AERA '99 Proposal



Networked Communities of Learners:

The TL*NCE Teacher Education Model




Thérèse Laferrière (Université Laval) & Alain Breuleux (McGill University)


Robert Bracewell & George Carani, McGill University, John Willinsky, Larry Wolfson & Gaalen Erickson, University of British Columbia; Frédéric Legault & Fernand Gervais, Université Laval, Ron Owston & Herb Wideman, Mary Lamon, OISEUT, Jacques Viens (Université de Montréal), Mary Beam, ENO/REO.


Margaret Riel (U of California, Irvine), Mark Schlager (SRI), Niki Davis (Exeter U), T. J. Plomp (U. of Twente, The Netherlands).




A phenomenon that at least holds greater promise to change the nature of teaching than any other recent invention is taking place in higher education, the practice of Internet-based activities is transforming teaching and learning. Computer networking is now being used to support teaching, just as it has been used to support, and perhaps transform, how we have done research. Interactive learning materials and activities are being developed along either the "passive-learner model" or the "active-learner model" (Carlson & Falk, 1990), and computer-mediated communication is considered a value-added activity to the act of teaching (see Owston, 1997). This is becoming possible because several new technologies have matured to such an extent that learners can interact with others on their campus, in or from their homes, field placements, or workplaces. Those involved in the education of educators, at all levels, are thus facing a new challenge, one which is at once risky and compelling given the window of opportunity that is now opened: at the one end of the spectrum, network-based learning is viewed as a means to increase faculty productivity and to accommodate more students with existing facilities (Levin, 1991; Johnstone, 1993), and at the other end, as the essential activity for maintaining our scholastic cultures through knowledge-building communities. And then again, teachers are engaged in learning about the technology, even as they are to help their students work with it.


While the traditional classroom model of instruction is being questioned as the sole viable mode of edification and learning (Chen-Lin & Kulik, 1991) and as an effective way to produce learning (Guskin, 1994), Internet-based activities are developing. Advocates hold them to be a suitable and viable alternative for professional education as academic administrators and faculty explore several cost-effective technology solutions aimed at improving learning outcomes for students, reducing labor intensity, and providing new ways to transmit information and better services to students while enhancing the quality of instruction. But, on campus, this implies a change of thinking about how people learn, and the establishment of a new balance of control (for a discussion of these implications for higher-education, see Dolence & Norris, 1995).


For learner empowerment to produce desirable outcomes in the long run, much educational research will need to be carried out. Teacher educators have a responsibility for preparing professional educators who will know how to create effective learning environments, ones likely to include networked computers. Teacher educators involved in the TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence (TL*NCE) share the belief that educators must have a say in the orientation and the conduct of emerging learning and teaching practices. The TeleLearning research program, funded under Canada's Centres of Excellence Research Program, contains an important teacher education component that seeks to develop a model of integrating technology into teacher education. The model identifies a) under what conditions teachers can become reflective utilizers of educational technologies that support and extend their work as educators, b) how those conditions are achieved in a variety of situations and c) the consequences of such achievements. The research program is aimed at assisting pre-service and in-service teachers as well as teacher educators while gaining knowledge and skills of a practical or intellectual nature which they are called upon to master, in order to accomplish the tasks and functions expected of them now or in the not too distant future.




The objectives of this session are to demonstrate 1) how teacher educators from Canada, but also from United Stated and Europe, form computer-supported learning communities that reflect on their experiences of using online resources and tools, 2) how they support learning throughout their experimentations, and 3) what professional knowledge is emerging as a result of participation in local communities of learners, and interconnectedness to a broader network.

Scientific and educational importance


Barr & Tagg suggested (1995) that the dominant Instruction Paradigm mistakes a means for an end. That is, it takes the means or method, referred to as "instruction" or "teaching," and makes it the college's end or purpose. This sort of rhetoric is thought to be a necessary feature of theoretical formulation, intended to influence public discussion and policy-making (see Strain, 1997). Seaton (1993) noted: "However, such a transition of student learning can take place only when the teaching and learning styles of both faculty and students are transformed from information dissemination to critical inquiry and from instructor dominated to collaborative learning." (p.52) There is ample evidence that the two most important determinants of learning are time-on-task and active learning strategies (Ewell & Jones, 1996). Cooperative and collaborative learning strategies engage students in constructive, reacculturative conversations with one another. What is learned is not only about what students read but what is said to one another about what they read (Pence, 1993). Computer-mediated communication research (Fjermedal, 1986; Cooper & Selfy, 1990; Hiltz, 1992; Harasim, 1993; Lévy, 1994; and many others) points to its potentials for collaborative and emancipative learning.

The most adequate ways of educating educators not for instruction per se, but for every student to learn by whatever means work best are not always applicable in schools of Education. The lecture-discussion classroom format remains the primary means of producing instruction in North American colleges and universities today because it does in fact produce a lower cost of instruction than the use of individualized active and or collaborative learning strategies. Schools of Education are criticized by preservice and inservice teachers for their lack of coherence between what they espoused theoretically, and what they practice on campus.

Many schools of Education in North America have redesigned their curricula over the last decade, most especially their practice curricula (the Professional Development School Model), to be amenable to research on learning and teacher education research. Many teacher educators have adopted the constructivist view of learning. But campus-based learning coupled with field experience in school setting continues to be the primary mode in professional teacher education. And well-established instructional practices on campus are not estranged to the difficulty of transforming teacher educators' pedagogy. Changes in educational paradigms and the evolving nature of an ever growing information society, create new opportunities and challenges for educators in all sectors and at all levels. And the emergence of networked communities of learners is leading the way toward the development of viable alternative educational models.


