This project explores the diffusion of Web 2.0 technologies among science educators and the ways these technologies are used to build teacher professional communities of practice (CoP). Such technologies are claimed to offer new ways to foster interaction and community building, content creation, and knowledge building and management. However, there is very little research examining the extent to which use of these technologies foster professional CoPs among educators. The project uses a replicated case study design, with replications corresponding to two online communities from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Learning Center. NSTA is a member-driven organization that promotes excellence in science teaching and learning; the Learning Center has approximately 70,000 users including science teachers, science supervisors, administrators, scientists, and others involved in science education. The study uses a longitudinal approach and multiple methods including surveys, web metrics, interviews, and content analysis of discussion forums to characterize these CoPs, understand what motivates educators to participate, assess how participation leads to the development of sociotechnical capital, and evaluate how sociotechnical capital influences professional outcomes including self-efficacy, instructional practices, and job satisfaction.
This work stands to have significant broader impacts by establishing the role that virtual CoPs can play in continuous learning for educators in general and for science educators in particular. A focus on science is especially important in light of the national emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, the lack of research on science teaching relative to other academic subjects, and the mismatch in the demand for and supply of professional development opportunities for K-12 science teachers. In addition, because of the relatively low and declining cost of access to web-based applications of the sort studied in this project, such avenues for continuous learning and access to high-quality resources could be widely available to science teachers in both low-income school districts and in rural areas where access to physical resources or collocated colleagues is extremely limited. Whereas collocated peers and in-person opportunities to participate in professional community activities may be scarce, virtual CoPs could go far to address the needs of K-12 science educators.