Communities of Practice
Communities of Practice
With the world growing more in terms of complexity and competitiveness, the role of educators is increasingly becoming crucial. In addition, there is the need to transform the educator profession and practices. According to U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology (2011), teachers have the responsibility of improving education in order to facilitate innovation. There is a widespread agreement that teachers are the best hope for equipping learners to meet the ever-increasing career expectations. This can only be achieved by providing educators with a platform through which they can improve their skills and knowledge, and the profession as a whole. Online communities of practice are of such avenues through which educators can continually improve their practice. Jeon, Kim & Koh (2011) outlined the potential benefits of online communities including empowering educators to provide solutions to problems in a systematic and efficient manner; have access to experts; share practices and resources; work together, and continue improving their instructional practices. Technology offers crucial opportunities that can be used to boost interactions between educators efficiently. Connected Educators (CE) is an example of an online and one of the largest educators online communities in the United States. CE brings together at least 14 million educators (Connected Educators , 2014). This paper explores the benefits, opportunities and challenges for reducing the barriers to integration of communities of practice to CE. The paper also discusses how technology has played a crucial role in transforming CE.
Eliminating barriers to participation and integration of online communities have numerous benefits. The first benefit of having an integrated community of practice is that it facilitates access to knowledge. Integration in CEM has been achieved using the Internet, which has been instrumental in addressing barriers and constraints associated with offline interaction. As Saint-Onge & Wallace (2012) explain, online interaction in communities of practice (COPs) creates opportunities through which educators can have fair access to resources both information and human that they are not capable of accessing locally. In addition, Kear (2010) emphasizes that online communities provide opportunities for dialogue that is sometimes paralleled to face-to-face communication. The second benefit associated with integrated COPs is knowledge sharing. According to Jeon, Kim & Koh (2011), more than 75 percent of educators using online communities affirm the crucial role they play in knowledge sharing. Online interactions in COPs offer crucial opportunities through which educators can learn amongst themselves. In addition, online environments have the potential of enriching and expanding the opportunities for learning through other methods that are not facilitated in face-to-face interactions. Studies have indicated that a significant percentage of teachers taking part in online communities are incorporating the knowledge obtained from these communities in their practice (U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology, 2011).
Apart from accessing and sharing knowledge, online communities offer an avenue through which novel knowledge can be created. This is facilitated by the collaborative tools not available in physical interaction. In addition, online communities help in uniting educators having the same interests irrespective of their geographical location. In offline communities, the only avenue for interaction is through face-to-face, which has considerable geographical limitations (Saint-Onge & Wallace, 2012). However, this is not the case with online communities, which are capable of drawing participants from various regions across the globe. In fact, CE has reported considerable success in bringing teachers from various parts of the world through social media platforms such as Twitter.
Online communities also help in bolstering collaboration and strengthening professional relationships and identity (U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology, 2011). Online communities help in lessening feelings associated with aloneness, isolation and disconnectedness, which act as the main reason why educators join online communities. In addition, online communities offer an effective avenue for increasing collaboration and communication among educators while at the same time allowing them to share their experiences and ideas, which results in a sense of belonging among educational professionals. For Kear (2010), one of the barriers to integration in COPs relates to educators having problems communicating in face-to-face professional settings or having a feeling that their views are not being heard. In this regard, Kear (2010) argues that online communities can be utilized in supporting and engaging educators having communication problems, especially newer teachers. It has been documented that about 50% of newer teachers often quit the profession during the first five years due to lack of support, ill preparedness and being overwhelmed (U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology, 2011). Therefore, online communities can come in handy addressing the needs of novel teachers.
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Opportunities and Challenges
An opportunity that CE can exploit is the increase in affordable and interactive technology. Online communities have the capability of building learning environments that can result in meaningful learning. Essentially, online communities are a potential solution that can be used in enhancing individual professional excellence as well as the quality of the teaching profession as a whole. The increase in the proliferation of mobile technologies and internet accessibility provide an ideal opportunity for online communities to thrive (Jeon, Kim, & Koh, 2011).
Despite these opportunities, challenges exist that are likely to hinder educators from participating in online communities. First, education has been considered to be an isolated career. This is evident by the fact that most educators have a tendency of working alone, and rarely interact with their peers outside work (Kear, 2010). Teachers in the United States have a relatively small time in schedules to undertake other activities like professional learning when compared to their counterparts in other parts of the world (U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology, 2011). In addition, there are informal validations or formal credits awarded for taking part in online communities, which further discourages educators from participating in such forums. Nevertheless, a number of teachers are still able to find time to be involved in online communities. It has been estimated that 25% of K-12 educators are participating in at least one online community for the primary reasons of acquiring knowledge, sharing resources, collaborating, and the feeling of connectedness (U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology, 2011).
Other challenges related to the technology needed to facilitate involvement, participants diversity, and problems with building a sense of community among participants. Educators lacking access to the technology needed to access such as Personal Digital Assistants and computers tend to be excluded from taking part in online communities. In addition, educators having unreliable equipment may not be able to participate optimally are likely to be discouraged by the technical difficulties. Similarly, participation in online communities requires computer skills. Lack of physical interaction in an online environment also increases the challenge of building a sense of community among participants. Moreover, participants diversity can pose challenges such as cultural and language barriers to involvement (Kear, 2010).
How Technology Has Transformed CE
The success of CE in attracting participants from the United States and across the world can be attributes to its use of technology. In CE, the use of the Internet has supported usability and accessibility. Usability is concerned with people accessing the content and services of an online community in an effective manner. Accessibility is concerned with making sure all users are capable of accessing the content and services of the online community. In this regard, it is imperative to note that online communities have to make sure that no technical training capabilities are needed for involvement. In addition, communities must strive to provide alternative avenues for involvement as well as the preferences for it. CE has been able to use technology to offer diverse avenues through which educators can participate such as social media, discussion boards, internet radio, and blogs among others (Connected Educators , 2014).
Online communicators have a number of benefits for educators including providing opportunities for accessing, sharing knowledge and in bolstering collaboration and strengthening professional relationships and identity. Online communities can be a crucial tool for educators who are new to the profession. An opportunity that online communities can exploit relates to the increase in affordable and interactive technology. However, a number of challenges exist including the isolated nature of the education profession, the technology requirements on the part of the user to facilitate involvement, cultural and language barriers associated with diversity, and lack of physical interaction hampers the development of a feeling of community among participants.