Professional Learning Communities

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Promoting professional learning communities using ICTs

Maureen Wilson, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Problem

Leclerc, Moreau, Dumouchel, and Sallafranque-St- Louis (2012) found that creating a supportive environment that promotes school improvement and student achievement can be challenging. They argued that one of these factors that can impact the success of a school’s advancement is the proper implementation of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) (Leclerc, Moreau, Dumouchel, & Sallafranque-St- Louis, 2012). Seo (2013) found that due to a lack of authentic learning opportunities, the activities teachers were participating in were no longer considered effective with today’s student learning needs. Additionally, Duncan-Howell (2010) claimed that PLCs are meant to provide teachers with content that addresses their specific needs regarding student learning and therefore, the modality of the content should be considered when assessing the school’s needs and culture. She questioned how classroom teachers who have no grade-level-counterpart to collaborate with are supposed to interact, reflect and access expert experience and knowledge (2012). Riveros, Newton, and Burgess (2012) argued that the formation of meaningful relationships amongst colleagues is often an overlooked component of functional professional learning communities and experienced veteran educators are often lacking within one’s own school site (Hardman, 2011). Therefore, in order to support successful student learning, a sense of community needs to be established and maintained (Glazer & Breslin, 2013). Segregated classrooms make collaboration, interaction, and sharing difficult with coworkers, not to mention finding the time for meetings and discourse (Seo, 2013). Seo (2013) concluded that most teachers were unhappy with the quality of professional development they received through PLCs and felt that there must be a better way to direct PLCs as they presently “did not meet their needs” (p. 337).The traditional face-to-face method of conducting PLCs is no longer working in today’s society and different methods of collaborating must be considered in order for professional communities to be truly effective and grow (Lee & Lee, 2013).

Role of ICTs

PLCs no longer have to take place face-to-face and in person, but instead could be conducted online with learning communities taking advantage of technology and electronic communication (Loving, Schroeder, Rui, Shimek, and Herbert, 2007). Loving, Schroeder, Rui, Shimek, and Herbert (2007) differentiate between two types of virtual PLC designs, those being synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous learning communities are conducted in real-time among members whereas asynchronous learning communities are performed in nonreal-time and can occur when convenient for its members (Loving, Schroeder, Rui, Shimek, and Herbert, 2007).

Ford, Branch, and Moore (2008), argued that online PLCs allow communities that would normally be in isolation, to collaborate and communicate with professionals from all around the world with varying degrees of knowledge and skills. They concluded that technology is the connecting component that bridges the gap between isolation and building a sense of community (2008). It is from this contact with others, that a sense of community is built and when “faculty and learners come together with an identical goal, the environment that is created will affect the way in which knowledge is created” (Glazer & Breslin, 2013, p. 123).

Web 2.0 technology may be the solution to networking, producing and sharing professional learning experiences (Hardman, 2011). Hardman (2012) found that online networking allows educators to pose problems, troubleshoot for solutions, reflect on practices and construct new experiences, knowledge and authentic learning. Likewise, Ping Lim (2014) found that online Web 2.0 tools can also provide PLC educators with active and engaging professional learning that can transfer to the teaching of students and the enhancement and enjoyment of the students’ learning experiences. Additionally, online PLCs can be built around specific topics, content areas, or school community needs that can be used to engage students in all subject areas, especially in the area of special needs (Hardman, 2012).

Online environments have the potential to change the culture of learning institutes for the better and can provide a shift from traditional practices and norms to environments in which educators are willing, enthusiastic, cooperative and forward thinking (Cifuentes, Maxwell & Bulu, 2011). Media can be customized to fit the specific needs of any school community with available tools such as wikis, blogs, nings, and online chat sites (Hardman, 2011). These online learning communities and Web 2.0 tools have the potential to create new classrooms and experiences for educators and students with no boundaries (Ford, Branch, and Moore, 2008). According to King, “The potential of blending social media technologies with informal and situated learning opens new dimensions of professional learning possibilities for many fields” (2011, p. 45).

