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Professional Learning: Reimagined
May 8, 2014 | Volume 9 | Issue 16
Table of Contents
Online Communities Need Local Support
Thousands of teachers around the world are using social media to instantly access practical and relevant knowledge to augment their professional practice. I interviewed 10 K–12 math teachers to examine how they found and used the shared knowledge—information, resources, advice, ideas, and feedback that members exchange—in the Edmodo Math Subject Community, an online community of practice with more than 280,000 followers.
I discovered that the process of finding and using shared knowledge from online communities typically occurs in isolation. Even though these math teachers were sharing knowledge and engaging in conversations with educators around the world, the process of adapting and implementing this knowledge was a solo act. Additionally, these teachers did not have support or guidance for learning how to engage in this knowledge acquisition and implementation process. They were not taught how to sift through wall posts to find relevant knowledge, evaluate the effectiveness of the knowledge, use tools to curate and share the knowledge, adapt the knowledge to meet their students’ needs, or implement and assess the knowledge. Instead, the teachers learned to participate in this process through trial and error, without support from colleagues or administrators.
As a result of this lack of training and support, the majority of these teachers did not know how to evaluate the credibility of shared knowledge, pilot test the online resources, or examine all of their local school variables and logistics (e.g., access to technology) to determine whether they could effectively implement the shared knowledge.
To improve how teachers participate in the process of acquiring and implementing knowledge from online communities, we need to provide them with training, support, and time for learning and collaboration with colleagues. First, teachers need to learn how to effectively engage with online communities for their own professional benefit. They can do this through an online course (e.g., Professional Learning Network e-Course for Teachers) or professional development training.
Next, teachers need opportunities to collaborate with and learn from colleagues and administrators throughout the knowledge acquisition and implementation process. One way to do this is to set up grade-level or subject-specific professional learning communities (PLCs) in which teachers collaboratively identify problems and use online communities as tools to find solutions. In these PLCs, administrators, teaching support staff, and teachers work together to
This collaborative learning process transforms the solo process of finding and implementing shared knowledge into a socially constructed process of inquiry and research.
Ultimately, learning to find and share knowledge in online communities through trial and error is not an effective process. Administrators can improve the effectiveness of this process by providing teachers with training, support, and time to work with colleagues to explore and implement the shared knowledge from online communities.
Torrey Trust is a doctoral student in teaching and learning at University of California, Santa Barbara's Department of Education. Her website is www.torreytrust.com.
ASCD Express, Vol. 9, No. 16. Copyright 2014 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.
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