to define these six roles for online teachers. The paper then uses these roles to analyse teachers interacting in social network groups (on Facebook).

The results show that teachers support each other in open groups of teacher social networks in very pragmatic ways – there is very little in the way of reflection upon practice or modelling of teaching occurring in these groups.

The citation for the paper is:

Kelly, N., & Antonio, A. (2016). Teacher peer support in social network sites. Teaching and Teacher Education, 56, 138-149. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2016.02.007

 

Online communities for teachers

Here’s a link to a recent article I wrote for the AARE blog:

http://www.aare.edu.au/blog/?p=1365

The piece begins:

The ability to be connected “anywhere, anytime” is recent enough that most professions are still figuring out how make best use of this connectivity, and teaching is no exception. Online communities offer great potential for teachers, in helping them to create and sustain networks of mutual support. However I believe current online networks are still a long way from reaching their potential to help the profession.

Teacher educators emphasise the importance of having a network of colleagues to draw upon in the challenging early years of the profession, yet many beginning teachers find themselves without adequate access to such support. When asked to name their most useful form of support, many simply say that they have none. Preliminary results from further research show teachers in rural locations, on short-term contracts, and supply teachers, are more likely than other teachers to lack support.

A strong online community of teachers is no panacea for the problem of early career teacher support. But improvements in online communities have the potential to make a significant difference, particularly for those teachers currently missing out on support.

[keep reading]

Developing online communities for teachers

This post is an experiment with publishing a paper in reduced HTML form – I’m curious to see if it more people find it this way.

To cite this article:

Kelly N., Clara M. and Kickbusch S. (2015) How to develop an online community for pre-service and early career teachers, ASCILITE 2015, Perth

Why an online community for teachers?

There are many challenges to beginning a career as a teacher (Veenman, 1984). Support during this period of transition into service is critical and is particularly useful in the form of mentoring and induction programs (DeAngelis, Wall, & Che, 2013; Ingersoll & Strong, 2011). Online communities are a form of support that have the potential to stimulate collegiality between pre-service and early career teachers (PS&ECTs) (Herrington, Herrington, Kervin, & Ferry, 2006; Kelly, 2013). This paper aims to present design principles from ongoing[1] design-based research aimed at creating an online community of PS&ECTs across multiple institutions in the state of Queensland (Kelly, Reushle, Chakrabarty, & Kinnane, 2014). It is structured by presenting theoretical background and the argument for why there is a need to design and develop a new type of community for PS&ECTs; and then articulating strategies for how to develop such a community.

 

There have been a number of recent attempts to augment the support for pre-service and early career teacher with the formation of online communities (e.g. Herrington et al., 2006; Lee & Brett, 2013; Lin, Lin, & Huang, 2008; Maher, Sanber, Cameron, Keys, & Vallance, 2013). Such attempts typically adopt one of three complementary paradigms, each of which make a commitment to valuing the connectedness between learners: (online) communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, White, & Smith, 2009), connected learning (Ito et al., 2013) and networked learning (Goodyear, Banks, Hodgson, & McConnell, 2004). In this work we will refer to online communities with an understanding that they can be viewed through any or all of these lenses which place the emphasis respectively (and arguably, given the diversity of views that each term has come to represent) upon:

  • (communities of practice) The cultural norms and collaborative relationships that emerge within a group of practitioners with common purpose, where “communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger, 2011).
  • (connected learning) The open nature of learning in a connected world allows for learning to be authentic and linked with society beyond classroom walls to promote interest and hence learning, where connected learning is “embedded within meaningful practices and supportive relationships” and is committed to recognising “diverse pathways and forms of knowledge and expertise” (Ito et al., 2013)
  • (networked learning) Learning is understood to take place through connections of learner-learner and learner-resource and this connectedness can be greatly enhanced through technology, where networked learning is “learning in which ICT is used to promote connections between one learner and other learners; between learners and tutors; between a learning community and its learning resources” (Goodyear et al., 2004)

 

In short, research in these paradigms has shown that online communities of members with a shared practice can be extremely useful. They bring together in one place the people that a practitioner is likely to draw upon for questions about practice. They support the creation of such connections. Through interaction, they facilitate the development of rich stores of (third person, represented) knowledge that is accessible to all members. Whilst online communities can be a part of formal education or professional development, they are often informal.

