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A virtual community of practice approach to teacher professional development and learning

Research over a long period has suggested that professional development and learning for teachers often produces disappointing results. Recent theory suggests that teacher professional learning presented within a situated learning and community of practice framework is likely to be more effective than the more traditional forms of in-service professional development and learning. Further, recent technological developments since the mid 1990s have created increasingly sophisticated means of bringing widely distributed learners together, within flexible timeframe, online (virtual) discussion communities. This study set out to develop a workable approach to teacher professional development and learning (TPDL), using situated learning and community of practice learning theory and the opportunities afforded by Web 2 virtual learning environments. The literatures of learning theory, teacher professional development and communities of practice were reviewed and best practice principles identified. These principles were then used to design a virtual community of practice (VCoP) approach to teacher professional development and learning. The approach was then implemented as the underpinning framework for three virtual professional development modules for secondary school Geography and Social Studies teachers. The study used a grounded theory and action learning action research methodology, which enabled the researcher and the research participants to evaluate and fine tune the approach throughout the study. A mixed method research design resulted in the collection of rich quantitative and qualitative data during each module. Naturalistic data were drawn from the online module record and from semi-structured focus group discussions. More structured and reflective data were collected through a final post-module evaluative questionnaire. The data collected were analysed using a range of techniques, including narrative analysis, structural analysis, semantic analysis, and domain analysis. The results of these analyses are presented from three contrasting perspectives: a structural analysis narrative of each module (Chapter 5), a content and personal case study narrative of selected participants (Chapter 6), and a qualitative and quantitative analysis of a final post module reflective survey (Chapter 7). The main findings of the study were that an ongoing virtual community of practice approach appears to be a viable and effective form of TPDL, under certain conditions. Grounded action learning action research experiences indicated that a meso-scale VCoP experience of between 12 to 15 weeks was an optimal timeframe. Reading and discussion requirements also needed to be carefully judged in order to ensure VCoP modules did enough to be challenging, yet remain manageable for busy classroom teachers. Features of the approach found to be very effective included the mix of activities used including, reading key literature, discussing ideas, sharing activities and experiences, flexible use of time, quality facilitation, and the situated nature of the approach. Features of the approach identified as requiring further refinement included improvements to the module website and maintaining a satisfactory level of contribution across all participants. The concluding discussion found that while 'classic' VCoPs have proven to be effective in business there are very few examples of similar success in the field of TPDL. This study found that VCoPs can be effective for teachers but only when the classic model of VCoP is adapted to ensure VCoPs are manageable for, and tailored to, the nature of teachers' working lives. The study concludes by considering the research in a wider context and considering the implications of the findings for further research and development.
Type of thesis
Keown, P. A. (2009). A virtual community of practice approach to teacher professional development and learning (Thesis). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/3278
The University of Waikato
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