Source: Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 11(3), 313-323.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This article is based on the experience gained with an online learning community developed as part of a pilot project that followed a national research study of in-service career and technical education (CTE) administrators and teachers.
The purpose of this study was to investigate the interactions that occurred among the professional educators who participated in the pilot project.
This study also aimed to ascertain the design elements that are conducive to eliciting appropriate interactions.
The Pilot Project
A research-based intervention workshop on the topic of data-driven instructional improvement was piloted in winter and spring 2010 with 48 in-service career and technical teachers and administrators.
The nine pilot sites were in five different states.
Each pilot site had a school-based team of educators that included one administrator and three or four teachers.
Educators from five states and nine different schools participated in a research-based workshop and were mentored for several months as they developed a data-driven action plan.
An online community is designed to help teachers move from a formal learning environment to an informal one.
The findings revealed that new models of professional development have been emerging, which include strategies that extend learning through collaborative problem-solving groups, coaching, and study circles, all of which better ensure that teachers implement the changes needed to improve classroom instruction.
Furthermore, both pedagogical and social factors interplay in an online community.
To become a true community of learners, community members must take time to form relationships with each other.
Learners must get to know each other and establish relationships based on trust where each member’s comments are valued.
The sense of shared values and goals gives an online group their sense of community.
Popular social media sites (e.g., Facebook) have changed the way people communicate and form relationships, often giving users a false sense of security.
To have a fully functional online learning community, user security and privacy of communications are essential, as there must be an atmosphere of mutual trust.
In addition, facilitators play an integral role in promoting and sustaining critical discourse and constructive social dynamics; they manage both learning and the social aspects in an online learning environment.
Furthermore, technology plays a prominent role in today’s professional development.
Several factors interact when team learning is mediated by technology, including the content, the social relationships, and the technological environment.
Team members need to exchange facts and concepts, experiment with ideas, and ultimately participate in joint reflection and restructuring of ideas, regardless of their geographical distribution.
An essential dimension of an online learning community is also congruence between the goals of professional development and the activities.
Finally, the five main functions of a community of practice are building relationships, sharing, learning, creating knowledge, and collaborating
The authors summarize the most salient points when designing a learning community website, the following features need to be in place to promote interaction:
Goals - Clarify the goals of the website, its function and limitations.
Password Protection - Ensure privacy from the outside and a psychologically safe environment; separate areas of the website need to be available to interest groups.
Orientation - Ensure that community members understand the features of the website, for example, where to find documents and resources, and especially, how to post messages and have a threaded discussion.
Aligned Activities - Structure authentic learning tasks, dialog, and posting activity to match the goals of the course.
Build Trust - A facilitator or moderator should encourage and reinforce the initial postings, especially from novices; the basis for interactions is mutual trust, active empathy, access to help, and lenience in judgment.
Cluster - Encourage threaded discussion groups to form (either naturally or by mandate) according to problem topic or academic area.
Timeframe - Activities will need to have time limits.
For example, the facilitator should give a time limit for posting a critique or discussion about an article.