Exploring academics’ learning spaces

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  • 1. EXPLORING ACADEMICS’LEARNING SPACES: AN EGO-CENTRIC NETWORK APPROACH TO LEARNING ABOUT TEACHING Nina Pataraia, Dr. Anoush Margaryan, Dr. Isobel Falconer, Professor Allison Littlejohn, The Caledonian Academy GCU, Glasgow, UK
  • 2. Context • The value of learning with others, from others, through others, and supporting others in their learning is becoming widely acknowledged; • The significance of networks for sustained professional development and development/transformation of teaching practice is also emphasised (McCormick et al., 2010; Patrick, Elliot, Hulme, & McPhee, 2010; Schulz-Zander & Eickelmann, 2010) • Limited number of studies have examined academics’ teaching networks, in particular, their personal/informal networks.
  • 3. An overarching objective of the study • Examine academics’ authentic learning spaces, identifying critical sources of novel ideas, knowledge and support required for effective teaching in HE; • Investigate the role of personal networks in supporting academics’ professional learning and transformation of teaching practice.
  • 4. Description of the study • Phase I- preliminary study: 11 academics from two UK- based universities, representing four disciplinary domains Engineering-2/11; Life Sciences-4/11; Social Sciences- 2/11; Humanities-3/11; • Phase II: 53 academics representing three different HE contexts from the UK, Sweden and the Netherlands and five disciplines (Business-4/53, Engineering- 19/53, Humanities-5/53, Life Sciences-10/53 and Social Sciences-13/53).
  • 5. Methodology • Research model A combination of social network analysis and qualitative interviews used for examining academics’ learning and advice-seeking in personal networks • Phase I: 11 semi-structured interviews • Phase II: 53 online survey responses for 363 learning relationships and 15 semi-structured interviews. Web-based SNA survey based on extant survey (Cross & Parker, 2004): Name generator and interpreter survey instruments; Adjacency matrix & sociomatrixes used for collecting supplementary network data; Descriptive and inferential statistics (Chi-square test for independence) (SPSS); Measures of ego-centric network analysis: • Heterogeneity - Agresti's IQV (Agrest and Agrest, 1978); • Homophily: Krackhardt and Stern's (1988) E-I statistics; • Structural holes (E-net & NodeXL); Content analysis (Nvivo 9).
  • 6. Findings from the preliminary study Teaching-specific conversations are geographically-dispersed, taking place with local, institutionally-based, as well as cross-country and international, colleagues, friends and family members. Content of interactions Departmental colleagues: • Student-related issues: induction, progress, changing expectations and disruptive behaviours (9/11); • Teaching (methodology, techniques and tools) (6/11); • Course/programme design/refinement (5/11); • Assessment (4/11); • Learning process (content and outcomes) (2/11). Institutional colleagues: • New teaching methodologies and assessment tools, largely at university-wide events (9/11) Elsewhere (Common disciplinary domain or research interest) • General discussions Nature of relationships • The respondents emphasised talking more with those with whom they were on friendly terms; • Many conversations with departmental colleagues were ad hoc, took place during lunch and coffee breaks, and more frequently during the teaching term
  • 7. Findings from the preliminary study 1 Perceived value of networks • Networks represent the locus for experimentation, equipping academics with novel teaching ideas, disciplinary knowledge, resources and learning opportunities; • Key benefits of networking entail good personal relationships, availability of professional advice, prompt/constructive feedback, solidarity and emotional support; • Networks are constructive and encouraging. Exposure to diverse viewpoints and a wide array of expertise enriches the academics’ knowledge base, but simultaneously challenges their thinking.
  • 8. Findings-Phase II• When directing their own professional learning, academics draw upon two types of personal networks: Interest-driven and task-specific learning networks An awareness of the expertise and resources embedded within networks. Academics reached out to specific people with explicit inquiries and expectations Peer characteristics: Competent/knowledgeable, experienced, innovative/creative, approachable, supportive, influential, responsive, trustworthy Networks resources: expertise, information and guidance to carry out work-related duties and to solve problems associated with teaching and other academic responsibilities. The composition of academics’ learning networks reveals the overreliance on physically proximate (59%) and strong-tie connections (241/363-66%). Institutionally localized connections: Females 63% and Males 54%; Humanities (59%) and Life Sciences (44%)-the highest percentage of departmental connections Statistically significant associations: The respondents’ age group/experience level and the hierarchical status of learning connections; The respondents’ age group/experience level and the length of time they have known learning connections; Physical proximity /strength of tie and the frequency of interaction. Exploration of structural characteristics of interviewees’ learning networks reveals low network density only for 4/15 respondents, represented by low constraint values and high effective size/efficiency measures; Closed network structure (the respondents having all or majority of their connections connected), marked by high network density/constraint value (a large number of connections between members of a network) and low brokerage opportunity, effective size and efficiency Time of acquaintanceship: the most heterogeneous dimensions of personal networks
  • 9. Phase II • Knight’s (1997) three dimensions of learning (the agent for learning; the learning process and the learning content) represents a linear model for examining academics’ learning through personal networks; • Personal networks facilitate the acquisition of ‘know what’ and ‘know how’ knowledge; • The informal and serendipitous nature of learning and advice-seeking.
