An assessment of the factors influencing teacher online collaboration: A case study of LEARN North Carolina's shared lesson plan database
James Michael Albritton, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill . Awarded
This study examined the factors that encourage and discourage teacher online collaboration. The study examined LEARN North Carolina, a website for teachers. The website contained lesson plan databases, links libraries, discussion forums and professional development opportunities.
Literature. Studies of general collaboration, online collaboration in business, teacher collaboration and teacher online collaboration were reported. Thorn and Connolly (1987) explored how information in shared databases resembles what economists call “public goods.” Goodman and Darr (1998) extended the theory and asserted that features of a computer-aided system interact with features of organizational context to influence online collaboration. Participants' decisions to collaborate then shape organizational learning and effectiveness.
Methods. Data included surveys, focus groups, interviews and documents. Subjects included low-use teachers, high-use teachers, and coordinators from across the state. Senior LEARN NC leaders were also included. Qualitative methods (constant comparative) were used to identify emergent themes. Chi-square tests were used to determine the significance of differences in frequencies of themes reported.
Results. Organizational context and computer system features appeared to influence teacher online collaboration. Subject groups differed somewhat in their perceptions of which context and system features most influenced online collaboration. High-use teachers more frequently than low-use teachers reported feeling the need for lesson ideas and professional development. Time, culture, and mixed reward systems are greater blocks to online collaboration than are technical difficulties with computer systems. According to some, competition between teachers and schools as a result of state testing reduced teacher collaboration, both in person and online.
Discussion and implications. Goodman and Darr's (1998) framework was useful in guiding the study and interpreting unanticipated results. Further research might include: (a) studies with less breadth and more depth of coverage, and (b) investigation of teachers' use of sites in addition to LEARN NC. Policy actions might include: (a) encouraging coordinated planning between districts, (b) funding technology so that all teachers have access, (c) evaluating the state testing program for unintended consequences like decreased teacher collaboration, and (d) introducing more incentives to increase teacher collaboration.
Albritton, J.M. An assessment of the factors influencing teacher online collaboration: A case study of LEARN North Carolina's shared lesson plan database. Ph.D. thesis, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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