Investigating the role of community in sustaining teacher participation in blended professional development

Henderson, Michael John (2007) Investigating the role of community in sustaining teacher participation in blended professional development. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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This research sought to understand how the participation of teachers in a professional development course is sustained over time and, in particular, the role of community in that process. The literature review indicated that, while a mixture of face-to-face and computer mediated professional development has strengths in supporting social structures as well as being flexible in time and place, it was also clear that sustaining teachers' professional development is not automatically resolved through simply incorporating technology.

Consequently a situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991) perspective was adopted from which it is argued that teachers' professional development is a complex socio-cultural transformative experience involving not only the re-negotiation of practices but also identity. In particular, this research used Wenger's (1998b) conceptualisation of Community of Practice to explain why sustained participation is important for effective professional development as well as provide a lens by which the complexities of sustaining teachers' professional development can be understood and designed for. It is argued that sustained participation is a characteristic of community cohesion, that is, an investment in mutual engagement (doing things together), joint enterprise (responding to problems together) and shared repertoire (resolving problems together).

Nevertheless, the nature of the relationship between Community of Practice and sustained participation remained unclear in the literature, especially in the context of a smallscale blended professional development course. Consequently, this research was driven by a single research question: What role does Community of Practice cohesion play in the sustained participation of teachers in a small-scale blended PD course? In addressing this research question, a case study methodology was applied to two groups of teachers participating in a blended professional development course which had been designed to provide opportunities for participants to mutually engage in a joint enterprise and share repertoire. However, the design and its impact on the participants were not the research focus per se. The focus lay in trying to understand the sustainability of participation in terms of Community of Practice cohesion. The study was exploratory in nature. It is limited in its generalisability and the findings should be considered critically due to subjectivity. Nevertheless, the scope of this research was to identify issues relating to the role of Community of Practice cohesion in relation to sustained participation of teachers in a small-scale blended professional development course. Those issues are theoretically generalisable and the aim was to provide the research literature with avenues for future research which may, in turn, lead to generalisable professional development design principles or strategies.

Case Study One included five participants in Australia and Case Study Two had four participants in the United Kingdom. All but one of the participants successfully completed the course and participated online for up to 13 weeks. Although the case studies had similar outcomes, they were significantly different in the ways in which the teachers' interacted with each other. From a Community of Practice perspective, these differences were critical for both community cohesion as well as sustained participation. Case Study One indicated characteristics of a localised, coherent Community of Practice. In contrast, Case Study Two demonstrated less coherence in mutual engagement, joint enterprise and shared repertoire. In both case studies, it has been argued that community cohesion or lack thereof helped to explain issues of sustainability of teacher participation.

While not forgetting the context of this research and the limitations on generalisability, the findings support seven propositions: (1) Community of Practice cohesion affords sustained participation of teachers in a small-scale blended PD course; (2) the relationship between cohesion and sustained participation is synergistic; (3) mutual engagement sustains participation through reciprocity, social engagement, and community maintenance practices; (4) joint enterprise sustains participation because it both focuses and spurs social energy; (5) shared repertoire both affords and threatens sustained participation in a blended course through reification of identities of competence; (6) the facilitator acts as a community broker and x legitimates members' participation in centripetal practices of the community; and (7) the facilitator also supports sustained participation through brokering community rhythm.

The research findings also support three broad professional development design implications: (1) professional development design needs to focus on relationships; (2) professional development design needs to support meaningful social activity and should reexamine goals, curriculum and assessment to emphasise this as a core principle; and (3) online participation, such as through discussion forums, is not a risk free activity and represents a negotiation of identity. Consequently forums, including social forums, need to be facilitated to provide a safe environment for identity formation.

Based on the research findings, this thesis also outlined a number of recommendations for future research. These recommendations include considering the implications of group size, gender, quality of participation, and using professional development course graduates to induct new members. It is also made clear throughout this research that there is little consistency in the way in which the terms "community", "community of practice" and other variations are applied in the research literature. Often they are used synonymously or are poorly explained despite the significant theoretical implications. This research calls for a comprehensive review of the research and theoretical literature with the aim to map connections which, in turn, can be used to support research findings.

This thesis has addressed gaps in the current research literature. It crucially adds to the theoretical understanding of Community of Practice cohesion. In particular, the ways it affords and threatens sustained participation.

Item ID: 26327
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: blended learning; collaboration; collaborative; communities of practice; community of practice; continuing participation; CoP; delivery modes; educators; e-learning; flexible study; online course delivery; professional development; professional learning; social learning; sustained participation; teachers
Date Deposited: 11 Apr 2013 05:10
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130313 Teacher Education and Professional Development of Educators @ 100%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9302 Teaching and Instruction > 930202 Teacher and Instructor Development @ 100%
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