Virtual Communities of Practice
There is an increased interest in the use of virtual technology and distance courses in professional education. Teacher education is no exception, particularly with pressures to maintain professional standards. The problem of course is that the conception of what it is to be a professional teacher influences the development of such courses and programs. If teacher is characterized as discerner, with the ability to “transform understanding, performance skills, or desired attitudes or values into pedagogical representations and actions” (Shulman, 1987: 4) then teacher knowledge (of content, students, and pedagogy) is of paramount importance. If however, teacher is characterized as disseminator, charged simply with carrying out the dictates of others, then complex forms of knowledge are not essential. The former implies a need for professional development that informs, enriches and extends teacher knowledge. The latter suggests that training in new materials is sufficient.
Current curricular conditions and a plethora of supplemental teacherproof materials would seem to support a non-professional characterization of teacher as disseminator. Such a reductionist view of the teacher has led to a model of ‘professional development’ commonly referred to as train-the trainer. The model provides systematic training in recently released documents, programs or materials to a target group of people. In pyramid formation, the newly ‘trained’ would then re-inscribe large groups in exactly the same fashion.
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