Communities of Practice (CoPs) – groups of actors who share a sense of purpose and support over time – can facilitate innovation and improved student outcomes, but the mechanisms through which teachers build such communities in the first place are still under-investigated.
The proposed PhD project employs network approaches developed in collaboration between social and data scientists to analyse CoPs as social networks that shape and are shaped by teachers’ sense-making processes. The project operationalises CoPs as Social and Epistemic Networks (SEN) to provide an original account of change mechanisms in social practices.
The importance of teachers’ networking with others within and beyond school, e.g. colleagues and school management or families, health or social workers is increasingly recognised, e.g. for removing barriers to learning for vulnerable students. The successful candidate will undertake an analysis of CoP formation as a process of building social networks in which teachers purposefully interact with others.
The research questions are: 1) How do teachers build CoPs over time through purposeful interactions?
2) What are the benefits and limitations of combining Social and Epistemic Network analyses to study alignment of purposes in CoPs?
The PhD student will collect data in at least four schools using an adapted web-based log for Teacher Reflection on their Agency for Change (TRAC), which asks teachers to reflect on a particular situation and how people they approached supported them (at least one entry per school term over three terms).
The student will be trained and supported to examine patterns of interaction between teachers’ social and epistemic networks over time, including: coding and content analysis of textual log data, constructing epistemic networks based on code co-occurrences using Epistemic Networks Analysis (ENA) tools in concert with Social Network Analysis (SNA) of the structures of interactions through which teachers influence each other. Used together, SEN analysis will enable investigation of the patterned purposeful interactions to account for the alignment in sense-making processes that are difficult to capture by social network metrics alone. The student will be encouraged to inspect the content and nature of ties in the denser network regions to identify cohesive networks around shared purposes and mutual support that could be characterised as CoPs, and changes in social networks over time (with advanced SNA statistical models) that derive from alignment of purposes (mapped with ENA).
The student will benefit from the supervisors’ networks, and have an opportunity to visit and/or work with the Epistemic Networks group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and contacts at Monash University.
It is anticipated that the project will result in at least three high quality academic outputs, and the project team will work with the student to produce useful outputs that have clear pathways to impact on both policy and practice, e.g. by providing network feedback to the school staff.