Assignment 2 Part II

LEARNING COMMUNITY DESIGN – INDIVIDUAL TASK

Description, analysis and synthesis

Preliminary discussion with two classmates at the beginning of the course related to creating a group to break sectoral boundaries in resourcing English teachers. Following this, one member posted the web 2.0 suggestion on the ning and we joined this group.

Initial discussion centred on finding a focus for our learning community, it was felt web 2.0 in itself was too broad and amorphous in nature for our purposes. We wanted to create a community that had a distinct real world need. The introduction of the national curriculum in 2011 provided the focus we were looking for. There was some concern expressed by some members that their expertise lay outside English teaching; however, we quickly realized that this was largely irrelevant as our project involved developing the design for the community, rather than the content for the community.

While our group was relatively large, we did have an excellent array of professional experience and learning style preferences to work with. We were committed to working together cooperatively to achieve the best outcome we could.

We took the decision to conduct our discussion on the wiki for several purposes: to ensure it was all collocated for reference and tracking purposes; and to help to engender a group/team mentality (Downes, 2004). An environment of trust (Kaplan 2009) was engendered and ultimately, a buddy system created. One member had the facilities and experience to organize an online meeting. This proved an interesting experience. Personally, I found it difficult to negotiate at first, as there was no non-verbal communication domain, turn taking was difficult, and initially there were technical difficulties with echoing. Nonetheless, this provided an effective synchronous forum for discussions. This was important as it allowed us to move forward with decision-making. Initially decision-making was tentative as group members were taking care not to dominate.

Several members of the group had one face-to-face meeting, largely because we were enrolled together in another course. This was useful as we determined the sequence for the presentation. This could have been achieved using the online forum, but did provide an important dimension in terms of moving towards greater cohesion/ knowingness for several members. This experience suggests that many learners need both online and face-to-face forums, ‘blended learning.’

In creating our learning community design, we of course developed our own learning community within the group. This was a hugely valuable experience – energizing and effective as all positive group work experiences are. This is in part due to the group composition comprising a disparate group of learners with a range of strengths and weaknesses. Groups are not hugely productive if they comprise all like-minded individuals (Atkin 2000)

Interestingly, the design experience was so powerful, that for several of us we had to remind ourselves that while it was embedded in real world issues, it was not in fact a real community. It would be good if it were!

Our goal was to design the framework for our learning community so that it would be self-generating and respond to emergent needs within the community. Schlager & Fusco (2003) in Koch & Fusco (2008) note that ‘CoPs are defined .. as self-reproducing, emergent and evolving entities that frequently move beyond formal organizational structures’ where ‘Individual members focus on learning through practice to improve their own practice and that of the CoP as a whole.’

Certainly, the design for our community was mindful about the ‘tyranny of distance’ that so often defines our experience in Australia as described by Kilpatrick, Barrett & Jones (2003)

Our readings within this subject, summarized on Learn2 in both references and through the RSS feed framed the design of our community. Berge (1995) identifies a number of useful pedagogical recommendations that have been implemented in our design. These include links to experts, acceptance of lurkers, flexibility and tolerating conflicting opinions. Further, Downes’ (2004) advice regarding the qualities of a successful community and his recognition that a ‘successful community empowers its members’ is fundamental to our aim for Learn2.

Wenger (2007) describes ‘members of a community of practice (as) practitioners. They develop … a shared practice’. This has been our experience.

Reflection

The experiences gained because of this process have far-reaching consequences, both professionally and personally. They have provided much food for reflection of both my teaching practice and my participation in communities.

At work, I am currently designing and moving towards implementing a learning community for the teachers of ConnectED. This is designed to resolve the tyranny of distance that exists geographically in my work place, and to provide support and develop collegiality. It is hoped that this community will provide ‘meaningful and effective professional development as they support opportunities for professional self-disclosure, reflection and growth in collaboration with colleagues’ Yildirim (2008). In so doing, I am mindful of Koch & Fusco (2008), ‘demonstrating the immediate value of an online CoP is crucial: the majority of people will not spend time now if a CoP only has future value’.

