4 June 2011
This is a case study of a grade 4 teacher at Eliza Archie Memorial School located on the Tsq’escenemc Canim Lake Band reserve in Canada, a location with limited internet access (dial up). The teacher, Lenora, has attended an anti-bullying professional development workshop in North Okanagan, and subsequently has conferred with peers on the website http://cradleboard.org who agree with her that it would be a good idea to create a community of practice for teachers interested in anti-bullying. Lenora has not created a website before.
What recommendation should be made to Lenora for developing a web-based community of practice for anti-bullying?
My initial recommendation was for Lenora to investigate cradleboard.org as the platform for her community of practice website. She is already a member of ‘Teachers Circle’, so it seemed smart for her to tap into the membership of this online community, to avail of the ‘free website’ that cradleboard.org offers (after providing curricula for a year), and to avail of the wider support that some 33 tribal colleges linked to cradleboard.org are reported to provide, which includes technical support.
However, ‘site activity’ became an issue when considering cradleboard.org as the platform for Lenora’s community of practice. Lack of activity since 2009 indicates that cradleboard.org is not the best solution as contributors and interaction may be minimal or non-existant if Lenora’s website were developed on this platform.
My second recommendation is built on Bates and Poole’s (2003) SECTIONS model. While this model is for student-teacher platforms, Lenora will still be able to use the model to select technology for a peer-peer platform (a community of practice).
The ‘Student’ criterion of Bates and Poole’s (2003) model emphasises ‘access to technology’. The authors state that “of all the criteria in determining choice of technology, access is perhaps the most discriminating” (Bates and Poole, 2003, p. 81). This means that Lenora has to consider the internet access of the potential users of her website.
The ‘Ease of Use’ criterion places emphasis on comfort with technology – both for users of the website and for the developer. Bates and Poole (2003) state that “it is important that students and teachers not spend a great deal of time on learning how to use educational technologies or making the technologies work” (p. 87). Lenora needs to be mindful that she does not undermine her project by using technology that neither herself or others find easy. A technology that is intuitive is best.
The ‘Ease of Use’ criterion also means acknowledging that ‘peak use’ of websites will be ‘out of office hours’. Hence, Lenora will need to use a platform that has “a reliable server with high-speed access and twenty-four hour, seven-days-a-week reliability” (Bates and Poole, 2003, p. 90). This means taking the time to find out whether her school has a reliable server (if indeed it has a website at all), or what web technologies come with an in-built server.
The ‘Cost’ criterion means considering costs of accessing, using and maintaining a website. This could lead to use of a school website (if it exists or if the school can be persuaded to set one up) or Lenora could consider cloud software that she uses independently of the school, at no cost to herself. She also needs to consider the cost of her own time, and be careful not to underestimate the time she will need to develop content and maintain interactions with members. As Bates and Poole (2003) stated, “the major cost of any technology-based teaching will be the time of the teacher or subject expert” (p. 95). While Lenora is not teaching in a community of practice, she will be developing content, putting effort into finding contributors, interacting with members, and possibly doing the site administration. She will do all this on top of her teaching load.
The above criteria – Students, Ease of Use, Cost – are all more prominent than ‘purpose for technology’ in the eyes of Bates and Poole (2003). The next criterion, ‘Teaching and Learning’, covers purpose. Here, Lenora will need to decide the ‘learning outcomes’ of the community of practice, meaning goals for the community of practice and what users (peers) can expect from participation. There might be goals to share knowledge among teachers, or there might be goals for teachers to develop skills in managing cases of bullying in schools, or both. The decision around purpose will then inform the type of media to be used to share content (different media may be employed for sharing knowledge than developing skill). While the ‘Teaching and Learning’ criterion and its step of determining goals is necessary, Bates and Poole (2003) do not consider it to be the most important for selecting media and technology. “It is much easier to discriminate between media and technologies on the basis of student access, ease of use, or cost, than it is on the basis of teaching effectiveness, therefore the previous criteria are better discriminators than teaching and learning” (p. 95).
The ‘Interaction and Interactivity’ criterion will require Lenora to consider the social interaction taking place in the community of practice. She will be encouraging social learning (informal), and she needs to consider whether her website will have synchronous or asynchronous communication, or both. As Bates and Poole (2003) state, “we need to differentiate between interaction that is remote or face-to-face, and also between interaction that is in real time or asynchronous” (p. 100).
The ‘Organizational Issues’ criterion means considering the web technologies Lenora can use herself, and those she will need support to use. Given that in this scenario, she may not have school support or infrastructure for a community of practice website, she will need to find a server host company or programmer to give her some technical support, or use member forums of open source software communities.
The ‘Novelty’ criterion is not applicable to this scenario, and Bates and Poole (2003, p. 103) have stated that it is “probably the least important criterion”.
The ‘Speed’ criterion means considering a platform that will update itself. Also, depending on Lenora’s technical skills, she might require software with WYSIWYG so she doesn’t have to code, and can regularly update content. WYSIWYG may be required for the other contributors.
WHERE TO NEXT?
Regarding ‘ease of access’ under the first criterion, it is not clear what internet access Lenora’s peers have, nor their IT literacy. I recommend that Lenora takes time to do a survey of teachers in her school and on other reservations, as well as members of http://cradleboard.org and the teachers she met at the professional development workshop. She could do a survey by email if she is not familiar with software like http://monkeysurvey.com.
ASSUMPTIONS AND POSSIBLE WAY FORWARD
If it can be presumed that Lenora has completed a survey and established that most of her peers have limited internet access (low bandwidth / dial-up), and that she does not have any school infrastructure on which to base her website or get IT support, and that the purpose of the community of practice is to share knowledge of bullying and how to counter it, then Lenora can go the path of cloud software to develop a website. Options could be http://weebly.com, http://wordpress.com or http://googlesites.com.
However, Lenora will be limited in the type of content she can load to her website, and her peers will be equally limited. Graphics and photos of small size will be possible. Videos will not be possible – the contributors will need to post links to video hosting sites (e.g. youtube), not embed videos. They could post text. They could interact by mail or discussion functions, and depending on the software chosen, may be able to use a blog. It would be difficult to achieve synchronous face-to-face communication with such limited internet bandwidth, but it might be possible to use synchronous text chat.
Lenora will need to individually invite peers to become members, and this will take some time. She may increase membership by using her contacts in http://facebook.com, and even setting up a page on Facebook and directing people to her website from there.
There is a need to be cognisant of the sensitive nature of the subject matter and any personal identification of victims and perpetrators, and possibly even of reservations, must be kept private and not posted on the website. There could be a policy on the website around this.
This exercise has revealed how important internet bandwidth is for selecting technology. “Of all the criteria in determining choice of technology, access is perhaps the most discriminating” (Bates and Poole, 2003, p. 81).
Bates, A. W. and Poole, G. (2003). Effective teaching with technology in higher education: Foundations for success. Chapter 4: A framework for selecting and using technology, pp. 75-105. New York: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated.
Last edited on: June 4, 2011 5:30 PM