Exploring the conditions for academic teachers’ informal collegial learning about teaching

Vogel, M. (2009). Exploring the conditions for academic teachers’ informal collegial learning about teaching. A social network approach. Educate, 9(2), pp. 18-36.

Although this article is quite long and not all of it is directly relevant to unit coordinators (the focus is on professorial social networks), some of the points made about communities of practice and academic social networks were useful. The focus of the article was on collective informal learning and it considered whether academic isolation was an impediment to this process. Rather than focusing on training individuals as better teachers, it looked at how a focus on social networks can influence effective teaching practice.

Communities of Practice were identified through a survey of the strength and direction of social ties with colleagues; strong mutual ties delineated established informal communities. The author argued that these groups can operate like ‘cliques’ and could be associated with information redundancy and low access to new ideas and knowledge – thus leading to a lack of innovation over time. Weaker social ties that bridge the gap between communities of practice were considered to be highly important to circulating teaching ideas and practice and to cross-checking practices with other parts of the social system (internal and external to the organization). An analysis of informal collegial social networks may identify those who act as communicators of teaching methods between discrete groups of academics, making them logical targets for professional development. In addition, supporting weak social ties across informal networks may work well for communicating new teaching methods and practices. Increasing social network cohesion was considered to be complimentary to formal teacher training. This information may be useful to unit coordinators wanting to develop social networks supportive of their own teaching practice, or those wishing to support the teaching practices of their sessional staff through tutor social networks.

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