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A community of practice for teachers in a networked society

29.10.2013

A search on the Internet readily provides this information: a petabyte is 1015 bytes of digital information. In simpler terms, 1 petabyte = 1 quadrillion bytes.

According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), global IP traffic skyrocketed from around one petabyte 20 years ago to 44,000 petabytes at the end of 2012. This is equivalent to the amount of data that would need 1,100 years to download over a 10 Mbps broadband link – or more than 200,000 years over a dial-up connection. This traffic volume is driven by an exponential growth of connected people and connectable devices, enabled by an abundance of online content and materials. The number of people connected to the Internet is expected to surpass 2.7 billion in 2013, while the number of applications downloaded over all types of devices will exceed 50 billion (ITU, 2013).

One can view these megatrends with trepidation. It is becoming more challenging to protect one’s privacy, reinforcing the “Big Brother is watching you” paranoia. The widespread surveillance by the National Security Agency in the US is a good case in point.

Or, one can look at these developments positively embracing the potential and advantages that ICT and a connected society can bring to the realm of learning.

On World Teachers’ Day this year, Ms. Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General, reiterated that teachers’ professional knowledge and skills are the most important factor for quality education, and called for greater support to tackle teacher shortages, barriers to better quality education and teachers’ role in developing globally-minded citizens. However the challenge lies not only in recruiting more teachers, but also in the provision of quality teachers through relevant training and continual professional development and support.

UNESCO Bangkok has developed several initiatives to address this need. Supported by the Japan Funds-in-Trust, the project on Reorienting Quality Teacher Education towards EFA and ESD aims to enhance the capacity of teacher educators and teachers in integrating the principles of Education for All (EFA) and Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) into their curriculum and teaching materials. An innovative approach in this project is the application of project-based learning pedagogy and telecollaboration platforms to enable participants from different institutions and countries to design and implement projects together beyond the confines of their classrooms.

At a training workshop held in October 2013, UNESCO Bangkok reunited participants from a previous event to report back on the outcomes of their collaboration. Using this workshop as an opportunity to raise the professional development of these “pioneers” to the next level, the workshop facilitators introduced the 21st Century Learning Designs Rubric as a tool for assessment of learning, as well as ICT resources such as the Microsoft Learning Suite and the MazikED Social – an interactive platform to connect teachers, students and parents. Based on the lessons learned from the first set of collaborative projects and the knowledge gained, the participants regrouped and came up with three new projects:

  • Go Green Community: Reduce, Recycle, Reuse (A Student-Driven Action) to inform and persuade local communities in Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal and the Philippines to be more responsible about protecting their environmental through reducing, reusing and recycling.

  • Intercultural e-Book on Local Knowledge in Asia to promote intercultural understanding by developing a resource e-book on teaching Malaysian, Mongolian, Philippine and Thai local knowledge.

  • Technology for All: Nothing is Impossible to increase awareness about the needs and capacities of people with different disabilities through the use of educational technology for pre- and in-service teacher trainees in Australia, Cambodia, India, Nepal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka.

The projects are expected to be completed by mid-2014, but the three groups are aware of the challenges and hard work ahead. However, they have bonded and formed a Community of Practice (CoP). They have discovered the strengths and talents of each team member which could be put to good and appropriate use. They have resources and various platforms to support their collaboration.

Last but not least, they have access to more than 44,000 petabytes of information from the Internet!

In reality, no one can read all that information available online. There are massive amount of irrelevant, undesirable and unsavoury materials floating in cyberspace. A CoP of professionals with common interests and goals can learn and develop together as a group and as an individual to navigate through the flotsams of information to reach gems of data and knowledge.

Communications and interactions among CoP members have doubtlessly benefited extensively from the Internet, together with a multitude of software and online forums, instant messengers, video conferences and podcasts, Skype, Wikis, blogs, RSS feeds and social networking platforms (Mantas, undated). Similarly, UNESCO’s ICT e-newsletters and the Teacher Portal on its website have featured numerous examples of pedagogies and tools to support CoPs.

The three new projects that resulted from the recent telecollaboration workshop clearly reflect the key elements of a CoP as a network of like-minded teacher educators and teachers who:

  • share experiences and learn from each other;

  • collaborate to achieve common objectives;

  • validate and build on existing knowledge and good practices;

  • optimize opportunities to innovate and foster new ideas; and

  • contribute to quality education.

The CoP may end in its current form when the projects are completed, but the journey of learning together which has started through the PBL and telecollaboration projects will surely continue.

 

References

Mantas, C. undated. Communities of Practice and Web 2.0 – Moving from the Classical Paradigm to Virtual Communities of Practice. University of Leicester. 

ITU. 2013. ITU report confirms: dramatic growth in data volumes and globalized services create new ICT regulatory challenges. Press release.

For more information, contact apeid.bgk@unesco.org.