STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM
Over the last twenty years technology has forever changed the way we communicate and interact with information. As a direct result, we have seen the emergence of online learning and this has not only begun to change the way students learn but the way teachers teach (Blackboard, 2009). Current estimates suggest that “slightly more than 5% of the total K-12 student population across the United States” (Watson et al., 2013, p. 18) are participating in online courses, this equates to several million students. Christensen et al. (2010, p. 98) further project, “that by 2019, about 50 percent of high school courses will be delivered online”. A basic Google search reveals that online learning models are becoming increasingly common in Australian universities, and are also beginning to make an appearance in high schools and private schools around the country, largely in the form of the implementation of Learning Management Systems (LMS). Research evidence that support this growing trend is limited (DiPietro et al., 2008). Although a number of meta-analyses have been conducted, results have shown minimal variation (Bernard et al., 2004; Cavanaugh, 2001; Cavanaugh et al., 2009; Means et al., 2009) though it is generally accepted that students participating in online courses do no better or worse, statistically, than students in brick-and-mortar schools (Smith, Clark and Blomeyer, 2005). Barth, Hull & St Andrie (2012, p.2) suggest that despite these limited findings a “lack of information will not stand in the way of [online learning] moving forward” and this will have significant implications for the future of teaching and learning.
If a shift towards online learning is inevitable, the question therefore becomes how do schools and teachers leverage the potential of online learning to improve student achievement and engagement? Burton (2012) suggests that “all teachers are new teachers” when it comes to online learning. This suggests that the skill set required by teachers to work effectively with students in this emerging online environment, differs greatly from that used in a traditional face-to-face classroom setting (Davis & Roblyer, 2005; Murphy & Manzanares, 2009 and Online Learning Insights, 2012). Although most teachers utilise some form of technology in both their personal and professional lives, many are still hesitant when it comes to the classroom application of that technology. Lawless & Pellegrino (2007) identified a number of possible factors which could explain this discrepancy between teachers’ use and application including limited knowledge, self-efficacy and the challenges new technologies provide to existing pedagogical beliefs. Yet as Levin & Wadmany (2006 p. 158) attest, “[w]ithout teachers’ skilled pedagogical application of educational technology, technology in and of itself cannot provide innovative school practice and educational change”. Whilst a teacher’s personal views can impact upon the successful implementation of school-based technology initiatives, “beliefs on the role of technology in the classroom can be modified using technology-based experiences” (Levin & Wadmany, 2006 p. 162). While these experiences may lead to a shift in teachers’ beliefs about technology use, research suggests that they should be embedded within on-going situated professional development (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010; Palak, & Walls 2009; Sugar, 2005; Yang & Thomas 2010) and a supportive ‘Community of Practice’ (Davis & Rose, 2007; Ertmer, 2006; Hur & Brush, 2009; Mouzakis, 2008). Kligyte (2009) further suggest that the creation of support structures which adopted an ‘academic development approach’ through the use of communities of practice can help teachers to make long-term changes in their pedagogy. Changes which can see a shift towards classroom practice which support a more networked and global view of knowledge construction (Anderson & Dron, 2012).
With this in mind, the project will explore the extent to which an administrative decision to implement a closed Learning Management System in Years 4-9 can result in changes to teachers’ pedagogical and classroom practices when supported with online professional development. It will also investigate the extent to which the support of a community of practice and recognition of developing skills, through the awarding of digital badges, contribute to a shift in teacher beliefs and practices.
Can using a LMS for the purpose of professional development, in combination with a community of practice, influence teacher beliefs about their pedagogy and mandated technology use?
- Does a LMS provide a suitable platform for professional development instruction?
- It is possible to develop and maintain an effective community of practice using online discussion forums contained within a LMS
- Does the professional development program equip teachers with the skills required to use a LMS in their classroom?
- What value do teachers see in online discussion to support their learning?
- Does participation in situated professional development and a supportive community of practice influence teacher pedagogy? (Self-reported and observed?
- Upon completion of this intervention do teachers report any shift in their beliefs and/or perceptions about the mandated use of a LMS within their teaching?
Learning Management Systems (LMS)
“A Learning Management System (LMS) automates many of the processes associated with learning. It is a management software package enabling the delivery of learning content, resources and activities and also handles the associated administration tasks (Hobbs, 2005 as cited in Mahoney & Cameron, 2008, p.314). According to Alfadly (2012, p.157) a LMS can also help to “target, deliver, track, analyse, and report the learning “condition” within an organization”. Mahoney & Cameron (2008) state, that LMS instruction can provide flexibility and independent which many users finding empowering. Supporters of LMS also suggest their possible benefits include standardise instruction across an organisation, or sub-section thereof and the fact that they are general easy to use (Lynse, 2004). Critics, however, see LMS as “something that puts in barriers between the “real” world and the world of formal education” (Jones, 2014) and that LMS have significant limitations that need to be addressed in order to improve learning outcomes of participants (Jones, 2010). Regardless of these opposing views, with the growth in online learning, many education institutions are looking to LMS to respond to this developing need. Perhaps in part because on the surface it may enable educators to more closely mirror practice in the face-to-face classroom (teacher-centred to course-centred) but, more importantly, it enables educators to transforming their teaching to provide more student-centred, flexible and personalised learning opportunities , enabling students to engage more within the learning process (Mahoney & Cameron, 2008).
There is considerable literature concerning teacher beliefs (Ertmer, Ottenbreit-Leftwich & Tondeur, 2014; Fives & Buehl, 2012) and their impact upon pedagogical beliefs. Early research suggests a teacher’s pedagogical beliefs are based on their training, subject knowledge, educational structures and materials and the “wisdom of practice.” (Shulman, 1987, p.11). Later studies suggest beliefs about teaching are an accumulated from life experiences, particularly those associating with formal education and schooling (Hughes, 2005; Levin & Wadmany, 2006; Raths, 2001; Ruck, 2012). The deep-seeded and personal nature of individual experiences can make change difficult (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010; Pajares, 1992), or even impossible (Raths, 2001).
Ertmer & Ottenbriet-Leftwich (2010, p.263) from their research find that “beliefs act as a lens or filter when people process new information” which leads to the conclusion that teachers tend to adopt practices which more directly reflect their pedagogical beliefs than those which do not (Golombek, 1998; Levin & Wadmany, 2006; Windschitl & Sahl, 2002). Yero (2002 as cited in Ruck, 2012), however, cautions that if a new innovation is closely linked to a teacher’s belief system, then they will be more likely to identify ways in which the innovation works; however, if the value of the innovation is not seen, the reverse was also been found to be true. Several studies also suggest that teacher beliefs are not necessarily a reflection of classroom practice, especially when it comes to the implementation of technology (Ertmer et al. 2001; Kynigos & Argyris, 2004 and Ruck, 2012). Levin & Wadmany’s (2006) study concludes that when determining the degree to which technology integration has been successful, administrative leaders should not draw solely on the information obtained through teacher formulated statements concerning their pedagogical beliefs and practice. All these studies highlight the importance of teacher beliefs in shaping teacher responses to technology and other school-based initiative. ” Fulkerth (1992 as cited by Genet, 2013) goes so far as to argue that: “The most important component in a change process is not an innovation itself, but the beliefs and practices of the people who are affected by it”. Innovations therefore which may challenge teacher beliefs and pedagogy would be wise to begin with analysis of these beliefs (Levin & Wadmany, 2006) in order to best plan for future professional development and support.
Situated Professional Development
According to Schalager and Fusco (2003, p.205) professional development “is a process of learning how to put knowledge into practice through engagement in practice within a community of practitioners”. Schalaher and Fusco (2003) also suggest that the reason many professional development initiatives are not successful is due to their failure to encourage teacher reflection on their practice and beliefs about teaching and learning.
