Project 7.1 Progress Report

The TL·PDS: A Virtual Community of
Communication and Support for Pre-service Teachers


December 8, 1997 Project Progress Report

Project leader: Thérèse Laferrière (Laval U)

Principal Investigators: Robert Bracewell & Alain Breuleux (McGill),
Gaalen Erickson (UBC), Frédéric Legault (Laval)

Other Network Researchers: P. Pelletier & A. Boisclair (Laval), R. Goldman-Segall (UBC), S. Shapson (York), A. Millar (Toronto), Jacques Viens (Montréal), Josiane Basque (Télé-université).


1. Stimulate internationally competitive, leading-edge fundamental and applied research in areas critical to Canadian economic and social development.

a. Research breakthrough and impact

The TeleLearning Professional Development School (TL·PDS) is a concept now well grounded in both physical and virtual settings: professional development schools (PDSs) on one hand, and professional development webs (PDWs) on the other hand. Our choice of building on the PDSs model to conduct this research project was a critical one:

"PDSs aims are now common place: provide exemplary education for preservice teachers, support continuing professional development of experienced teachers, and involve schools and universities in collaborative research." (Bullough, Hobbs, Kauchak, Crow & Stokes, Journal of Teacher Education, March-April 1997)


 The bilingual web-site TACT (, which stands for Télé-Apprentissage Communautaire et Transformatif has a counterpart entitled Technology for the Advancement of Collaborative Teaching. It has grown to be an informative, and highly interactive web-site (PDW) devoted to the professional development of student- teachers, teachers and teacher educators. As in other leading edge communities of learners (Brown, American Psychologist, April 1997), researchers base their design on agency, reflection, collaboration, and culture.  


With its web-extended practicum for pre-service teachers, TACT is now instrumental in helping Laval University's School of Education and its associated schools meet the challenging demand of preparing 1 500 pre-service teachers to use computer resources in knowledgeable and skilled ways for learning and teaching. It turns out to be a viable alternative, one presenting innovative pedagogies to students, and transforming their perceptions and beliefs while they are still receiving " traditional " messages from most of the associated schools (field placements) which are not up to date with technology and with computer-supported pedagogies.

b. Research progress

Ways to support the professional development of specific cohorts of student- teachers getting acquainted with computer resources for learning and teaching through university courses and field practica are now in place: see patterns of connection (AERA '97), a model of professional development (ICTE '97), key factors in collaborative teaching (WebNet '97), and networked learning communities (SITE '98). These presentations meet Objective 1: How can telelearning tools create functional and collaborative communities of inquiry? and Objective 2: In what ways can telelearning shrink the gap between sites of learning and sites of practice?

The TL·PDS researchers are developing new knowledge on how telelearning technologies can support sustainable communities of learners. Knowledge grows out of reflective practice and interactions taking place in this virtual community. In order to determine the types of teacher knowledge and skills that are required for successfully integrating computer environments and curriculum content into the classroom, and the types of resources needed, a joint venture was established with Project 7.3 (see TeleLearning '97 and AERA '98, accepted). See also

The identification of the key factors in creating a virtual community of communication and support for pre-service students - the very aim of this project - is being pursued at four sites: Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. They each contribute, from their own respective context base, to the becoming of this virtual community. Each site is implementing and testing the concept according to its local cultures, dynamics and resources; learning communities are established, networking is in progress, and collaborative teaching in sight.

Data arising from this research - related to Objective 3 : How do the uses of technology for learning change the practices of participants - is under analysis and results are to be presented at CSSE '98, and at APA '98 (submitted). Preliminary examination of our data reveals important patterns of conceptual change triggered by participating in a networked community: changes concerning the conception of the learner, of the teacher, and of the modes of interacting with knowledge objects. Another important finding concerns the high inter-dependency between these changes: certain re-conceptualizations of the teacher's work are possible only from a re-conceptualization of the role of the learner, and of the relationships between the learner and various knowledge objects. For example, building groups of active learners supported by potent technologies create powerful opportunities for teachers to participate in professional communities.

November 1997 milestones, with the exception of video links within and between sites, have been met. Technical problems remain-- mostly with respect to sound-- for an easy and flexible use of video ways to support social interaction.

