Professional Development of Teachers for Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning: A Knowledge-Building Approach
by Ching Sing Chai & Seng Chee Tan - 2009
Background: This study was situated in Singapore, which aims to achieve engaged learning in P–12 schools with the use of educational technology. One of the foci of study among Singaporean educational researchers is a computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environment that emphasizes collaboration among learners for the coconstruction of knowledge. Although there is some evidence that CSCL enhances students’ learning, an identified gap in the field of CSCL is documented accounts of how knowledge building happens. Knowledge of how to facilitate sustained and in-depth knowledge-building discourse among teachers has also been identified as a gap in understanding in teacher education.
Purpose: This case study aims to gain insights into how negotiation and coconstruction of knowledge occurs among participating teachers during their participation in a knowledge-building community.
Participants: It involves 7 Singaporean teachers who enrolled in an 18-month Advanced Diploma program.
Intervention: Three consecutive modules were conducted to develop the participants’ competencies in and dispositions toward facilitating student-centered learning in a computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environment. The modules engaged the teachers as coconstructors of knowledge in a knowledge-building community.
Research Design: This is a case study in which the first author, as a participant observer, acted as the facilitator for the modules.
Data Analysis: The main source of data was the teachers’ notes in Knowledge Forum, a CSCL environment. The teachers’ patterns of online interactions were analyzed through social network analysis and the interaction analysis model (IAM).
Findings: Our findings indicate that the teachers formed a socially cohesive community and participated rather actively, writing an average of 3.7 notes and averaging up to 425 words written per week. Further analysis of the notes using IAM shows a healthy distribution of notes at various phases of knowledge construction.
Conclusion: We conclude that the teacher knowledge-building community was successful in engaging the teachers in collaborative knowledge building, leading to a deep understanding among them about learning in a CSCL environment. We suggest the following factors as contributors to this advancement: (1) having a group of committed teachers as participants, (2) engaging the teachers to work on authentic problems faced in schools, (3) empowering the teachers with the agency to solve problems and reflect on their learning, (4) allocating adequate time for teachers to link theories to practice and to reflect on their implementation, and (5) having a facilitator who is experienced in facilitating this form of learning and in using a pedagogical model that is built on appropriate learning theories.
CSCL environments connect learners at different locations to work on a collaborative task or to discuss an issue. They create opportunities for learners to interact actively (Harasim, 2000; Lipponen, Rahikainen, Lallimo, & Hakkarainen, 2003) and remove the time and space constraints so that learners enjoy greater flexibility and opportunities to process information pertaining to the discussed issues and problems (Hara, Bonk, & Angeli, 2000). Text-based interaction also promotes reflection and provides records for extending the discussion and examining the learning process (Li, 2004). These affordances are intended to facilitate in-depth inquiry among learners through the process of social negotiation (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2006).
However, like other forms of ICT, implementing CSCL is a complex process (Laat & Lally, 2003; Pelgrum, 2001). It involves addressing teachers personal theories about teaching and learning, concerns about their personal well-being, task management issues, and the potential impacts on students (Hall & Hord, 2001; van den Berg, 2002). This process is further complicated by the difficulty of fostering collaborative learning in contemporary schools (Arvaja, Häkkinen, Rasku-Puttonen, & Eteläpelto, 2002; Stahl, 2002). Hence, there is a need to develop teachers professional skills in this aspect. In particular, the MP2 in Singapore took the position that teachers need to be enculturated into the practice and processes of collaborative construction of knowledge before they can foster a knowledge-building community (KBC) in their classrooms. In a KBC, the participants put forth their ideas of value to the community and continually improve those ideas (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2003).
This goes beyond the internalization and appropriation of existing practices to adopt an expansive view of learning (Lipponen, Hakkarainen, & Paavola, 2004), in which emphasis is on critical and creative works to bring about advancement of knowledge within a community. In the following sections, we draw on the literature of teacher professional development and KBC to describe how we derived design principles and a pedagogical model to engage teachers as knowledge builders.
TEACHER PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Teacher professional development in the context of implementing innovative teaching practices can be conceptualized as transformational learning from the adult learning perspective (King, 2002). Taking this perspective, traditional forms of in-service education and training have been criticized for being decontextualized and fragmented one-time events (Ball & Cohen, 1999; Grossman, Wineburg, & Woolworth, 2001; Kelchtermans, 2004). In-service education is usually conducted through direct instruction with the assumption that teachers lack the knowledge and skills for the reform (Day & Sachs, 2004). However, this approach may not prepare the teachers sufficiently to deal with the complexities involved in implementing innovative practices.
Teacher educators and researchers have suggested some essential factors for effective professional development of teachers on effective use of technology (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Ertmer, 2003; Sandholtz, Ringstaff, & Dwyer, 1997; Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon, & Byers, 2002). First, teachers should be provided with ample opportunities to collaborate and discuss critical issues with peers and researchers, experiment with the innovation that could involve technology, observe exemplary models, and reflect on pedagogical beliefs and teaching practices. Second, teacher professional development is believed to be best situated in the site of practice (schools) and in a community setting (Ball & Cohen, 1999; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Grossman et al., 2001). Third, it is essential that adequate time is allocated for in-depth reflection and understanding to occur (Cochran-Smith & Lytle; Wilson & Berne, 1999). The key activities of teacher professional development would include critique and coconstruction of innovative ideas; implementation of innovative strategies followed by observation and documentation of the effects of innovation on students learning, as well as its related problems; and reflection on and reconstruction of what it means to teach and learn (see Butler, Lauscher, Jarvis-Selinger, & Beckingham, 2004; Kwakman, 2003).
