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Using a web-based professional development system to support preservice teachers in examining authentic classroom practice.

We have been exploring the potential of a web-supported professional development system, the Inquiry Learning Forum (ILF), that integrates videotaped classrooms and discussion forums for use in preservice science methods classrooms. This article examines pre- and inservice teachers' perceptions about using the ILF and how their participation in the ILF helped to enhance their teaching. Using specific naturalistic research methods, we discovered that preservice teachers placed high values on watching teacher practice through videos. Preservice teachers interacted with inservice teachers through asynchronous forums where they discussed videos of teacher practice. These methods served as a valuable tool to help them understand different learning theories and reform-based teaching practice used in a classroom. This article concludes with a discussion of the challenges encountered, lessons learned, and recommendations for other teacher educators who decide to incorporate a web-based professional development system into their courses.


Over the past decade, many teacher educators have grown increasingly dissatisfied with traditional and individualistic approaches to teacher education and professional development. This dissatisfaction has lead educators to recognize that teachers need experience in collaborative learning communities where they are afforded the opportunities to articulate, reflect on, and share their teaching experiences with their peers (Barab, Barnett, & Squire, 2002; Grossman, Wineburg, & Wool worth, 2001). The emphasis on building collaborative learning experiences has sparked numerous efforts to transform existing teacher education programs into learning communities that link the learning of preservice teachers with experienced teachers and teacher educators (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993; Grossman et al., 2001; Putnam & Borko, 2000). These past interventions were premised upon individuals coming together as a group to develop relationships where its members wrestle with and construct notions of what it means to teach. In striving toward this goal, our team created a web-supported professional development system known as the Inquiry Learning Forum (ILF). The ILF was designed to support a diverse community of teachers in further exploring optimal ways to teach science and math. This article explores use of the ILF in two elementary science methods courses.


Over the past 20 years, the educational community has accumulated a wealth of information about how to improve teacher practice through preservice teacher training and follow-up professional development experiences (Lieberman, 1995). However, as Loucks-Horsley and Matsumoto (1999) noted, the knowledge base has been a significantly underutilized resource for teacher development; this has been primarily due to a lack of mechanisms to facilitate and sustain information sharing as well as access to distributed expertise such as other teachers, university faculty, and curriculum developers. For example, the primary means that most teachers use to distribute their expertise are brief experiences at inservice workshops at their schools or universities, summer institutes, or through their own reading of practitioner-oriented journals (Marx, Blumenfeld, Krajcik, & Soloway, 1998). However, recent developments in information technology tools have created new ways for individuals to communicate, share information, and experiences with one another (Dede, 2000). Information technology offers great potential for teacher training to enhance communication and sharing of teaching practices that many educators believe can fundamentally reshape the nature of teacher training. In the following section, we will briefly review recent technology-based strategies used to improve teacher training and professional development.

Technology to Support Teacher Development

The growth and use of the Internet has provided teacher educators with the opportunity to examine the usage of electronic networks for supporting preservice teachers' reflection on their pedagogical belief systems and teaching experiences. A number of research studies have explored how electronic networks support preservice teachers to become reflective practitioners, knowledgeable about reform oriented teaching practices (Barnett, Harwood, Keating, & Saam, 2002; Piborn & Middleton, 1998; Sunal & Sunal, 1992). These studies found that electronic networking tools can be used to support the exchange of ideas between preservice teachers, which in turn leads to the development of a community discourse about how to improve and reform teaching practice (Schlagal, Trathen, & Blanton, 1996). One particular use of electronic networks that has shown great potential for encouraging discussion has been teleapprenticeships (Thurston, Evangeline, & Levin, 1997; Waugh & Rath, 1995). According to Levin and Waugh (1998), teleapprenticeship is a framework that takes advantage of unique functions such as collaborative discussions available in electronic networks, creating apprenticeship-like learning environments without requiring the participants to be in the same location at the same time. Through participation in these collaborative discussions, preservice teachers are able to reflect upon and articulate their beliefs (Sunal & Sunal, 1992; Thomas, Clift, & Sugimoto, 1996). The impact of electronic communications in creating supported reflection was similarly noted in another study comparing face-to-face with networked discussions with 28 elementary and middle school teachers in 10 suburban Chicago schools. In the study by Hawkes, the author found that neither face-to-face nor online communication supported high overall reflective discourse. However, upon comparison Hawkes (2001) noted that the network-based discussions had a higher reflective discourse than the face-to-face discussions.

Despite the benefits that electronic networks have shown for supporting teachers' professional growth, they have also been criticized by both researchers and teacher educators because teachers need to watch and discuss reform based practices for the nature of the reforms to be grasped (Barab et al., 2002). Therefore, the question still remains how teacher educators can provide the opportunities for teachers to observe, visit, interact, and collaboratively reflect with other teachers while attempting to implement reform-based teaching strategies even before their student teaching practicum.

