Teacher Professional Learning Networks

Teacher Professional Learning Networks and the ‘politics of circulation’

This proposal is to develop a pilot, interdisciplinary, critical investigation of one facet of the digital transformation of communities and cultures: the growth of social-media-based Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). It will focus on school education professionals (teachers, teacher educators and leaders) and on networks motivated by concerns for comprehensive, equitable, research-informed schooling provision and practices. Some existing literature is optimistic about the potentially positive impact of mobile and digital technologies on professional development. Studies have identified how PLNs might extend access to resources, materials, communities and expertise beyond geographic and temporal boundaries; promote new kinds of ‘curatorship’ and engagement with others in flattened hierarchies; even provide more ‘fulfilment’ and ‘authentic’ learning than traditional professional development routes (e.g. English & Duncan-Howell 2008; McLoughlin & Lee 2010; Mackey & Lewis 2011). Others are more guarded. Beer (2013) describes how the ‘remediation’ of academic life through social media influences both the communication and production of knowledge. He argues that the ‘politics of circulation’ in social media may appear democratising and decentralising, whilst actually obscuring and silencing some important visions of the social world. Kennedy et al’s work for CCN+ (2013) has shown that social media analysis and use by many public sector organisations is still underdeveloped, with limited access to or understanding of tools that are themselves not easily interrogated.

School education is a particularly interesting site for study. In England, it is undergoing accelerated change, fragmenting into multiple ‘communities of practice’ with competing claims to moral and pedagogic authority, which in turn are likely to influence professional identities, practices, and school cultures. Ball (2011) describes the education policy field as ‘heterarchic’, involving global, local, multinational, commercial, state and non-state organisations, from HEIs, Local Authorities and quasiautonomous public bodies, to start-ups, edupreneurs, knowledge companies, social enterprises, individual headteachers, and free school or Academy chains. His research traces ‘transnational advocacy networks’ across social media and other sites, through which key individuals and organisations promote neoliberal marketised or privatising policies and practices, such as for-profit educational provision. Commercial influence can also be seen in how many contributions under the popular hashtag #ukedchat consist of links to commercial software ‘solutions’ to educational ‘problems’. However, there is as yet little research investigating networks informed by concerns for equitable, democratically accountable and research-informed schooling provision and practices. This study aims to close this gap, building on the work of Kennedy et al (2013), Albarran (2013), Beer (2013), Ball (2011), Pykett (2009) and others to understand how to conduct social media analysis in this context, and to comprehend patterns of influence in education policy and practices.

(Bragg, Case for Support)




Key Participants

Dr Sara Bragg is Senior Research Fellow in the Education Research Centre, University of Brighton. She was previously RCUK Research Fellow in Child and Youth Studies at the Open University and worked at the University of Sussex and the Institute of Education, London. Her doctoral research brought cultural and media theory into dialogue with classroom ethnography to produce new insights into young people’s relationships with popular culture and into media education pedagogies. Her subsequent work has similarly aimed to be empirically based, theoretically informed, and methodologically reflexive. She has researched and analysed debates about media and ‘sexualisation’ (e.g. Bragg 2011, 2012). She was the researcher on a Teaching and Learning Research Programme project on pupil voice (e.g. Bragg 2006, 2007) and has led research into the work of the creative learning programme Creative Partnerships on youth ‘voice’ and school ‘ethos’ (e.g. Bragg & Manchester 2012, 2013) in ways that aim to conceptualise and account for the contemporary significance of these notions, and how they are produced through specific practices.

Dr Nadia Edmond is Assistant Head of School in the School of Education. Her research is concerned with socio-cultural approaches to understanding the discursive practices of ‘professionalism’ and the construction of professional identities with particular focus on the relationship between formal and informal learning in professional development. This has resulted in a number of outputs concerned with the theorisation of the role of work-based learning in programmes such as part-time Foundation Degrees (eg Edmond 2013, 2012, 2010). The workplace and its communities of practice as a context for informal learning is increasingly supplemented by digital networks and Nadia’s more recent work has sought to articulate the inclusion of digital technologies and networks within professional practices. She is currently coordinating a project within the SoE to examine how digital technologies and networks come to be included within collective and shared notions of professional practice (Edmond 2013).

Mark Higginson is Social Media Manager responsible for managing social media activity across the University of Brighton; his role focuses on student recruitment and retention, internal communication, online PR activity through the representation of the university’s research and the training and development of colleagues in social media practice. He has eight years commercial marketing experience, six of those spent working in the field of social media for international corporate clients.

Dr Theodore Koulouris is Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies in the School of Arts and Media at the University of Brighton. A key responsibility is designing, convening and leading core and elective undergraduate modules in social media: Producing and Consuming Social Media and Social Media: Applications and Debates designed to explore theories and practices of social media in contemporary culture; reflect on the role of social media in both professional and academic contexts; develop students’ understanding of critical approaches to the study of social media within the field of media and cultural studies; critically utilise and evaluate convergence media theories and practices in order to understand how meaning is both constructed and deconstructed through a variety of media forms; enable students to refine their social media processes.