NCTM Denver 2013: Thrasher and Perry's Supporting Beginning Teachers through Online Social Communities

Annual Meeting - Friday, April 19, 11:00 am

Emily Thrasher - North Carolina State University
Ayanna Perry - North Carolina State University

At NC State University there is a program called the Noyce Mathematics Education Teaching Scholars, funded by the National Science Foundation. Along with providing preservice preparation, this program experimented with using online tools to support their graduates (called "Scholars" below) in their first years of teaching.

Thrasher and Perry

Thrasher and Perry cited the poor retention statistics for teachers, and hoped that this program would keep more of their Scholars in the classroom. Their approaches for continued contact and collaboration were organized into synchronous and asynchronous modes of communication.

Synchronous communication was mostly facilitated through real-time chat and Skype. Sometimes Skype included an expert panel or guest speakers. The group found that by being online everyone could participate, and Scholars liked keeping in touch with their former classmates. The synchronous meetings also provided time to discuss research-based practices and how the Scholars might use them in their classrooms. Unfortunately, scheduling synchronous communication was a persistent problem. Scholars didn't feel comfortable prioritizing a "virtual" meeting on their calendar and requested more face-to-face meetings. These face-to-face meetings were difficult because Scholars had taken jobs in various places across the country, but an effort was made to meet for on-campus professional development or to meetup at professional conferences several times throughout the year.

The group primarily used five tools to collaborate asynchronously: a wiki, a website, Dropbox, Facebook, and Google+. The initial plan was to use the wiki heavily, but Scholars were slow to adapt to the technology and needed facilitators to model how the tool could be used to share. Also, the presenters felt it was important to make the wiki private, as there were things the Scholars probably didn't want to be made public. The website served more as an archive of newsletters and activities, and did not facilitate much collaboration itself. Participation in Dropbox was perhaps the most successful, as Scholars found it very easy to create subfolders and submit lesson ideas and resources. The project didn't see much use for Facebook at first, judging it to be too informal, but it emerged as a place where Scholars and their former professors could keep in touch. Lastly, Google+ emerged as useful when several of the Scholars started using it to distribute and discuss self-made YouTube videos and links to lessons, as well as using Google's instant messaging features.

To judge the effectiveness of these efforts, the researchers observed classrooms and asked Scholars to reflect and discuss the data that was collected. While valuable, observations were limited by time and budget, and the presenters suggested that reviewing videos of lessons might have been a better strategy.

Of the 24 scholars in the program, two never taught and 19 of the remaining 22 are still teaching beyond their first year, so retention looks good thus far. Interestingly, some of the Scholars have taken considerable interest in discussing the research shared online, and that's caused some of them to consider leaving teaching for graduate school. While seeking more education is certainly not bad, it wasn't part of the plan to increase retention.

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