Explicating and maximizing the connections between teaching and learning within this context constitute the focus of the activities (Sykes, 1999). In particular, written reflection on the educative experiences is a recommended strategy to maximize teachers learning (Reiman, 1999). Writing reflections act as a precursor to the reconstruction of what teaching and learning means, thereby enabling a change of beliefs that is essential for the adoption of reformed teaching practices (Kwakman; Butler et al.).
COLLABORATIVE INQUIRY AS A FORM OF TEACHER PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
Innovative teacher professional development that incorporates the mentioned characteristics is usually referred to as collaborative inquiry (Darling-Hammond, 1996) or collaborative innovation (Randi & Corno, 1997). The essence of collaborative inquiry is that the collaborators adopt inquiry as their stance (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999) toward innovations. For the teachers, this implies that they would be engaged in theorizing their teaching practices, analyzing and comparing personal theories with others theory and research, and generating localized knowledge (Cochran-Smith & Lytle). In other words, the teachers are treated as active learners who are tasked to coconstruct knowledge in a community based on their field experiences. Empirical studies indicate that collaborative inquiry promotes a number of changes among participating teachers. Yamagata-Lynch (2003) has reported that engaging teachers in the process of design, implementation, and evaluation has helped teachers to gain new skills and confidence. Chai and Merry (2006) also documented that teachers are more likely to see their students as knowledge constructors after they have experienced and experimented with KBC.
Despite positive outcomes, collaborative inquiry is not without problems. It is rather labor intensive when sustained commitment and ongoing support are essential (Butler et al., 2004). Tripps (2004) study indicated that to achieve collaborative inquiry, the facilitators faced complex challenges in establishing critical and constructive discourse among the participants. The challenges and comments between teachers were often confined to friendly practical solutions rather than critical questions about underlying assumptions or beliefs. Grossman et al. (2001) also reported the difficulties involved in sustaining a productive discourse community within school.
In this study, we adopt the KBC approach, which has the longest and most successful history in CSCL research (Miyake & Koschmann, 2001). In the next section, we explain how the KBC approach is congruent with the notion of collaborative inquiry.
KNOWLEDGE-BUILDING COMMUNITY APPROACH FOR TEACHER PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
A KBC is formed when a group of committed individuals jointly identify authentic problems and assume the responsibility to advance the communitys collective knowledge while solving its problems (Hewitt, 2001; Scardamalia, 2002). Unlike problem-based learning, KBCs objective is understandings rather than deriving solutions to practical problems because its primary task is to advance knowledge. Typical examples of such communities include all forms of research and development teams from universities and private organizations (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1999). Inevitably, these communities adopt the stance of inquiry. In the context of teacher professional development, KBC can function as a pedagogical model for teachers and researchers to coconstruct new knowledge and teaching practices to meet the demand of preparing learners for the 21st century. By new knowledge, we do not mean new knowledge at the frontier of the field of investigation; rather, the idea of new knowledge connotes continual deepening of understanding of ideas being examined by the members of the KBC.
Wells (1999) characterized the processes of building better understanding as the spiral of knowing (p. 85). For teacher professional development, Wells proposed setting up communities of inquiry among teachers and researchers where classroom experiences and external sources of information are used as resources for knowledge building. Both teachers and researchers can advance the communitys knowing by first making sense of personal experiences. When these experiences are shared, they become public resources and represent a form of understanding about the problems. When participants compare their experiences with the diversity of ideas presented in the literature and with ideas shared by community members, they are initiating a process of knowledge negotiation. Through coconstruction and negotiation of the meanings of classroom activities, teachers and researchers are able to collaboratively build knowledge that may lead to innovative practices.
Although the notion of KBC is generally congruent with the notion of collaborative inquiry, research on engaging teachers in a KBC and analysis of the online interactions is uncommon. Woodruff and Brett (1999) reported the difficulties experienced by a group of preservice teachers in discussing issues and relating them back to theories in a KBC; the discussion content generated was largely about their experiences during teaching practicum, and the teachers made few references to theory and reading. On the other hand, studies of practicing teachers collaborative online interaction for professional development are rare (Zhao & Rop, 2001). Reported studies include Poole (2000), Jin (2005), and Chai and Khine (2006). These studies generally report quantitative data that document the rate of participation. For example, Poole analyzed the participation of 14 practicing teachers in a postgraduate course. She reported a total of 1,040 messages posted by these teachers across 15 weeks, with an average of 14 lines per message, and 9% of the messages were nonacademic. Based on this information, it is estimated that her participants posted, on average, 4.4 on-task messages per week. Jins analysis of 18 teachers online participation shows an average of two messages per week. Chai and Khine reported an average posting of 2.33 messages, with about 350 words, per week. Generally, studies involving asynchronous discussion seldom report a weekly contribution of more than two online posts (see Guzdial & Turns, 2000; Hara et al., 2000; Khine, Yeap, & Tan, 2003; Schellens & Valcke, 2005). The need to investigate how teachers build knowledge online is also coupled with a lack of empirical evidence showing how knowledge-building discourse happens (Stahl, 2004).
This study thus seeks to answer the broad research question, How do teachers behave in a KBC environment, and what factors might contribute to their collaborative knowledge building? The specific research questions are: (1) What are the social interaction patterns of teachers in a KBC? (2) How actively do the teachers participate in a KBC? (3) To what extent do teachers engage in collaborative knowledge building in a KBC? (4) In addition, we would like to suggest some factors that could contribute to the outcomes of each question.
This case study was conducted in the National Institute of Education in Singapore with in-service teachers who enrolled in the Advanced Diploma (Information Technology in Education) program. Seven teachers signed up for the program in 2004. The study included all 7 teachers who went through three professional development modules designed to develop their competencies and dispositions toward facilitating student-centered learning in a computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environment. Given that this is a small sample study of adult teachers who were motivated to integrate ICT into their curriculum in Singapore schools, our findings cannot be generalized; rather, we hope to suggest hypotheses that might be investigated more deeply in further research.
