Dr Andrea Raiker , University of Bedfordshire, was awarded her Senior Fellowship for this summary below of the collaborative learning process that underpins the 2011/2012 MirandaNet unconferences as well as her part in the joint authorship of an academic paper and the chapter of a book that are currently being reviewed for publication. This thinking has increased the value of unconferences for participants by encouraging the working groups to publish summaries of their shared thinking that move the community forward.
Dr Raiker’s summary is followed by the abstracts for the paper and the chapter that the summary for MirandaNetter is based on.
ENHANCING TEACHER PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT THROUGH BLENDED COMMUNITIES OF ENQUIRERS
Carr & Kemmis (1986:221), in their work integrating Habermas’ conceptions of communicative action with teacher education, proposed that teachers could “organise themselves as communities of enquirers, organising their own enlightenment”. In the UK the aim of in-service higher education for teachers is not ‘enlightenment’. Enlightenment involves insight, the result of personal and purposeful critical reflection and evaluation. Insight in higher education involves growing awareness and understanding of pedagogy (Raiker, 2010). This appears to resonate with the definition of professional development given by the Department of Education’s Teaching Agency:
“Professional development consists of reflective activity designed to improve an individual’s attributes, knowledge, understanding and skills. It supports individual needs and improves professional practice (TA: 2012 online).”
However, ‘reflective activity’ takes place in an education system controlled by government through imposed standards, inspection and competition stimulated by the publication of league tables. The outcome is that higher education courses for teachers, focused on improving their professional practice through ‘reflective activity’, become aligned with and conform to government neo-liberalist ideology.
This article summarises research into whether, in the current political climate, teachers could “organise themselves as communities of enquirers, organising their own enlightenment” through a blended physical and virtual environment. Also, would this ‘enlightenment’ have the potential to influence policy? Mind mapping software was used as a means of mediating language misinterpretations, misunderstandings and supporting knowledge transfer. Transcripts of word clouds and discourse generated through physical and virtual interaction were subjected to qualitative content analysis (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005).
Data collection, analysis and discussion- first cycle
The first Miranda Mod, entitled Assessing the value of physical and virtual spaces in enriching learning’, was attended by 32 educators from schools and university departments, IT consultants and technicians. Eight online participants from Germany, Czech Republic, Ireland, Slovakia and other sites in England also participated. The session began with an introduction by the event’s host, followed by nine short presentations by experts working in fields related to the session’s focus, such as social-networking, copyright and web publishing. Nearly all interactivity was via Flash Meeting, Twitter and the mind map; even those present in the physical space ‘talked’ with each other through the technology. However, only 16 of the 40 participants were engaged in the online exchanges. There was very little interaction signifying intention to discuss theory, practice or policy in any depth.
The second part of the session was attended by participants in the physical space only. The discussion was more focused and in greater depth with 30 of the 32 participants contributing. The most important finding was that participants felt that the online contributions had stimulated and formed their thinking on the topic. Disparate nuggets of knowledge were brought to the forefront of their thinking, enabling them to consolidate a perspective that could be shared in the face-to-face interaction.
Although session evaluations were positive, the aim of the research was not achieved. Participants could not deduce for themselves that an aim of the process was to organise themselves into a community of enquirers directed at enlightenment. It was decided that for the next event at a Czech Republic university, both technology and process would be simplified. Importantly, a presentation would be given to make explicit the links between teachers’ participation in the event, research and the potential to influence policy.
Data collection, analysis and discussion- second cycle
The Czech Republic Miranda Mod, entitled What does the 21st century teacher need to know about digital technologies, why, and how will their prowess be assessed?, was attended by 30 participants from Bulgaria, England, Germany, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, including five online. They listened to a range of speakers on various aspects of technological innovation. This was followed by a presentation on generating theory and policy from teachers’ reflections and evaluations of what they had heard, related to their own experiences and expectations. The presentation’s key message was that educators should “come out of their silos”, and share their perspectives to identify common interests, supported by technology. Analysis of the data generated at this event suggested that the presentation had had impact. Five areas of interest were generated by participants:
- Continuing Professional Development: multimedia resources and training for teachers;
- Developing effective professional communication models using technology;
- Sustaining collaborative professional learning and research through technology;
- Digital professional identity/digital e-wellness (link with digital safety);
- Theories of learning underpinning digital technologies in education
Findings suggested that teachers could, with facilitation, organise themselves into a community to “organis[e] their own enlightenment” supported by technology. Distinct messages needed to be given on the various levels of purpose of events, and time to get to know each other, the technology and the event format. Could the same result have been achieved with the events taking place in a physical environment only? Further research is needed on this. However, the integration of technology with the virtual presence of contributors created an environment that was cohesive with the topics being discussed and the interests of the group. In other words, the technology defined, focused and united the community of enquirers working within it and the outputs they produced in terms of sub-groups.