One possibility for improving preservice teachers understanding of reform-based teaching practices is to provide additional field experiences for preservice teachers in classrooms where such practices are being enacted. Unfortunately, for many Schools of Education, it is logistically difficult, if not impossible, to locate a sufficient number of teachers who are using reform-based approaches in their classrooms and to place preservice teachers with them. As a result, beginning teachers frequently observe instruction that contradicts current reform movements and therefore continue their apprenticeship into a system that does not value reform-based approaches to teaching. In such instances, field experiences can reinforce students' preexisting beliefs and lead to their perception that university teacher educators are out of touch with real classrooms (Calderhead, 1988).

Another possibility to assist preservice teachers in understanding reform-based teaching practices is to expose them to such practices through the use of video (Abell et al., 1996; Wang & Hartley, 2003). Videotaped classroom experiences can provide teachers with a common framework for discussion, allowing for multiple views of the same classroom, and can support various student perspectives as they all watch and reflect on the same video (Lambdin, Duffy, & Moore, 1997). The viewing and reviewing of classroom videos provides powerful opportunities for preservice teachers to reflect on their practice and in articulating their epistemological and pedagogical beliefs (Abell et al.). In particular, video technologies offer students with the ability to view many different teaching situations, provides easy access to a variety of data related to a particular event or issue, and connects preservice teachers to a multitude of instructional contexts (Wang & Hartley, 2003). However, the current video-based instruction systems are limited because they are distributed only on CD-ROM or videotape, restricting their collaborative potential (Schrader et al., 2003). Given these concerns, the Secondary Teacher Education Project (STEP) uses web-based video cases to demonstrate innovative teaching practices (i.e. inquiry-oriented teaching). In the STEP project, pre- and inservice teachers are expected to discuss possible solutions to problems of classroom practice by calling upon the STEP database; they must search for relevant information to support their point of view on what the teacher in each case is trying to do and what they would do in a similar teaching situation (Siegel et al., 2000). Results from research conducted on STEP suggest that through the online discussion preservice teachers were encouraged to consider how they would teach in their own classroom and the system supported an environment where teachers' implicit beliefs about teaching could be made more explicit and, hence, facilitated reflection on their epistemological beliefs about teaching (Derry, Seymour, Steinkuehler, Lee, & Siegel, 2004).

Other researchers have used compressed video to connect preservice teachers to real classrooms. For example, Bliss, and Mazur (1996) examined the interactions between six experienced history teachers and six student teachers while they used computer videoconferencing to discuss teaching history in actual classrooms. Through interviewing and analyzing the dialogue, they found that participants valued talking with someone not connected with their immediate school situation and that the inservice teachers liked having the opportunities to actually discuss instructional strategies concerning how to teach history in the context of real classrooms. The mentors (in-service history teachers) also found the mentoring experience beneficial because it provided them with the opportunity to reflect more deeply on their practice and how to improve their teaching. Similarly, researchers Knight, Pederson, and Peters (2004) used compressed video to allow their students' to observe one K-12 class session. Their findings suggested that students' attitudes toward the medium impacted their perceived value of participation and that such observations could support students in applying learning theory when analyzing a classroom. Based upon previous research conducted, it appears that a combination approach of using both electronic networking and videos holds significant potential for supporting the professional growth of teachers.


The Inquiry Learning Forum (ILF: is a web-based professional development system specifically designed to support a community of inservice and preservice science and mathematics teachers where they share beliefs about reform-based teaching practices, as well as their experience in implementing teaching practices in their classrooms. The ILF design is different from previous technology-supported teacher development systems because it is structured to foster a "community" in which teachers can virtually visit other classrooms. The ILF members have the option to view video vignettes of teachers' classrooms and to access other teaching artifacts such as teacher reflections, student work, and relevant resources (Figures 1 and 2). As such, the ILF website is meant to support observation and reflection on actual classroom experiences.



The major aspects of the ILF classrooms include seven to eight video clips of a teacher's lesson that each last three to five minutes. These video vignettes provide ILF participants with the ability to access teachers' practice within the context of a "real classroom." The videos are not focused on special cases or staged, but rather, represent teachers' real experiences implementing inquiry-based science teaching strategies in their classrooms. The intention of watching the videos is to capture teaching in a variety of settings, from teachers who have a variety of strengths and weaknesses, particularly regarding inquiry based teaching strategies. The ILF designers felt they were capturing the everyday practices of teachers by fostering a greater amount and quality of reflective discussion (Barab, MaKinster, Moore, Cunningham, & ILF Design Team, 2001). Each video is complemented by the inclusion of the teachers' lesson plans, examples of student work, classroom resources, and asynchronous discussions. Each video is typically linked with questions, provided by the videotaped teachers, to help spark discussion. The asynchronous forums feature archives that can be visited and revisited by students and teachers, allowing them to continually interact with their peers as they begin to formulate pedagogical beliefs and learn about inquiry-based teaching. This interaction provides powerful opportunities for individuals to reflect upon their practice and to articulate epistemological and pedagogical beliefs (Perry & Talley, 2001).