The participants of this study were in-service teachers with 3 or more years of teaching experience in elementary schools. Table 1 provides the background information on the 7 teachers.
Table 1. Background of Research Participants
All participants are Asian, with 3 Chinese and 4 Malays between 26 and 33 years old. Among the participants, Kim was the only male teacher, and Ziyi and Xiaoqi were in the same school. Kim and Siti were more competent in computer skills and could both handle programming problems, whereas the others were able to handle most Microsoft Office applications.
<B>Professional Development Approach: The Teacher Knowledge-Building Community
Synthesizing from the literature review, this study engaged the participants in a KBC for collaborative inquiry. Adapting the spiral-of-knowing approach from Wells (1999), the T-KBC was divided into three stages (for simplicity, this adaptation is referred to as Teacher Knowledge-Building Community, T- KBC). Figure 1 depicts the intervention graphically.
Figure 1. The Teacher Knowledge-Building Community Throughout the Three Modules (T-KBC)
Source: Adapted from Dialogic Inquiry: Toward a Sociocultural Practice and Theory of Education (p. 85), by G. Wells, 1999, New York: Cambridge University Press; and Teachers Perceptions of Teaching and Learning in a Knowledge Building Community: An Exploratory Case Study, by C. S. Chai & R. Merry, 2006, Learning, Media & Technology, 31(2), p. 138.
Stage 1 engaged the teachers in identifying authentic problems that they faced when they integrated ICT into their teaching practice. The facilitator initiated the problem identification process by crafting broad questions as a focus of discussion. The teachers then drew from their personal experiences and wrote about the problems they encountered and their initial understanding of them. Reflecting on personal experience initiated the dialogic inquiry process (Wells, 1999), which is represented in the top left quadrant of the first cycle in Figure 1. The problems and initial problem representations, once articulated, served as information (the top right quadrant) for other members. New information was also brought in through the teachers personal research and readings provided by the facilitator. Through collaborative inquiry (the bottom right quadrant), the teachers discussed the identified issues based on their rich experiences, experimentation, and related readings. They were also tasked with planning ICT integrated lessons, sharing their plans, making improvements based on peer input, and implementing and reflecting on the outcomes. These tasks helped to concretize their improved understanding and practices (lower left quadrant). The progression of the dialogic inquiry is generally in the clockwise direction, as depicted in Figure 1, but it could start from the information quadrant and move backward to the experience quadrant. In other words, the process was cyclical and dynamic rather than occurring in a linear way. By moving through the spiral of knowing (Wells, p. 85), it was hoped that the teachers would achieve better understanding about the practice of learning in a CSCL environment. The process also allowed the teachers to gain firsthand experience with the coconstruction of knowledge.
After experiencing the KBC, the teachers were tasked to design a suitable KBC with appropriate themes of inquiry for classroom implementation (second cycle in Figure 1). In this second stage, the teachers were free to choose the subject matter, grade level, and class that they deemed fit so as to enhance the authenticity of the projects. These project ideas were subjected to peers and facilitators critique for improvement and refinement. This happened during the midyear school vacation to allow the teachers ample time for planning the necessary materials and activities.
The third stage was the actual implementation, when the teachers facilitated students collaborative knowledge-building activities (third cycle in Figure 1). This was designed so that the teachers could understand the complexities of implementing constructivist teaching and develop the necessary competencies in managing constructivist learning.
Throughout the three stages, the teachers created various types of notes (online posts) that represented their the problems, lesson ideas, reading summaries, and reflections. Deeper understanding was also built through online and face-to-face sessions. For this study, face-to-face sessions constituted approximately 50% of the whole T-KBC. These sessions allowed the facilitator to share knowledge and skills with the teachers through lectures and hands-on learning. It also allowed the facilitator to consolidate understanding that emerged through the online discussions. Further questions that could lead to deeper inquiry were also highlighted during these sessions. In addition, the teachers were allowed to clarify unclear messages and share their experiences, fostering their social relationships.
The facilitator, who has school-based experience, played several roles in the T-KBC: (1) initiating a problem identification process by crafting broad questions as a focus of discussion; (2) sharing of experience and knowledge during face-to-face sessions; (3) socializing with participants to foster a cohesive community; (4) modeling and encouraging active participation in online discussion; and (5) encouraging ownership of ideas by probing rather than providing correct answers to the participants.
KNOWLEDGE FORUMTHE CSCL ENVIRONMENT
The CSCL environment used in this study is Knowledge Forum (for details, see http://www.knowledgeforum.com/). It is a Web-based online forum that allows graphical input in the discussion notes. Knowledge Forum was chosen because it was designed for knowledge-building communities. Like many CSCL environments, Knowledge Forum provides a space for ideas and artifacts to be treated as objects of inquiry, subjecting them to review, critique, or comment by other members. Because the historical interactions are automatically captured in the database, ideas in mind (implicit knowledge) can then become objects to be acted and improved on. In addition, several key features of Knowledge Forum (Scardamalia, 2004) support knowledge-building: allowing members to create connections among ideas through build-on and annotation; providing customizable scaffolds; allowing notes of the same theme to be organized in pages called Views and providing hyperlinks between Views; emphasizing the problem of understanding by providing a problem field at the header of each note; encouraging Rise Above, which allows users to synthesize or summarize ideas at a higher level through review and revision of notes; affording building of individual and group portfolios through creation of individual or group Views that can be linked; and allowing embedded and transformative assessment by permitting searching and tracking of contributions from individuals and groups.
