ORT study published in top international journal


12 October 2005 Teachers reluctance to share classroom experiences and pedagogical beliefs with their peers may limit the potential professional benefits of email use in schools, according to an ORT Uruguay University study. The study, which has been published in the leading international journal Technology, Pedagogy and Education, shows that teachers use email to discuss the tools of the trade but tend to avoid sharing the inner workings of their courses and classroom or to engage in discussions on learning theory and pedagogy. The authors of the study, Dr Jorge Grunberg and Dr Alejandro Armellini, investigated patterns of email usage by a group of 20 Uruguayan secondary school teachers over a period of 37 weeks in a bid to determine how much was devoted to professional communication as well as its content and purpose. They found that most of the computer-mediated communication (CMC), some 58 per cent, was related to teaching. This is important, they concluded, since research has found that change and development are facilitated in collegial environments where teacher interactions focus on teaching. Thus, the evidence obtained in this research suggests that email may be used in forms supportive of professional development. However, most of this 58 per cent was focused on teaching repertoire, such as ideas for lessons and ways of explaining things to students. There was relatively little discussion on matters such as dealing with difficult children or personal beliefs on such things as tackling inequality in the classroom. Dr Jorge Grunberg The evidence suggests that teachers perceived lower risks of being criticised or suffering damage to their professional reputations when exchanging teaching resources than when discussing classroom incidents and pedagogical issues. These fears may be compounded by the inability of limiting circulation of emails to third parties. This may diminish the potential of email to support deeper changes in teachers professional beliefs and hence limit professional development opportunities to an instrumental level, Drs Grunberg and Armellini conclude. Further research is needed to shed light on what needs to happen for teachers comfort zone boundaries to break down so that discussions move to an upper level of abstraction and conceptualisation, they add. Dr Alejandro Armellini However, they argue that a school where CMC is part of its culture still stands a greater chance of promoting higher-level discussions and increased opportunities for enhanced teacher collegiality. The study has been welcomed by others working in the field. This is a clearly presented paper, said Joseph Mintz, Senior Lecturer in the Education Department of London South Bank University. It is also quite topical because interest in improving communication methods between teachers electronically has been growing in recent years. Mr Mintz, who has been examining the use of email-based networks for teacher support, said it was widely recognised that secondary school teachers tended to be isolated in their working lives. They spend all day in the classroom and only see other teachers periodically. This limits the opportunity that they have for professional interaction with colleagues. The study, Talking about Teaching: a study of the professional uses of email by secondary school teachers in Uruguay is based on research undertaken in cooperation with Integral, the main Jewish school of Montevideo. Dr Grunberg is Rector of ORT Uruguay University, which independent surveys conducted since 1996 have shown is perceived to be the best university in Uruguay by people aged between 18 and 35. Dr Armellini is based at the School of Education at the University of Manchester. World ORT, founded in 1880, is the worlds largest Jewish education and vocational training non-government organisation with some 270,000 students both Jewish and non-Jewish in 58 countries.