  • 10. Learning focus: Teaching-specific knowledge domains Knowledge acquisition through personal networks Assessment 8 Pedagogical knowledge Kreber and Canton, 2000Learning methods 5 Learning content 3 Instructional materials/ resources 7 Instructional knowledge Kreber and Canton, 2000 Teaching methods 4 Course design 3 Rationale of teaching practice and course objectives 5 Curricular knowledge Kreber and Canton, 2000 University regulations and politics 4 Institutional structure/ Culture Carlgen, 1999 Classroom issues 4 Classroom management and organisation Shulman and Shulman, 2004
  • 11. Learning focus:Acquisition and development of skills Skills development through personal networks Integrating new technologies into teaching and learning 7 Technology/ computer skills Mishra and Koehler, 2006 Curriculum planning 5 Curriculum planning skill Martin and Double, 2006 Research methods 3 Research skills Self-reflection 2 Personal skills of evaluation and self-appraisal Martin and Double, 2006 Managing relationships with colleagues 1 Interpersonal skills Martin and Double, 2006
  • 12. Learning process: key activities undertaken for learning Learning processes Total number of participants Quotes from interviews Making inquiries 15 ‘Asking how to design a new learning intervention?’ PH2-R8 Discussing 15 ‘Sit down with people and have a discussion, just an informal discussion which some people will call reflection and answers come to you that you never thought about’ PH2-R19 Sharing experiences/ resources 15 ‘We share information which then leads us, sometimes they share links, then I might read whatever links they’ve gave me or they may share papers, so then I read the papers, then the papers might lead me to another paper or the paper leads me to another contact’ PH2-R5 Observing 7 ‘I’ve actually learnt quite a lot about how she and her colleagues teach on that programme and the content that they teach their students on that programme’ PH2-R18 Reading literature/postings in social media 7 ‘Reading others materials have a direct impact on my knowledge, giving me ideas on how I might enrich, update, make current and reorganise the syllabus on these modules’ PH2-R29 ‘Learning from stuff that she’s posted to her blog’ PH2-R20 Collaborating 6 ‘Through writing together, through teaching together. So I’ve learned an awful lot from all of this’ PH2-R9 Attending workshops/ conferences 6 ‘I attended some of his workshops and during his workshops I learned quite a lot from seeing some of the material he has and also taking part in some of the discussion’ PH2-R29 Comparing 1 ‘I compare how I set my learning scenario up and see if there is anything I can learn from her’ PH2-R5
  • 13. Networks supporting change in teaching Changes were largely incremental rather than transformational in nature Barriers to change • Time constraints • Non-supportive organisational culture • Low recognition of teaching Factors stimulating change • Informal dialogues with peers (7/15 respondents) • Discovery of an interesting piece of information through reading published research (5/15 respondents) and attending conference presentations (2/15 participants) • Difficulties encountered during teaching (4/15 respondents) • Critical feedback from students (4/15 respondents) Role of advice-seeking networks: • Ideas and information related to teaching were obtained occasionally rather than frequently • Feedback and support associated with change was acquired sporadically rather than frequently • Seventy per cent of the respondents classified support provided as ‘very useful’ • The majority of the respondents discussed concerns about change with their connections (75%).
