Virtual Professional Learning Communities: Teachers’ Perceptions of Virtual Versus Face-to-Face Professional Development
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- McConnell, T.J., Parker, J.M., Eberhardt, J. et al. J Sci Educ Technol (2013) 22: 267. doi:10.1007/s10956-012-9391-y
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Research suggests that professional development that engages teachers in instructional inquiry over an extended time through collaborative professional learning communities (PLCs) is effective in improving instruction and student achievement. Still, most professional development is offered as short-duration workshops that are not effective in changing practice. Barriers to the implementation of PLCs include lack of shared meeting time and a shortage of teachers who share the same subject areas or common goals and interests. Convening teachers from multiple districts can alleviate this problem, but teachers are reluctant to travel for meetings due to time and cost restraints. Video-conferencing software offers a solution to these barriers while serving to foster the sense of community needed for PLCs to be effective. The researchers describe the use of Virtual PLCs in which two groups of teachers met monthly for one school year to collaboratively analyze evidence collected as part of their teacher inquiry plans. With help from a facilitator, these groups developed a relationship similar to other groups meeting face-to-face as part of the same professional development program. Analysis of the reflections of teacher-participants and facilitators revealed that teachers prefer face-to-face meetings, but that the virtual and face-to-face meetings provided teachers with similar social interactions in the PLC experience. The findings suggest that teachers perceive videoconferencing as an effective tool for facilitating PLCs when distance and time are practical barriers to face-to-face meetings. Practical considerations for developing and facilitating virtual PLCs are also discussed.