Perspectives/theoretical background


The notions of professional development (Lanier, 1986), mediation (Vygotsky), community of practice and situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991), and of knowledge building communities (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993, 1996) are central in our research program. So is activity theory (Leontiev) as we seek to understand the potential of on-line progressive and collaborative reflective discourse for teacher education. Knowledge-building is fostered, that is, personally and socially constructed and reconstructed through the experience of teaching and reflective practice. Teacher networks (Lieberman, 1996) are computer-supported, and a view of knowledge which emphasizes collaborative learning and teaching has been adopted.


Mode of inquiry, and methods


Telelearning is defined as the use of multimedia computers linked to electronic networks for learning purposes. These networks reach far beyond a school or a university and include among their active participants, teachers, students, undergraduates and various other experts from a number of schools and universities. These communities of learners are engaged in knowledge-building (see;; http://;; WIERhome; Advanced telelearning tools are provided (Virtual U, Harasim, 1995 and CSILE, Scardamalia, Bereiter & Lamon, 1994). For each community of learners, there is a related research project. Knowledge grows out of the sharing and shaping of experiences in ways facilitated by the increased information, communication and collaboration. Ways of supporting teachers in their reflective use of online resources and tools are documented. So are the ways these technologies may shape emerging pedagogies.


Multiple research perspectives are shared within and between sites (assumptions, questions, methodologies, and discoveries), both enabled and precipitated by telelearning. On-line writings and dialogues occur in groups limited to 20 participants or less, and reflect preservice and/or inservice teachers' practical experience in the planning, implementation and evaluation of computer-supported learning activities. Collaborative problem setting and problem solving are encouraged, and facilitated. Participants are invited to record difficulties, misunderstandings as well as to document successes. Knowledge webs are open to all, as materials developed at one site may be found useful at another site.


On-line forums and dialogues are analyzed, and reinvestigated in face to face and further on-line discussions. Journals are kept, and stories are told. Some are co-authored. Ways in which participants construct, share, and reconstruct a given discourse or narrative are also documented. Interpretations of the materials lead to redesigned learning activities. Analyses of the on-line conversations, using cognitive discourse analysis methods (see Breuleux, Bracewell, Renaud, 1995), focus on characterizing the different sources of knowledge required of participants to engage in successful knowledge-building communities, and what knowledge results from participation in these communities.


Data sources


Participants are asked to write their expectations and plans governing their teaching and learning activities, and to build on one another's discourse with respect to pedagogical content. Data is gathered on-line (Studio A, Virtual U and WebCSILE). Individual and group semi-structured interviews are conducted (audio- and video-tapes) at regular times with students, pre-service teachers and experienced educators. Ethnographic fieldnotes are also compiled on the planning and development processes and contexts of the activities and materials, and on professional conversations with student teacher(s) and/or teacher(s). Observations on how our own practices as teacher educators are changing, and on the development on emerging knowledge-building professional communities are made. Narratives based on these records are constructed. Materials produced and published on-line are classified and reviewed. There are also focus groups which are facilitated by neutral moderators who are familiar with but not associated with the experiences of the teachers' candidates.




Forms of support and communication among the participants vary while learning takes place in networked communities of learners. Computer-supported collaborative knowledge-building, seen as the ultimate function of networks (Intranet and Internet), is influenced by the following factors (time, network capacity and literacy, institutional embedment, local cultures). Content-related themes point to the enculturation process into these new practices as well as implicit socio-cultural well-entrenched conceptions of what it means to be a teacher. The TeleLearning environment, as technology, acts as a catalyst for role changes. It becomes apparent that creating sustainable communities of learners among educators requires the establishment of rituals, habits, and new patterns of interaction. The findings include work on how the implementation of these new technologies to build communities entails a meeting of technological, business, and educational cultures, that calls for a reorientation of what it means to teach. There are also results which establish the different range of learning outcomes entailed in teaching and working with these new technologies. Process-related themes stress the pragmatics, present quasi-immediate results, and reconceptualized courses of action. Altogether, TeleLearning is found to support the cohabitation of educators at different levels of technology practice, to increase "mobility" across different sites, and to promote collaboration in design, implementation, and inquiry.


Structure of the session

This interactive symposium will be mainly conducted in small thematically oriented groups, building on last year's very successful format for the symposium. These groups will be supported by website materials for participants to follow up on, as well as associated and ongoing online forums conducted throughout the year which they are welcome to join. A twenty-minute presentation will set the stage for further reflective analysis and small-group conversations on the experiences conducted at the four Canadian sites (Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver). Each site will identify the critical factors that forms the primary focus of their discussion, around themes of communication, community, and technology. Each of the four groups will have its own discussant, that is, an educational researcher participating in another learning community either in United States or Europe. Each group will discuss the factors affecting the community- and knowledge-building capacities of communities of learners. They will also dwell with their specific role as teacher educators in their local learning communities as well as in interconnected learning communities. They will tap in their own learnings while comparing methods of assessing indicators of community engagement, levels of interaction, and skills acquired. Finally, the methodological question of establishing the nature of the supportive role played by the technologies, whether in offering a form of scaffolding, or opening channels of communication, or providing greater means of documentation, etc. This interactive seminar will be web-extended, so that participants could continue conversations online within their own group or move to another virtual group.




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