The ILF allows university instructors to customize their own virtual ILF space called an Inquiry Circle, to meet their particular needs (Figure 3). For example, an instructor can set up private discussion forums, add external links, and add other ILF objects and resources to their Inquiry Circle. These Inquiry Circles may also include lesson plans, classroom videos, and external websites. At its core, an Inquiry Circle is a collaborative group space where instructors, preservice teachers, and inservice teachers can share resources, ideas, and experiences, while discussing teaching strategies and working together to create lesson plans.



In 1997, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education [NCATE], 1997) Task Force on Technology in Teacher Education called for "a vision and a plan for teacher education programs that will integrate technology into the teacher education curriculum using modern telecommunications." Adhering to this call, we examined how to incorporate the ILF into elementary science methods courses.

For this study we recruited 16 elementary inservice teachers to participate in asynchronous discussions and to view the same videos as the preservice teachers. These teachers ranged in age, teaching experience, and comfort level with web-based technologies. In total there were four 2nd grade teachers, four 3rd grade teachers, five 5th grade teachers, and three elementary science specialists. Nearly all (13 of 16) the inservice teachers received professional development points as a part of their district program to support them in becoming more familiar with reform based teaching practices.

A total of 60 preservice teachers (49 females and 11 males) participated in the ILF. In general, the preservice teachers felt uncomfortable with their content knowledge regarding science and lacked the confidence to teach science. The primary goals of the methods course were to: (a) increase confidence and comfort levels of preservice teachers for teaching science; (b) develop collegiality among other teachers and students; (c) examine beliefs about how students learn science and how science should be taught; and (d) to develop an inquiry-based curriculum unit. The ILF enabled the preservice teachers to examine inquiry-oriented science teaching in context and then engage them in conversations centered on the teaching practices displayed in the videos.

The inservice teachers involved in the ILF project were also typical of many practicing elementary teachers who did not feel confident about teaching science (including those who had allowed their classroom to videotaped), because they did not understand the nature of inquiry-based science teaching. Despite these inhibitions, the inservice teachers differed from the average elementary teacher because they were excited and interested to learn more about teaching science through inquiry-based approaches and excited to share their own experiences.


One major goal of the elementary science methods courses was to facilitate students' discussion about reform-based science teaching strategies, allowing students to examine their practice, reflect on their pedagogical beliefs, and provide all participants with the valuable experience of using web-based collaborative technologies. Asynchronous discussions were created around: (a) three specific ILF elementary science classrooms; (b) special topics such as "How children learn science?" and "What is inquiry?" and; (c) Is this ILF classroom an inquiry-based classroom and how can you tell? Using research guidelines from previous studies (see Guzdial & Turns [2001] for a summary of the research on how to foster online discussion) on the orchestration of asynchronous online discussions forums, students were assigned to small groups of three to five students. Inservice teachers were asked to participate in the discussions so they could bring a "voice from the field." The instructors felt the presence of inservice teachers would serve as a motivating factor for students to participate in the discussions. Of particular importance was the participation of the three teachers whose classroom video vignettes served as the focus of much of the asynchronous discussions. Fortunately, the three inservice teachers (Sara, Jill, and Jane) agreed to participate in the discussion forum and answer students' questions about their personal strategies for teaching elementary school science through an inquiry-oriented approach.


Data Collection

The research conducted was primarily a naturalistic descriptive study (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Rather than segmenting the course into fine details and then examining them independently, we focused our efforts on understanding the issues of both the pre- and inservice teachers that emerged from the use of the ILF. Our specific research and development agenda was consistent with Brown's (1992) notion of "design experiments," whereby entire instructional interventions were designed (as opposed to constrained laboratory contexts) and the impact of innovations on the learning and teaching process were examined. The lessons learned are then cycled back into the next instructional intervention, where we can examine the impact on teaching and students' learning.

We collected data from multiple sources. Our primary data sets included pre-post semi-structured interviews (see Table 1 for the interview protocol), student journals, student course evaluations, online discussion forums, and e-mail exchanges between the preservice teachers, inservice teachers, and the course instructor. The pre and post interviews focused on gathering data that shed light on participants' beliefs about reform-based science teaching, their perceived value of participating in the ILF, and how this participation might have impacted their perception and beliefs.