 

Globally, there has been a trend towards the adoption of online communities in which the term social network has become the successor to ‘Web 2.0’ (boyd & Ellison, 2007). Many professions and groups of practitioners now have online communities associated with them; and some have even transformed the nature of the practice associated with them (e.g. Mamykina, Manoim, Mittal, Hripcsak, & Hartmann, 2011). Large scale communities (with hundreds, thousands or even millions of members) offer the potential for facilitating valuable connections within the profession. This may be between members (e.g. a beginning teacher in a remote school might be connected with another beginning teacher in a similar situation) or between members and resources – the larger the network, the more likely that the individuals or resources needed can be found. There is, however, a trade-off with social presence and engagement being challenging to achieve in larger communities (Clará, Kelly, Mauri, & Danaher, In press).

 

In this context, our argument is that large scale online communities have much potential to support PS&ECTs that is yet to be fulfilled. Firstly, what are the needs that PS&ECTs have from an online community? Six categories for the ways in which teachers can support one another online can be drawn following the work of Clarke, Triggs, and Nielsen (2014): (i) supporting reflection; (ii) modeling practice; (iii) convening relationships; (iv) advocating practical solutions; (v) promoting socialisation within the profession; and (vi) giving feedback. Many existing platforms that are used by PS&ECTs successfully enable teachers to convene relations, promote socialisation and advocate the practical. However, there is a dearth of large scale sites (i.e. more than 200 users) that promote reflection, feedback and modelling of practice. This is perhaps due to teachers feeling a need for privacy (a closed online space), trust (in other members of the community) and some kind of stability (in membership of that community) that is not met by the current generation of large scale online communities of PS&ECTs (Clará et al., In press). Early results from current work by the authors analysing the interactions of teachers in Facebook supports this hypothesis.

 

There are many existing large scale online communities for teachers within Australia, however none fills all of these needs of PS&ECTs. Whilst an empirical survey of these communities is required to fully substantiate this claim, some types of online community available in Australia can be identified, Table 1, and limitations based upon anecdotal evidence described. “Scootle Community” is a national, government funded site that appears to have low levels of engagement and social presence amongst users, with low level activity on the site given the pool of potential users, possibly due to a lack of stability (constantly changing users), privacy (all data is owned by the government and is visible to all members) and, hence, trust. The Queensland state government supported site “The Learning Place” comes closest of the examples given to fulfilling the potential of online communities to meet PS&ECT needs. It has high levels of activity, with many widely-used resources that are the focus of discussion and for facilitating connections between users. However, the state government (who also employ many of the teachers using the site) owns the data and is heavily visible through logos and announcements on the site. This, along with broad visibility in most sections of the site, might be limiting trust for users of the site to share details of practice. There is little evidence of teachers developing the close connections needed for reflecting on practice, providing feedback or modelling practice (however, this may be occurring in private channels of communication). Many groups of PS&ECTs have arisen on the commercial platform “Facebook” (and similarly on “EdModo”). Some groups are visible and massive, whilst many are small and private. There is much variation between groups, however they have in common that: (i) the knowledge developed by the community is not searchable or reusable and, hence, is lost; and (ii) each new group springing up begins anew, losing the benefits of having a large established community. Many teacher education institutions also have their own intra-institutional online communities that can often support highly engaged, collegial support – however they are limited in size, cannot facilitate cross-institutional networks and are susceptible to fluctuating support from their host institutions (e.g. funding changes or key staff leaving).

 

Table 1: Types of online communities used by PS&ECTs in Australia with examples

Type of community Example of community Description of example
Nationwide, government funded Scootle Community

http://community.scootle.edu.au

 

Federal Government supported site (run by Education Services Australia) to facilitate a social network (Facebook style) around Scootle resources in particular and the teaching profession in general. Available to most educators in the country.
Statewide, government funded The Learning Place

http://education.qld.gov.au/
learningplace/

State Government supported site (run by Education Queensland) with a large and widely used collection of resources for classrooms and professional development, with social network support (chat, blogs, learning pathways)
Commercial Facebook groups

https://facebook.com

Widely-used commercial site that supports many diverse groups of teachers. Some are openly available and some are private; ranging from the very small to the very large.
Institutional Education Commons (USQ)

https://open.usq.edu.au/course/
info.php?id=62

A Moodle community of PS&ECTs supported by motivated faculty members who provide a library of articles, videos and mentoring through the site (Henderson, Noble, & Cross, 2013).