Overall, as a shared research activity, the design of the TL·PDS is well underway to completing its first phase (implementation factors). Its next phase, which will stress sustainability and scaleability factors, may be envisioned as follows: imagine a virtual agora where pre-service teachers, teachers, and teacher educators may gather at synchronous or asynchronous time to reflect on educational practices, deliberate on action, and perform collaborative learning, coaching, monitoring, supervising, or other teaching tasks. Imagine being seated at your computer (logging into TACT from school or home and using or not related materials such as CD-ROMs) watching some pre-service teachers(s), teacher(s), and/or teacher educator(s) modeling innovative pedagogies in face-to-face encounters with students working in networked learning environments, that is what we call " information-, communication-, and collaboration-rich learning environments".

c. Project 7.1 is advancing TeleLearning-NCE's goals

Researchers are designing the TL·PDS and its activities in close coordination with innovative educational practitioners (teachers, school principals and teacher educators integrating information and communication technologies into their own respective learning environments). They uncover key factors of change and resistance, point to new learning possibilities, and widen scope. As they get to understand barriers and socio-psychological blocks, they create un momentum as regards the infusion of ICTs into schools (laboratories and classrooms) and the faculties of education of which they are members.

TACT, for instance, emphasizes both highly innovative and reflective practices (including the one of building the web-site itself). Mixed with face-to-face dialogues, it provides an information-, communication-, and collaboration-rich telelearning environment. Through texts, conceptual maps, images, sounds, and videoclips, it provides ways 1) to get acquainted with, and reflect upon changing social expectations (teachers are well attuned to adapt to social expectations); 2) to learn how to search for, and produce educational resources on the web (orientation, guidelines, training); 3) to see new possibilities for learning and teaching with ICTs (through student-teachers' short essays and journal excerpts, material development, interviews, and video clips of pre-service and in-service teachers in action, and reflection on action; 4) to develop pre-active, inter-active, and post-active routines associated with computer-supported collaborative learning; 5) to tool themselves up with respect to project-based classroom management; 6) to cultivate the essential interaction between the learner and knowledge (knowledge building).

The project 7.1 team of researchers has strategically positioned itself at the local, regional, national and international levels so that its research results could enjoy the greatest social impact. The designed virtual community of communication and support (TL·PDS) gives rise to the unique opportunity for collaboration that TeleLearning tools provide to the Teaching profession, especially as regards the networked learning and teacher professional development.

d. Award

TACT wan the first-prize demo recipient at the First TeleLearning Conference (Nov. '96).

e. Publications

See the list of publications.

2. Develop and retain world-class scientists and engineers in technologies essential to Canada's productivity and economic growth.

a. Project 7.1 is developing educational strategies that promote multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral research approaches and make students aware of the economic and social impact of their work. See the list of graduate students.

As this project stresses the use of PDWs and fosters a more collaborative type of learning and instruction among teachers and students, graduates then have new means to stay connected to the research team and the virtual community once they graduate. The successful integration of those facilities into the learning and, later, working environment implies extensive reconceptualization.

3. Create nation-wide, multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral research partnerships that integrate the research and development priorities of all participants

The design of the TL·PDS is content-oriented, and that, in the two official languages. Technologically-speaking, it is based on the web and the advances made by the researchers of the TeleLearning Beacon Technologies. For instance, all discussion forums dealing with the pre-service teacher education are included in Virtual U (available in both languages); CSILE is carried on at the UBC site while students from McGill and "auditors" from Laval, are involved in an online course taught on WebCSILE (OISE/UT). Implementation of CLARET is upcoming, and there are plans for the use of MAD in some cases.

Virtual U supports pre-service teachers' collaborative reflective practice (pre-active, interactive, and post-active phases) and knowledge-building, as they address complex questions and perplexing dilemmas inherent in daily practice. On-line discussions about curriculum and pedagogy (PDW) merge with face-to-face conversations (PDS) to contribute to the learning experience of the student-teachers participating in the experimentation. With regard to Project 7.1 only, there are presently at Laval University, over 15 discussion forums related to four student-teachers cohorts (15 students per cohort, 3 cooperative teachers, and 3 university-based teachers). Furthermore, three student-teachers are involved daily in a high school which is implementing a program (PROTIC) involving 62 children all empowered with laptops computers, and which applies a project-based classroom management approach. Twelve other student-teachers visit the school once a week. Others are "virtually" connected through either their discussion forums and/or the website TACT. The anonymity of the student-teachers, teachers, and teacher educators is protected, and the site welcomes in some areas or at specific times other student-teachers, teachers, and teacher educators wishing to explore the benefits, on a voluntary basis, of the resources of that learning place.