Data Analysis

Our interpretive approach to data analysis was similar to the methods described by Tobin (2000). We conducted ongoing analysis throughout the academic term with the goal of identifying issues along with searching for evidence to confirm or contradict our emerging hypotheses (Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Emerging issues served as the focus of the evaluation questions that were given to students and teachers during the midpoint of the term and again at the project's conclusion. Therefore, the results presented in this manuscript are the product of a fluid process where we constantly examined and reevaluated them in light of new evidence and data.

By the end of the course a number of issues were identified, and at that point we conducted a retrospective analysis (Cobb, 2000). This retrospective analysis was accomplished through re-reading the interviews, student journals, and online discussions. This process included re-coding the data with the identified issues, collapsing the number of issues into a small manageable set while still capturing the essence of the teachers' and students' experiences. The remaining collapsed issues served as the scaffolding around which we structured our results. We wrote short case studies focused on each issue to better understand if the issues were adequately captured by our participants' experiences (Yin, 1994). The case studies where reviewed by our participants to make sure they reflected their perspectives. Only three inservice teachers (no preservice teacher provided feedback) provided feedback, but they generally felt that the case studies accurately represented their experience and perceptions.


In this section we present three issues that characterize the pre- and in-service teachers' experiences: (a) understanding inquiry-based teaching in context through collaboration; (b) coming to terms with inquiry-oriented teaching in the real world; and (c) making connections between learning theory and practice.

Understanding inquiry-based teaching in context through collaboration. The use of video vignettes and asynchronous forums in the ILF to support the discussion of teachers' beliefs regarding inquiry-based instruction was central to our work. Examining the online forums, we found 80 discussion threads that had three or more posts and 40 discussion threads of seven or more posts. Hence, several discussion threads were not simply replies to an instructors' question or a single post, but a sustained dialogue among its participants (Table 2). Further examination of the online discussions revealed that the most active threads included inservice teachers as critically engaged participants. For example, when the participants were asked to watch an online video to determine if the particular classroom was a good example of inquiry-based (reform-based) science teaching, several extended threads emerged.

The following is an excerpt from one of the discussions:
 Poster (Mary, student):

 Based upon what I think inquiry is I think the classroom is. The
 teacher isn't lecturing and the students appear to be doing the
 experiment on their own. They seem to be asking questions, though it
 is difficult to hear them. Overall I think this classroom meets the
 requirements of what an inquiry based classroom should be like.

 Poster (Sally, student):

 I'm not sure that is an inquiry-based classroom. I'm sure it is
 because this is the Inquiry-Learning Forum, but I think the teacher
 has told the students what to do and that they are simply following
 directions even if the are doing that work independently of the
 teacher. If you watch the first clip again, the teacher tells the
 students what they are going to do and then provides them a list.

 Poster (Bob, inservice teacher)

 Good points both of you. One thing to remember is that students just
 can't start with inquiry. You as a teacher have to help the students
 get there. When I teach I think about inquiry-based teaching as a
 yearlong process. I start the year, probably what many people would
 call didactic instruction or non-inquiry, but it is necessary to get
 students capable of doing investigations on their own and to do that
 they need to develop a certain skill set. Have you watched classrooms
 that occur later in the year. I think you will see a difference.

 Poster (Kevin, student)

 I've always been accused of butting in when not wanted. I'm not a
 member of this group, but couldn't help but read this. Our group is
 having a similar argument. In stumbling around the videos I found a
 teacher who had their entire project videotaped. It was interesting
 watching the students' interactions with the teacher change from the
 beginning to the ending of the project. I think it makes your point.

 Poster (Jane, student)

 I agree this seems like a good idea, but how do you know when the
 students are ready? Is this something that you learn as you get more

 Poster (Jill, teacher of the video students are watching)

 Good points and questions. I thought this lesson was a good inquiry
 one because later the students got to design their models. Though at
 the start I can certainly see why someone might not think so. I do,
 wonder now if I could have done something different to make the
 introduction more inquiry-based and less directed by me.

This thread continued for another five posts, with another student eventually entering the discussion. This series of responses was a typical sample of discussions when an inservice teacher actively engaged the students, allowing a more focused discussion forum on teaching practices. For example, of the 80 threads that extended more than three posts, inservice teachers participated in 50 of those threads (see Table 2 for a breakdown of threads and posts). Of the 40 threads with seven or more posts, an inservice teacher participated in every discussion. The importance of inservice teacher participation was exemplified in an interview with a preservice student:
 What made this a valuable experience were the teachers. I have had use
 discussion boards in other classes and I have always found them to be
 a waste of time. It is always the same, I talk to other people in my
 class or are forced to respond to someone. I always do the minimal
 because I have never seen such things to be helpful. This was a
 different because we were talking with teachers and that was very
 different and relevant since I do my student teaching next term. I had
 lots of questions and the teachers were really helpful to have in the

The inservice teachers also noted how important it was for them to participate in the discussions, because it encouraged them to reflect on their own beliefs and practice. For instance one inservice teacher stated:
 When I first started I thought I was just helping out the students to
 become better teachers. What I didn't expect was how helpful
 participation has been for me. Interacting with your students really
 forced me to think about what I do and why I do it.