Two main sources of data were gathered: Web server logs and the notes captured in Knowledge Forum. The Web server logs were generated by subjecting the online interactions to the Analytic Toolkit (Burtis, 1998). The logs provided the researcher with information on the actions that the participants performed over time. The posting of notes, records of whose notes were read by whom, who built on whose notes, and the growth of the database provided valuable descriptive data. For learning and knowledge building to occur in the T-KBC, participation and collaboration are important conditions. The Web logs allowed the researchers to gain understandings of how active the teachers were in building knowledge and how cohesive the groups were. The second source of data was the notes posted by the teachers. These notes recorded discussion of various issues, lesson plans, peer critiques, and teachers reflections. They were the raw data for building a description of how the participants build knowledge collaboratively.
Active participation, in-depth processing of discussion topics, and social cohesion are important conditions for knowledge building to occur in a CSCL environment (Guzdial & Turns, 2000). The Web server logs provide simple quantitative data for the researchers to describe how actively the teachers participated in knowledge building, the depth of discussion, and the social cohesiveness of the community. Indicators of active participation included the number of notes contributed by the participants and the average number of words per note. The depth of discussion was assessed through the computation of the average thread length, the average number of notes in a single connected chain of notes (Guzdial & Turns). The logs were also analyzed using social network analysis techniques to provide a description of the social cohesiveness of the community (for example, see Lipponen et al., 2003). These three indicators provided the background descriptions for answering the first two research questions.
As mentioned, quantitative data alone are insufficient to provide an in-depth understanding of the computer-mediated learning processes (Henri, 1992). The online messages need to be examined qualitatively to account for how knowledge building occurs. For qualitative analysis of the notes, the interaction analysis model (IAM) by Gunawardena, Lowe, and Anderson (1997) was adopted to examine meaning negotiation and coconstruction of knowledge that occur through CSCL. The IAM was selected because it is premised on a social constructivist theoretical foundation that is consistent with this study. Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2001) also created a model for analyzing online interactions that parallels the IAM. Because the model was only tested on three sets of online messages, amounting to only 95 messages, it was less descriptive than the IAM. In addition, the IAM was recommended in several empirical studies. For example, Marra, Moore, and Klimczak (2004) considered the IAM to be one of the more reliable and user-friendly models among the limited models designed for online interaction analysis.
IAM describes coconstruction of knowledge in five progressive phases. Table 2 provides a brief summary of the phases and subcodes.
Table 2. Interaction Analysis Model (IAM) for Examining Social Construction of Knowledge
Each phase consists of other subphases, such as asking questions and proposing solutions for problems. A phase code (such as 1a, 2b, and so on) is assigned to each note guided by the description provided in the IAM. In addition to the codes suggested, we created a few new codes. For example, we coded lesson plans as Phase 1f because they were usually shared as the first note for peer critique. However, the new phase codes that we created could be subsumed within the five main phases of IAM.
The unit of analysis was the note, which means that the message was taken as a whole. This decision was modeled after studies by Garrison et al. (2001) and Schellens and Valcke (2006). However, within each note, especially the longer ones, we can usually find two to three ideas with different phase codes. The researchers identified all the indicators on the hard copies, but each note was given only one code, which was the highest phase code within that note. An independent rater was engaged to rate the notes, and the interrater agreement was 0.78.
FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
In this section, the research findings and discussion are reported according to the research questions. Findings from the second and third research questions are reported together, followed by discussions, because the factors contributing to participation and in-depth knowledge building are interrelated. Direct quotations were lifted from the database with the IAM phase codes shown. This was done to increase reliability (Denzin, 2000) and to allow readers to formulate their personal interpretations (Stake, 2000).
THE SOCIAL DIMENSION OF THE T-KBC
This section addresses the research question, What are the social interaction patterns of teachers in a KBC? and what factors might have contributed to the observed participation pattern.
Tables 3 and 4 document the case-by-case matrix of Who built-on whose and Who read whose notes as obtained from the Analytic Toolkit. These tables illustrate who was interacting with whom and how cohesive the community was. This information allows analysis of the social network by computing the social network density, which is the extent to which all possible relations are actually present (Scott, 2000, p. 32). This variable is computed by dividing the number of actual connections by the total number of possible connections. Table 3 shows all possible connections between the participants in the form of a matrix table. Each cell represents one possible connection, and the number in the cell represents the number of actual connections in term of linked notes. Because none of the cells contained a zero, the social network density in this study was 1. Lipponen et al. (2003) regarded a density of 0.39 from their study as high.
Table 3. Who Built On Whose notes?
Table 4 shows the connections between participants in terms of reading patterns. Again, each participant was connected to every other participant, and participants read at least 15 notes from another person. Although it may be argued that the Web logs can track notes that were opened but not the reading of notes, we found that many notes made specific or implicit references to earlier notes, implying that the participants had read the notes. In addition, given that the participants were mature adult learners, the probability of the participating teachers opening as many as 15 notes without reading them was rather low. We therefore inferred that the opened notes were read. Based on this inference, the social network density for reading was again excellent.
Table 4. Who Read Whose Notes?
The findings indicate that the T-KBC was a socially cohesive community, with all its participants interacting collaboratively with each other in terms of reading and building on each others notes. This is a desirable outcome because the teachers were likely to experience a sense of mutual support.
DISCUSSIONFACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO A SOCIAL INTERACTION PATTERN
We suggest four possible reasons for to the observed dense social network. First, the T-KBC was conceptualized as the single pedagogical approach that stretched across 24 weeks for three different topics related to IT integration. This would have provided ample time for the teachers to build relationships and reach some level of mutual understanding. This time frame was deliberately designed to overcome the weakness of a fragmented course structure, which is common in many teacher education and professional development curricula (Grossman et al., 2001; Wideen, Mayer-Smith, & Moon, 1998). Teacher educators have emphasized the importance of allocating sufficient time for in-depth reflection and understanding to emerge (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Wilson & Berne, 1999).