Studio A designers (Project 7.2), are letting us "include Java and Pearl scripted processes that allow for individualized ProjectBooks connected by project-team, project management tools of editable tables and templates that students publish in collaborative work settings, and teacher class-management tools that collate and coordinate access and evaluation procedures." (See Project 7.2, BEETICs)

Other emerging products from UBC's PDW, entitled CITE (A Community of Inquiry for Teacher Education) are expected next term. Plans to integrate CSILE data bases into CITE are being made.

CD-ROMs illustrating student teachers work and performance are now circulating between sites.

The establishment of networked learning communities in teacher education, reflecting emerging practices constitutes a design approach fostered and documented through our research activities, and with the support of Beacon Technologies researchers. It is, in the words of Banathy (1994), a "future-creating disciplined inquiry".

4. Accelerate the exchange of research results within the Network and the use of that knowledge within Canada by organizations capable of harnessing it in a Canadian economic and social development framework

a. Client community participation

Establishing communities of learners around the teaching professional and student-teacher supported by networked computers is an on-going activity in the design of the TL·PDS. For instance, at both Laval U and McGill, this community, based in a school or group of schools, sharing a vision of school learning and teaching, establishes for itself goals and tools to acquire and share the knowledge required for the achievement of their goals. In that context, development teams face a larger and more and more differentiated number of learners (the entire school staff, the parents, the students, etc.), and are required to consider effective learning mechanisms to handle this demand. They have to establish a community of learners that will be able, to the largest extent possible, to handle its own learning needs and to build capacity for the school to adapt and grow.

Several workshops were offered at each site to teachers working with Project 7.1 team. Keynote presentations and tutorials were part of large educational annual meetings (for instance, BC's Technology Planning Institute (over 300 participants attended TPI-III), AQUOPS' Conference (nearly 2 000 teachers, school principals and other personnel registered for this event held in Drummondville, Qc), AIES's Conference (a gathering of 200 private schools administrative personnel, Sherbrooke, Qc). Presentations were also given at pan-canadian events such as New directions, a meeting of the student federations held in Ottawa last February; another was the CMEC Meeting, held in Saskatoon last September. In Quebec, let's mention a workshop given for some members of the Conseil supérieur de l'éducation (those preparing a document on educational communities, including a section on communities of learners). See the list of workshops and presentations.

The PROTIC project has a number of partners, including Videotron, IBM, and Laval U. The parents have equipped children with individual laptop computers, a value of over 200 000 $.

A 10 000$ contract was negotiated between the provincial Secrétariat de l'autoroute de l'information and CRIM (Montréal) dealing with the integration of ICTs into schools. M'hammed Abdous, a doctoral student, and Thérèse Laferrière collaborated on that project.

A 15 000 $ grant (Laval U) is supporting school-based research on the integration of ICTs in the classroom in newly selected associated schools (PDSs).

A collaboration with the CEFRIO is established and discussions are underway for a contract with First Nations (Qc) who committed 1 000 $ for exploratory work on how the concept of learning communities might apply to their urban centers. Public sector organizations are also manifesting interest in applying our research results on learning communities to their own training programs. Developments are pending.

b. New developments

The design of TL·PDS, and the discussions taking place within and between each site, reveals the challenge of sustainability in establishing learning communities in teacher education. We treat that challenge in terms of requirements to embed activities that survive single teacher-development events and that will become part of the school and/or university ethos. Extended professional development for educators includes the current design of TeleLearning Institutes. The first of these Institutes is being planned to occur around the McGill Faculty of Education in August 1998.

Thérèse Laferrière is now in charge of TEL-ED 98 Web-Extended Program, after having served as the moderator of one of the 6 strands (The Learner Perspective) at the first TEL-ED Extended Program (TEL-ED 97, Austin, Tx).

Researchers within Project 7.1 expect PDWs to become another key activity, asides courses, seminars, and practica, of universities' professional schools, and are working to position TACT and its others PDWs.

The virtual practicum is a prototype under development, one which requires coordination with Beacon Technologies researchers, and formal agreements (such as the one signed between Laval U and Virtual U).

The emerging concept of the virtual teacher professional development agora will create new opportunities for collaboration at local, regional, national, and international levels.