 Similarly, another teacher noted:

 The students, I hate to phrase it this way, but here it is, naivety,
 about teaching actually forced me to articulate why I teach the way
 that I do. Their questions forced me to examine my assumptions and
 really think about my teaching in a new way.

The previous two interview excerpts illustrated the inservice teachers' perspectives regarding their participation in the ILF. Namely, participation allowed inservice teachers to examine and reformulate beliefs about their own teaching practice. This point was perhaps best illustrated by one of the inservice teachers in an interview:
 What I found most valuable was that I have a better understanding of
 inquiry-based teaching. I really felt that I did not understand what
 inquiry-science consisted of, but the discussions with the students
 and the other teachers were really helpful. I think what helped more
 than anything was that we could watch a class and then discuss it and
 the watch again and really dig deep into what inquiry-based teaching
 really looks like and how it plays out in a classroom.

In all, we found that preservice teachers valued the input from inservice teachers tremendously and felt their participation enhanced how they would teach science. Similarly, the inservice teachers found that their participation also facilitated reflection on their own beliefs and teaching practice.

Coming to terms with inquiry-oriented teaching in the real world. In general, preservice teachers found the online videos coupled with the asynchronous discussion valuable tools to help them understand what an inquiry-based classroom looked like in practice. The participants considered the videos an integral component because they could watch and observe various teachers' classroom practice while classroom interactions unfolded. For example, after watching inservice teacher Jill's classroom, a student posted the following comment:
 I really enjoyed getting to see her lesson because it allows students
 like us who want to be teachers to go over what she is teaching and
 look at how things went. It is almost as if we are in there observing
 her and it is nice because we can watch her while at home. I thought
 the students were using inquiry because she was prompting them to give
 out information and open ended questions allowed students to reply. I
 really like watching the examples.

In another discussion, one student posted:
 I agree with what everyone has said about how effective and useful it
 is for us to watch these lessons. We do so much reading for our
 courses about methods and lessons and how kids learn. However, I do
 not think we get enough experience with real lessons and classrooms
 with students as future teachers. This looks like what promises to be
 an effective inquiry lesson.

These two student postings reveal that the videos showed actual classrooms instead of special cases that sparked students' motivation and served as an incentive for them to watch the videos and to participate in the discussion forums.

Participants could access and watch videos wherever an Internet connection and web-browser was accessible. This round-the-clock availability allowed students the time to view videos at their convenience and to make connections with their changing understanding of inquiry-based teaching:
 Poster, Jenny (student):

 Although I'm still exploring what I think inquiry is, I think that
 Sara's classroom is inquiry-oriented. The students do all of the
 investigating on their own and they are also the ones who provide an
 explanation about the rocks (the Cookie Project, for example).

 Poster, Stacey (student):

 What is obvious through Sara's video, inquiry also makes science and
 school in general a lot more enjoyable. The children in the
 introductory clip were excited and well-behaved. They had the
 opportunity to travel to the actual caves where the rocks they were
 studying were growing. They also got the chance to record their
 results, on paper and through the video. It seemed like an extremely
 positive learning experience for the class and for the teacher. In
 conclusion, the third chapter of the PDF text is a discussion of the
 National Scientific Education Standards. They described these
 standards as the "next step, not the final step." This point of view
 reflects inquiry learning itself. It is just more evidence that the
 way we are taught to learn is important in all stages and steps of our
 lives, even after school.

 Poster, Jason (student):

 I thought the three clips of Sara's class were very informative. I
 like how she divided the class up and split them into groups for them
 to work on individual parts and then, have the class come together to
 create the final product. It's a great strategy that the teacher has
 for working with students in a small group. The instruction model can
 be used in various ways and for different subjects too. I think
 working in small groups worked for students because they learn to
 share ideas and form strategies. What I thought didn't work, or
 actually, the problem is, in Clip 5, Encouraging Group Processing, the
 teacher had to re-direct the students in their design process. I
 thought overall the model is good. I might re-structure the model a
 little bit by adding a little bit more information into the step-by-
 step process in Clip 4.