Second, the face-to-face sessions constituted about 50% of the T-KBC. In this study, we observed that the teachers often shared their teaching experiences and discussed their problems during the tea breaks. These informal sharings produced as a joint history of working together through the courses could have promoted social cohesion within the community (Kreijns, Kirschner, & Jochems, 2003). It also seemed to foster trust among the participants as they critiqued each others teaching beliefs and practices.
Third, the small number of participants facilitated the establishment of mutual connections (Lipponen et al., 2003). The same level of group cohesiveness might not have been achievable if the group had been larger. Throughout the T-KBC, only one note was considered off-task. This phenomenon of having almost exclusively task-oriented notes is to be expected because the face-to-face sessions provided adequate opportunities for social interaction.
Fourth, the facilitators role in fostering social cohesion should also be recognized (Wallace, 2003). During the face-to-face sessions, the facilitator joined in the small talks and shared his experiences. This could have helped to foster a cohesive community.
TEACHERS PARTICIPATION RATE IN KNOWLEDGE FORUM
This section addresses the research question, How actively do the teachers participate in KBC? and what factors might have contributed to the observed participation rates.
Two commonly used indicators for the examination of the extent of participation are the numbers of notes written and the numbers of notes read by the participants. In this study, the number of words written in each of the teachers notes was computed by the word count function in the Microsoft Word program (Table 5). On average, the database grew by 26 notes weekly. Each teacher contributed around 3.7 notes per week. The range of weekly averages was from 1.7 notes to 8.1 notes. Each teacher wrote about 425 words weekly.
Table 5. Participation Rate of the Teachers in Knowledge Forum
The extent of participation documented in the literature varies to a certain extent. Because of the lack of contextual information, it is difficult to compare the results of this study with other studies on exact terms. However, based on our earlier review, it seems that there is only one report by Poole (2000) that has documented a participation rate of 4.4 messages per week. Few other studies reported a weekly contribution of more than two online messages. Based on these comparisons, the participation rate of the in-service teachers in this study is rather encouraging. Furthermore, the teachers in this study read about 66% of all the notes in the database. This result indicates that the teachers were fairly active in reading the notes even though they were doing the modules on a part-time basis, and they had to deal with numerous work demands. A correlation coefficient of 0.64 was obtained through computing the correlation between the ranked order of the teachers for both the writing and the reading of notes. This suggests a moderate correlation between these two forms of participation. However, given the small sample size of this study, further research is needed to clarify the relationship between these two forms of participation.
The average thread length can be used as an indicator for the assessment of depth of discussion (Guzdial & Turns, 2000). As an example, a forum that has two clusters of notes, in which one cluster consists of four notes and the other two, would have an average thread length of (2+4)/2, which is 3. The average length of threads for this study is 6.14, and the largest number of notes in a cluster contained 78. These figures suggest that the teachers could expect an average of five to six responses for every note they posted. Given that each post was about 114 words in length, it is estimated that a participant who posted a note could receive 700 words of built-on response or feedback. This result suggests that the online interactions were reasonably sustained between the teachers.
One common problem experienced by many educators using CSCL was sustaining online interactions. In the primary school setting, Hewitt (1996) reported a maximum of 5.6 notes/clusters. This result was achieved by a teacher with a doctoral degree after 4 years of experimenting with KBC. Guzdial and Turnss (2000) study documented an average of 7.2 notes per cluster when the discussion threads were anchored around examinations and homework assignments in a CSCL environment called Collaborative and Multimedia Interactive Learning Environment (CaMILE). CaMILE provides procedural facilitation, such as metacognitive prompts, that are similar to Knowledge Forum. Based on the studies conducted, Guzdial and Turns argued that proper interface design and anchors would promote in-depth discussion. However, in their study, the participants rate of posting was 0.7 notes per student per week.
This section addresses the research question, To what extent do teachers engage in collaborative knowledge-building in a KBC? and what factors might have contributed to the observed participation rates.
Gunawardenas model of interaction analysis (IAM) was applied for the coding of the online interactions. The basic unit of analysis was a note. To recapitulate, the model describes coconstruction of knowledge as five progressive phases: (1) sharing/comparing of information, (2) discovering dissonance, gaps in understanding, or areas for improvement among ideas or concepts, (3) negotiation of meaning/ coconstruction of knowledge, (4) testing and modification of proposed synthesis or coconstruction, and (5) agreement statements/application of newly constructed knowledge.
The results of the coding are presented in a bar chart in Figure 2 for the individual codes, and a pie chart in Figure 3 for the five phases.
Figure 2. Distributions of Individual Phase Codes in the T-KBC
Figure 3. Distributions of Interaction Phases in the T-KBC
As illustrated, more than 50% of the online interactions were within Phase 1. Within Phase 1, asking and answering clarifying questions was the most common form of interaction. Strictly speaking, these interactions were not the knowledge coconstruction processes but the precursors to knowledge-building activities (Gunawardena et al., 1997; Hendriks & Maor, 2004). Because Phase 1 postings were the initial articulations of ideas, it should be appropriate to encourage as many responses as possible to allow diverse views to surface (Hübscher-Younger & Narayanan, 2003). This would help to create a fertile environment for progressive idea development because the initial ideas are subjected to multiple perspectives (Scardamalia, 2002). As the online discourse progressed, there seemed to be a dramatic drop in terms of idea developments that reached Phase 4 and Phase 5 of the knowledge coconstruction processes as defined in the IAM. The implication is that few ideas were fully developed to the status of tested and consolidated knowledge. This seemingly convergent pattern of knowledge-building discourse was an expected phenomenon. Idea creation and refinement processes are emerging processes. As ideas were discussed and compared, it was natural that some ideas would be dropped and the ones considered appropriate by the participants would be synthesized and developed further, thereby resulting in convergence. This pattern fits Roschelles (1996) and Harasims (2000) description of how collaborative discourse progresses from divergent thinking to convergent thinking.
