01 SES 12 A, Professional Learning: International perspectives
Professional Learning enables teachers to learn and develop throughout their career. However, for teachers working in rural settings opportunities are not always as accessible as for their urban counterparts. While rural contexts often have strong local communities, professionals working in rural contexts can be both geographically and professionally isolated (Hargreaves et. al., 2015, Bartlett et. al., 2017). The current developments of broadband, across Europe, provide opportunities for rural teachers to engage with alternative forms of professional learning and to connect to professional communities that were previously too far away to enable participation.
This research compared the experiences of a range of professionals working in rural settings to explore the ways in which technology is currently influencing access to professional learning. Technology and education have the potential to be transformative factors for rural development (Chinapah and Odero, 2016) as digital cultures have the potential to overcome the challenges of geographically dispersed professional communities (Green and Reid, 2014). Digital connectivity can enable access to professional learning opportunities (Tieken, 2014). However, digital spaces mediate the learning experience in different ways to face-to-face spaces (Coker, 2016). Professional learning opportunities online might be very different to the traditional opportunities offered in face-to-face contexts. Social Media such as Twitter or Online Forums may offer alternative ways for professionals to engage with their own learning and development.
In many countries, an urban-rural digital divide exists (Phillip et. al., 2016). Work developing the digital infrastructure is ongoing across Europe (European Union, 2016). In Scotland, the current roll-out of broadband has seen an increase in connectivity from 4% of the Highlands and Islands (a large rural area) in 2013 to 86% coverage in 2017 (HIE, n.d). Rural professionals in these areas have not had access to reliable or consistent connectivity until very recently. Exploring their experiences of professional learning can help us to understand the challenges faced when rural communities become connected. Comparing the experiences of different professionals highlights a range ways in which digital connectivity enables professional learning.
Comparing three professional sectors – Education, Health and Business – the current study explored the experiences of a range of rural professionals in relation to professional learning. Using the agency framework (Priestley et. al., 2015) to analyse the experiences highlighted factors which influence engagement with both technology and professional learning.
Thirty professionals from three different sectors were interviewed; these interviews captured the ‘voice’ of rural professionals, a narrative potentially overlooked in previous research (Hargreaves, 2017, Roberts, 2017). Using interviews, the qualitative methodology took a narrative stance, approaching the interviews as a co-construction of meaning. Focusing on participants’ words, rather than actions (Gubrium and Holstein, 2012) and inviting participants to share their personal stories the interviews actively constructed a shared understanding of rural professionals experiences (Gubrium and Holstein, 1998). Interviews created breadth and depth in the evidence, enabling critical engagement with the complex nature of rural living, acknowledging and valuing rural voices (Corbett, 2015). The interviews were coded using the agency framework (Priestley et. al., 2015) enabling an exploration of temporal, physical, emotional and structural factors which influenced engagement with professional learning opportunities. All data was stored securely and destroyed following completion of the study. All evidence used in publication were anonymised and presented respectfully, valuing participant’s time and their willingness to be involved in the study.
The findings of the research are expected to highlight common factors that influence professional learning, for those in rural settings, and key differences in approaches to engagement with technology. The analytical framework will enable exploration of both the individual experiences and the physical, social and cultural structures that influence engagement with professional learning. Current analysis has identified factors such as geography and time as influencing engagement with professional learning activities for those in rural settings. Broadband in some places is still unreliable and perceived to be unreliable at times when it is not. Cultural values within different professional communities influence engagement with opportunities for professional learning. Participants own feelings and self-efficacy influence their engagement with professional learning opportunities, both on and offline. Communities formed in the online space need a shared purpose to sustain themselves – some online professional communities were quick to form and quick to dissolve. Further analysis will highlight key themes and explore the structures (practical-evaluative element of the agency framework) which influence these.
Coker, H., 2016. Understanding pedagogic collaboration in the online environment (Doctoral dissertation, University of Aberdeen and University of the Highlands and Islands). European Union, 2016. Broadband Coverage in Europe 2016: Mapping progress towards the coverage objectives of the Digital Agenda. file:///C:/Users/in14hc/Downloads/FinalReport.pdf [accessed 29/01/2018] Green, B. and Reid, J., 2014. Social cartography and rural education: Researching space (s) and place (s)(pp. 27-40). Doing educational research in rural settings: Methodological issues, international perspectives and practical solutions. New York, NY: Routledge. Gubrium and Holstein, 1998 ‘Narrative Practice and the Coherence of Personal Stories’ The Sociological Quarterly, vol. 39 (1), pp. 163-187 Gubrium and Holstein, 2012 ‘Don’t argue with the Members’ The American Sociologist, vol. 43, pp. 85-98 Hargreaves, 2017 ‘Primary Education in Small Rural Schools: Past, Present and Future’ In Life in Schools and Classrooms (pp. 223-243). Springer Singapore. Hargreaves, A. and Fullan, M., 2012. Professional capital: Transform HIE (n.d) http://www.hie.co.uk/regional-information/digital-highlands-and-islands/can-i-get-it.html Odero, J.O. and Chinapah, V., 2016. Towards inclusive, quality ICT-based learning for rural transformation. Journal of Education and Research, 5(5.2 & 6.1), pp.107-125. Philip, L.J., Cottrill, C. and Farrington, J., 2015. ‘Two-speed’Scotland: Patterns and Implications of the Digital Divide in Contemporary Scotland. Scottish Geographical Journal, 131(3-4), pp.148-170. Priestley, M., Biesta, G. and Robinson, S., 2015. Teacher agency: An ecological approach. Bloomsbury Publishing. Roberts, P., 2017. A curriculum for whom? Rereading ‘Implementing the Australian Curriculum in Rural, Regional, Remote and Distance-Education Schools’ from a rural standpoint. Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, 27(1), pp.43-61. Tieken, M.C., 2014. Why rural schools matter. UNC Press Books.
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