Through combining online classroom videos with asynchronous discussion and other teaching artifacts, the preservice teachers were able to view actual teaching practice and engage in extended conversation with peers, who brought with them a variety of perspectives and interpretations of the teacher's classroom teaching contexts. Students used the videos as a lens through which they could engage their own beliefs in discussion with their peers and others who had different beliefs and experiences. Within the context of these online conversations, students were able to re-examine their understanding of inquiry-based instruction, what it looks like, and how it can be implemented in real classrooms.

Despite the overall successes of using online videos, this also posed significant challenges. One particular challenge we faced was that using the online videos to illuminate teacher practice had limitations. For example, the videos lacked interactivity and limited the viewer to only the camera's vantage point and angles of the classroom. Further, the camera does not necessarily capture the significant interactions that occurred among the students or between student and teacher. As a result, the full complexity of an inquiry-based classroom may have been lost through the viewing of video. A student pointed out this limitation in the discussion after watching inservice teacher Sara's classroom:
 I think that I would have made the cave experience more interactive
 for the students. Though this may have occurred off-camera, I think
 that the students listened to a lot of direct instruction from the
 guide, but did not do very much exploring and investigating on their

In a later post, Sara addressed the concerns raised by the preservice teachers in the discussion forum. Without Sara's presence in the forum, our students would have clearly struggled to understand the larger context embedded in Sara's lesson. That is, Sara's presence in the ILF discussion forum alleviated some of the limitations associated with videotaped classroom experiences because she was able to clarify any issues that surfaced.

In general, students and inservice teachers found the use of online videos and asynchronous discussion forums were valuable tools to help them understand what an inquiry-based elementary classroom might look like. For example, after watching Jill's classroom video, a student posted the following comment on the asynchronous discussion boards:
 I really enjoyed getting to see her lesson because it allows students
 like us who want to be teachers to go over what she is teaching and
 look at how things went. It is almost as if we are in there observing
 her and it is nice because we can watch her while at home. I thought
 the students were using inquiry because she was prompting them to give
 out information and open ended questions allowed students to reply. I
 really like watching the examples.

Similarly, another student posted:
 I agree with what everyone has said about how effective and useful it
 is for us to watch these lessons. We do so much reading for our
 courses about methods and lessons and how kids learn. However, I do
 not think we get enough experience with real lessons and classrooms
 with students as future teachers. This looks like what promises to be
 an effective inquiry lesson.

The two postings above were chosen because they illustrated a majority of students' feelings about the use of the ILF in the methods class. In short, the students decidedly valued the ability to view how other "real" teachers implemented science lessons within the actual "real world" context of an elementary school classroom. The preservice teachers also appreciated the experience because it provided them with a mechanism to view authentic practice while being able to reflect and critically examine the particulars of the lessons.

Making connections between learning theory and practice was facilitated through collaborative watching and discussion of ILF videos. The online videos coupled with the discussions provided students with the opportunity to examine and discuss classrooms from various theoretical perspectives. The chance to discuss various theoretical perspectives was noted by Jack, a student in the course:
 I enjoyed watching this video. It was very helpful to have the time to
 watch the video. I didn't know much about constructivism before, let
 alone what it looked like in a classroom, but doing the readings and
 watching the video really helped me to understand. I believe that this
 classroom was constructivist in nature because the assignments really
 helped the students to develop their own ideas and then use their
 ideas to finish the assignment.

In a previous posting by this student (Jack), he commented that the classroom felt constructivist in nature, but did not explore the issue in depth. However, in other instances, rich discussions emerged about the relationship between learning theory and classroom practice:
 Poster, Sari (student):

 I thought this classroom was a good science lesson. The students
 seemed interested and excited. I think that is more important that
 looking at from theory. I mean, isn't our job as teachers to get our
 students excited about learning?

 Poster, Fred (teacher):

You know, when I was in your shoes I thought the same way. Why, oh why, are my professors talking about this learning theory stuff? What I really needed to know was how teach. As I have gotten older and perhaps wiser (though I wonder about that) I have found I think about my teaching more and more about why I do what I do and sometimes having theory in the back of my mind helps. For instance, if you look at clip 3 where the students are really building the models, you have to ask yourself why take the time to build a model? Sure the students like it, but wouldn't it be faster to just give them a completed one and have them study it? Probably, but if you buy into constructivism, you can see that what was being done was that the teacher was giving the students the opportunity to construct their own knowledge for themselves. Then when a parent comes in and asks why you are spending so much time "not teaching" their son or daughter you can respond with, "from a constructivist learning theory perspective when students construct their own knowledge that knowledge is more transferable and the students understand it better in the long run." Just my two cents.
 Poster, Vicky (student):

 I guess I'm like where you were. I wish my teachers would just teach
 me how to teach, but I see your point. I think a good example of
 constructivist teaching is in the last clip where the students have to
 present their work to their peers. I think this really important and I
 can argue that from a constructivist perspective.