Comparing the results of this T-KBC with recent studies, the T-KBC resulted in a higher percentage of occurrences in higher phases of knowledge building (see also Chai & Khine, 2006). Gunawardena et al. (1997) reported a result of 93 %, 2.4%, 1.9%,1%, and 1.9% postings from Phase 1 to Phase 5, respectively. The total number of postings was 206. Her participants were practitioners of online education or graduate students. Schellens and Valcke (2005) used IAM to analyze undergraduates online postings and found 52%, 14%, 33%, 1.2%, and 0.4 % from Phase 1 to Phase 5, respectively. Marra et al. (2004) examined 47 notes and reported a distribution 21%, 34%, 30%, 9%, and 0% from Phase 1 to Phase 5, respectively. These results indicate that it is difficult to achieve higher phases of coconstruction of knowledge (see also Garrison et al., 2001). Zhao and Rop (2001) made a similar observation in their review of teacher networks designed to support learning.
DISCUSSIONFACTORS CONTRIBUTING TO PARTICIPATION RATE AND IN-DEPTH KNOWLEDGE BUILDING
Based on the reported results and the broad comparison, the participation rate of the T-KBC is encouraging. There was evidence of progressive discourse leading to in-depth knowledge building. Three possible factors that seem to support our encouraging results should be considered in designing other knowledge-building programs for teachers going forward. First, Knowledge Forum is a well-researched platform that has undergone multiple iterations of design since the earliest version of its computer-supported intentional learning environment (CSILE; Miyake & Koschmann, 2001). The interface design provides procedural facilitation that prompts users to contribute to the discussion thread in various ways. This provision helped to foster sustained online discussion (Guzdial & Turns, 2000).
Second, the design of the T-KBC was based on social constructivist learning theories and a number of tested principles from teacher education research (Ball & Cohen, 1999; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Grossman et al., 2001) that emphasize practice-based collaborative inquiry with learner empowerment. The teachers identified the problems that they wanted to discuss and solve based on their teaching experiences. The problems were therefore authentic and relevant to them. Authenticity is one of the important pedagogical principles for online learning that has been reported to promote active participation (Jin, 2005; Scardamalia, 2002). This interpretation is supported by the fact that the largest clusters of notes were those dealing with the common problems that teachers faced in integrating IT into classroom learning.
In the following discussion, notes by the participants and the facilitator were quoted verbatim to illustrate the depth of discussion on the issues of IT integration among the participants in our study. The following quotations show the two problems posted by the facilitator at the start of the modules that solicited many responses. Note that in the following discussion, the words in square brackets are scaffolding cues in Knowledge Forum.
[Opinion] Schools seem to have different definitions of what is IT integration. Such differences can at times contribute to confusion among teachers. I think it is important that we have a common reference. Can we build this consensus? Attached also is 10 cases of IT integrated lesson. Perhaps we can look at them to clarify our thoughts.
*Note 1, Chai, Phase 1e
[I need to understand] Before we start, lets examine the problems at hand. What are the problems that we face in terms of promoting thinking among students? What do we need to understand?
*Note 357, Chai, Phase 1d
The first question attracted 77 built-on notes, and the second attracted 64. The broader educational context created by the ICT Masterplans can help to explain the teachers prolonged attention to the questions. Both the first and second ICT Masterplans emphasized the use of ICT in a student-centered approach to promote higher order thinking (Ministry of Education, 2002). The following note from Xiaoqi reveals the dissonance she faced in her school and her attempt to justify her view. Such dissonance is a real problem for her because the IT department would only consider her as having fulfilled the policy guideline if she conducted her lessons in the computer laboratory.
[I define IT integration as] a lesson that makes use of any IT tools. It can be teacher-centered or student-centered. [My school defines IT integration] It must be a lesson that makes use of PC and it should be a lesson conducted in the PC lab [Different opinion] To me an IT lesson should be a lesson that make use of the IT tools, it need not be a lesson conducted in a PC Lab [New information] Rodney Earle (2002) argued that IT should be used to solve a teaching problem. I totally agree with this theory. However I feel that in my school this is not the case. Many of the teachers sometimes use IT for the sake of using it so as to fulfill the requirement by the IT department.
*Note 2, Xiaoqi, Phase 2C.
Nur and Ziyi share the same concern as that expressed by Xiaoqi. Nurs note, as quoted next, highlights the problem of teachers being forced to use IT and her suggestion of teacher collaboration to help alleviate the problem.
[Opinion] I agree. My school used to make the teachers count the number of minutes IT is used in teaching. Were glad they eliminated this requirement this year. I think some schools are so influenced with the idea of integrating IT that they forget that its not possible to use IT all the time. Having a minimum requirement might not work because it makes the teachers force themselves to use IT for the sake of it so that they can meet the requirement and escape being questioned. Its an unhealthy trend. [Suggestion] Maybe as a level, teachers can sit down and decide where IT is suitable for each subject and how it can further enhance teaching and learning. Such synergy might help all parties. At least schools can rest assure that even though IT is not used all the time, it is still conducted effectively at some comfortable point.