 

Design principles for “TeachConnect”

 

With this understanding of the gap that remains, a group of academics from universities and teacher education providers across Queensland are working together to develop a community, TeachConnect, which will be launched in September 2015 and supported by the Queensland College of Teachers and an Office of Learning and Teaching grant. TeachConnect aims to augment current support for PS&ECTs by filling in the gaps identified above. A number of design principles for developing the site can be listed as:

  • It is independent and data (e.g. conversations) are private, owned by the members of the community – this is reflected in the lack of institutional presence (e.g. logos) on the site and the focus upon the profession (e.g. inspiring quotes about education).
  • It is single purpose (i.e. doesn’t have to meet government or institutional priorities) and its appearance and design make it clear that its goal is to facilitate PS&ECTs supporting one another.
  • It is free and universal in that all teachers have access to the site, regardless of school system or status of employment.
  • It is also restricted to individuals who have at some point been a pre-service teacher, to maintain the focus upon developing professional practice.
  • Knowledge that can be separated from its context and proponent is co-created and re-usable (e.g. where to find resources, how to get accredited, how to navigate schools) and develops over time.
  • There is a two-layer design that has clearly defined separation between what is publicly visible and a trusted, private space which is the focus of the site, where close relationships can develop, allowing for reflection upon practice between peers and facilitated by experienced teachers (a type of mentorship).
  • It is designed to be simple, quick and easy to use so that there is a minimal threshold to overcome to commence using the site (one-step sign on facilitated by close co-ordination with universities).
  • It is possible because it is widely supported by many universities within Queensland. It relies upon the shared purpose that all schools of education have in wanting the best possible outcomes for PS&ECTs, is inclusive in design and is freely accessible by all teacher education institutions.

 

The process of developing TeachConnect: Lessons learned

 

The process of developing TeachConnect has followed the principles of design-based research through multiple iterations of design involving the input of participants (Barab & Squire, 2004; Collins, Joseph, & Bielaczyc, 2004). The design-based paradigm is a good fit for this work, as educational research is heavily context dependent, and at the same time the literature on developing online communities suggests that the exercise is far from being an exact science. Some heuristics for developing any kind of online community were distilled by Shirky (2010) as: (i) start small with a core community, as if you rely on being big it will probably never happen; (ii) understand and provide for what motivates your members (both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation); (iii) use the default options in the platform wisely to promote social connectivity; (iv) cater for all types of engagement (e.g. lurkers as well as active participants); (v) have as low a threshold as possible to get started on the site; (vi) tweak as you grow and be responsive to what the community is asking for.

 

The vision for TeachConnect was informed in part by the literature, but also through focus groups (with PS&ECTs, teacher educators, experienced teachers and stakeholder organisations), a survey (Kelly et al., 2014; N=183) and a pilot study. Whilst details of this pilot and the development of TeachConnect are forthcoming, the essence of the lessons learnt can be distilled here. A pilot of a platform for PS&ECTs was conducted in 2014 (www.TeachQA.com) and involved over 200 pre-service teachers across two universities, and over 20 experienced teachers to develop a community. An evaluation of the problems experienced in this site revealed that it was: (i) Too difficult to sign up to; (ii) too restrictive in interactions (with not enough opportunity for dialogue; (iii) too public and did not allow for trust to develop (no private spaces for interaction); and (iv) not enough community engagement to remind PSTs that the site existed.

 

In response, the TeachConnect platform is being integrated with a schedule of community engagement. Researchers will travel and talk to the lecturers, pre-service teachers and teachers who will be using the platform to build the community. The platform will be strongly customised to be specific to teachers’ needs, rather than using something “off-the-shelf”. We plan to work with an initial group of dedicated users to build a group culture, and help them as they do this. Ultimately, the use of the platform will only spread if it is fundamentally useful – there are no short cuts for building an online community.

 

References

 

Barab, S., & Squire, K. (2004). Design-based research: Putting a stake in the ground. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(1), 1-14.

boyd, d. m., & Ellison, N. B. (2007). Social network sites: Definition, history, and scholarship. Journal of ComputerMediated Communication, 13(1), 210-230.

Clará, M., Kelly, N., Mauri, T., & Danaher, P. (In press). Challenges of teachers’ practice-oriented virtual communities for enabling reflection. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education.

