Both offshore learning environments reminded me very much of my earliest years in a small Alberta school surrounded by long and seemingly empty distances – far from my colleagues and their enviable urban density. I, like these new global educators, was eager to form collaborations, to grow a bank of professional resources and proven skill-sets. The universal need was and is to feel less isolated as a novice educator (Sleppin, 2009). My own outreach became dependent on my teamwork for Alberta Education – where I could grow my contact base and resource knowledge while conducting the contracted research. For young academics in their cross-border adventures, I would also suggest designated time, segments fostered in a continuum of digital dialogues and framed by their own research design.
A recent study aligns with this premise and led this writer to outline a possible pattern or movement of digital inquiry for these new practitioners to follow. Columbia and Clarke wrote the article entitled “Turning Teachers into Action Researchers in their Classroom” (2017). Its opening line is an invitation for the K-12 instructors to use their online capacities and begin to search and connect their experiences to the research and communities waiting in the Web to be accessed: “When teachers engage in an action research process that highlights inquiry and analysis, they create potential to improve teaching, solve problems, and create success for students and teachers” (Reason & Bradbury, 2001). This concept of targeted online learning from Columbia and Clarke (2017) is not without supporting theories. It finds its origins in both the connectivist nature of digital exploration and in the constructivist attitude that can be nurtured by partnering teaching experiences to professional research. It is a critical dynamic that keeps the teacher’s pedagogy current and responsive to network data and interfaces.
I started my journey by exploring Open Educational Resources (OER). They are amazing learning objects that provide a myriad of opportunities for teachers in distant locations to become active and academic participants in their own professional development. I then decided to revisit the past traditions of the AISI Cycle 5 Framework of Alberta (2011) and the 2011 Inquiry Cycle proposed by Dana, Thomas, and Boynton (sourced from Columbia and Clarke, 2017) for a baseline. It was at this point I felt able to outline a less formalized process that could build one’s professional competency in self-determined graduations, with an allowance for flexibility and individuality – as an exercise in lifelong learning within a wide range of engagements:
Develop a question or identify a problem
This step is the launching point for an inquiry in which the answers may provide both a sense of community with a way of understanding and moving forward. The problem could be focused on the issues of one student (e.g. special needs and universal learning design), a pedagogy of interest (e.g. project based summative assessment), a long-term team study (e.g. literacy agendas running parallel to ELL action plans), or a discovery and implementation of recent research (e.g. OER and ELA for blended learning).
This step could be formal or informal, done individually or with others, and may take a matter of moments or many long hours. It is truly about forming Personalized Learning Networks from one’s digital environment (PLN/PLE). One summary map is posted just below as an OER creative commons file from Treglia (2015). I like this mind map image because it reflects her personal journey through the research objects and its city-like navigation:
Connecting with Communities is essential for the isolated teacher and intuitive to the growth of digital capacities. I would try to address the synchronous (e.g. Staff Room Discussions), the asynchronous (e.g. BOLT professional learning modules), and the semi-synchronous (e.g. Google Classrooms with a partner school) avenues for a richer exchange for the resolution to the target issue. By inference (and my own experience):
- An offshore educator could review a recent OER publication, summarize and share it in a collaborative online team to then discuss its applicability to their unique contexts.
- A MOOC survey could provide the offshore educator with a community of practice and blending learning mode to grow their knowledge and interaction base.
- A post-baccalaureate online series (e.g. BOLT graduate level modules with AU) could immediately link the offshore professional to the most current academic communities where their context could become a baseline for extended study.
- An offshore teacher could develop a research-based classroom unit to address a current focus for the parent education body (e.g. Alberta Education and Universal Design for Learning in the growth of Academic Literacy). This unit could then be shared and analyzed by colleagues.
- An offshore classroom could create a collaborative platform with a Canadian-based (or alternatively, another international school) campus. This platform could be used to share OER that relate to the identified topic and problem. Discussion could be shared in a blog format.
Reflect on the data
Offshore educators would, at this point, return to the documents of their accreditation body (e.g. Alberta Program of Studies) and embed their new learnings into the demands of their programming – so the pragmatics of using any idea is possible and of value within the governing structures. This given, I have found that almost any target learning for the students can influence mandatory curricula and can then lend itself to enhancing career learning. Reflection online can take the form of chats, emails, blogs, and websites to create connections and dialogue for analysis. Columbia and Clarke (2017) provide a a supporting schematic for the action research process with reflection questions for sense-making – one that Murdoch (2015) has also developed on personal reflections for understanding through a stream of self-chats.
