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Initial teacher education is increasingly happening online, both formally and informally, within networks that are commercial, institutional, governmental, and research-driven. These networks make use of the capabilities of the internet and related technology to better support teachers. The scholarship of teacher learning within online networks can be divided into four main strands: network design, outcomes from network participation, agency within the network of networks, and critical perspectives on online networks of teachers. Online networks are designed environments, and there are design decisions involved in developing different types of teacher network. Research into networked learning provides a common language for talking about these networks that allows for articulation of transferable design principles and comparison between networks. Some studies of networks of teachers are conducted with a focus upon the forms of social support that teachers provide for each other. These studies look to understand the role of online networks within the profession, and to contribute to growing and testing the base of theoretical knowledge about how teachers can be better supported through online networks. There is a growing strand of literature that focuses upon how teacher agency can be developed so that each teacher can take advantage of a world in which online networks are prevalent and can use them to flourish within the profession. Teachers can learn to develop their own professional learning network that makes use of existing online networks. While there is much optimism about the potential of online learning networks to support teachers and serve the profession, there are also perspectives that are critical of the widespread embrace of online networks by teachers and the way in which this development is changing the profession.

Article

Learning about the practice of teaching is a complex and ongoing business. While it may commence as initial teacher education, undertaken as tertiary study, it necessarily continues throughout a teacher’s professional career. This is recognized by employing authorities across many parts of the world as they make provisions for professional learning often characterized as “professional development,” mainly through short and longer generic courses. However, such provision may lack contextual coherence leading to an acknowledgement that the complexity of teaching may be better captured through systematic inquiry undertaken by practitioners into their own practices in the company of others. Such inquiry could investigate not only matters of significance in terms of actions and activities, but also take account of local and external relevant discourses and the arrangements of relationships with peers and students themselves mediated by a variety of factors, for example, social geography. Educational practice is best seen as a “living practice” constantly morphing and changing in accord with a dynamic world. It can be argued that inquiry-based learning is itself a practice-changing practice with a focus on a range of matters such as enhancing student learning outcomes through a profound understanding of how students learn via their agency as the consequential stakeholders able and willing to provide their teachers with honest and worthwhile feedback. As well practitioner inquiry may address what is worthwhile, fundamental and enduring, and seek to integrate current theories with practice. Many so-called “improvements” and “reforms” in education are developed with little reference to that which teachers know and understand of their practice. They are developed for teachers rather than with teachers. As a redress it is essential that teachers themselves can articulate their practice and provide sustainable, plausible evidence of not only their achievements, but also the many matters that present ongoing challenges, for example: the impact of social media on classroom dynamics; technological innovation more generally; and state-wide testing regimes combined with international comparisons. Systematic inquiry can contribute not only to the professional learning of the practitioners who are so engaged, but also to the larger body of knowledge regarding professional practice. With this end in mind, it is essential that inquiry-based learning is both to the benefit of individual teachers as well as the broader profession itself and to act as an antidote to some of the less desirable features of the Global Education Reform Movement (GERM). Thus inquiry-based learning may be seen as a powerful reform in its own right.