TEL Communities

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TEL Communities
Definitions: Theoretical background relevant to technology facilitated social learning
Research evidence: Systematic literature reviews on the theme of technology facilitated social learning

Interactive networks and social knowledge construction behavioural patterns in online collaborative learning activities

Zhang, S, Liu, Q, Chen, W, Wang, Q and Huang, Z.  (2017) Interactive networks and social knowledge construction behavioral patterns in primary school teachers' online collaborative learning activities, Computers and Education, Vol 104, pp 1-17.

This study of Chinese primary school teachers looked into social networking and knowledge construction among a group of 83 teachers who were involved in a 6 month online CPD project .  The article acknowledges the increasing prevalence of online CPD in the teacher community and sets about exploring the features of communication in the sample group during the structured CPD they took part in.  The key relevance of this study to this MESH guide rests on its intention to investigate collaborative relationships and social knowledge construction in primary school teachers' online collaborative learning activities.

Among the findings of the study was that participation in the online collaborative learning activities enabled the teachers to become acquainted with each other and that through participation in posting they received more information to support their development.  It was also found that the nature of interaction was not always deep and considered, which they suggest may be the result of teachers' lack of personal learning time, lack of development of online discussion skills, and a lack of organisation by a key figure in the CPD programme.  They go on to note that a teacher friendly convenient learning environment with a variety of online synchronous and asynchronous discussion tools and support might be helpful for addressing the latter issue.

Of particular interest for the current purpose is the discussion of the authors’ observations around constructivist learning theories.  They note that beneficial interaction depends on teachers' active interaction with content and with others. They highlight the importance of some low level actions such as teachers needing to read comments posted by others and to actively  reflect on the meaning of these comments. This they indicate is a precursor to participation through the expression of their own ideas and experiences and active interaction with others. This is described as a beneficial interaction which involves multiple, reciprocal and iterative processes of knowledge creation. The resonance of these findings in the MESH guide context is the acknowledgement of the role of social learning in the on-line environment and the need for skill building among the group members as the iterations build among the community.

Implications of the study to develop understanding of how technology can facilitate high quality social learning in online and blended environments within the field of teacher education can be summarised as follows: skills need to be in place or to be developed for effective communities of practice to function beneficially, both loose and tighter collaborations have the potential to be beneficial to the community and that  key players in an online or blended learning environment need particular organisational skills.