Designing for Online Networks of Teachers: What We Know and What We Need to Find Out

Year: 2019

Author: Mercieca, Bernadette, Kelly, Nick, Mercieca, Paul

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This presentation takes as its basis 20 years of research into online networks of teachers. It critically discusses this literature in order to suggest a research agenda about the kinds of studies that can lead to actionable knowledge about how to design for, support, and convene online networks of teachers.

The motivations for studying online networks of teachers have been well-established in the literature as the potential for peer social support, for the sharing and re-use of knowledge about the profession, and for the creation of authentic communities of practice. However, despite the plethora of studies of teachers in online networks there is a lack of actionable knowledge that can be used by teacher educators, policy makers, or teachers themselves.

The conclusions focus upon three interrelated areas: adoption of a common language for describing studies, clarity of design goals, and use of appropriate methodology.

Firstly, we propose that studies of teachers in online network need to adopt a common language for describing studies. As proposed by Kelly & Antonio (2016) certain distinctions matter, such as whether a network is open or closed to the public; small, large, or massive; limited to a theme/subject or more general; geographically specified or more general. Further, Carvalho & Goodyear (2014) propose a framework for activity-centred analysis and design that describes networks through their set design, social design, epistemic design, and design for co-configuration that provides a suitable language for describing networks of teachers.

Secondly, networks for teachers need to have clear goals specified using this common language. We propose that the type of knowledge that is needed from research in this domain is of the form ""if this type of network is desired, then this approach has been demonstrated to be successful, under these relevant contexts"". While many existing studies have generated this type of knowledge, the findings are often hidden due to the structure and language used in reporting, making meta-analysis or practical application challenging.

Finally, we problematise the dominant methods that are being used to study online networks of teachers, namely survey studies, thematic analysis of online data (from teacher interactions), and social network analysis of online data (from teacher interactions). We use examples from the literature to discuss the potential for alternative methodologies that can lead to actionable knowledge of how to design for online networks of teachers.