Sunday, September 7, 2008

Using Communities of Practice to Create Conceptual Change in Teachers

Chapter one of David H. Jonassen's (2006) book, Modeling with Technology, encourages one to examine how conceptual change relates to meaningful learning. As an educator, I can apply this to many different situations such as my own personal lessons in learning, instructional design processes in the classroom, and staff development. For the purposes of this blog, I will address how teachers can use data as a catalyst for conceptual change and communities of practice as a means of achieving meaningful learning.

Jonassen (2008) states that the "Cognitive Conflict" theory of conceptual change begins when a learner becomes aware that the problem they face requires some change in their current conceptual view. When a learner then creates new goals to attack this problem they are ready to seek out knowledge needed to change their conceptual framework and embrace new concepts. I propose that one way that teachers can do this is by using communities of practice.

In this new age of data driven education, teachers are constantly being bombarded with test scores and assessment data. They are asked to do more than simply assign a grade. Teachers are required to demonstrate that students show growth, make meaningful connections, and do not "fall behind." Examining data, both classroom and standardized, can provide the context for the "awareness of contradiction" that Jonassen describes as necessary for meaningful learning to occur. When students are not demonstrating adequate progress, teachers are left to question, "What can I do?" thus providing an awareness that something needs to change. Obviously, the current instructional practices are not meeting the needs of this specific learner, but what can the teacher do? Most teachers teach because they want to help their students learn, however, under the pressure of high-stakes testing they are reluctant to ask for help when presented with a situation such as this.

A community of practice structured around the topic of evaluating data and designing instruction could provide teachers with a non-threatening, meaningful knowledge building activity. A community of practice is defined by Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder (2002) as "groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their understanding and knowledge of this area by interacting on an ongoing basis." Teachers share a passion for student learning, but they seldom have time to interact with one another because of their rigorous and varied teaching schedules. Would a virtual community of practice encourage them to interact with each other and share strategies for instructional design and meeting the needs of a diverse, dynamic set of learners? This structure could provide them with a non-threatening, meaningful way to change their current conceptions on instructional design and embrace new strategies for struggling learners.

Jonassen, David (2006) Modeling with Technology, Mindtools for Conceptual Change. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.
Wenger, E., McDermott, R. & Snyder, W. (2002). Communities of practice and their structural elements and Seven principles for cultivating communities of practice in Cultivating Communities of Practice. Harvard Business School Press.

For an electronic resource on communities of practice: "International executive workshop lead by Etienne Wenger and George Pór at the London School of Economics"

Article worth a look if you are interested in this topic:
Little, Judith Warren. (2002) Locating learning in teachers’ communities of practice: opening
up problems of analysis in records of everyday work. Teaching and Teacher Education, 18(8), 917-946.


Megan Fritz said...

Good idea, Susan. Using Web 2.0 technologies to create a community of practice will be worthwhile for the teachers. However, take it slow and model the use of the technology first because they will have to shift their thinking about technology in order to be able to use it in a different way (to come together online to discuss teaching/learning). Modeling the successful use of the technology will gradually convince them to participate!

scurry said...

I think that we, as educators interested in using Web 2.0, really are an important part of the school. I am at the moment designing a presentation on the use of VoiceThread in the classroom, and have been talking about it quite frequently with my colleagues. I now have 2 other teachers that want to use it with me as a "pilot", and are looking to me for help. I think that if we show our enthusiasm, and model how wonderful technology can be, we really will make a difference in our schools!