 Poster, Sam (student):

 Here is what I have always found confusing about the learning theory
 talk. We have also talked about many learning theories in my ed.
 psych, courses and couldn't you just say that the students were doing
 the presentations because if they didn't they would get in trouble
 (negative reinforcement) with the teacher and their parents. So why
 shouldn't the whole classroom be classified as a behaviorist one since
 the students don't want to get in trouble? Or for that matter, why
 can't this classroom be considered a cognitivist one? The students are
 clearly making sense of everything themselves as well.

The previous discussion threads (which continued for another 10 posts) were facilitated and deepened because the posters referred to specific clips to illustrate their points. The responders could watch the clips to make a counter-point or ask another question. This discussion thread concluded that it is possible for a classroom to have components of constructivist, behaviorist, or cognitive theory underpinnings depending on how one interprets events in the classroom.

Many teacher educator researchers have argued that teaching is an ill-structured domain and that to understand the complex nature of teaching requires the examination of teaching situations from multiple perspectives (Grossman, 1992; Merseth, 1996; Putnam & Borko, 2000; Shulman, 1992). Cognitive flexibility theory, in particular suggests that, if one is to understand the complexity of teaching it is necessary to compare and contrast similarities and differences of teaching situations by presenting multiple representations of similar contexts and the examination those contexts using different theoretical perspectives (Spiro, Feltovich, Jacobson, & Coulson, 1991). Perhaps one of the most valuable aspects of the ILF is that it provided the structure through which students examined classrooms from different perspectives while interacting with other students. For example, the one student (Jack) who used the constructivist perspective to examine an ILF classroom, also viewed the same video from a behaviorist perspective, and noted the difficulty in classifying a classroom from a particular viewpoint:
 I now appreciate why my other classes discuss all the different
 theories of education. To be honest, I never put much stock in them
 because I thought it was more of an academic exercise than a real one.
 However, in watching Beth's classroom I found aspects of her classroom
 that were very behaviorist, particularly her classroom management
 style, and parts that as I said before, was constructivist.

In addition to the students' reflections and comments on ILF classroom videos, the teachers whose classrooms were viewed responded to the students' postings, providing yet another perspective and opportunity for reflection. For instance, one inservice teacher (Sally) responded to a student:
 I understand your problem in classifying my classroom. I'm not sure I
 could completely classify what my classroom is like myself if someone
 asked me! I just try to do projects and assignments that I feel can
 get the students interested in learning. You are doing a hard thing,
 and something I would like to have had in my teacher training, the
 chance to look at teaching from both a practical and theoretical
 perspective. Because once you start teaching the theory part tends to
 get thrown out the window and you get immersed in the day to day grind
 which can keep you from seeing the bigger picture. Keep it up!

Thus, the inservice teachers' provided valuable feedback to the students and, in most cases, offered "real world" evidence that learning theories are not just an academic exercise but can be used to better understand how inquiry-based teaching plays out in typical classroom.


To provide a "voice from the field" we invited inservice teachers to participate in discussions. The challenge was how to develop relationships with inservice teachers who were willing and excited to participate in discussions with preservice teachers but had limited time to spend on discussions. Developing the necessary relationships with inservice teachers was challenging on multiple accounts. First, the university where this study took place did not have access to a professional development school in which a set of teachers worked closely with the university faculty and students. Second, many teachers expressed concern about taking on more responsibilities in the current climate of high stakes testing. That is, many teachers were concerned that the cost of participation in the project would require large amounts of time where they would simply be reading and responding to preservice teachers' questions and concerns. For example, one teacher was interested in discussing her ILF classroom videos, but was very concerned about time commitments as demonstrated by her comment when first approached about being a participant:
 I would love to help out. However, I am already pretty busy and not
 sure if I will be able to squeeze the time into my schedule. Is there
 a way that when the students post on the ILF their post can be sent
 directly to my e-mail. I check my e-mail everyday, but may not have
 the time to go to a website to check to see if there are new posts.

The previous teacher's comments and concerns were typical of other teachers. As a result, we found it crucial to develop structures that ensured the teachers' time was respected and valued. Prior to the start of this collaboration, each teacher was visited at their school and walked through the use of the ILF. We also expressed our expectations of their time if they chose to participate in the project. We discussed what the preservice teachers hoped to get out of the forum with the inservice teachers. If an inservice teacher posted to the ILF, the preservice teachers were encouraged to respond to the inservice teacher's post out of respect for their time. At first, the instructor required this participant structure so the inservice teachers would feel their time and contributions were being valued. However, over time this structure evolved from being instructor-mandated to a student driven process. As preservice teachers began to interact with each other and the inservice teachers, they began to increasingly value the input of the inservice teachers and their peers. Therefore, discussion moved from simply thanking the inservice teachers for their posts into opportunities for reflection on teaching by both the pre- and inservice teachers. For example, an e-mail sent by one inservice teacher to the instructor concerning her participation in the ILF discussion reflected this shift:
 Just wanted to let you know, that I have responded too many of your
 students' postings. They have asked really good questions and made me
 think a lot about how I will do this activity [her project shown in
 the video].