Clarke, A., Triggs, V., & Nielsen, W. (2014). Cooperating Teacher Participation in Teacher Education A Review of the Literature. Review of Educational Research, 84(2), 163-202.

Collins, A., Joseph, D., & Bielaczyc, K. (2004). Design research: Theoretical and methodological issues. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(1), 15-42.

DeAngelis, K. J., Wall, A. F., & Che, J. (2013). The Impact of Preservice Preparation and Early Career Support on Novice Teachers’ Career Intentions and Decisions. Journal of Teacher Education.

Goodyear, P., Banks, S., Hodgson, V., & McConnell, D. (2004). Research on networked learning: An overview Advances in research on networked learning (pp. 1-9): Springer.

Henderson, R., Noble, K., & Cross, K. (2013). Additional professional induction strategy (APIS): Education Commons, a strategy to support transition to the world of work.

Herrington, A., Herrington, J., Kervin, L., & Ferry, B. (2006). The design of an online community of practice for beginning teachers. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 6(1), 120-132.

Ingersoll, R. M., & Strong, M. (2011). The Impact of Induction and Mentoring Programs for Beginning Teachers A Critical Review of the Research. Review of Educational Research, 81(2), 201-233.

Ito, M., Gutierrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., . . . Watkins, S. C. (2013). Connected learning: An agenda for research and design: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.

Kelly, N. (2013). An opportunity to support beginning teachers in the transition from higher education into practice. Paper presented at the ASCILITE 2013, Macquarie University, Australia.

Kelly, N., Reushle, S., Chakrabarty, S., & Kinnane, A. (2014). Beginning Teacher Support in Australia: Towards an Online Community to Augment Current Support. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(4), 4.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation: Cambridge university press.

Lee, K., & Brett, C. (2013). What are student inservice teachers talking about in their online Communities of Practice? Investigating student inservice teachers’ experiences in a double-layered CoP. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 21(1), 89-118.

Lin, F.-r., Lin, S.-c., & Huang, T.-p. (2008). Knowledge sharing and creation in a teachers’ professional virtual community. Computers & Education, 50(3), 742-756. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2006.07.009

Maher, D., Sanber, S., Cameron, L., Keys, P., & Vallance, R. (2013). An online professional network to support teachers’ information and communication technology development. Paper presented at the ASCILITE 2013, Macquarie University.

Mamykina, L., Manoim, B., Mittal, M., Hripcsak, G., & Hartmann, B. (2011). Design lessons from the fastest q&a site in the west. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems.

Shirky, C. (2010). Cognitive surplus: Creativity and generosity in a connected age: ePenguin.

Veenman, S. (1984). Perceived problems of beginning teachers. Review of Educational Research, 54(2), 143-178.

Wenger, E. (2011). Communities of practice: A brief introduction.

Wenger, E., White, N., & Smith, J. D. (2009). Digital habitats: Stewarding technology for communities: CPsquare.

[1] For details of the ongoing project see http://www.stepup.edu.au

TeachConnect.edu.au is up and running

After many years of research and planning, the TeachConnect website is up and running, with the first group of teachers engaged

TeachConnect is an altruistic network of pre-service, current and experienced teachers across Queensland. TeachConnect is a simple idea – a platform to let teachers talk to other teachers and to benefit from the experiences of others. Teachers tend to be generous in sharing their knowledge. TeachConnect is about making sure that this knowledge can be re-used by the whole community of Queensland teachers.

TeachConnect is a collaboration between many stakeholders to support beginning teachers in Queensland. It involves the Queensland College of Teachers (QCT), the Office of Learning and Teaching (OLT), many universities in Queensland (USQ, QUT, CQU, USC, UQ, JCU and Griffith) and many other collaborators.

The list will continue to grow as it is a project founded upon inclusive collaboration – get in touch on teachconnect@outlook.com if you want to take part!