The findings also suggested that there is potential for participants working in blended communities of enquirers to produce outcomes suitable for briefing policy makers. However, there is no evidence from the research carried out so far to suggest that the outcomes produced could be used for briefing in this way. The research has also demonstrated that professional Miranda Mods such as the two described above enabled participants to take part on a journey. Each of the sub-groups formed created an agenda around which to collect data. It is intended that the research should have a third cycle. At this MirandaMod event, to be held in November 2012, it is intended to signpost the participants towards the data that they have collected in their subgroups in terms of organising it to influence policy making in their schools or professional organisations.
Dr Andrea Raiker
Senior Lecturer at University of Bedfordshire
MA Education Studies (International)
Centre for Learning Excellence -Curriculum Development
Co-editor Journal of Pedagogic Development
http://www.beds.ac.uk/learning/support/jpd for the latest Journal of Pedagogic Development.
Carr, W. & Kemmis, S. (1986) Becoming Critical: Education Knowledge and Action Research. London: Routledge.
Hsieh, H-F & S.E. Shannon (2005) ‘Three Approaches to Qualitative Content Analysis’. Qualitative Health Research, 15(9), pp 1277-1288.
Lather, P. (1998) Reaction to “disrupting hegemonic writing practices in school science”. In Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Vol. 35 No 4, pp 363-364.
Raiker, A (2010) ‘Creativity and reflection: some theoretical perspectives arising from practice’ in C. Nygaard, C. Holtham and N. Courtney (eds.) Teaching Creativity: Creativity in Teaching. Faringdon: Libri Publishings.
Teacher Development Agency (2012) Continuing your professional development: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20111218081624/http://tda.gov.uk/teacher/developing-career/professional-development.aspx [accessed 30 March 2012]
The paper below is based on a work in progress by Christina Preston, Andrea Raiker and John Cuthell linked to the MirandaMod on May 3rd: Assessing the value of physical and virtual spaces in enriching learning
Paper under review
Exploring Education Futures: linking digital technologies, grassroots practice and the making of policy
A collaboration between MirandaNet Fellows: John Cuthell, Marilyn Leask, Christina Preston and Andrea Raiker1
DRAFT Abstract This paper about the potential power of professional organizations to create new knowledge, publish and impact on policy was inspired by a Technology, Pedagogy and Education special edition that analysed the content of last twenty years of research papers. Davis and Loveless in their editorial talked about the increasing need to listen to the professional voice in policy development. In this paper we explore the ways in which four communities of practice are using digital technologies to increase their impact on policy. The theories underlying collaborative knowledge creation are discussed in terms of current practice in formal and informal professional learning. Five existing case studies about these communities’ interactive knowledge creation events are reanalysed from three perspectives: the capability of teachers to organise themselves into communities of enquirers in order to learn through blended physical and virtual environments; whether these web spaces are liminal spaces where shared learning takes place; and whether the collaborative artifacts that are produced can be used to impact on policy makers. The findings are that teachers need explicit scaffolding about the collaborative process in order to reach the higher level of thinking in groups that they are able to achieve as individuals with personal tutoring. However the process can be stimulating and the chance to impact on policy is motivating. As a result of the analysis the authors extract refined strategies to experiment with in the next series of interactive knowledge creation events that are planned for the future.
ENHANCING TEACHER PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT THROUGH BLENDED COMMUNITIES OF ENQUIRERS
Abstract: this chapter investigates quality enhancement as the management of effective change in teachers’ professional development. Through combining a seminar in a traditional UK university location with online collaborative software, academics and practising teachers from 5 European countries took part in two events designed as an action research project. The project’s aims were to investigate if a blended physical/virtual environment enabled teachers to overcome barriers to learning through reflection on practice, and if resulting collaboration encouraged the emergence of theory as a step towards generating policy. The results demonstrated partial success with clear indications for a third cycle of research.
We have written two more papers that underpin these notions of collaboration: