Category Archives: Phd project

My PhD dissertation is defended

In the second half of the August I defended my PhD dissertation “Learning and Knowledge Building for Teachers’ Professional Development in an Extended Professional Community”. My thesis can be found here. Thesis was supervised by Dr. Kai Pata from Tallinn University. Dr. Äli Leijen from Tartu University and Dr. Merja Bauters from Aalto University were my opponents and Dr. Anoush Margaryan from Glasgow Caledonian University was pre-reviewer. Thank you for all.

My thesis proposes learning and knowledge building practices for teachers in a socio-technical system. Theoretically I relied on the concepts of self-directed learning and organizational learning. I also used the Nonaka’s and Takeuchi’s knowledge conversion SECI model for manipulating and managing the practices in individual and organizational level. The theoretical foundations of socio-technical systems and e-portfolio was second building block of the theoretical part. Thirdly the implementation aspects of the knowledge development tools in organization were relied on. Design-based research that involved the stakeholders from schools, universities and teachers’ association was the methodological grounding of my thesis.

As a result I provide the gaps in current teachers professional development in terms of self-directed learning and collaborative knowledge building in the community. Next I propose the technical scenarios that can be followed when implementing such practices for teacher education. Thirdly the implementation model for the extended professional community is proposed and finally the validated learning and knowledge practices are proposed with the identified scaffolding aspects.

In general I had quite quick process of PhD studies, only four years. I think I had several enablers that supported me. Firstly the project IntelLEO, which gave me the context, timeline, theoretical support, but also the freedom to focus on my own research. Secondly my dear supervisor who was by my side for all those years and provided me the support that can’t be expressed. Thirdly my kids. If I had not been on my maturity leave, but worked with full position, this would have been much longer process. Doing my research while kids had napping time was much more comfortable way for finishing PhD.

After two weeks I am almost able to say that my defense was quite nice. There are some things that still bother me, but I have to live with it now. I did not manage to answer all the questions and I was too emotional during my last words, but what can I do – that’s me.

Anyway – done! I am open to new challenges!

Different types of communities

During my PhD studies, I have become a bit of confused about handling different types of communities in the right context. Different types of communities, that have confused me, are for instance community of practice (CoP), professional community, learning community, professional learning community, knowledge-building communityvirtual/online community. Also I read about the concepts like knowledge community and learning organization, which were relevant for my own research. Sometimes it seemed that many of the concepts are overlapping and sometimes some of the concepts were used too loosely (e.g. any kind of community is CoP, although it has its specific features).

First of all the concept of Community of the Practice. Wenger and Lave has defined it as group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. It is important that people share the interest, members are engaged in joint activities and the members are practitioners who develop a shared repertoire of resources. How does it different from the professional learning community, handled in my thesis? Wenger has explained that in the context of professional learning community, for instance teachers come together for doing professional development in peer-to-peer learning context. Community of Practice (CoP), according to Wenger, is more broad concept. Some of the CoPs are not professionally oriented (for example people who work together for sustaining high school in country yard). CoP is a way of looking at a group, as a learning system and it could be applied to a family, hobby (they might even consider themselves as the CoP) and sometimes the professionalism is not key at all. In the context of professional learning community, we can talk about experts and learners, which is not relevant in the CoPs. And how does it different from the knowledge-building communities, proposed by Scardamalia & Bereiter, which are also relevant in my thesis? The key differences can be as follows, as proposed Hoadley (2012):

  • knowledge-building community is intentional, that is the goal of the community is explicitly on learning and knowledge building;
  • Source and the nature of the authenticity. It is presumed in both cases that a learner who is successful will be increasingly identified with the community’s practice as something they do and that defines their own lives. A knowledge-building community  may be investigating questions that derive from an individual’s curiosity or from initial teacher’s initial agenda-setting. A CoP that occurs naturally will not typically have a learning goal; these will emerge depending on the evolution of the community’s function and role within society. Hoadley and Kilner (2005) claim that once the knowledge-building community is up and running, it does not constitute a CoP, one in which the core practice is an inquiry one;

