TEL Communities

Helen Caldwell and Anna Cox | View as single page | Feedback/Impact
TEL Communities
Definitions: Theoretical background relevant to technology facilitated social learning
Research evidence: Systematic literature reviews on the theme of technology facilitated social learning

Interdisciplinary use of blogs and online communities in teacher education

This paper captures through five case studies how blogs and communities have been used in our setting. It extends Deng and Yuen’s (2011) research to consider how multimodal blogs and communities combined with face to face learning events can promote collective learning and reflexivity, and how they can develop teachers’ confidence and skills in using technology in their practice. We have conducted a thematic analysis of five case studies in the teacher education division, which used blogs and communities singularly and in combination to enhance learning. The posted content in these spaces consisted of a range of media-rich digital artefacts and resources, along with related commentary and discussion, and so a theoretical framework was required that took account of this (see tables 1 and 2). We were interested in how multimodal content might be analysed to acknowledge the visual culture in which we all teach and learn (Heaton, 2014). Our model is developmental; we know that multiple approaches exist to analyse multimodal content (Banks, 2007; Pink 2012), but we focus specifically on how the multimodal content shared in our blogs and communities demonstrates three themes: the process of reflexivity; the creation of communities of practice and the adoption of technologic tools and strategies. `

The case studies shared in this paper enable participants to belong to online communities of practice with a shared common purpose in improving their classroom pedagogies. Our learners were able to co-construct knowledge by documenting learning that took place in a number of different contexts: at teacher sharing events, at network meetings, in classrooms, and via the creation of digital artefacts. Contemporary online communities of practice, such as those modelled, can thus combine physical and virtual spaces enabling the participants’ learning journeys to move in and out of a number of ‘habitats’, a process which increases the opportunities for learning (Wenger, White and Smith, 2009; Hammond, 1998). This generated some key questions for us; when participants of the communities of practice navigate these habitats how does the learning itself take place and how can educators facilitate this learning to move forward? These questions prompted an interest in reflexivity.
Our research design is focused around the analysis of multimodal content in five blogs and communities to examine the common, successful and limiting factors in enhancing learning through the three themes of communities of practice, reflexivity and use of technology.


Findings suggest that blogs and G+ communities are both useful tools for demonstrating reflective and self-directed learning. They enable the generation of socially shared content within learning communities, and promote the use of technology-based teaching practices. When blogs and communities are used in combination, as in cases 3 and 4, they can encourage reflection before, during and after the application of theory to practice adding reflexive learning. By observing how blogs and communities can be used together our analysis emphasises the twin aims of generating content through interaction and curating content in a ‘communal repository’ to use Wenger et al.’s term (2009, p.1). We suggest that the sharing of multimodal content makes these aims more achievable by using media to transmit explicit and succinct examples of classroom practice and subsequently provides opportunities for students to interact with shared content. When further supported by face-to-face events, blogs and communities can promote continuous learning through active experimentation and sharing within the online community (Kolb, 1984; Schon, 1983). Our findings suggest that reflexive cyclical learning occurs across habitats as ideas are picked up by peers, responded to and reinterpreted in the form of new digital artefacts. This process gave our participants the confidence to try technological approaches in their own teaching contexts, easing the transfer of technologic innovation to classroom practice.


Through our cases we have shown that online communities of practice in the form of blogs and communities, such as G+, can provide a fertile ground for social learning. Like their physical counterparts, our virtual communities of practice are characterised by a shared common purpose and by the application of ideas to practice. Our belief, supported by our findings to date, suggests that reflexive learning can be amplified and accelerated due to the number of opportunities learners have to engage with others who are exploring the same topics in different contexts. Our discussion of blogs and communities highlights the value of mixing physical, digital and social learning spaces. And it also demonstrates the potential of digital technology to support individual learners in a personalised way, recognising the value of documenting personal learning through a range of media ‘as it happens’ rather than demonstrating mastery of a field through a text-based assignment at the end of a module (Ovens, 2003).

Summary of benefits for education students

  • Writing for a live and responsive audience is a transferable skill for class teaching. It provides an incentive to write and facilitates informal peer-to-peer learning.

  • Blogs and communities are both useful tools for demonstrating reflective and self-directed learning, representing a move away from teacher directed pedagogy towards a flexible learner centered approach through the generation of socially shared content and the use of technology-based teaching practices.  


Caldwell, H. and Heaton, R., 2016. The interdisciplinary use of blogs and online communities in teacher education. The International Journal of Information and Learning Technology, 33(3), pp.142-158.

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The interdisciplinary use of blogs and online communities in teacher education


Banks, M. (2007). Using visual data in qualitative research. London: Sage.

Deng, L., and Yuen, A. H. (2011). Towards a framework for educational affordances of blogs. Computers and Education, 56(2), 441-451.

Heaton, R. (2014). Moving mindsets: Re-conceptualising the place of visual culture as multi-sensory culture in primary art education. Canadian Review of Art Education, 41.1, 77-96.

Hammond, M. (1998). Learning through online discussion. Journal of Information Technology for Teacher Education,7.3, 331–346.

Kolb, D. (1984). Experimental Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. London: Englewood Cliffs.

Ovens, P., 2003. A patchwork text approach to assessment in teacher education. Teaching in Higher Education, 8(4), pp.545-562.

Pink,S. (2012). Advances in visual methodology. London: SAGE.

Schon, D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic Books.

Wenger, E. White, N. & Smith, J. D. (2009). Digital habitats: Stewarding technology for communities. Portland: CPsquare.