Obstacles

Duncun-Howells (2010) found that there is concern among teachers that time is often mismanaged when conducting PLCs in an online environment as one could easily spend as many as three hours a week online sorting through email, discussion posts, and information not relevant to the intended goal, not to mention the time wasted trying to understand, sign up for, or navigate within the particular PLC platform chosen (Gray & Smyth, 2012). Some members of online PLCs also felt that there were drawbacks to virtual meetings in terms of other members trying to monopolize conversations, veer from the initial goal, or push their own personal agendas onto others (Duncun-Howells, 2010).

Finally, Hartnell-Young, (2006) observed that PLC members became anxious about not having full support from their school leaders and felt that without it, “changes are unlikely to occur” (p. 472). Similarly, Ping Lim (2014) found that PLC members were concerned that traditional PLCs lacked focused leadership, motivation of staff members, and were not helpful in short-term professional learning, therefore wasting time that could be devoted elsewhere. Cifuentes, Maxwell and Bulu (2011) concluded that the biggest issue with integrating technology into PLCs is “not the preparation of teachers for technology use, but the presence of informed and effective leadership” (p. 62).

Works cited

Cifuentes, L., Maxwell, G., & Bulu, S. (2011).Technology integration through professional learning community. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 44(1), 59-82. doi:10.2190/EC.44.1.d

Duncan-Howell, J. (2010). Teachers making connections: Online communities as a source of professional learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 324-340. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00953.x

Ford, L., Branch, G., & Moore, G. (2008) Formation of a virtual professional learning community in a combined local and distance doctoral cohort. AACE Journal, 16(2), 161-185.

Glazer, H. R., Breslin, M., & Wanstreet, C. E. (2013). Online professional and academic learning communities: Faculty perspectives. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 14(3), 123-130, 123-130.

Gray, C., & Smyth, K. (2012). Collaboration creation: Lessons learned from establishing an online professional learning community. Electronic Journal of E- Learning, 10(1), 60-75.

Hardman, E. (2012). Supporting professional development in special education with web-based professional learning communities: New possibilities with web 2.0. Journal of Special Education Technology, 27(4), 17-31.

Hardman, E. (2011). Building professional learning communities in special education through social networking: Directions for future research. Journal on School Educational Technology, 7(2), 30-38.

Hartnell-Young, E. (2006).Teachers' roles and professional learning in communities of practice supported by technology in schools. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 14(3), 461-480.

King, K. (2011). Professional learning in unlikely spaces: Social media and virtual communities as professional development. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning, 6(4), 40-46.

Leclerc, M., Moreau, A., Dumouchel, C., & Sallafranque-St- Louis, F. (2012). Factors that promote progression in schools functioning as professional learning community. International Journal of Education Policy & Leadership, 7(7), 1-14.

Lee, D., & Lee, W. (2013). A professional learning community for the new teacher professionalism: The case of a state-led initiative in Singapore schools. British Journal of Educational Studies, 61(4), 435-451. doi:10.1080/00071005.2013.824948

Loving, C., Schroeder, C., Rui, K., Shimek, C., & Herbert, B. (2007). Blogs: Enhancing links in a professional learning community of science and mathematics loving. Contemporary Issues in Technology & Teacher Education, 7(3), 178-198.

Ping Lim, C. (2014). Teaching e-portolios and the development of professional learning communities (PLCs) in higher education institutions. Internet and Higher Education. 20, 57-59. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2013.10.002

Riveros, A., Newton, P., & Burgess, D. (2012). A situated account of teacher agency and learning: Critical reflections on professional learning communities. Canadian Journal of Education, 35(1), 202-216.

Seo, K. (2014). Professional learning of observers, collaborators, and contributors in a teacher-created online community in Korea. Asia Pacific Journal of Education. 34(3), 337-350. doi: 10.1080/02188791.2013.860004