In the context of my thesis, technology plays an important role and the knowledge of the community should be stored and accumulated with the purpose of more effective sharing and learning. Technology is the mediator that supports collaboration and sharing. Kirschner & Lai (2007) discussed the nature of the CoP in the online settings. They marked that Web 2.0 approach supports more online CoP, because Web 2.0 tools sustain the needs for communication, socialization, networking and collaboration which is important for the CoPs. But in general they found that online CoP is a complex issue, because members don’t respect the advice from the members they don’t know (in the online settings it is possible) and they do not share their practice online (personal insecurities). Such implications are in common for different types of online communities, I think. Trust and motivation for sharing the knowledge have been under the investigation by the researchers for long a time. Hoadley (2012) proposed four techniques how people support CoPs with the technologies:

  • Linking people with others who have similar practices;
  • Providing some short of shared repository of information resources. While a simplistic view of knowledge might think that this repository is the knowledge of the community, the CoP sees such repositories as simply information that is used by the community in its practices (where the knowledge truly resides);
  • Providing tool for discussing with others. This is perhaps the most common use for technology in CoP: supporting conversation. Examples may range from a bulletin board used globally by members of a support group for a rare disease, to comment blog-posts in a password-protected blog for members of a professional association, online videoconferencing tool, …;
  • Providing awareness in a community of the information context of various resources. For example, an online bookstore might provide automated recommendations that would help a member of community uncover what sorts of books are typically read by the same people.

I was wondering if the technique “discussion” may include the reflection what I emphasize in my research. I kind of separate the reflection which personal and internal learning process and which includes learning from peers and their resources, but still it is internalized and discussion, which is rather collaborative and social process.

I liked the division of the online communities, proposed by Rice & Polin (2004). They describe 3 different (sometimes overlapping) types of learning communities to provide a common language for understanding the different forms of social organizations:
task based online communities – aims to produce a product or outcome and their members know each other. These are generally temporary groups whose members try to accomplish well-specified tasks. A small group’s interaction occurs among members of the group.
practice based online communities – voluntary participation. There is a shared activity among members of the community to produce knowledge. Tacit knowledge is shared among members.
knowledge based online communities – aim of this type of learning communities is to compose knowledge based on a specific area. Members of it may or may not know each other personally. There is a long-term commitment to construct knowledge base.

In my thesis, in the teacher training context, I use the concept – extended professional learning community (of educators). Professional learning community, defined by Stoll & Louis (2007) is an inclusive group of people, motivated by a shared learning vision, who support and work with each other, finding ways, inside and outside their immediate community, to enquire on their practice and together learn new and better approaches that will enhance all pupils’ learning. It is extended community, which means that the community members are from different organization (schools, universities, ministry). As it is (partially) online community, then based on Rice & Polin (2004) division, the concept of extended professional community is the combination of knowledge based learning community and practice based learning community that composes knowledge based on a specific area, includes shared activity among members of the community to produce knowledge, members of it may or may not know each other personally and belonging to the community is based on voluntary participation. It is important that learning is embedded in the community.

As I said, I am confused about the using different types of communities in the right context. Even more I am confused and also interested in, is the sustainability of the (learning) community. I’ve experienced how the communities are initiated, but I have also experienced that communities become passive. How the processes in the communities should be organized for keeping the community sustained? How to keep the participants motivated in the community?

State of the art of my Phd project

I was applying for one scholarship and therefore I had to prepare thorough research plan. It became as real as possible. What I was wondering when I was writing this is that what is the so-called subject of my PhD project. If someone asks, what is your project about, I usually answer: teacher professional development with e-portfolio, sometimes I add teachers’ knowledge building with e-portfolio or something that. But I was thinking that actually I am focusing a lot on learning organizations, workplace learning, knowledge conversion model and teacher development is like a context and e-portfolio like a medium.. What I mean is that I am emphasizing the implementation of knowledge conversion phases, provided by Nonaka and Takeuchi, in order to keep individual and organizational knowledge dynamically changing, that influences the development of organization and individuals. Just the context that I put this model and medium that supports the implementation of it, is teacher education and extended organization here is school-university partnership.

Anyway, I formulated following research questions and goals:
Goals and research questions
The aim of my thesis is to develop the technologically supported LKB model in cross- organizational settings for teacher education in order to support teacher professional development. In order to accomplish the aim of my thesis, I plan to find answers for the following research questions:
1. How does the LKB activities support the development of self-directive competences of teachers and influences their motivation to develop themselves professionally?
2. How do the members of extended professional community of educators perceive that their knowledge influences and is influenced by the development of organizational knowledge?
3. What kind of technologically supported LKB methods and scenarios would be used by the extended community members of educators?
4. Which aspects influence the implementation of technologically supported LKB model in teacher education context in individual level?

