Establishing Communities of Practice for Effective and Sustainable Professional Development for Blended Learning

Establishing Communities of Practice for Effective and Sustainable Professional Development for Blended Learning

Terrie Lynn Thompson (University of Alberta, Canada) and Heather Kanuka (University of Alberta, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-296-1.ch008
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Abstract

The growing need for professional development to help university instructors with the adoption of online teaching is being propelled from several directions. But innovative professional development initiatives, intended to help university instructors better leverage technology, particularly through blended approaches, are not without tensions. The objective of this research study was to delve into these tensions. Directors in several North American professional development centres were interviewed in order to explore how their programs supported the integration of technology into teaching. Findings suggest that there is a tension between what professional development centres are doing and what they would like to do regarding: (1) deeper integration of technology into their own teaching practices as a centre, including blended approaches; and (2) how to nurture communities of practice, comprised of university instructors focused on teaching-related issues in higher education, such as adoption of blended learning strategies. Four themes emerged: uncertainty about how best to leverage technology and blended learning, questions regarding a professional development centre’s role in cultivating communities, the importance of being strategic, and desire for scalability. The chapter concludes with policy implications and recommendations for future development of effective and sustainable professional development practices.
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Introduction

The growing need for professional development to help university instructors with the adoption of online teaching is being propelled from several directions: efforts to enhance the student learning experience and therefore the quality of teaching, the constant churn of new technologies, and the evolution of higher education institutions driven by, and driving, changing expectations. The need for effective and sustaining professional development is also linked to a desire for innovations in teaching and learning methods, including blended learning.

Professional development programs do feel some pressure to integrate technology and move beyond traditional classroom approaches. Innovative professional development strategies can include not only a mix of face-to-face (F2F) and online approaches, but also nurturing communities of practice (CoP) throughout higher education institutions. But innovative professional development initiatives are not without tensions.

The overarching objective of this study was to gain a broader understanding of these tensions. We therefore interviewed directors in professional development centres in higher education institutions (most often referred to as teaching and learning centres in North America) located in the United States and Canada. We were interested in the direction professional development centres were taking to support university instructors. One objective of this research was to better understand effective and sustainable professional development programs intended to support the integration of technology into teaching through blended learning strategies and CoP.

We begin this chapter with a review of the literature on blended learning and CoP within professional development contexts, followed by a description of our data collection, analysis, and a discussion of our findings. We close this chapter with recommendations for creating CoP in blended learning environments and conclude with implications and considerations for future developments.

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