*Note 98, Nur, Phase 3f
Other concerns that the teachers identified, such as time, expertise, access, resources, and support, are common to those identified in the literature (Leggett & Persichitte, 1998). It seems that for both integrating IT and promoting higher order thinking among the students, the teachers have had a rather strong perception that they were facing the problem of so much to cover and so little time (Note 384, Zuraini, Phase 1d). Their concerns are supported by a recent large-scale survey involving 2,900 first- to third-year teachers in Singapore. These two factors were rated as the two main obstacles for IT integration by more than 85% of the teachers surveyed (Hu, Wong, Cheah, Wong, & DRozario, 2004).
Third, it seems appropriate to acknowledge that the facilitator of this study, who is also the first author, has accumulated substantial experiences useful for promoting active and sustained participation. He has been a teacher for 7 years and started experimenting with the T-KBC almost immediately after he left his teaching post in a secondary school. These qualities are important for the actualization of what Reiman (1999) conceptualized as the taxonomy of guided written reflections. The facilitator could effectively empathize with the teachers comments about the problems they faced but also consciously link them to theories, leading to some possible solutions. The following is an example illustrating how the facilitator tried to link a teachers comment on classroom environment as not conducive to promoting in-depth thinking to the idea of KBC.
Fostering idea friendly environment for thinking to blossom
[Elaboration] You seem to be saying that your observations are that students do think but they seldom articulate their thinking because of a hostile environment coconstructed by the whole education system that does not value naïve ideas. If that is the case, it is important for us as teachers to create an idea friendly environment. This includes establishing a new social norm. I think the principle of improvable idea as mentioned by Scardamalia (2002) is link to this. This also seems to be an area that our community has to design some practical strategies to overcome as we foster KBC in the classrooms.
*Note ID 386, Chai, Phase 3
In addition to empathizing with teachers and linking the teachers to theories, the facilitator also challenged the teachers to identify deeper and broader issues. This led to the teachers identification of teachers beliefs and school IT culture as two areas that they would research further for their final presentation. Two pairs of teachers worked on the issues of teachers beliefs (Siti and Nur; Noritah and Zuraini), and another pair chose to investigate school culture (Ziyi and Xiaoqi). Kim chose to share his knowledge about a learning management system because he believed that it could provide solutions to some of the problems identified. Note 251 and Note 256 show Nur and Siti working to understand issues about teachers beliefs.
[I need to understand] 1. What factors contribute to the belief system of teachers?
2. How teachers beliefs and practices affect teaching and the use of technology in classrooms
[My theory] is that how the teachers perceive their way of teaching is greatly influenced by their depth of expertise and knowledge base and experiences they get as pupils themselves earlier in their lives and as a teacher over the years.
[New information] Extrinsic and intrinsic barriers (Ertmer, 1999) often exist in the implementation of technology. Teachers beliefs in the role of technology may reduce or magnify the effects of these barriers.
*Note 251, Nur, Phase 2a.
[Elaboration] Rokeach (1968) mentioned clusters of beliefs about particular entities and situations form attitudes and values and that beliefs, attitudes and values together comprise an individuals belief system.
[Opinion] is that the teachers upbringing, surroundings, values, opinions, perceptions and attitudes does affect his/her beliefs as well.
*Note 256, Siti, Phase 3a.
Both notes contained references that were beyond the given readings. Citing information beyond the reading list was common to all participants in this study. Ziyi and Xiaoqis effort in advancing the collective knowledge of the community on school culture is partially captured in Note 263.
Many factors must be looked into to create a school culture that supports technology. In addition, lots of planning, implementation, and evaluation will be ongoing. Some crucial factors highlighted are:
(1) strong leadership, include the principal and those holding leadership roles
(2) principals enthusiasm towards IT
(3) teachers consensus on the goals for adopting technology
(4) involve teachers in decision making
(5) ongoing staff professional development on IT
(6) teachers must take risk and experiment with IT and learn from their mistakes
(7) funding for supports needed by teachers, technically or otherwise
On a personal note, I believe it is possible to create a IT culture in school. Of course, we need to look into many crucial factors, which are interconnected in one way or another. Above all, I think the principal plays the most important role as he is the one who controls the direction in which the school is heading to. The principal must dare to take risk if he supports a IT culture in his school. I believe so far there arent many successful stories.
*Note 263, Ziyi and Xiaoqi, Phase 3e.
The notes contain rather important and comprehensive ideas for school improvement. They also provide some evidence that the teachers were advancing as a community and contributed to each others understanding, which is an important goal for KBC (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996). For this study, although the facilitator was familiar with the problems in schools and those reported in literature, he allowed the problems to emerge through discussions based on the teachers experiences. This has worked well for the in-service teachers. The next quotation from Ziyi provides support for this interpretation.
I am satisfied with the ways we learned in this module. Personally, I feel that it is an interesting way to learn. The lessons are not the lecture type, more of reflections and professional sharing of our practices. I find that the present course is meaningful to me. We have to do readings so as to keep abreast with time and technology. In addition, the research on a particular topic of our interest forces us to do in-depth reading. It makes learning meaningful and interesting.
*Note 176, Ziyi, Phase 5c.
The other important strategy applied in the T-KBC was structured reflection. In the T-KBC, the teachers were requested to write reflection notes at the end of Module 1 and Module 3. They were also asked to write reflection notes on their teaching activities after they had implemented their lesson plans. Notes 564 and 274 are two reflective notes from the teachers.
[Putting our knowledge together] having used KBC as a learning tool in our Adv Dip modules, initially, I felt that it was impossible to adopt this approach to primary school students. Nevertheless, after questioning my theory of learning, in the module Visualizing students thinking, I began to envision myself adopting the approach as part of my experimentation in getting them to discover more about kites. [Evidence] from my students postings has made me realize that this approach to teaching helps students to acquire depth and breadth in learning if they have been given the necessary scaffolds.
