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


Summarising this column about pedagogy is perhaps the most complicated of all, with a huge range of strategies, ways working, pedagogical tools and more to consider.  In this respect the reader is best advised to read the items in the column with an informed eye, based on their current knowledge, interest and context.

However in summarising this column, entry to reflecting on pedagogy comes via 21st century skills - both for learners and for teachers. The role of novice and master are fluid in communities of practice between teacher educators and beginning teachers for a range of reasons which are both personal and professional.  The openness of the master to become the novice is critical to many exchanges which are blended and online. Sharing information effectively to empower community members has been found to be key as has the presence that individual’s share; being seen as ‘human’ is very important and the power relationships which can play out in didactic environments are damaging in blended and online learning.  The cognitive apprenticeship and technology stewardship are both terms for roles which can be student or teacher led. This might be seen by many as one of the key components of how technology can facilitate high quality social learning in online and blended learning environments within teacher education.

The University of Northampton, as it moves towards relocation into a highly technology resources new campus in September 2018, has focused on ‘active blended learning’.  This has brought about a clearer view of this task for teacher education providers as well as the rest of the university. Recommendations from a report on this are contained in a slide and provide a shortcut  to practical and theoretical perspectives.

In addition this column includes a wealth of hands on tips which can be used to raise the quality of current practice and which provide reflection points for the development of practice in teacher education across phases, subjects and locations.

Some key points:
Column 4 moves towards application to practice by looking at a number of pedagogic strategies for technology facilitated social learning. Key points include consideration of the way in which online learning communities represent a continuous crossover between the real and the virtual spheres; and the idea that learning within the community is everyone’s responsibility and that this can be described by the cognitive apprenticeship and technology stewardship models. The R2D2 model emphasises reflection and doing, and Heick’s model of technology integration describes stages towards self directed learning. Active Blended Learning has become a model at the University of Northampton, that emphasises strong links between on and offline activities, active online tasks that result in concrete doing or producing, on social learning and on student generated content.

In teacher education, online learning communities represent a crossover between real and virtual worlds as participants engage in a cycle of knowledge building discussions about real practice in the virtual world, followed by transfer to classroom practice (Burnett, 2016).

Online communities have three forms of presence: cognitive, social and teaching. Learners need to take on the responsibility for their own learning in these spheres as well as that of their student colleagues.  (Garrison, Anderson, and Archer, 2003)

Technology stewardship describes how the role of cultivating an online CoP is often taken on by an individual or small group actively playing a facilitating role within the community (Wenger et al., 2009)

Cognitive apprenticeship model: The ability for participants to see real life examples produced by more experienced teachers during an online course is critical in developing involvement in the community of practice (Collins, Brown and Newman,1989)

Heick proposes a four stage model of technology integration that frames learning in stages that move from externally directed learning to self directed learning, based on a gradual release of scaffolding and support (Heick, 2014).

A new pedagogical model  Active Blended Learning has become the normal mode of delivery for learning and teaching at the University of Northampton based on the effective use of blended learning approaches, and on making strong, explicit links between on and offline activities. A recent report found that students valued multimedia approaches, dynamic ways of engaging with content, active online tasks that gave them a chance to do things, classroom work extending online work, and the chance to contribute to developing understanding within a group. They recognised the importance of socialisation and collaboration within the online work (Palmer et. al, 2017).
Some recommendations:  
- Ensure that staff are regularly visible online.
- Foster a positive, experimental attitude towards technology for learning through creative experimentation - mix up options.
- Do not assume that online social interaction happens ‘naturally’. Embed it, expect it, and facilitate it.
- Encourage interaction with content through concrete doing or producing activities and embed small passive tasks into active tasks.  
- Work towards ‘knowledge creation’, i.e. students creating content themselves and make use of student-generated content as “your presentation”.


Bonk, C.J. and Zhang, K., 2006. Introducing the R2D2 model: Online learning for the diverse learners of this world. Distance Education, 27(2), pp.249-264.Burnett, C., 2016. Being together in classrooms at the interface of the physical and virtual: implications for collaboration in on/off-screen sites. Learning, Media and Technology, 41(4), pp.566-589.

Collins, A., Brown, J. s. & Newman, se (1989). Cognitive apprenticeship: Teaching the crafts of reading, writing, and mathematics. Knowing, learning, and instruction: Essays in honor of Robert Glaser, pp.453-494.

Garrison, D.R., Anderson, T. and Archer, W., 2003. A theory of critical inquiry in online distance education. Handbook of distance education, 1, pp.113-127.

Available at:

Heick,T. (2014, October 26). 4 Stages of Edtech Integration from a Student Perspective [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Wenger, E., White, N. and Smith, J.D., 2009. Digital habitats: Stewarding technology for communities. CPsquare.