In schools with strong norms for innovation and strong professional communities, teachers find motivation, direction, and accountability for continuous learning and development. They find among their colleagues sources of new ideas, intellectual stimulation, and feedback essential to deepen learning and promote instructional change. They also find encouragement and safety in challenging taken-for-granted assumptions, risk-taking, and experimenting with new ideas. In schools without these social and normative sources of support, teacher learning tends to be superficial and improvement limited. (Smylie et al. 2001 p.50)
Sugar (2005 p. 505), finds that teachers respond well to ‘situated professional development’ – an approach which “focuses on particular technology needs that teachers would like to learn and integrate in their classroom as opposed to dictating particular technology competencies that a teacher must exhibit and possess”. Findings by Pedro, Santos & Matos (2008) further conclude that a situated approach to learning “assumes that learning involves a process of engagement in a community of practice” (Pedro, Santos & Matos, 2008, p.461). Additional research also finds that focusing on teachers’ needs and how technology can assist and enhance their practice is a key factor in ensuring the integration of technology within the classroom (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010; Palak, & Walls 2009; Yang & Thomas), with Hughes (2005) pointing out that seeing value in the professional development is essential if teacher are going to learn from it.
Mentoring and Coaching
This review finds that mentoring and coaching also emerge as additional considerations for administrators looking to increasing the effectiveness of staff professional development. Mouzakis’s (2008) study claims that support provided by a supportive authority was pivotal in teachers’ successful implementation of new technologies. Ertmer (2005) further states that professional development which includes mentoring or coaching can provide a more tailored approach which can cater to the specific needs of individual teachers. In addition, Ertmer (2006) suggests that teachers be encouraged to experiment and learn through observation of desired practices and that “teachers’ practices are unlikely to change without some exposure to what teaching actually looks like when it’s being done differently” (Elmore, Peterson, and McCarthey, 1996 as cited in Ertmer, 2006, p. 20). In a later study, Ertmer and Ottenbreit-Leftwich (2010) stress that an important consideration for administrators is to be mindful that, regardless of a teacher’s years of experience, when confronted with new innovations, teacher tend of “revert back to novice practices” (p. 273).
Community of Practice
Additional research looks at the notion that teaching is a profession built upon relationships. This research reflects the importance of the inclusion of opportunities for discussion and collaboration around new innovations (Davis & Rose, 2007; Ertmer, 2006; and Hur & Brush, 2009; Mouzakis, 2008). Given the nature of online learning and the importance of effective communication, previously discussed, Watson et al. (2011) and Hawkins, Graham & Barbour (2012) suggest that administrators should assist teachers in developing a community of practice through which they might share their experiences and learning for others. “Communities of practice help foster an environment in which knowledge can be created and shared and, most importantly, used to improve effectiveness, efficiency and innovation” (Lesser and Everest, 2001, p.41). Hur & Brush (2009) further suggest that the establishment of online communities of practice may in fact provide teachers with a new model for professional development. This suggestion is supported by the Hawkins, Graham & Barbour (2012) study which sees that participating in such a community online may in turn assist teachers to hone their online communication skills while also developing an online teacher presence. Taking it a step further, participation in an online community of practice may also assist teacher in experiencing first-hand the potential benefits, and challenges, of networked online learning for their students. Further, such participation may provide a valuable platform through which to introduce teachers to benefits of a connectivist approach to learning in which knowledge is constructed through collaboration in a networked or online community of practice (Kligyte, 2009). The Hur & Brush (2009) research finds that communities of practice also provide opportunities for teachers to draw on expertise beyond the bound of their school context, enriching and expanding their knowledge base and for those experiencing feelings of professional isolation within their physical environment potential provide the support need from alternative sources.
