Studentship opportunity

Making Sense of Teachers’ Communities of Practice with Social and Epistemic Network Analysis

This studentship is funded by the ESRC through the Scottish Graduate School of the Social Sciences

University of Edinburgh
Mode of study

Full time / Part time

Application deadline
30 June 2019

Project details

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.

About the institution

The student will join the Graduate School of Education and Sport and interact with researchers and PhD students at the Schools of Social and Political Sciences and Informatics. The School of Education currently has 160 post-graduate research students, nearly 100 of whom are full-time PhD students. A number of PhD students and staff in the School of Education work on research on teachers and teaching contributing to a highly supportive community of scholars. In addition to formal supervision, the student will have access to regular seminars, writing groups, social events. The University of Edinburgh (UoE) offers world-class research infrastructure, training and facilities. PhD students have access desks and computers; there are also plans to develop the UoE’s new PGR Hub on the campus. The UoE has excellent induction and quality assurance processes (e.g., First Year Progression Board) to support the student. The student will also be able to access appropriate in-house or external training, for example through the extensive doctoral seminar and training programmes in the Schools of Education, Social and Political Science and the Institute of Academic Development. In REF2014, the research environment in the School was rated exceptionally highly (100% rating at 4* level) based on the number and success rate of PhD students, the amount of support provided, research income generated and measures of staff esteem. Overall, the School of Education was ranked fourth in the UK for educational research on the research power index.


Applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria:
  • A good first degree (2:1 or above, or the non-UK equivalent), preferably with a social science component
  • Demonstrate an interest in study of relationships in education setting, and knowledge of mixed-method methodologies
  • Have a good grounding in education or a related social science
  • Ability to work as part of a team as well as independently
  • Familiarity with theories of teacher agency and communities of practice (desirable)
  • Ability to handle quantitative datasets (desirable)
  • Familiarity with Social and Epistemic Network analysis (desirable)
Applicants would normally have an UG degree in a relevant area with a classification of 2:1 or above (or the non-UK equivalent) and/or an appropriate MSc degree (or near completion) with normally a minimum of 60% for both the dissertation (when applicable) and the overall programme mark. Substantial and demonstrable research and professional experience will also be considered, and applicants will be expected to demonstrate excellent written and verbal communication skills, and the ability to work effectively with others (e.g., education professionals).

Students must meet ESRC eligibility criteria. ESRC eligibility information can be found here.

Award details

This is a fully funded studentship, undertaken full-time over a three or four year period. Depending on prior research training applicants may be eligible for appointment to either the +3 pathway (direct to PhD enrolment) or 1+3 doctoral pathway (includes a 1 year MSc). Appointment to a +3 PhD studentship assumes that the student can demonstrate that the vast majority of the core training requirements set down by the ESRC’s Council have already been met. Candidates ineligible for the +3 PhD studentship may be considered for the 1+3 pathway where the first year will involve completion of an appropriate MSc in order to meet ESRC requirements for research training. This will be assessed as part of the recruitment process. The programme will commence in October 2019.  It includes:
  • an annual maintenance grant at the RCUK rate (2018/19 rate £15,009 full-time)
  • fees at the standard Home rate
students can also draw on a pooled Research Training Support Grant, usually up to a maximum of £750 per year

Other information

The supervisory team brings an excellent mix of experience and skills to support the student. First supervisor Dr Pantić is a Lecturer in Education with expertise in mixed-method educational research. Her recent research has focused on teacher agency and collaboration. She will support the student in all stages of reserach design and implementation and coordinate overall supervision. Second supervisor Dragan Gašević is a Professor in Learning Analytics at Monash University and an Honorary Professor at the University of Edinburgh, School of Informatics. Expert in network learning, he will train the student to use the Social and Epistemic Network analytic techniques and tools. Third supervisor Dr Gil Viry is a Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. Expert in social network analysis, he will train the student in the field of network research design and complex statistical models with network data.

How to apply

  1. Applicants register on GradHub and fill out EO data (this is a requirement of the application process)
  2. Applicants complete and upload the prescribed list of required documentation to include:
    • Application form
    • Academic transcripts
    • References
    • CV
    • A short statement (max 500 words) explaining how you fit with, and can add to, the research project.

The statement should be uploaded as an additional document with the file named as follows:

your  name_PanticEdinburgInterdisciplinary_date

  1. Applicants submit application through GradHub (button below)

Selection process

Applications will be ranked by a selection panel and applicants will be notified if they have been shortlisted for interview by 3rd July 2019. Interviews will take place the week commencing 8th July. Appointment will be subject to satisfactory references and approval by the SGSSS. All scholarship awards are subject to candidates successfully securing admission to a PhD programme within the School of Education, University of Edinburgh.  Successful scholarship applicants will be invited to apply for admission to the relevant PhD programme after they are selected for funding.

Supervisor/Contact details

Nataša Pantić