Whilst only certain whitelisted domains are allowed into the community for teachers, you can read more about TeachConnect on the website at http://www.teachconnect.edu.au

teachconnect
The front page of the TeachConnect site

References about TeachConnect

If you want to read more about TeachConnect then the following articles are a good place to start:

  • Clara M., Kelly N., Mauri T. and Danaher P. (In press). Challenges of teachers’ practice-oriented virtual communities for enabling reflection, Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education
  • Kelly N., Reushle S., Chakrabarty S. and Kinnane A. (2014). Augmenting the support for pre-service teachers into practice through large online communities of knowledge-sharing, Australian Journal of Teacher Education 39(4), pp. 68-82 [link]
  • Kelly, N. (2013). An opportunity to support beginning teachers in the transition from higher education into practice, Proceedings of ASCILITE 2013, Sydney [link]
  • Kelly N, Clara M. and Kickbusch S. (2015) How to develop an online community for pre-service and early career teachers, ASCILITE 2015, Perth [link]

What we know about developing online communities of teachers

This post originally published to the ADFI blog:

Online communities are perhaps for the current decade (for which we still have no adequate name) what “Web 2.0″ was for the noughties. Web 2.0 spawned terms such as “prosumer” and “produser” amidst other various contorted contractions aimed at highlighting what was genuinely revolutionary – that users were no longer passive receivers of content but could rather contribute actively to sites that they visited.

Fast forwarding to the current decade (apparently the term ‘one-ders’ was the winner in an Australian competition to name it, but I can’t quite bring myself to use it) the equivalent advance is in the area of online communities. These days every site has a ‘social’ aspect and many have inherited values from Lave and Wenger’s Communities of Practice.

We can speculate that this has happened for a variety of reasons: the enormous uptake of smartphones for internet access anywhere (over 65% of people have them in Australia), combined with the increasing ubiquity of wireless broadband and the examples provided by the huge success of Facebook and its successors are potential candidates.

The point of this post is to write about online communities for teachers. Many other professions and groups have strong, functioning online communities that serve their needs but it is my belief that online communities of teachers still have a great deal of unrealised potential. In this short blog post I try to outline what is missing; what teacher needs are not being met by what is currently available.

Strong online communities

What does a strong, functioning online community look like? A good (if unscientific) heuristic is a well-known, single location that ‘most people’ within the community know about. For example, most IT professionals know that StackOverflow is ‘the place to go’ for any information or troubleshooting needed when programming. Or a more esoteric example: ‘most rock climbers’ know that The Crag is ‘the place to go’ for information about climbing around Australia.

These sites have gained their dominance through a combination of:

  1. Strongly customising the platform to meet user needs;
  2. Working passionately with an initial group of dedicated users to build a group culture;
  3. Spreading because they are fundamentally useful in a way that can be accessed minimal commitment (e.g. signup) or learning required.

None of these insights are particularly new – they can be read as a response to Clay Shirky’s established wisdom for developing online communities (Shirky, 2011). The following summary is drawn from a précis of the book here:

  • Start small – projects that depend on growth for success generally won’t
    grow;
  • Understand what will motivate users – we must design and build our systems
    and tools once we know WHY people will use it (e.g. intrinsic vs. extrinsic
    motivations);
  • Understand what opportunity you are providing –  we must grasp what is
    being provided and how it will be used;
  • Default to social – growth comes from sharing, and it’s the defaults that
    drive reinforcing behaviours (e.g. open vs. closed);
  • Vary participation – groups bring diversity, so we must enable all levels
    and types of user engagement – people need a low threshold to get started;
  • Enable self-governance – central governance doesn’t scale so help the
    community form and regulate its own rules and behaviours (but provide
    mediation where needed);
  • Tweak as you grow – listen to the community, be responsive and open to
    feedback.

Developing online communities for teachers

So, what is the significance of this for developing communities of teachers?

Firstly, what does a community of teachers need? A recent article by Clara, Kelly, Mauri and Danaher (In press) teases out the fundamental need for teachers, which is to be able to reflect upon practice, and this requires trusted relationships that can only be built over time; as well as privacy which is often hard to come by on large online communities.

An ongoing study by Kelly and Antonio looks at existing online communities of teachers in Facebook and early results are showing that most of the sharing going on is limited to developing relationships and advocating practical strategies – very little reflection, modelling of practice, or giving of feedback is occurring.