Noteworthy among the studies on this aspect of teacher development is Allan’s (2007) work which looks at additional considerations that are required to ensure online communities of practice are supported within the school context. In particular, she cites time factors as important considerations when planning to incorporate online communities of practice into school-based professional development. If the networked learning that occurs through a community of practice is seen as worthwhile endeavour, teachers must be “provided with protected time by their organisation for their virtual learning activities” (Allan, 2007, p. 570). Allan goes on to contend that administrators need also to recognise that adjusting to this new form of learning will take time, and staff need to be afforded the time and space to adjust according (Allan, 2007). Finally, she cautions that some teachers will find adjusting to an online community of practice challenging and “without … support they may not actively engage in their learning community and, ultimately, may withdraw from the community” (Allan, 2007, p.570), potentially derogating the effectiveness of the initiative.
Building a community and learning through asynchronous discussion forums
According to Anderson (2009, p.249), discussion is a “critical dimension of the learning process”. Anderson further states that regardless of whether these discussions in face-to-face or online settings, “their importance is integral to both learner achievement and learner (Andresen, 2009, p. 249). In online learning courses the use of asynchronous discussion is common place (Beckett, Amaro-Jiménez & Beckett, 2010). With instructors and learners separated by time and space (Watson, et al. 2013) asynchronous discussions, such as that found within discussion forums, enable students to engage in dialogue in and around the learning focus (Beckett, Amaro-Jiménez & Beckett, 2010) at time, place and pace that is convenient to them (Carnahan, 2012; Edwards, Rule & Boody, 2013). Asynchronous discussions are “inherently self-reflective and therefore more conducive to deep learning” (Means et al. 2009, p.2), supporting Bernard et al. (2004) findings which found distinct advantages for asynchronous discussion over synchronous ‘real-time’ interactions. There is evidence to suggest that asynchronous discussion provides the time needed to construct thoughtful and reflective responses, resulting in increased cognitive engagement and use of higher order thinking skills (Chen, Wang & Hung, 2009). Introverted personalities were also found to benefits from asynchronous discussion formats, with all participants sharing an equal voice (Swan, 2003). Chen, Wang & Hung (2009) do however caution that that participation rates can vary, stating that some discussion group contributions appeared to merely meet compliance expectations, with the construct of shared posted contributing little to the discussion dialogue. Gerlock and McBride’s (2013, p.24) work suggests “that both instructor and student behaviours influence online community communication dynamics”.
Research suggests that in order to encourage productive and quality interactions in asynchronous discussion forums, expectations regarding engagement should be made explicit to all participants making “the nexus between the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of discussions transparent” (Jackson, 2010, p.457). The role of the online instructor is therefore is primarily one of facilitation, providing instruction, assistance, support and guidance to participants as their learning requires them (Nandi, Hamilton & Hartland, 2012). Nandi, Hamilton & Hartland (2012, p.6) further state that the role of the online facilitator as “one of the most critical factors in enhancing student satisfaction in an online course”. A finding also supported by Andresen (2009, p.250), “simply forming an asynchronous discussion forum, providing the technology, and a question or topic of discussion is not enough to ensure success in an asynchronous discussion”. Beckett, Amaro-Jiménez & Beckett (2010, p.317) also “concluded that [facilitator] presence is associated with community-building and leads to greater learner success”. Yet the success or failure of online asynchronous discussion forums does not lie solely in the hands of the facilitator. Building on the ideas of a ‘community of practice’, asynchronous discussions can empower participants to take ownership of their own learning and knowledge sharing, not simply “waiting for the answers to fall from Heaven’s academic prophet” (Andreson, 2009, p.251). Teachers are a wealth of knowledge and experiences, asynchronous discussion forums, with the right support, guidance and encouragement may well provide an avenue to share and grow as a schools collective knowledge and expertise.
