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Speaker expertise

Barbara Dzieciatko is a former teacher in Scotland with 5 years of experience. She is a current full-time PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, Moray House School of Education and Sport funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council.

Challenges in studying Teachers Communities of Practice with Social and Epistemic Network Analysis

A talk by Barbara Dzieciatko and Natasa Pantic
University of Edinburgh

Communities of Practice (CoPs) are generally defined as collaborative informal networks that support professional practitioner in their efforts to perform their work and engage in work relevant knowledge building. Research up to date has focussed on CoPs at either structural or individual level. Our aim is to integrate both approaches to produce a visual representation of networks that can be characterised as CoPs and explore any effect such structures have on teacher’s agency (and vice versa) across time. We propose a combined Social Network Analysis (SNA) and Epistemic Network Analysis (ENA) to study teachers’ collegial networks in which they share aims and understanding of their practice and support each other, often referred to as Community of Practice, by asking the following questions in order to analyse relationship between structural relations and agency: 1. What kind of relational patterns can be observed in the network structures that support the development of teachers’ relational agency? 2. How do networks of such relationships emerge and develop over time through teachers’ purposeful interactions with others, e.g. colleagues, families and other professionals? SNA can provide information about formal and informal structures of relations, but its ability to capture effects on behaviour is limited to the effect of structural properties, such as reciprocity of support. Since CoPs imply shared aims and understanding, we also need to capture the nature of content that flows through the interactions. Hence, we combine SNA with the Epistemic Network Analysis (ENA) - a method for quantifying qualitative data, visualising and interpreting it as a network of connections between concepts, to explore not just what teachers do and with whom, but how and why they do it. The strength of this technique lies in the ability to study narratives taking advantage of statistical tests to measure change in discourses across time or between groups.

However, our pilot study also revealed some challenges associated with this new methodology and its tools. We teseted Social and Epistemic Network (SEN) analysis to study of teachers’ agency of change in two schools. We used an on-line log to assess teachers’ own perceptions of the purposes, nature and contexts of their interactions with others as essential aspects of their agency. The log included WHAT, WHO and WHY sections to invited participants to describe their purposeful interactions in their own terms and provide contextual information. Our aim was to study the interactions over time in three waves of data. However, despite the heightened interest at the beginning of the project with high rate responses from both schools, the total response from teachers accounted only for 42% of total teaching staff from one school, and 59% from the second. The response rate dropped mid-term. In consequence, we were limited to the analysis of teachers’ personal networks as function of their agency, and unable to analyse the structural properties of school networks across time. We will discuss and invite conference participants to help us overcome some of these challenges in the future study of CoPs

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