The need for sustainable, meaningful teacher professional development to support the rising professional demands remains an on-going challenge for education. The use of current technologies, such as online learning systems, to leverage the development of learning communities, including communities of practice (CoPs), where teachers with a common interest engage in continuous interaction and knowledge sharing, is a rising trend. The increasingly popular blended model allows teachers to build trust and community in-person, extending knowledge sharing online in an anytime, anyplace environment. Blended CoPs are purported to promote ongoing and meaningful professional development, yet how to leverage current technologies effectively remains inconclusive. Further research is needed to determine how to successfully create these communities and how they affect teacher learning and professional practice, especially in K-12 settings. The purpose of this multiple-case study was to learn what role the blended environment played in supporting the CoPs in accomplishing their goals, with a specific focus on the factors of culture, facilitation, design, discourse and patterns of communication. Two developing blended CoPs in a large, urban school district were studied in depth for about four months. Data collection for each CoP included: four online observations; four in-person observations; semi-structured interviews with the leaders and five selected participants based on low, average or high levels of engagement; an initial survey; and a final reflective survey. Data were coded using inductive and deductive themes and analyzed using HyperResearch qualitative software. Findings center on supporting and hindering themes for each of the five factors, and how they affected the creation and goal accomplishment of blended CoPs for teacher learning. A preliminary framework with 16 recommended key components, including suggested elements for the blended environment is presented. While more research is needed to determine the validity of this framework, the 16 elements provide a promising starting point for CoP leaders hoping to inform their practice to advance teacher learning and ultimately support student academic achievement. Limitations, delimitations and directions for further research are discussed.
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