This step is kinetic and can be done on almost any scale. Small changes that integrate into the classroom can give the educator an organic and careful movement of transition for the phyletic evolution of their practice, while large-scale transformations can give dramatic (and perhaps chaotic) results that should be measured and analyzed for their telling (and sometimes serendipitous) outcomes. The action plans could also become part of an online dialogue or collaboration to gather and assess as many solutions as possible – most especially those described in the research. Crowd sourcing data or commentary helps the lone teacher look at new perspectives and priorities to then arrive at the plan of best fit for his or her inquiry in its unique context.
Reflect on the action
This step is a return to the critical and creative thinking that should be a part of a professional practice. Offshore educators may want to present or share their data with others to see if their observations compare to that of colleagues, they may want to advance their initiative with further research, new actions, and more reflection. They may want to use social media in lessor and greater circles for further conversations and ideas on how to move forward, asking the questions: “Is this a good change towards solving the problem? and “Why or Why not?”
Repeat and share the process
This step is one of creating a continuum for life-long learning. Online professionals could use the above process as a generalized template for repeating use in their career journey. The Offshore Educators could consider constructing a repository, either shared or individual, that could be passed along to future International Teachers. They may even want to publish their learnings as an online learning module for others in similar circumstances. Wikipedia offers one summative figure from Lewin’s (1958) work on the action research process that readily applies to both my draft and the research of Columbia and Clarke (2017) and thus becomes indicative of the learning legacy in systems studies:
Blended learning pathways have the potential to create authentic assets for the individual and collective movements of education. The cycle in this blog is drawn from my own experiences and studies, though with origins from the work of many, including Rolfe et al (2001) – it is a testing of the open waters and asks a teacher to simply dive into action research and allow it to have a ubiquitous agenda – one that connects to his or her reality, however unique. The directions are limitless, and I am at once envious, of the density of the data and social links available to this new generation of educators and explorers. Become an adventurer and enter “a communicative space [where the] issues or problems are opened up for discussion [within research], and when participants experience their interaction as fostering the [globalized and inclusive] expression of diverse views … (Kemmis, 2001, from Wicks and Reason, 2009). Bon voyage!
How would you frame a reflective inquiry practice for those isolated in their settings? Where could the BOLT professional learning modules fit into this landscape for action research?
Columbia Embury, D., & Clarke, L. S. (2017). Turning Teachers into Action Researchers in their Classrooms. Kentucky Teacher Education Journal: The Journal of the Teacher Education Division of the Kentucky Council for Exceptional Children, 3(2), 2.
Murdoch, K. OER retrieved from: http://www.kathmurdoch.com.au.
Reason, P., & Bradbury, H. (Eds.). (2001). Handbook of action research: Participative inquiry and practice. Sage.
Sleppin, D. S. (2009). New teacher isolation and its relationship to teacher attrition. Retrieved from: http://scholarworks.waldenu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1634&context=dissertations.
Treglia, K. OER retrieved from: https://kristentreglia.wordpress.com/mentions-publications-and-talks/ and http://techtrendsineducation.wikispaces.com.
Wicks, P. G., & Reason, P. (2009). Initiating action research. Action Research, 7(3), 243-262. Retrieved from: http://peterreason.eu/Papers/Communicative%20Space.pdf.
Wikipedia. Action Research Image. Retrieved 2017 from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action_research. Attribute: By Matt Bond – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34814552
Wikipedia. Random Geometric Graph Image. Retrieved 2017 from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Random_geometric_graph. Attribute: By Rocchini – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19859789
Wikipedia. Reflective Practice Image. Retrieved 2017 from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reflective_practice. Attribute: By GSE843 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
T.A. Driedger, BSc BEd MEd
Educator, Researcher, Administrator, and Learner
This article was re-posted in collaboration with Athabasca University Centre for Distance Education’s BOLT Multi-Authored Blog, a blog dedicated to professional learning for K-12 educators interested in Blended and Online Learning and Teaching (BOLT).