As many of you know if you follow me on Twitter I am studying for an EdD (Doctorate in Education). My route through this consists of three research papers in the first two years before the final research and thesis taking the remaining four years of the course.
Research paper one was a literature review; a scoping exercise to see what the current research says about the area I was interested in – in my case – teacher informal learning. So what was out there? Not very much that focused on how teachers learn from each other in informal settings, most research on teacher learning focuses on traditional or formal CPD. This meant that I had to widen my search to look at informal learning in other contexts including engineering and nursing.
Out of this came two main theoretical approaches – the work of Etienne Wenger and the communities of practice theory and Engestrom’s activity theory. Honestly, I didn’t read that much into the activity theory as it didn’t focus on informal learning so much as collaboration between professionals. While the communities of practice framework provided a more fruitful avenue to venture down. This is where as a doctoral student you start realising that no research is perfect. Research comes with assumptions, from particular viewpoints, sometimes to describe and sometimes to explain phenomena. Any method has its advantages and disadvantages and a good researcher takes this into account when selecting a particular approach.
So then I started picking apart research papers, looking at those assumptions, viewpoints, advantages and disadvantages, finding gaps that have not been explained or described, bringing together multiple papers to synthesise into a whole that then generates yet more questions. Wenger’s communities of practice framework came from the idea that ‘if learning is not the result of teaching, how does it happen?’ and while unpacking the research in this area I was somewhat unconvinced by it. Wenger’s website now describes it as
‘A community of practice is a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly’
but at the time I read the book and papers – he hadn’t put it quite so clearly! This still left me with the question – how do ideas move from one person to another?
I looked outside this to research into workplace learning and found the work of Michael Eraut, whose research projects have interviewed and analysed different activities that individuals undertake in the workplace. They learn from many of these and more importantly for my research, many of them involved interactions with others.
So I reached the end of paper 1, unconvinced that communities of practice really existed, with a list of workplace activities that help people learn, but with no real explanation of how, when and why ‘knowledge’ was transferred between individuals. If I was to capture interactions between individuals to see ‘knowledge’ transfer – how could I do this as most interactions are informal, casual and often fleeting in a school day? Diaries? Observations? There was a problem I needed to solve to look at informal learning…
Then I joined Twitter….
to download the full paper go to http://purpleelf.edublogs.org/2013/03/24/teacher-learning-via-twitter-part-1/