  • 14. Changes applied to teaching Examples of change applied to teaching Total number of participants who discussed similar instances of change Quotes from interviews Application of new learning technologies for teaching 4 ‘Using blogs and wikis for teaching in a scholarly way, in a collaborative way, and having students interact and take a bit of ownership and create their own resources’ PH2-R18 Implementation of new learning theories and methods 5 ‘One of the biggest changes I’ve started the last 6-12 months is to look at how game theory can be introduced into my teaching’ PH2-R5 ‘I’ve been making a lot of different changes to how I approach the students and what I need back from the students and how we can work together to enhance their learning and enable me to be a better teacher’ PH2-R35 Adoption of new assessment methods 3 ‘I had developed a new peer review system’ PH2-R8 Teaching online modules 2 ‘This represents my change of job and the biggest impact that is particularly how do you teach online for the two courses that I was teaching last semester’ PH2-R9
  • 15. Types of advice acquired through networks Types of advice Total number of participants who mentioned this type of advice Quotes from interviews Instruction- related 5 ‘Specific advice about putting together my course descriptions’ PH2-R20 ‘Guidance in regards to formatting of lectures’ PH2-R35 ‘The use of learning technologies’ PH2-R37 Pedagogy- related 5 ‘It’s more to do with methods of learning and teaching strategies and assessment strategies’ PH2-R1 ‘The issue of participation and getting students engaged and involved actually cuts across all these area’ PH2-R29 Curriculum- related 4 ‘Do you think that timetable fits with the descriptor and the learning outcomes?’ PH2-R5 ‘More about process things ‘Is this ok?’ ‘Does this fit in with the programme?’ ‘Am I allowed to do this?’ PH2-R17 Institutional regulations 4 ‘How to get through formal university procedures, what I can and can’t do?’ PH2-R19 Student issues 2 ‘Issues with students’ PH2-R 8/ PH2-R37
  • 16. Perceived value of networks Value/Benefits Total number of participants Quotes from interviews Affective aspect of relationship 9 ‘There tends to be a kind of friendship element to the ones who are also most useful to learn stuff from, even if it’s not sort of close friends particularly, but that sense of trust or of knowing a bit more about someone just helps make things work better’ PH2-R20 Reciprocity 9 ‘We collaborated on lots of things and so it was mutual and I think in all these cases it’s been mutual, we’ve learned from each other’ PH2-R9 Sharing experience/ Resources 7 ‘You tell him your ideas and he will tell you his ideas and you can develop your ideas through conversation’ PH2-R1 ‘There is a whole ambience of picking up things from each other, showing and telling and have you seen this?’ PH2-R9 Support/ encouragement 7 ‘The fact that I was encouraged to do it at all gave me enough confidence’ PH2-R1 ‘The value of it is knowing that I have support mechanisms’ PH2-R19 ‘At the times when they’re in that network they’re always going to be sort of useful people to be in touch with and supportive people to be in touch’ PH2-R20 Access to new connections 4 ‘Each of those people connect me to a network that is all over the place geographically and actually all over the place discipline wise’ PH2-R20 Sparks for creativity/ serendipitous learning 4 ‘Networks lead me to loads of new and interesting areas that I might not have found myself’PH2-R5 ‘There is a sense of creativity and it comes out in different ways with different people’ PH2-R9 Self-reflection 3 ‘It helps in terms of reflection and considering what I do it, and why I do it and how I do it and what I can do to improve it’ PH2-R29 Training/coaching 1 ‘You need people to train you informally if you want to do a good job’ PH2-R37
  • 17. Framework for learning through personal networks 1st dimension Agent for learning An individual academic 2nd dimension Learning processes How learning occurs within networks Learning activities Inquiry Dialogue Sharing Observing Reading Collaborating Attending conferences Comparing 3rd dimension Learning focus What is learnt within networks Types of knowledge Assessment Learning methods and styles Content Instructional materials and teaching resources Teaching methods Course design Rationale of teaching practice and course objectives University regulations and politics Classroom issues Skills Teaching skills Integrating new technologies into teaching and learning Curriculum planning Research Self-reflection Interpersonal skills Learning connections Who supports academics’ learning about teaching? Contact Types Departmental colleagues Institutional colleagues Colleagues in other organisations Family members Friends Students Characteristics of learning connections Competent Knowledgeable Experienced Innovative Creative Approachable Supportive Influential Responsive Trustworthy
  • 18. Network limitations • Academics personal networks have hallmarks of homophily, physical proximity and density, marked by closely-knit learning and support relationships. Even if such network structure promotes trust and common values, it inhibits flow of novel ideas and exposure to new trajectories and external expertise thus limiting opportunities for learning, change and innovation. • Strong ties provide socio-emotional support and opportunities for sharing in-depth expertise and context-bound knowledge, yet cause biases to internal, inertial practices and beliefs. Such ties restrain opportunities for updating an individual’s knowledge base or ensuring an awareness of change in the wider professional community (McCormick et al., 2010).
  • 19. Contribution • By adopting a Social Network Analysis Approach, this study captures a detailed view academics’ learning and advice-seeking that other diagnostic tools cannot provide, which is further informed by in- depth, qualitative interviews; • Extends understating of learning through networks from a social network perspective; • Addresses a methodological gap in the literature (Filliettaz, 2011; Van der Rijt et al., 2012) by contributing a much needed qualitative approach to complement the prevalent quantitative research in this area; • Recognizes the value of personal networks for academics’ professional learning and support, yet points to limitations of network composition for innovations; • This mix of countries and contexts allowed us to examine the implications of networks for academics’ learning and support across diverse academic cultures.
  • 20. Further information • Email: NPATAR10@gcu.ac.uk • Webpage: http://www.gcu.ac.uk/academy/academicnetworkingpracti ces/