In undertaking a literature search of studies regarding the effectiveness of digital badges in encouraging teacher participation in professional development, no formal research studies could be found. Digital badges are a relatively new phenomenon and it is believed that the lack of research suggests the academic fraternity has yet to recognise their potential for study. Findings have therefore been drawn from the general literature available.
According to Ferdig and Pytask (2014, p.24) “a digital badge is digital recognition for accomplishing a skill or acquiring knowledge after completing an activity”. Foster (2013, p.31) adds that “badges are designed to make visible and validate learning in both formal and informal settings”. In so doing, digital badges can provide recognition for teachers’ knowledge, skills and expertise (Ferdig & Pytask, 2014), validating teachers’ commitment to ongoing learning and development and providing a digital symbol of their achievement (Foster, 2013). Foster (2013) further suggests that badges may be a source of motivation. “With the focus on capturing skills and competencies, a badge provides a much broader picture of an individual, allowing viewers to see beyond the classroom potential providing increasing a teacher’s employability (Foster, 2013, p.33) or consideration for additional positions of responsibility within an organisation.
While findings about teacher beliefs, professional development and communities of practice are plentiful, the bank of research surrounding the use of LMS as a means of delivering situated professional development to improve online pedagogy and a creating a community of practice is significantly lacking. As identified previously, no rigorous research was found concerning how digital badges can encourage participation in professional development activities. It is hoped through the findings of this planned intervention to address this notable hole in the literature.
Through examination of the literature there is evidence to suggest that schools embarking on the implementation of new innovations can face resistance due to their failure to consider teacher beliefs (Levin & Wadmany, 2006). Further the research suggests that professional development which is situated to address teachers’ immediate needs is more likely to be successful and bring out change in teachers’ pedagogy (Sugar, 2005) and include opportunities for personal reflection (Schalaher and Fusco, 2003). From the readings it can also be concluded that engaging within a community of practice (Allan, 2007) and supported by a facilitator, mentor or coach (Andreson, 2009) teachers learn from one another through the exchange of knowledge and experience. The initial work surrounding digital badges also suggest that badges may provide recognition of teacher efforts and may also assist in promoting engagement in the professional learning experiences (Foster, 2013).
With these findings is mind, the following designed-based intervention has been developed to assist in the successful implementation of a LMS platform into Year 4-9 and the necessary shift in pedagogy to maximise its effective use. The design of this intervention aims to acknowledge the importance of teacher beliefs in the innovation process and support the desired shift in pedagogy through proven methods of engagement. By enabling choice and providing opportunities for collaboration and sharing, the intervention hopes to provide the necessary support, through employing connectivism and networked learning principles, for teachers as they begin to look to transition their pedagogy. Further the intervention recognises teachers’ effort while also enabling them to situate their learning by affording them choice in developing LMS courses. It is hoped that through this intervention, a notable shift in teacher beliefs, philosophy and practice may be observed.
A limitation of this intervention is that it does not include observation of teacher practice to confirm shifts in teacher beliefs, pedagogy and practice. This intervention should therefore be considered as the initial assessment of successful implementation. Ideally the intervention would be supported with on-going work and classroom observation in the following six months to confirm and/or address findings from this intervention.
Findings from this intervention will also hopefully provide valuable insights currently missing from literature concerning the impact of digital badges on professional learning, and the effectiveness of professional development presented and supported through the use of a community of practice contained within a closed LMS.
This intervention will take place over a six month period, or a single teaching semester.
The interventions have been developed to provide a combination of face-to-face discussion and instruction followed by guided practice supported online by a course facilitator and collegial interaction and engagement in the online forums. This format has been developed in support of research findings which suggest that a blended approach to online learning, one that combines traditional face-to-face interaction with online instruction may result in improved outcomes for participants in the program (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010; Palak, & Walls 2009; Sugar, 2005; Yang & Thomas 2010).
