Virtual Learning and Real Communities: Online Professional Development for Teachers

Virtual Learning and Real Communities: Online Professional Development for Teachers

Julie Mackey (University of Canterbury, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-296-1.ch009
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Blended learning is examined via the experiences of teachers participating in qualification-bearing online professional development courses while simultaneously engaging in everyday professional practice in the classroom. A “communities of practice” framework guides the interpretation of teachers’ perspectives of their membership, identity, activities and experiences in the online and school communities. While online courses tend to emphasise participation as a vital component of socially constructed learning in the virtual environment, the evidence from this study suggests that online courses can also promote the contextual learning opportunities which exist in the everyday experiences of teachers in their local communities of practice.
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Blended learning is a term which is open to multiple interpretations and permutations, so much so, that has been questioned as a meaningless concept which encompasses all learning (Masie, 2006; Oliver & Trigwell, 2005). Conversely, it might also be argued that blended learning is a multi-faceted, complex concept offering insights into ways that technologies, pedagogies, learning theories, and contexts might be combined to achieve optimal learning in different situations (Cross, 2006; Singh, 2006). This chapter examines blended learning from the perspective of practising teachers who combine online study with their everyday work as classroom teachers. The inclusion of school-based practical assignments as requirements of taught online courses fosters a blended opportunity requiring teachers to engage, interact and participate in both virtual and real contexts. This integration of online ICT elements and situated learning in communities of practice can be exploited to provide an effective professional development model connecting theory and practice.

The research examined teachers’ perceptions of their dual membership of online course-bound learning communities and school-based communities. The main research question embodied blended learning concepts by asking “how can qualification-bearing online professional development best support teachers’ learning and practice within their professional communities of practice?” This research further develops an understanding of situated e-learning as knowledge in action, or “knowing in practice” (Gilbert, 2005; Schwen & Hara, 2003; Lave & Wenger, 1991) contributing to models and strategies for effective online professional development and an emerging understanding of blended learning. In essence, it is proposed that the boundaries and intersections between online learning communities and localised communities of practice provide an important context in which to examine blended learning and to gain insights into how multi-membership of different communities impacts on participation, identity and professional learning.

This work assumes that learning needs to be situated in real contexts, and that knowledge is not something which is transmitted and static, but rather something which is dynamic and evident as knowing in practice. The literature espousing communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) provides a lens through which to understand such learning and yet it also offers a critical stance from which to examine the locus and role of online learning. Professional development, by nature, should contribute to the professional learning of the participants, but the question is to what extent do current approaches in online, qualification-based professional development meet the real and diverse needs of teachers in schools? And furthermore, how can an investigation of the complexities of teacher professional learning contribute to future strategies for online professional development?

Wenger (1998) frames learning in four dimensions as practice (doing), community (belonging), meaning (experience), and identity (becoming), suggesting that these dimensions are inter-related and over-lapping and that learning occurs as part of the natural processes of participating in communities of practice. Learning within communities of practice involves engagement in authentic tasks, and the communication and collaboration which relate to daily work and problem solving (Johnson, 2001). Participation in these practices is about ‘learning to be’ or identity formation (Wenger, 1998). Pertinent to this study is the concept that all forms of participation contribute to the formation of identity, and that multi-membership in different communities requires a process of reconciliation and negotiation between different practices and experiences. Wenger (1998, p. 218) holds that “multi-membership is a critical source of learning because it forces an alignment of perspectives in the negotiation of an engaged identity.” Multi-membership of communities impacts the individual’s identity, but also has the potential to influence communities as individuals act as brokers transferring the practices and artefacts of one context to another.

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Editorial Advisory Board
Table of Contents
Robin Mason
Elizabeth Stacey, Philippa Gerbic
Chapter 1
Elizabeth Stacey, Philippa Gerbic
Blended learning is now part of the learning landscape in higher education, not just for campus-based courses but for courses designed for students... Sample PDF
Introduction to Blended Learning Practices
Chapter 2
Philippa Gerbic
Online discussions are now available as a pedagogical option in blended learning environments in universities. Much of the research to date has... Sample PDF
Including Online Discussions Within Campus-Based Students' Learning Environments
Chapter 3
Ruth Geer
This chapter describes an investigation of strategies for fostering higher order cognition in a blended learning environment. The exploration, which... Sample PDF
Strategies for Blended Approaches in Teacher Education
Chapter 4
Mary Simpson, Bill Anderson
A teacher education programme previously taught in distinct on-campus and distance forms was redesigned to take advantage of the affordances offered... Sample PDF
Redesigning Initial Teacher Education
Chapter 5
Ana A. Carvalho, Zdena Lustigova, Frantisek Lustig
This chapter describes two European projects that respond to blended learning by integrating innovative technologies into blended learning... Sample PDF
Integrating New Technologies into Blended Learning Environments
Chapter 6
Guglielmo Trentin, Steve Wheeler
This chapter provides a further two European perspectives on blended learning. The first section is an overview of the ways in which the concept of... Sample PDF
Teacher and Student Responses to Blended Environments
Chapter 7
Peter J. Smith, Elizabeth Stacey, Tak Shing Ha
The majority of research and literature in collaborative learning online has been focussed on groups of students organised into units of study by an... Sample PDF
Blending Collaborative Online Learning with Workplace and Community Contexts
Chapter 8
Terrie Lynn Thompson, Heather Kanuka
The growing need for professional development to help university instructors with the adoption of online teaching is being propelled from several... Sample PDF
Establishing Communities of Practice for Effective and Sustainable Professional Development for Blended Learning
Chapter 9
Julie Mackey
Blended learning is examined via the experiences of teachers participating in qualification-bearing online professional development courses while... Sample PDF
Virtual Learning and Real Communities: Online Professional Development for Teachers
Chapter 10
Suzanne Riverin
This chapter examines the use of blended learning in an online community which supported teacher professional development in the province of... Sample PDF
Blended Learning and Professional Development in the K-12 Sector
Chapter 11
Faye Wiesenberg, Elizabeth Stacey
This study explores the similarities and differences between Canadian and Australian university teachers’ face-to-face and online teaching... Sample PDF
Blended Learning and Teaching Philosophies: Implications for Practice
Chapter 12
Gayani Samarawickrema
This chapter focuses on the factors relating to adopting blended learning by teaching academics and the associated social world around technology... Sample PDF
Blended Learning and the New Pressures on the Academy: Individual, Political, and Policy Driven Motivators for Adoption
Chapter 13
Gail Wilson
This chapter draws on a collective case study of six faculty members working in ICT-enhanced blended learning environments at a large regional... Sample PDF
Case Studies of ICT-Enhanced Blended Learning and Implications for Professional Development
Chapter 14
Cathy Gunn, Adam Blake
An accredited course in Academic Practice aligns with university and national strategic goals related to teaching and learning enhancement within a... Sample PDF
Blending Technology into an Academic Practice Qualification for University Teachers
Chapter 15
M. Brooke Robertshaw, Heather Leary, Andrew Walker, Kristy Bloxham, Mimi Recker
For teachers in the 21st Century it has become critical that they develop the skills to be able to teach in a world that is being transformed by... Sample PDF
Reciprocal Mentoring "In The Wild": A Retrospective, Comparative Case Study of ICT Teacher Professional Development
Chapter 16
Conclusion  (pages 298-311)
Philippa Gerbic, Elizabeth Stacey
The conclusion draws together the main themes identified under the sections of the book with a synthesis of the recommendations presented by the... Sample PDF
About the Contributors