Given these needs for an online community of teachers, what is the current landscape of communities for teachers in Australia? It can be seen from this brief overview of current online communities that there is still a need to be filled:

  • Scootle community (attached to the Scootle website) has been well-funded and has the advantage of the well-known Scootle brand, but has very little genuine teacher activity on the site
  • Other well-funded community dedicated community teacher sites (such as PLANE for teacher learning pathways) have ceased to exist within years of launching due to low activity
  • Some states have highly-utilized platforms, such as The Learning Place in Queensland which successfully offers professional development and resources to teachers as well as features for community engagement. However, the community aspects are not heavily used for reflection or modelling of practice, potentially due to the public nature of the site and that ownership of data lies with the teachers’ employer (the state)
  • Many teachers use Facebook for small groups, and these groups do work to provide support, especially closed groups. However, membership is restricted and any knowledge that is generated or shared is lost. Further, each small network is set up anew, and none of the benefits of a large community are realised (although the space for reflection on practice is gained)
  • Many institutions have dedicated communities for pre-service teachers that can continue to be used after graduation. For example, the University of Southern Queensland has the “Education Commons” which is a Moodle-powered site. Whilst it is useful for resource sharing, there is a lack of practice sharing and no possibility of cross-institutional pollination.

With this understanding of the gap that remains, a group of academics from universities and teacher education providers across Queensland are working together to develop a community, “TeachConnect”, slated for launch in September.

TeachConnect

Developing on online community is not a science – after a survey of the literature on the subject one might conclude that the main rule is “try, adapt and try again”. TeachConnnect is the second attempt to develop a community following a pilot of a different platform. This pilot was an empirical demonstration of the above principles, and an evaluation showed that the community was:

  • Too difficult to sign up to
  • Too restrictive in interactions (with not enough opportunity for dialogue)
  • Too public and not enough trust (no private spaces for interaction)
  • Not enough community engagement
  • Some principles for the TeachConnect community in response to this are:
  • Make the user interface and sign-up entirely intuitive (as well as more beautiful)
  • Have two integrated spaces in the platform – public knowledge that can be reused and private ‘mentorship circles’ where reflection can occur
  • Spend months of time travelling and talking to the lecturers, pre-service teachers and teachers who will be using the platform to build the community piece by piece

There are no short cuts for building an online community, but there is hope from what we know of teachers, from looking at examples of communities in other professions and from trial and error that something genuinely useful for teachers can be arrived at.

A value proposition

To this point, the blog post has made an implicit assumption that having an online community of teachers is a worthwhile endeavour. To make this assumption more transparent, imagine a platform that was entirely dedicated to improving the teaching profession:

  • Independent, all data private, owned only by the members of the community. It’s whole appearance and design makes it clear that it’s only goal is to help teachers with their practice of teaching – perhaps it even has inspirational quotes from educational theorists in the banner.
  • Knowledge about the pragmatic affairs of teaching (where to find resources, how to get accredited, how to navigate schools) can be re-used and built up over time by the community. Trusted spaces allow for gradual development of relationships over time, facilitating reflection upon practice between peers and facilitated by experienced teachers.
  • All teachers have access to this, regardless of their school or status of employment – but it’s restricted to anyone that’s ever been a pre-service teacher. The platform helps teachers to connect to other teachers in similar situations (if I’m the only STEM teacher in a rural school I can perhaps find another teacher teacher in the same situation).
  • It’s quick and easy to use and I can start using it even before I go on my first practical experience as a pre-service teacher. I know that it’s “the place to go” and that I’m likely to find either the person that I need to talk to or the knowledge that I need there.

If you’re reading this and think you’ve got something to contribute, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

References

Clara M, Kelly N, Mauri T and Danaher P, In press, Can Massive Communities of Teachers facilitate collaborative reflection? Fractal design as a possible answer, Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education

Kelly, N. (2013). An opportunity to support beginning teachers in the transition from higher education into practice. ASCILITE 2013, Macquarie University, Australia.

Kelly, N., Reushle, S., Chakrabarty, S., & Kinnane, A. (2014). Beginning Teacher Support in Australia: Towards an Online Community to Augment Current Support. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 39(4), 4.

Shirky, Clay. (2010) Cognitive surplus: Creativity and generosity in a connected age. Penguin UK

Script for generate-and-explore demonstration

The Python script below provides a demonstration of generate and interpret.

This page has a link to it in a to-be-published journal paper explaining what it’s about (will be linked following publication).

For the time being, it is described as:

Generating:

Consider a simple system that generates numbers (after Kelly and Gero 2015). The system has two variables: firstly n, a range of numbers with constraints; and p designates an operator, one of multiplication, division, addition or subtraction. The system has an initial state, which for the sake of example we can take  to be constrained by 5<n<95 and p=+ the operator for addition.

