Mackey, J., & Evans, T. (2011). Interconnecting networks of practice for professional learning. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 12(3), 1-18. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/873/1682
Part of my Annotated Bibliography for the Research Methods Module, the notes here are rough, and first thoughts.

“Evolving  from social constructivist pedagogy for online professional development, the  research describes how teachers create their own networks of practice as they  blend online and offline interactions with fellow learners and workplace  colleagues.”

Mirrors Alec Couros#s Graphic, and idea that a PLN is both on, and offline.

The article also situates itself firmly i social constructivist theory, and in Wenger’s Community of Practice.

“A problem with institutional  perspectives of socially constructed learning is that the zone of interaction  is usually confined to the online course community. There is little acknowledgement  of the overlapping experiences of participants in communities of practice and  other informal learning networks beyond the online course. Downes (2006) hints  at this pedagogical weakness, suggesting that within formal online courses  there is a tendency for community formation to be an adjunct of the course  content, rather than the community itself driving learning interactions and  determining salient content and resources.”

Thos also overlaps, and is oinformed by the focus on LMS/VLE/CMS platforms, and student use of their own native technologies. Platforms, typoically paid fpor, and perhaps more convenient to instructors, often used in closed environments, for instance Blackboard, suffer from enforcing this fissure, and also from comparison with theor open competitors. When connections can be made quickly, with powerful aggregation software, on open platforms that are easy to use, and already a part of stiudents lives, and that furthermore, by their openess offer additional connection possibiloities, who would want to use an LMS? There is a degree to which connection is, perhaps, subservienbt to convenience.

The cost here is that, perhaps, engagement is instructir driven, and necessitated, and that the target – social learning initiated and maintained enthusiastically by participants – is compromised. There’s lots of evidence to indicate that students using their own devoces, and technologies will evince more enthiusiasm and expertise.

“According to Lave and Wenger  (1991) learning is entrenched in social activities and occurs naturally in  workplace interactions outside formal educational or training endeavours;  learning is inextricably entwined with making meaning, sharing social and  historical practices, forming identity, and belonging to community.”

This seems an excellent description, and also a clear reason why Wenger and COP need to be central to Connectivist thought. That said, the unbstated assumptions here might be that the community are self motivated, have a degree of tool use and subject knowledge, want to and benefit from connection, and there are no platform issues ( Google + vs Facebook vs Twitter vs Orkut vs Weibo ), and students are network and tech literate. One advantage of an LMS is that it’s a unified platform.

The article is explicit about meshing COP and  Connectivism together. It;s a case study based pioece, on the experiences of 15 teachers, so it’s limited in terms of sample size.

“The  research focused on the perspectives of teachers who were motivated to learn about ICT, through ICT-mediated learning, but who had little or no experience  of learning online themselves.” This is an interesting group for my ideas. They are motivated, but not knowledgeable – the group characteristics I think I will be addressing next year.

“Although Allie  acknowledged a general sense of connection to the online course community, she  did not identify any particular relationships that stood out as being  significant, apart from the short bursts of activity in groups where interaction  was required (e.g., in one course where collaborative group tasks were set).  This weak connection to the online community was shared by all of the  participants with one or two exceptions.”

This is interesting, especially in a Connectivist setting where the connection is the thing. And, in my case, a short course would aim to create resilient connections, or at least participants whop now want to go to form more resilient connections.

“Overall, participants appreciated  lecturers’ attempts to foster a sense of community but placed little importance  on developing meaningful online connections. In spite of this, there was  consensus that online contributions supported and initiated learning  experiences for teachers and that cross-sector conversations promoted deeper  consideration of ideas and theories.”

Is there a way to reinforce and grow this sens eof utility. I think, expressly and c;ear;y l;aying out that it is an aim, and demonstrating and communicationg it’s utility – this is what we will do, this is how, and this is why -0 could be useful here.

“Although  she was a relative newcomer to the learning centre, Allie actively spanned the  boundaries between study and work. Encouraged by her team leader, Allie acted  as a broker introducing new strategies to enhance the existing repertoire and  practice.” Author describes Allie as someone new to the practice of online pedagogy, but also motivatred, engaged, and “on an inward trafjectory” from the periphery, and aslo as someone who engaged parctically and cognitiviely – they consoidered the tecjh, produced artefacts, engaged in the community, and also, when the opportunity arose, spread the techniques and ideas amonst their offline colleagues. A broker. And this is a key aim, I think, in Connectivist, making your learning visible, but also practically applying it, and sharing the application and reflections that come from that.

“Gravenotter also notes that weak ties with  acquaintances outside the circle of a close community may act as a network bridge  and enable the diffusion of new ideas and practices between groups.” This is in response to the described phenomenon where participants, generally, did not hugely feel connected to each other, and where connections were largelky confined to practical course nbased elements, or sharing of practical experiences. But, teachers responded that they did feel they benefitted from exposure to experiences from groups they dod not necessarily feel close to, in terms of experiences and everyday work. Weak ties allow groups who may not have much in common, but who do have something to give one another to connect, and render their boundarioes with one another permeable – and this wouild also apply to mnore open ideas in terms of non course based people, ideas and experiences.

