Date of Award

12-2009

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Education

Major Professor

Colleen Gilrane

Committee Members

Stergios Botzakis, Ralph Brockett, Mary Ziegler

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to describe the phenomenon of learning among high school educators engaged in an on-line learning community studying the application of reader response theory across the curriculum following a two-day professional development (PD) workshop. The theoretical framework both for the design and content of the workshop and for the design of the study was social constructivism. The specific research question to be answered with respect to the participant, Ariel, was, "what is the teacher's experience in an on-line learning community?" For this phenomenological case study, the methods for data collection included two semi-structured interviews and a series of on-line communications with the teacher. Interview and email transcripts were parsed into meaning units, followed by theme analysis uncovered by a "detailed reading approach" (van Manen, 1990, p. 3). Three themes were threaded together to provide an impression of the teacher's experience, lending itself to description. Following a hermeneutic process, I used these themes to weave an image of the teacher's experience, and then consulted my own experiences, research and theoretical literature, and a work of young-adult literature as sources for interpretation (van Manen, 1990). I worked to ensure trustworthiness through bracketing, prolonged engagement, triangulation of multiple data sources, member checking, peer debriefing, and thick description to support transferability.

Analysis of Ariel's experience led to a description of her as a teacher committed to professional growth, influenced by her analysis of opportunity, motivation to learn, and her response to conditions that supported her growth: time for talk, time for practice, freedom of choice, and appropriate challenge. Reflection on her experience in light of my experiences and the literature on adult learning and development led to two conclusions. First, there are critical actions that foster teacher development and learning. And second, individuals who influence continuing education for teachers have a responsibility to act through an ethic of care. Implications of this research for designers of PD are that they need to keep in mind that teachers have specific needs that must be met by their learning environment, including flexibility, activities designed for adult learning and development, sustained engagement, support for collaborative learning, and obvious benefit to students. Recommendations for research growing out of the present study include exploring the relationships among student learning and teacher participation in professional development of this type, further investigations in the possibilities of online learning communities, including teachers as co-researchers in such projects, and in-depth discourse analysis of the transcripts and online communications to explore issues of power and hegemony.

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