Prior to beginning the intervention teachers will be asked to complete an anonymous questionnaire to ascertain their current beliefs around teaching and learning. The questions will be designed to gauge teachers’ views on the use and integration of technology within their teaching practice including their school’s decision to implement a LMS in the new school year. The responses will be compared to those obtained in a second questionnaire at the conclusion of the intervention to determine any shift in teachers’ beliefs and responses relating to the sub-questions used to guide this research.
Intervention 1: Teacher beliefs and technology
The initial phase of the implementation is focused on identifying teachers’ currently held beliefs around teaching and the implementation of technology. Commonalities in ideology will be identified through a range of activities designed to encourage teachers to think critically about their personal philosophy and beliefs about teaching and learning. Topical stimulus concerning the changing needs of 21st century learners and the role of technology in this educational shift will then be explored and the implication for what defines ‘best practice’ in teaching and learning discussed. Finally, teachers will be asked to anonymously share their thoughts and/or questions about the school’s decision to implement a LMS in the new year.
Intervention 2: Introduction to the LMS and Community of Practice
The second phase of implementation is designed to familiarise teachers with the capabilities of an LMS by first addressing any themes that have arisen regarding the LMS introduction. Teachers will then be given a brief introduction into some of the key features of the LMS and the online professional development materials situated within the LMS course structure. Through accessing and engaging with the professional development LMS course, staff will have the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the features and capabilities of the LMS through direct participation. Three different courses will be provided; beginner, intermediate and advanced to cater for the range of skill set amongst the staff and enable self-paced learning. Staff achievement will be recognised through accreditation on successful completion of each professional development course through the use of digital badges.
Teachers will also be introduced to the concept of a Community of Practice through the use of the discussion forums contained within the LMS with an expectation of participation and sharing—again with digital badge recognition. Teachers will also be encouraged to develop and/or expand their own personal learning networks through engagement with other online communities, starting list to be provided.
Intervention 3: Collaborative course building
The third phase of implementation focuses on teaching teams collaboratively developing their own online course using the LMS. Completion of the basic professional development course will be a pre-requisite for undertaking this next phase of implementation. Through guided discussion and reflection on their learning, teachers will develop a checklist for identifying key elements for a ‘What makes a good online course?’.
Each teaching team will select a sub-section of a course to be taught before the end of term as the focus for their online course. Using current planning documents and the checklist created, teams will be afforded the time and opportunity to begin experimenting with their course design.
It is an expectation throughout phase 3 of the intervention that staff continue to participate, share and collaborate through the course online forums and engage within their personal learning networks. Staff should continue to work through the LMS professional development course in preparation for the next phase of implementation. Badge presentations will continue as teachers complete the necessary requirements for accreditation.
Opportunity will also be provided during the face-to-face session to discuss engagement within the forums to further provide staff with the opportunity to develop their understanding of the role of the Community of Practice in bringing together and facilitating and online learning environment.
Intervention 4: Subject course building
The fourth stage of intervention requires each teacher to create their own online LMS course. Taking into account student feedback on the LMS course introduction, staff will revisit the checklist created in the previous session for ‘What makes a good online course?’ refining its contents where necessary based on their findings.
Through negotiation within their teaching teams, staff will individually accept responsibility for a topic/subject area and the creation of a corresponding course to be used across their year level in the later part of the semester.
Additional time during the face-to-face session will be devoted to discussions emerging from the online forums and further opportunities to participation in online communities for staff who may wish to explore to grow their personal learning networks. Badges will continue to be awarded as teachers continue their accreditation through online professional development.
Intervention 5: Reflection
The final phase of the implementation provides opportunity for teachers to come together and share their work, experiences and key learnings throughout the previous six months, including participation in an online community of practice. Teachers will revisit their initial reflections regarding their personal philosophies and given the opportunity to make any adjustments should they believe may be necessary based on their learning journey over the semester. Teachers will also be asked to complete an anonymous questionnaire which will look to obtain data concerning the sub-questions guiding this series of interventions and to ascertain whether there has any shift in teacher beliefs.
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