A New Image: Online Communities to Facilitate Teacher Professional Development

Article excerpt

Realizing the potential of online or virtual communities to facilitate teacher professional development requires educators to change their current perceptions of professional development. This calls for educators to develop new images of ongoing opportunities for professional development, based on their needs within an online community of learners and their recognition that communities may include individuals from local regions and from around the world who share mutual interests and goals. The realization of online learning communities to facilitate teacher professional development is a matter of carefully and deliberatively designing dynamic learning environments that foster a learning culture. This requires a pedagogical framework that nurtures the establishment of relationships, intimacy, and trust, where people engage in shared learning experiences mediated through technology. Designing an online learning environment that fosters the development of a learning community is not about adding technology on to current professional development practices. Rather, it is about designing, building, and supporting a structure and a process that are purposeful and fluid in nature and in meeting the personal ongoing professional development needs of teachers.


The complexities and demands of this young century have acted as catalysts, fuelling the expansion of network technologies and network-based learning. Information and communication technologies (ICT) and digital networks have altered both learning environments and the diverse roles of people within them. Anytime, anywhere and just-in-time concepts are part of this world. In this new world, greater possibilities and greater opportunities are available for people to work collaboratively in bridging distance and time as they come to together around emerging issues and projects. Further, the expectations of a knowledge era have placed teachers "under significant pressure to create new and different learning environments for their students if they are to realize the potential of a knowledge society, environments that they themselves have not experienced" (Friesen & Clifford, 2003, p. 2). As agents of change in the educational system, teachers need to have the necessary knowledge and skill sets to educate all students to meet increased expectations and performance standards and to be credible competitors in a global economy.

Identified shortcomings in conventional professional development models have sparked a shift toward community-based models for the purpose of providing the ongoing support teachers need to have as they educate students. Further, with advances in ICT and ICT infrastructures in schools, online environments can be created and used in a meaningful way to support teachers' professional practice and routines. These online environments can be designed to nurture the development of online learning communities to facilitate teacher professional development and are a new trend in education. Educational stakeholders who are designing and facilitating these types of environments are exploring new frontiers and are learning as they go.

Developing and sustaining online learning communities to facilitate teacher professional development calls for three important changes. First, there must be a reform of current perceptions of teacher professional development. Second, envisioning new images of professional development using online communities requires ongoing opportunities for professional growth and development based on the needs of teachers within a community of learners. Third, communities may include individuals from the local school region and/or from around the world, who share mutual interests and goals. For online communities to evolve to support teacher professional development, it is critical for key educational stakeholders to consider how communities can be interwoven throughout teachers' professional practices and routines, the curriculum, the institution and globally within professional organizations and professional thinking. …


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