Current Research

Developing Teacher Networked Learning for Epistemic Change

The project is interested in the learning that occurs in teacher professional development networks and the impact that this informal learning can have upon teacher identity and epistemology.

There is a large body of literature that compellingly shows that spontaneous work related learnings are important drivers for ongoing professional development. In these terms, there is a focus on seeing working and learning as one and the same. Professional development, when conceptualised in such a way, is a continuing process of acting, reflecting on, and changing day to day practice. The result is a bottom-up, self-governing understanding of learning where professionals interact with their colleagues and share their experiences, knowledge and contacts, providing access to new or alternative resources and ways of doing.

The research asks how teachers in the College use their social networks for workplace learning, in particular, the nature of the learning tie; the forms of networked learning that are effective; and the nature of the productive networked learning competencies. In short, how these networks facilitate teacher professional learning and contribute to the teachers’ identity as 21st century professionals, enhancing their collective efficacy. With an effect size of d=1.57 Collective Teacher Efficacy is strongly correlated with student achievement.

Research Aim:

The PhD project will put the teacher as a networked learner at the centre of attention. The main research problem to be addressed is how teachers act as networked learners in their social space to foster continuing teacher professional learning. In this project, the focus will be on teachers’ day-to-day learning challenges in the workplace and describe the social world of connections these teachers rely on in solving them.

Research Question 1 [RQ1]:

How do teachers use their social networks for workplace learning?

  • What is the nature of a learning tie?
  • Which forms of networked learning are effective?
  • What are productive networked learning competencies?

Research Question 2 [RQ2]:

How can the use of a rhizomatic, networked professional learning environment influence epistemic change in teacher practice and identity?


Phase 1 Review of literature and methodology

During this phase a systematic review of literature on the relationship between social networks and professional development will be carried out. Of particular interest is the question about the nature of learning ties in networked learning. These findings will be used to frame the descriptive research of the second phase. A second study will investigate what data collection methods and techniques will suit best when conducting naturalistic research in schools and what methodological research traditions and orientations frame the role of the researcher in this process. A set of research guidelines will be the outcome of this study, framing the design and procedure of the studies conducted during the 2nd phase of this PhD project.

Phase 2 Explorative studies on teacher learning in professional development networks

The research during this phase will take place in a naturalistic setting and will make use of a mixed methods approach to triangulate several data sources. The aim of this multi-method approach is to paint a more complete picture of the networked learning processes that teachers in professional learning networks are engaged in. This multi-method research framework combines social network analysis (SNA) to find out ‘who is talking to whom’, content analysis (CA) to find out ‘what they are talking about’, and contextual analysis (CxA) focusing on the experiences and settings of the participants to find out ‘why they are talking as they do’.

These three methods are used to triangulate, validate and contextualise findings and to stay close or be connected to the first-hand experiences of the participants themselves. At least 12 teachers of three different networks will be followed in this study.

The study will include R-12 teachers in a South Australian independent school context and will be conducted wholly within Trinity College, Gawler with teachers who will be identified in conjunction with the College leadership. These teachers will come from the College’s junior, middle, and senior schools. This will take into account the particular context of one College - numerous schools; an over-arching College culture and specific school cultures. The participation of these staff will be covered by ethics approval from the UniSA Human Research Ethics Committee with participants providing informed consent.