Research design
In order to accomplish the aim and to answer the research questions, I will rely mainly on design- based research elements. Wang and Hannafin (2005) have defined design-based research as methodology aimed to improve educational practices through systematic, flexible, and iterative review, analysis, design, development and implementation, based upon collaboration among researchers and practitioners in real-world settings and leading to design principles or theories. The study has follwing phases:
a) Identifying the problem and mapping the current situation in teacher education field in the context of using technology for supporting teachers’ knowledge building activities. Teachers from school, pre-service teachers, novice teachers, school supervisors and university lecturers will be interviewed in this process. This phase gives an input for research question 3 and 4;
b) Together with stakeholders from teacher education field, developed LKB model will be validated. Model will be presented as scenarios in different teacher education context and stakeholders analyze them together with researchers. Phase gives an input for question 3 and 4;
c) Technologically supported LKB model will be tested with teachers in two phases: early prototypes of services and full prototypes of services. Data will be collected by the semi-structured interviews, questionnaire and analysis of the users’ log-information. Phase gives an input for research questions 1, 2, 3, 4.
d) LKB model will be implemented longitudinally in e-portfolio system with the pre-service teachers in school practice context. Scenarios and methodology for portfolio-based school practice will be developed together with university school-practice unit and researchers. Data will be collected by the semi-structured questionnaire, analysis of reflections in weblog and semi- structured interview in the end of the trial. Trials take place in spring 2010, 2011, 2012 and into process school supervisors, pre-service teachers and university will be involved. This phase gives an input for research questions 1, 2, 3, 4.
e) In collaboration with teachers, application of e-portfolio functionality will be designed to Koolielu environment. Scenarios and workflows will be designed by the researcher and evaluated by the teachers. Data will be collected by the semi-structured interviews during the design-sessions. This phase gives an input for the research question 3.

Therefore my project has three methodological approaches. First I identify the problem and map the situation. Then with the design-based approach I’m developing together with stakeholders different scenarios and methodologies for interventions. The next approach involves different trials with teachers in different contexts like pre-service studies and accredidation, And finally my research tries to evaluate how does the theoretical model with technological application influences teacher’s professional development.

As the result of the doctoral thesis, I will provide a) theoretical LKB model for teacher training context; b) description of technology application that would support developed LKB model in teacher training context; c) implementation quidelines that would support the using of technology supported LKB model.
a) Development of theoretical LKB model (2009 – 2011):
i) Meta-analysis of the SECI model will be conducted in order to deepen the theoretical baseline of the research and to analyze what are the applications of SECI model. Article about it will be ready by the February 2012.
ii) Theoretical LKB model have been developed and validated with seven experts from teacher education field. Article “Implementing A Technology-Supported Model for Cross-Organisational Learning and Knowledge Building for Teachers” published by the European Journal of Teacher Education in winter 2012.
iii) heoretical LKB model validated in technology-supported accreditation context. Results presented at CSEDU11 and in ICWL11 conference
iv) Technology-supported LKB model in cross-organizational setting will be tested in Octo- ber 2011 -January 2012 with 20 Estonian teachers. The goal is to evaluate in what way the SECI phased related activity sequences are taking place in cross-organizational LKB model and how are different IntelLEO services supporting the activity sequences related with SECI phases. Article about the results will be ready by the spring 2012.
b) Description of technology application for supporting LKB model (2011-2013):
i) Aim is to study how implementing e-portfolio in teacher education context supports pro- fessional development. Longitudinal study with pre-service teachers has been conducted in spring 2010 and 2011 and another trial takes place in spring 2012. Some trials will be additionally designed for 2012. Article about trials will be ready by the autumn 2012.
c) Implementation guidelines of LKB model in technological settings (2011-2013):
i) Based on data of testing the technology-supported LKB model, I plan to analyze what in- fluences the implementation of the model in teacher education context. I would like to study through the motivational specter what is the need for training and by whom, what facilitation aspects are needed, what barriers might be faced. Article about implementa- tion process will be ready by the summer 2012

Sounds realistic 🙂 But what is even more important – sounds interesting, I am fond of my research and current experiment that has not been very successful, is really important to me and I have strong ownership with it. Feedback is welcome.