Managing and Cultivating Professional Online Learning Communities: Three Cases

Managing and Cultivating Professional Online Learning Communities: Three Cases

Anne L. Scott (Australian Catholic University, Melbourne Campus, Australia), Helen Butler (Australian Catholic University, Melbourne Campus, Australia) and Millie Olcay (Australian Catholic University, Melbourne Campus, Australia)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 20
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2830-4.ch005
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Three cohorts of preservice teachers, about 300 altogether, studying at an Australian tertiary institution, engaged in various community-based learning activities for 70 hours over a ten-month period. During this time, they reflected on and shared their experiences with peers via asynchronous online discussions. The three lecturers linked to these cohorts reflected on their managerial styles and inspected the nature of participants’ postings for evidence of the development of professional learning communities. They found that preservice teachers in all three cohorts developed attributes of professional learning communities as they shared their experiences. Many acted as guides, mentors, and companions for each other. The tool and approaches used to guide preservice teachers’ reflections were helpful, yet suggestions are offered to extend practices in the future.
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There are many perspectives about three aspects which are central to our discussion: service learning, reflection and professional learning communities. Service learning is often used to describe a curriculum-based program that integrates classroom instruction with community service activities; yet, what distinguishes service learning from simple volunteer work are the reflections on what is learnt as a result of that activity (Saggers & Carrington, 2008). Thus, the working definition of service learning in this discussion is a combination of participation in community-based activities with deliberate reflection on academic goals and personal learning.

Similarly, the notion of reflection has various interpretations. Ramsey (2010) wrote “reflection is thinking about and engaging in dialogue (with self and others) about an experience. This thinking is not unconscious, but conscious and deliberate thinking, giving mental attention to something” (p. 208). We use this as a working definition and we refer to reflective thinking and reflection interchangeably depending on the context.

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