The system generates by choosing two values for the variable  within constraints and performing the operation  on them to produce an artefact (the resulting number). For example, the system chooses first 6 and then 72 and adds them to produce an artefact of 78. With this setup the system clearly has a bounded space that it is ‘searching’ through generation and given enough time it would eventually ‘discover’ all possible artefacts in the space, i.e. {10,11,12,…,189,190}.

This extremely simple proposal is representative of systems that have a clearly defined grammar and perform search through application of that grammar, i.e. an example of routine design.

Interpreting

Through additional rules, the system is able to explore. After producing an artefact, the system interprets what it has produced such that:

  • If the current artefact, along with the previous two artefacts, make up an arithmetic or geometric progression, then change the operator to the corresponding operator; and
  • If the numeric value used to create the arithmetic or geometric progression is outside of the constraint, extend the bounds of the constraint

The significance of this will be in the paper, but essentially it’s representative of the way that people undertake creative tasks. We have vast amounts of experience, but only access some of it at a time. This kind of generate-and-interpret movement is a suggestion for how we move around within our own experiences, stimulated by interpreting what it is that we’ve created:

 

The importance of context for studying online groups in Facebook

This piece originally appeared on the Australian Digital Futures Institute blog with the same title.

Social science researchers in the 21st Century often find themselves wanting to analyse interaction in online groups. This is quite simply because an awful lot of social interaction occurs online these days what with Facebook, email, learning management systems, forums and all the rest. We are as a society perhaps still coming to terms with the notion that there are quite a few people out there who utter more words online than they do face to face (I suspect that some days I might be one of them).

context
context

At first glance, online groups represent an incredible opportunity for researchers. Every trace from every interaction, however informal, is recorded, along with its timestamp and a unique code. A greedy glint comes into the eyes of any statistician or researcher with a data mining technique or two up their sleeve at the mere thought of thousands, perhaps millions, of interactions waiting to be analysed. But there is more to this story – context is important for studying online groups in Facebook.

My particular area of study is looking at the professional development of teachers in online groups. In work that I’m doing with Dr Amy Antonio of ADFI, we’re looking at Facebook groups to see how teachers are providing for one another with things like links to resources, opportunities for reflection, practical advice and emotional support.

We picked a popular Facebook group and downloaded its thousands of messages and began applying the tools of the trade in earnest: social network analysis to see who is important in the group; thematic analysis to see what’s being talked about; manual coding to get a calibration and an intuition for the data and a deeper understanding through discourse analysis of specific parts of the interaction.

The problem with all this though is that we hadn’t taken into account the question of context.

Online spaces are by definition artificial environments. Everything is designed: the look and feel of the space, the actions it affords, the representations of the people inside it and even the ways in which those people can interact. Again: all this is designed.

When researching these online spaces, we need to confront the fact that we cannot make assumptions about what might constitute “normal” activity or interaction in the space.

If I’m studying an online group that only talks to each other once a week, when for other groups within the same environment the norm is about 100 posts a day, then that is significant and says perhaps that whatever we find out about this group doesn’t really apply generally to the larger environment. I’ve not conducted a meta-analysis or anything, but anecdotally this seems to be missing from many studies of online groups.

And so what I’ve learnt from all this is that:

  1. When analysing online groups, we can’t make assumptions that the group is “typical” for that environment without making sure of it. And beyond that:
  2. We can’t assume that we know what a “typical” interaction in the environment looks like without considering the design of that environment.

2014 CoCo Seminar – Supporting Pre-Service and Early Career Teachers in Australia: Design for a Learning Network

Below are the details of a talk presented at the CoCo research lab at the university of Sydney.

A link to the AdobeConnect recording of the presentation can be found here.

Abstract:
This talk presents a number of perspectives upon a growing learning network of pre-service and early career teachers. The learning network has arisen through a collaboration between a number of Australian universities, with the aim of facilitating support in the transition between pre-service education and the first years of service. The talk is structured to refer to this example in posing questions more general to design for learning networks:

– What is the motivation for developing the learning network? Original research into the need to augment teacher support in Australia.
– How do design of the set, activities and relationships align with participant motivations? Participant ownership and designing for culture (desired within the network) as well as cultural history (of the participants in other networks).
– How does theory influence the design process? Theory-based criticism of the design and allowing this to inform further design.