The lesson here is to promote connection, across multiple disciplines and experiences, in the hhiopes that thje broad based connections will 9and Carlie argues this too) promote a greater and more fertile transfer of ideas.

“Participants became brokers and conduits between the online  learning community and their own community of practice. While their own  teaching changed as a result of their study, it was also clear from interviews  with participants and their colleagues that ideas permeated beyond their own  classrooms.” So her,. we have nodes, connecting new ideas an experiences with their online and existing networks – exactly what we are looking for.

Stressing the practical, concrete experienmces, and allowing space for reflection on them, allows weak connections to reap those benefits. In terms of course architecture, this translatesd into a pocess where stidnets ahve enought time to engage, think, create a teaching experiment, reflect and share, and connect with enough of the network so this experience becomes a rersource for others. The fact that they may not share a teaching context isn’t the issue – is this a question then of having a suffiocient critical mass that people find enough weak connections so that they can distill benefit?

The author aalos argues that studnets who overtly led knowledge dissemination in the offline networks impacted on their network’s practices, and that those who mreely implemented, where the implementation was visible, also became brokjers of change and dissemination. This is a key point in justifying a cMOOC in edtech – it will tranlsate into offline changes. Also, encourage people to become facilatators in their own practice, becoming brokers.

The activities and perspectives of teachers in this study  provided insight into the ways that individuals negotiate the formal and  informal learning experiences in and between communities. The online learning  community exhibited some characteristics of a functioning community of practice  described by Wenger (1998), for example shared understandings and repertoire,  sense of mutual engagement, and activities resembling joint enterprise.  However, participants’ perspectives did not support a trajectory of engagement  from the periphery to a more centrally connected position within the online  community. Although some of the participants had completed six or seven online  courses and were active participants in the online environment, they held only  a nebulous sense of belonging to the community. Their pragmatic, purposeful  approach to the online community suggests that their personal learning  strategies may well reflect some of the characteristics of connectivist  learning as described by Siemens (2005) and Downes (2006). Participants’  experiences and views harmonise with the following synopsis of connectivist  theory.

The starting point  of connectivism is the individual. Personal knowledge is comprised of a  network, which feeds into organizations and institutions, which in turn feed  back into the network, and then continue to provide learning to [the] individual.  This cycle of knowledge development (personal to network to organization)  allows learners to remain current in their field through the connections they  have formed (Siemens, 2004, p. 5).

Siemens (2005) also suggests that weak ties, such as those  exhibited by the participants in the online course community, are a valuable  source of information within personal learning networks. Furthermore, he  suggests that these tenuous or fleeting connections play an important role in  prompting and supporting innovative practices as individuals are exposed to new  ideas from beyond their familiar network of practice.”

“This sense of autonomy was evident in their choices and  level of interaction online and offline and in the way they connected the  theoretical and practical ideas from coursework to their own work contexts.  They were focused on their own learning needs and were not looking for social  engagement or sustained connections with others in the online environment.  Their pragmatic online connections served a purpose, diversifying their  networks and opening up new possibilities for learning, but these connections  were different to the sustained interactions which occurred in their  communities of practice.”

This in interesting, and is the limitations, in comparison with COP#s that the author flagged at the beginning. Weak connections do have affordances – new ideas, innocvation, creatiuvity, and a multiplication of resource opportunities, but also have limitations when copmpared to COP ( interesting question, do COP’s have inverse strengths and weaknesses – more involvement, less innovation for example).

“A key to realising this  potential will be the redesign of online courses to encourage participants to  develop their own networks of practice within and beyond the course parameters,  accepting that weak online ties offer valuable learning opportunities and  facilitating the strong links teachers often have within their school  communities.” The suggestion here seem to be that weak ties and stromng ties should be blended, and facilitated, as through the exercise of both, the eweknesses may be ellided, and the strengths compunded.

Such  redesign will need to value learning that is synchronised with, and situated in,  professional practice; encourage the often invisible interactions that learners  have with those outside the formal course structure; promote the sharing of  work and school-based examples within the online environment (especially  cross-sector interaction); and facilitate critical reflection focusing on the  links between theory and practice and between new and existing beliefs,  attitudes, and practices.

Above  all, effective redesign will embrace creative curricula approaches to enable  participants to select and adapt learning activities to align with their own  professional contexts. Providing flexibility and choice in relation to course  content, assessment, and learning activities requires participants to be  independent learners, prepared to take responsibility for interpreting,  translating, and connecting their learning experiences to professional  contexts. Inevitably this means less emphasis on standard coursework and  assessment and increased variety in participant activity, with implications for  lecturers to scaffold the processes and support multiple projects within a  common framework. Increased flexibility and choice for learners should lead to  greater opportunities

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