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MirandaNet Fellowship Casestudy

Membership List | Publications | Research | Specialist Area List | Braided Learning Ejournal

Collaboration and co-construction through on-line socialization

Maulfry Worthington

Year of posting: 2004


In the past online learning has often resulted in a re-creation of teachers’ normal, pedagogical practices (Cooney & Stephenson, 2001; Alexander & Boud; 2001). My interest in e-learning arose through personal experiences in providing ‘traditional’ (face-to-face) CPD for teachers over a number of years when I questioned the extent to which my provision had any lasting or deep impact on teachers’ thinking and practice. E-learning offered a new means of supporting teachers in CPD.

This study was conducted within a collaborative e-learning project. There is seldom agreement in what is meant by the word ‘collaboration’ (Dillenbourg, 1999) though in respect of this study not only were there collaborative discussions, some teachers joined the project with a colleague, allowing involvement of pairs to be evaluated. Additionally two of us collaborated as joint project leaders sharing the management of this project and co-facilitating discussions, although each of us focused on different aspects for research: this aspect of collaboration is not explored within the context of this study.

Totten et al and Gokhal argue that shared learning helps learners to be responsible for their own learning: through doing so they become critical thinkers, analysing, synthesising and evaluating concepts (Totten, Sills, Digby & Russ, 1991; Gokhale 1995).

The context for discussion focused on an innovative and extensive, evidence-based research study we had conducted, into children’s mathematical graphics (3 – 8 years) (Worthington & Carruthers, 2003). The online forum allowed teachers to develop their understanding about this aspect of children’s development and pedagogy whilst simultaneously developing their own practice. This would allow e-learning to be embedded, an aspect emphasised in the government’s e-learning consultation document (DfES, 2003a).

Teachers elected to participate in this online community of practice, an additional and significant factor which may also have contributed to its success (unexplored in the context of this study). Many teachers explained their interest in the content of the online discussions as a specific reason for choosing to participate. It is also important to note that teachers recruited for this project were committed, enthusiastic and generally highly motivated: most also teach in Early Excellence Centres.

The literature critique explores aspects of dialogue, context and technologies through a focus on the work of Bakhtin; Mercer; Kress and Nardi and Day. These are significant themes and provide a context for the forum explored within this study. The findings indicate that the dialogical context can be enriched with the use of e-graphics when they are contributed by the participants in the forum and are sourced from the children in participants’ own classrooms.

This study therefore may be said to be a search for what Habermas defines as an ‘ideal speech situation’ in which dialogue is unfettered and free of distortion (Habermas, 1984). The extent to which an ‘ideal speech situation’ has been achieved points to an ‘information ecology’ (Nardi & Day, 1999) supporting positive outcomes for teachers’ professional development. Analysis of the dialogue through ‘cohesive ties’ techniques (Stokoe, 1996), highlights rich language use and collaborative meaning-making. Analysis of transcripts of telephone interviews emphasises the extent of teachers’ meta-cognitive concerns and is a significant indicator of deepening levels of learning through this means of CPD. Woven through the study, questions concerning teachers’ views about joining the project in pairs (with a colleague) led to a number positive outcomes. There are also indicators of impact on teachers’ own practice during the short duration of the project (summer term 2003) which extended to some other colleagues: these findings suggest significant benefits for teachers who are involved in CPD through e-learning. As a consequence of their involvement, the Early Years teachers in this project also reported increased confidence and enthusiasm about their own use of ICT.


E-graphics; collaboration; involvement; pairs; dialogue; context; language; meaning; impact


RESEARCH QUESTION: does working with a colleague online (from the same setting) support both individual’s learning?

Aims and objectives

  • To explore ways in which context and language supports learners in constructing understanding
  • To assess impact of involvement in collaborative discussion, on classroom practice
  • To evaluate the extent to which e-learning provides an effective means of professional development

Introduction: the efacilitation context

For the purposes of this study I have the term ‘collaboration’ to refer to:

  1. teachers learning through shared discussion within the on-line community of practice
  2. Teachers collaborating in pairs.

I aim to treat the collaboration of pairs as a distinct issue although clearly there is some overlapping when the two aspects coincide.

The full report is given in the attached file which you can download by following the link.

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