This paper examines two cohorts of preservice teachers (PSTs) – secondary Science and English Education Majors – as began to build communities of practice in the classroom and online. This research focuses on their last 2 years in the program.
To collect the data and analyse it, the research observed the PSTs education courses; observed their interactions online and interviewed 6 PSTs in each of the two cohorts at the end of each semester.
Cohort #1 – Secondary Science Education Major – Results
In the first semester the students met in a traditional classroom with the chairs in a row facing the teacher at the front of the room. In the second semester the students were in a science lab and they sat in rows facing the instructor but neither arrangement facilitated communication or collaboration among the PSTs.
The online journal allows users to post reflections and to share them with others in the journal community but it only counted for 5% of their final mark.
In the third semester PSTs returned to the renovated education building where smaller tables in the room were arranged for multiple grouping, providing more opportunities for communication. The structure of the course was relax and the use of the journal was dropped for the third semester.
Face-to-face interactions of the group showed several elements of community – shared experiences, shared responsibilities in class and shared identity as science education majors.
There was no entrance ritual but there was an exit ritual in the form of dinner hosted by one of the PSTs.
Cohort #2 – Secondary English Education Major – Results
In the first semester students were in a traditional classroom with the chairs arranged in a row facing the front but occasionally students met in smaller “reader-response” groups but generally there was little time for student interaction.
In the second semester the chairs were arranged in a circle before the start of each meeting. CourseInfo Discussion Boards were adopted and they became a means of communication among students. PSTs posted over 500 messages, discussing the books they were reading, giving feedback on their peers micro-teaching in class and discussing other topics that emerged in their classes and in their field experiences.
In the third semester the students were placed in a teacher-centric physical layout in the renovated education building to take advantage of new presentation technologies.
The use of the discussion boards was limited to students field experiences. Through face-to-face interaction, this cohort showed signs of developing community through shared experiences in the class and other english classes they had in common.
There was an entrance ritual in the second semester through in class and online introductions and there was an exit ritual but there was no exit ritual at the end of their three semesters together.
Science Education Cohort:
- signs of community didn’t emerge until the 3rd semester
- the classroom and pedagogical structure were more relaxed with the use of the journal being abandoned
- journal didn’t serve them well as a community tool
English Education Cohort:
- signs of community emerged and peaked in the second semester
- changes to physical and pedagogical structure & the addition of the CourseInfo discussion board helped to build stronger community ties
- participation in class and online increased dramatically
- in the 3rd semester online participation seemed to diminish
Conclusion: The pedagogical and physical contexts of the classes mattered as much as the tools. The tools also had an effect on how PSTs used them to develop online communities of practice.