Professional Development on Facebook
Professional development on Facebook (Dnr 2015-01979) enlightens questions related to teachers' continuous professional development. Professional development for teachers has long been initiated and organized top-down, initiated by the government, authorities and representatives of municipalities. The recent rapid development of forums on social media where both larger and smaller groups of people gather, as well as an easy way to discuss common concerns, have created informal learning environments for teachers - initiated, designed and entirely driven by the teachers themselves.
The purpose of the project is to study teachers’ participation in social network sites; to what extent these sites become a catalyst for advancing their pedagogical content knowledge, and whether and how social media add value to the complex process of professional development. The point of departure in this project is Facebook groups by and for teachers in the school subjects of mathematics and/or Swedish: this approach makes it possible to conduct a comparative study in the two largest, although not disjunctive, sub populations within the Swedish teacher community. Since these teachers are also the focus of extensive formal professional development programs regarding subject content and subject didactics, it is highly relevant to follow their discussions on these forums over time.
The project has a descriptive and analytical approach, as well as a theoretical one. At the descriptive and analytical level, the aim is to develop knowledge in teachers’ professional growth when positioning themselves in social network sites, explicitly: an inquiry into collective pedagogical content knowledge [subject didactics] development. The theoretical aim is to develop knowledge of informal professional development in social network sites by relating the empirical findings to existing frameworks concerning, e.g. communities of practice, professional development programs and workplace learning, and thus inform the research community, teacher educators and other stakeholders.
Conducting research on the Internet is challenging due to the “Internet time”: the rapidly changing context and content, and the code-based modifications, hence a question-driven mixed method approach will be designed. The posts in Facebook groups concerning teaching mathematics and/or Swedish language and literature are the study objects. The posts will be analysed with a qualitative content analysis approach, as well as on a discursive level, using both a priori categories created in advance from the theory and an open approach to capture features that may be invisible in previous research. More, interviews will be held in an online environment. The interviews will be analysed using a narrative inquiry method in order to identify how the communication patterns and the professional development are represented as sharing and communicating, knowledge transfer and meaning making. The interviews will be transcribed and analysed using both a priori categories created in advance from the theory and using an open approach. The analysis will help us understand more about the collective pedagogical knowledge constructed and the informal professional development. It will also inform us on how to construct the survey planned.
The project group consists of one professor, two senior lecturers and one PostDoc. The members of the group will all contribute their previous research connected to the project. The mixed method approach requires knowledge and experience of all methods used, and the research group is well equipped for handling that approach. Some experts are connected to the group as well: a statistics lecturer and three senior researchers involved in the international advisory reference group.
The project will run over a period of three years and data will be collected stepwise at three different occasions. The results can hence be contrasted in order to inform professional development practice from teachers’ authentic informal professional development.
What makes social network sites, such as Facebook, significant as a study object is not the technology, but, rather, the socio-technical dynamics that unfolded as thousands of Swedish teachers in mathematics and/or Swedish embrace the technology and use it to collaborate. There is a need for longitudinal studies; in addition, we still have little understanding of who is using the sites, for what and why. Consequently, there is a need for research that aids scholars’ ability to understand the long-term implications of social network sites, such as in its use in professional development communities.