Carroll (2000) & Cooper (1999) in Koch & Fusco (2008) recommend that ‘focusing first on users’ needs, practices and social dynamics is key to developing an online community environment’. The primary purposes of this community are to share resources, reflect on our practices and to support each others learning and teaching. Given the experiences of this e-learning course, I have used a ning environment, as it is user friendly, and reasonably familiar to the members.

I am hopeful that this community will prove successful, both in terms of supporting the needs of the members, but also so that they become champions for a whole school community focused on quality pedagogy and the use of web2.0 tools. There is significant resistance within segments of the school community to the use of web 2.0 tools (in fact any ICT!).

Within the classroom, I have been finding wikis highly effective platforms to facilitate learning and to create learning communities. My students are certainly moving through Salmon’s (2004) 5 stages. I am excited about the value of the wiki as a tool for group assessment as it obviates so many of the issues that occur in these contexts. Further, I have just rewritten the next unit of work for Year 11 so that it is reflective of Kilpatrick, Barrett & Jones’ (2003) view that ‘a constructivist view of learning holds that learning cannot be taught, but must be constructed by the learner… this assists in changing the learner’s values and attitudes…essential if learning is to result in new behaviour.’ Students are being encouraged to use the blog facility on the wiki to further their learning.

The understandings gained through this process also inform my current and future practice in other learning communities. Listening to peer presentations was enlightening and opens further potentials for application to practice.

References

Atkin, J. 2000 An Outline of Integral Learning viewed June 5, 2009 http://www.learningtolearn.sa.edu.au/Colleagues/files/links/IntegralLearning.pdf

Berge, Z.L. 1995, Facilitating Computer Conferencing: Recommendations from the field. Educational Technology. vol. 35, no.1, pp. 22 -30

Downes, S. 4 March 2004, ‘Learning in communities’, Global Perspectives archives, Best of Australian Flexible Learning Community 2001-2004, viewed March 24, 2009 <http://community.flexiblelearning.net.au/GlobalPerspectives/content/article_5249.htm>

Kaplan, S. 2009, Strategies for Collaborative Learning viewed April 18 2009 http://www.icohere.com/CollaborativeLearning.htm

Kilpatrick, S., Barrett, M. & Jones, T. 2003, ‘Defining Learning Communities’, NZARE AARE Conference 2003: 29 November – 3 December, Auckland: conference proceedings, Australian Association for Research in Education, available at http://www.aare.edu.au/03pap/jon03441.pdf

Koch, M. & Fusco, J. 2008 ‘Designing for Growth: Enabling Communities of Practice to Develop and Extend their Work Online’ In Kimble, C., Hildreth, P., & Bourdon, I. (Eds) Communities of Practice: Creating Learning Environments for Educators, Vol. 2. Information Age Publishing, North Carolina, (Pp.1 -23)

Salmon, G. 2000, E-Moderating: The key to teaching and learning online, Kogan Page, London

Salmon, G. 2004, ‘The 5 Stage Model’ viewed April 18, 2009 http://www.atimod.com/e-tivities/5stage.shtml

Saunders, S. 2008, ‘Social Psychology of Adult Learning’, in Athanasou, J. (ed.) Adult Educational Psychology, edn 2, Sense Publishers, Cambridge, ch. 3

Smith, M.K. 2003, 2009, ‘Communities of Practice’, the encyclopedia of information education, viewed April 18, 2009 http://www.infed.org/biblio/communities_of_practice.htm

Wenger, E. circa 2007, Communities of Practice: A brief introduction. viewed April 13, 2009, http://www.ewenger.com/theory/index.htm

Yildirim, R. 2008 ‘Adopting Communities of Practice as a Framework for Teacher Development’ in Kimble, C., Hildreth, P.,& Bourdon, I. (Eds) Communities of Practice: Creating Learning Environments for Educators, Vol. 1. Information Age Publishing, North Carolina, (Pp.233 – 254)

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