This chapter examines the use of blended learning in an online community which supported teacher professional development in the province of Ontario, Canada for ten years. The online network which was called The Education Network of Ontario/ Le Réseau éducatif de l’Ontario (ENO/REO) used a blend of tools and some face-to-face opportunities to support teacher professional development across the province. Teachers were encouraged to use the ENO/REO environment to join in discussions, create and maintain online projects and share research and curriculum resources. The chapter will focus on a study which examined the effect of long term participation in such a community in order to provide insight into the use of blended learning in online communities for professional development.
There is general agreement that the term community of practice refers to groups who empower each other through their ongoing interactions regarding shared passions (or concerns) in order to potentially improve the workplace (Wenger, McDermott & Snyder, 2002; Wenger & Snyder, 2001) and that teachers need to work together within communities of practice in order to improve student achievement (Schlager & Fusco, 2004; Speck & Knipe, 2001). However, creating opportunities for teachers to develop ongoing face-to-face communities of practice is difficult given the busy schedules of K-12 teachers so it is not surprising that emergent technological tools are being examined to provide blended learning situations where face-to-face and online opportunities for professional development are combined.
The definition of what constitutes blended learning is challenging (Stacey & Gerbic, 2007) with terms such as “hybrid, blended or sandwich learning” used interchangeably (Ausburn, 2004, p.328). In addition to the confusion over the terminology, blended approaches to learning and teaching have met with mixed reviews from both instructors and adult learners with concerns about workload and student engagement on the one hand (Welker & Berardino, 2005) and enthusiasm for the potential of blended learning on the other “the blend itself makes effective engagement in a range of situations possible” (Aspden & Helm, 2004, p.251). The term blended learning will be used in this chapter in two ways. Firstly, it will refer to a mix of face-to-face and technology enhanced engagement where participants meet face-to-face at some point and secondly, it will be used in relation to the combination of synchronous and asynchronous tools to communicate over time (Bonk, Olson, Wisher, & Orvis, 2002; Khine & Lourdusamy, 2003; Motteram, 2006; Vaughan & Garrison, 2006) and referred to in the paper as blended online learning.