lundi 13 octobre 2014

[EDPE 640] Teaching and technology - Professional communities

In one of the articles that I am reading on teaching and technology, the authors refer to a Roach & Beck (2012)  and Ranieri, Manca, & Fini (2012) publications and state that "Teachers who participate in social networks, such as Facebook, can use them both to identify distributed professional
communities and to help them assimilate into networks of practice."

Beyond any doubt, they are correct. It is impossible to find a community if we do not look, especially if we consider online communities. However, the real question lies hidden inside these virtual environments: their scope and diversity are often implied and depend on the majority of participants. I would even argue that an old style face to face collaboration community reaching members of the same school may have more diversity than many professional communities online. Unfortunately, I have no research to back it up, but this topic looks rather promising if it was not done yet. My hypothesis is :

Given the size of the internet and proliferation of professional communities online focusing on a single tool (method, or a subject) or working under a rather wide umbrella concept, most of the active online population will gravitate towards communities that best represent their point of view and ensure somewhat high level of comfort while providing an impression of enriching and stimulating learning environment that only slightly conflicts ones views.

If my hypothesis is correct, only artificial diversified non self-constructed learning environments are suitable for deep, authentic and fruitful knowledge construction. For example, only carefully crafted wiki spaces illicit high levels of interaction and collaborative learning (as suggested by the same authors while referring to research published by Moskaliuk, Kimmerle, & Cress in 2009).

If not, such a behavior demonstrates that human social imperative has evolved online in a different manner than it has in face-to-face interactions. That is, some specific aspect of the technology has allowed humans to reduce the fear of unknown, the fear of mistake and rejection of ideas located too far from our own perceptions. It has also given a potential for a minority to keep its identity and ensure an equal presence and visibility of its opinions. Probably, an active online citizen can find a few examples of the above mentioned characteristics of minority groups online. However, they are often contrasted with rejection of arguments and sometimes even hateful and personal attacks on those that voice different opinions from the majority of the participants in a given group.

I have no idea what research has found or will find but for now I question the effectiveness of open professional communities in the field of education. Why in education only? Well, not only in this field but in this field too. In contrast to professional communities in IT, education is too broad with many conflicting ideas leading to a huge opportunity for debate. In IT field, there is also space for debate, discussion and reflection but it often gravitates around a narrow topic or a problem and requires factual knowledge and deep understanding. In fact, many professional IT communities are actually dynamic ever evolving FAQ pages, blogs, forums etc. created with a sole purpose of transferring knowledge and supporting each other in a complex world of IT. Most of such communities, do not focus on philosophical or ethical questions. They tend to avoid discussions about "hot" topics. Finally, there is often an implied understanding that the focus is on technology that may or may not work as expected. In education, we do work with humans while potentially shaping their lives. Mistakes make cost our students a lot. This knowledge, coupled with uncertainty, broad range of issues and luck of deep understanding of learning processes creates a fertile environment for debates, discussions and endless fights between members of the diversified community. Such environment may naturally alienate those that stand too far from its main stream and lead towards self-censure followed by eventual search for a more "friendlier and open"community.

  • Roach, A. K., & Beck, J. J. (2012). Before Coffee, Facebook: New Literacy Learning for 21st Century Teachers. Language Arts, 89(4), 244–255.
  • Ranieri, M., Manca, S., & Fini, A. (2012). Why (and How) Do Teachers Engage in Social Networks? An Exploratory Study of Professional Use of Facebook and Its Implications for Lifelong Learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43(5), 754–769.
  • Moskaliuk, J., Kimmerle, J., & Cress, U. (2009). Wiki-Supported Learning and Knowledge Building: Effects of Incongruity between Knowledge and Information. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 25(6), 549–561.
EDIT 14/10/2014 : One of my colleagues pointed out an interesting observation that I forgot to include into the above conversation: a god example of failed community is the EDPE 640 course circle online. We do posts, but there is hardly any conversation taking place online. In fact, there is rarely any space for a conversation because everyone seems to like everything. I'm not even sure that everyone reads the posts of everyone else.

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