Web-Supported Communities for Professional Development: Five Cautions

Oct. 31, 2008

Source: Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 8(3), 244-263.

This interpretive case study investigates an attempt to add an online component—the On-line Literacy Project—to a successful face-to-face professional development community.

Purpose of the Study

The research explored the nature of online interactions among a group of the Literacy Project mentors and coordinators and investigates the factors impacting their participation in On-line Literacy Project (OLP).


Six participants, including four mentors and two school coordinators, volunteered to take part in the study. They were members of the Literacy Project, which was carried out in the school board of a western Canadian city. Criteria for participation included Internet access at home, ability to work with word processing software, and use of email on a daily basis.

The principal theoretical framework informing the study was Lave and Wegner’s (1991) community of practice. Analysis of data, collected over 7 months, showed that although participants acknowledged the potential of the Online Literacy Project the concept was poorly understood, received little support, and was not deemed relevant for a number of reasons, many of which are reported in the information and communication technology literature. However, a number of distinctive factors emerged in this study that serve as cautions for others interested in similar professional development endeavors.
Specifically, lessons learned from OLP present five major cautions to be considered.

1) Lack of a Negotiated Need
The idea for the OLP was conceived in a dialogue among three members of the Literacy Project and two professors from a local university. The participants assumed some need for an online component to be added to the Literacy Project, but they had never discussed or negotiated this need amongst themselves.

2) Teachers’ tendency to search and ask rather than add and respond in online environments.

3) Teacher Skepticism About Reliability and Validity of Online Communication.
Teachers in this study were skeptical about relying on an online discussion forum
to get credible answers to their inquiries or to have in-depth critical discussions.
As a result, participation in the online component was tepid, at best, over the course of the study.

4) The "Succession Crisis" Phenomena
Teachers invest their time on activities that have viable long-term benefit and support. They could not foresee reliable and ongoing support for OLP in the current Provincial climate, where education had suffered severe cutbacks and the teachers had just endured a long period of protracted industrial job-action.

5) Lack of Organizational Infrastructure Support
The technical support group within the district rejected the OLP research team’s request for space on the school board server to host the Web site and the discussion forum. The technical support group, despite policy documents to the contrary, did not see themselves serving teachers and teacher professional development. Rather, they held themselves accountable for administrative services within the district.

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

Updated: May. 04, 2009