*Note 564, Siti, Phase 5c.
Note 564 is a reflection note from Siti after experience with the spiral cycles of inquiry. It is evident how concrete experience and experimentation with KBC have led to her shift in perspective about the feasibility of a KBC approach for her pupils.
[My theory] Before we can fully tackle the beliefs of teachers, we need to analyze what causes teachers not to embrace IT.
[Reason] I believe that there are a few reasons and beliefs.
1. Fear that new methods may not be as effective as traditional methods in getting results.
2. Fear of losing control in the lab. This is supported by the ACOT [Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow] research where the teacher could not stand the noise level initially.
3. Unable to monitor the results of the pupils, as most of the computer programs do not have monitoring facilities unless it is an E-Learning facility that tracks the results.
4. Unable to see what mistakes the children have made in their work and thereby unable to correct the mistakes. Basically, it is not having a feel of what the children have done.
5. Teachers do not have the luxury of time to plan proper IT lessons and trying innovative styles of teaching. They also do not have the time to find more resources.
6. So what if I have very good IT lessons. At the end of the day, my evaluation is based on my class results and not on my IT lessons. I would get called in if my results are not there and get a D grade. However, I would not get a D grade if I do not conduct IT lessons. Doesnt this sound familiar to many of us?
7. Fear of losing curriculum time when conducting IT lessons using new approaches. This is also reflected as a constraint in the ACOT report.
8. When the computers break down, it will waste my time in the lab.
9. My Head of Department is also not using IT, so why should I?
[Opinion] In my opinion, some of the problems faced by the teachers may or may not be real.
[Evidence] Although I do not have evidence of such thoughts, I would really like to find out if it really is so. I want to implement a survey to check whether they are really thinking in that manner.
[Conclusion] If the above beliefs and reasons are true, it is a systemic problem that is inherent in our education system. It requires a multipronged approach to address the problems.
*Note 274, Kim, Phase 5c.
Note 274, written by Kim at the end of the first module, reflects his conscious effort in consolidating his understanding, and contemplation on how he could apply what he has learned to his work as a head of the department for IT. These reflective notes constituted most of the notes that were coded as Phase 5C because the teachers usually reported a change in their perspectives that was due to their learning experiences.
Although the preceding sections highlight that the facilitator played a key role in this T-KBC, it is important to note that the participation was active yet nondominating. The facilitator posted 99 notes for this study in total, with an average of 117 words per note. His contribution was higher than the average number of notes contributed by the teachers. A further search was performed on the database using the Analytic Toolkit to find out the number of responses that the facilitator generated. A total of 164 notes were direct responses, accounting for 22.6% of the total number of notes. It seems that the facilitators active participation helped to promote active participation among the participants. In Haras study, the facilitators average posting was twice (2.1 notes/ week) that of the students. Guzdial and Turns (2000) also reported that about 20% of notes in databases were teachers contributions in their study. Active participation by the facilitator is crucial in developing and sustaining discussion among learners (Wallace, 2003), perhaps at the beginning stage, when the facilitator is modeling appropriate behaviors in the online environment. It should then fade away as the participants take ownership of the knowledge coconstruction processes. The results of this study also imply that the facilitator did not dominate the discourse, because about 80% of the interactions were peer-to-peer interactions. One rationale of employing CSCL in the classroom is to break the typical three-turn discourse structure, commonly known as IRE structure, in which the teacher initiates, the student responds, and the teacher evaluates (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996). The results are consistent with Scardamalia and Bereiters contention that the KBC democratized the learning environment for the learners.
In our study, we fostered a T-KBC that successfully engaged the teachers in collaborative knowledge building, leading to better common understandings. The teachers seemed to be well connected to one another and they participated actively, contributing to the advancement of knowledge of the community. We suggest that the following factors could have contributed to this advancement and that they be considered in future studies of teacher knowledge-building communities: (1) having a group of committed teachers as participants who are able to work well with each other; (2) engaging the teachers to work on authentic problems faced in schools; (3) empowering the teachers with the agency to solve problems and reflect on their learning; (4) allocating adequate time for teachers to link theories to practice and to reflect on their implementation; and (5) having a facilitator who is experienced in facilitating this form of learning and in using a pedagogical model that is built on appropriate learning theories. These factors are consistent with some of the principles of fostering a KBC among schoolchildren suggested by Scardamalia (2002)for example, the use of authentic problems, empowering students as epistemic agents, and having collective cognitive responsibility. Our study has shown that these principles can be applied to a community of practice among working adults. The added advantage of working with adult students is that they bring with them authentic problems (rather than simulated ones) to solve in their work environment, thus providing a richer context for them to link theories and practice.
Our experience also reveals that successful implementation of T-KBC involves a complementary interaction of several factors that warrant further study. Of these factors, those that are within the instructors control include the professional development approach, the choice of authentic problems, and the empowerment of participants through the design of activities. Other factors are likely to be emergent during the process. In a teacher professional development context in which teachers sign up for the courses of their choice, it is hard to control group composition or have the right mix of learners readily available. The level of teacher commitment toward knowledge construction may also be a barrier to success. It has been reported that some teachers and students would rather play the role of passive recipients and, when asked, rate community learning negatively (see Gilbert & Driscoll, 2002; Yuen, 2003). Having an extended period to learn and apply a particular pedagogical model does not seem to be a norm in most teacher colleges; this too is a systemic issue beyond the control of individual instructors (Wideen et al., 1998). Nevertheless, the facilitating factors that we have suggested in this study could serve as guiding principles for instructors in the design and implementation of KBC for teachers.
The authors wish to thank Dr. Jeanette Bopry and Dr. Roger Merry for their constructive inputs during the preparation stage of this manuscript.
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