K-12 education reform research suggests that new models of teacher professional development (TPD) are needed to establish and support communities of teachers engaged in school reform. We are working with several TPD organizations to develop a new on-line TPD community concept called TAPPED IN. Together, we are forging what we believe will be a self-sustaining TPD community in an on-line environment that enables us to employ existing Internet technology to study modes of collaboration embodied by next-generation commercial Internet technologies. In this paper, we present the theoretical foundations of our concept, the rationale behind the design of the TAPPED IN virtual environment, and our community-building approach.
Keywords--Internet learning community, teacher professional development, MUD/MUVE, WWW
Informed by a growing body of research, education reform leaders are acknowledging the central role that teacher professional development (TPD) must play in systemic reform efforts. However, in practice, even exemplary TPD efforts ( Ruskus & Luczak, 1995) find it difficult to maintain support for teachers after an institute or workshop ( Carey & Frechtling, 1997), to encourage sustained discourse among participating teachers, and to scale up ( Corcoran, 1995). Back at school, teachers have little time to develop and test new ideas, assess the effects, and adjust their strategies and approaches ( Cook & Fine, 1996).
TPD research ( Loucks- Horsley, Stiles, & Hewson, 1996; Lieberman & McLaughlin, 1995; Little, 1993) suggests that new models are needed to provide teachers with greater opportunity to access and discuss exemplary reform-based materials, co-construct and publish resources that reflect new teaching practices, and jointly create locally relevant solutions. Teaching professionals must be able to form their own community to change teaching practices and sustain school reform efforts ( Corcoran, 1995; Lieberman, 1996).
Some education technology advocates ( Guzdial & Weingarten, 1996) suggest that virtual communities for TPD and socialization could help teachers learn new skills and adopt new approaches that will facilitate their transition to reform-based practices. Unfortunately, research has offered practitioners little help in understanding and implementing sustainable virtual TPD communities. Efforts by state and local school reform projects to establish on-line venues for teachers too often result in a disappointing mismatch between technological capabilities that are expedient to implement and the requirements of collaborative TPD activities.
The goal of the Teacher Professional Development Institute (TAPPED IN) project is to help the education practitioner community understand the affordances of emerging Internet technologies and rethink their current TPD approaches to include innovative on-line community services and activities. To achieve these goals, we have been working with staff and teachers from several nationally recognized K- 12 TPD organizations to develop a new concept of virtual TPD community.
The TAPPED IN concept is based on a vision of a shared virtual place ( Fitzpatrick, Mansfield, & Kaplan, 1996; Harrison & Dourish, 1996) where teachers with diverse interests, skills, and backgrounds can (a) meet and learn from one another at any time, (b) be exposed to a variety of education reform concepts and approaches, and (c) find high-quality resources and contribute those that they find useful. By sharing a single environment, organizations enable teachers to gain access to expertise, ideas, and resources that no single organization could provide by itself. The teachers, in turn, can participate in and take ownership of a familiar and supportive place with their professional colleagues. SRI's multiple role as environment architect, community organizer, and support provider enables us to embed our research within a rich mosaic of authentic, ongoing teacher professional development efforts with the full participation of the practitioner community.
In this paper, we describe how we are weaving theoretical considerations and practical design constraints into an approach to realizing our goal of a self-sustaining on-line TPD community. We describe the TAPPED IN multi-user virtual environment that we are developing to support the community and some of the ways that teachers use it. We emphasize that the environment and community are young and evolving-- not unlike a reef community, where the coral heads are just growing large enough to support a variety of polyps, crustaceans, and fish enclaves. Although we see