There is a movement to encourage professional development for teachers through communities of practice. This coincides with increasing opportunities for like-minded people to connect online. This article proposes a study of online education communities of practice in order to better understand how these communities impact practice and can be utilized in a systematic way.
“Using the Internet both expands community and changes it in subtle ways.” (Wellman, 2004)
As Wellman succinctly states, the use of new genres of Internet communication expands and changes our understanding of community. Web 2.0 communications emphasize information sharing and networking. Blogs are frequently updated websites where content is shared through a series of posts, usually displayed in reverse chronological order (Luehmann, 2007, 2008; Nardi, Schiano, & Gumbrecht, 2004; Schmidt, 2007). Social networking sites, like Facebook and MySpace, allow users to construct profiles within a bounded system and connect with other users (boyd & Ellison, 2007). Microblogging, enabled by sites like Twitter, and Facebook, marries blogs and social networking. Users write short updates that are archived in reverse order. They further choose who to follow and who is allowed to follow them, selecting the network that to whom they broadcast their updates (Java, Song, Finin, & Tseng, 2007; Zhao & Rosson, 2009).
In 2004 Edublogs Campus established the Edublog Awards, an annual program designed to highlight and celebrate the use of blogs and online media to facilitate education. For the 2009 awards there were nineteen categories, including best teacher blog and best individual tweeter. Teachers are using blogs, social networking sites, and microblogs but researchers know little about how and why (boyd & Ellison, 2007; Luehmann, 2007, 2008). A literature on using blogs and Twitter as network learning tools is just beginning to emerge. Much of it consists of conference presentations and articles in non-peer-reviewed media. Further, most of the existing literature on educational online networks focuses on how teachers can utilize these networks as pedagogical tools for their classes (e.g., Martindale & Wiley, 2004; Vie, 2008) In contrast, this article explores how online communities of practice can help teachers develop their professional identity and serve as a form of professional development.
Conceptual Framework: Communities of Practice
In order to understand how teachers connect to each other online, I draw on the literature about communities of practice. Wenger, McDermott, and Snyder (2002) define communities of practice as “groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” (p. 4). Characteristics of communities of practice within the workplace have been documented in sociological and anthropological literature (Wenger, 1999;...