Similarly, another teacher who was in his first year of teaching when approached about participation was excited about the opportunity. However, he was a bit concerned about the time commitment. Nevertheless, he wanted to help other teachers learn how to teach science:
 It was not that long ago that I was a student, and I remember thinking
 that I would love to have had the opportunity to talk with teachers
 before I got to teach. I wish I would have the opportunity that is
 being provided to your students.

Later, he sent an e-mail to one of the instructors expressing the value of his participation:
 I had many questions about what it means to teach through inquiry. I
 responded as best I could to their postings and questions, but not
 sure how helpful I have been. This experience has helped to better
 understand my beliefs about how to teach science, particularly through

In summary, we have learned that when developing collaborations with inservice teachers for participation in a technology project, it is crucial to clearly articulate the specific time commitment required, the possible outcomes for them and their students as a result of participation, and to strongly encourage preservice students to respond to inservice teachers' postings so inservice teachers feel that their time investment was valued. Further, it is important for methods instructors to continue and maintain significant contact with inservice teachers not only by e-mail, but through phone-calls and visits to their classroom to support their use of technology.


Teacher preparation programs are frequently charged as being irrelevant, overly theoretical and out-of-touch with realities of teaching in the "real world" (Anderson, 1997). In fact, recent surveys of student teachers imply that recent graduates of teacher education programs prioritize and value teaching experience above all other components of typical teacher preparation experience (Anderson). Indeed, the chasm between what often happens in university-based teacher education and teaching in schools has caused many teacher education programs to revise aspects of their teacher training efforts to emphasize field work (Barab et al., 2002). Therefore, as teacher-educators it is critical that develop approaches that provides preservice teachers with as many and varied opportunities to examine authentic classroom teaching and to interact with inservice teachers. This, of course, is a rather daunting challenge, but the use of web-based technologies may hold part of the solution.

The efforts described in this article, to implement a web-based professional development system, contributes to the ongoing effort within the teacher education community to better understand how emerging media and tools like the ILF can be used to bridge the assumed theory-practice gap in teacher education programs and provide preservice teachers access to reform-oriented classrooms (Abell et al., 1996; Bencze, Hewitt, & Pedretti, 2001; Flake, 2002; Schrader et al., 2003). This work is in its infancy, but our findings suggest that such web-based professional development systems have great potential to revitalize and reform teacher education courses and to support both pre- and inservice teachers to critically thinking about their own beliefs and practice. However, it is critical to remember that such systems are unlikely on their own to solve the problem of the theory/practice divide. What such systems do provide, however, is a lens through which teachers can study real-life teaching situations, evaluate their ideas of effective teaching, reflect on their conceptions of teaching, and develop their notions of good teaching through collaborative discourse with their peers. To achieve this, we found that it was critical to have certain participant structures in place to ensure rich collaborative discussion between preservice and inservice teachers. Namely, we found that it was necessary to have teachers whose videos were on the ILF participate in the discussions as their presence transformed the discussion forums from a classroom assignment to one in which everyone was genuinely striving to understand how inquiry plays out in a real classroom over time. Second, we found it essential to spark each individual watching of the video with a particular frame (i.e., view this classroom from a particular learning theory). This provided the teachers with a specific lens to view the classroom so they could focus on particular events and then revisit the classroom from another theoretical lens, identifying other critical events that influenced how classroom events unfolded over time.

Despite this work and the work of others (Johnson, 1997; Schrader et al., 2003; Shotsberger, 1999; Sunal & Sunal, 1992) on web-based professional development systems, questions still remain concerning how such systems can best be used and implemented. For example, do preservice teachers who used web-supported professional developments systems such as the ILF in their undergraduate courses (in which use of the technology is usually mandated by the instructor) continue to use the system after the course has concluded and they are no longer mandated by the instructor to use the technology? Further, if preservice teachers continue to use collaborative technologies what are their reasons for doing so, and how can professional development designers operationalize the teachers' reasons into the design of ongoing professional development programs?

Other possible avenues for exploration could be to examine whether teachers continue to use such technologies because they have access to expertise such as more experienced teachers and university educators, or do teachers continue use collaborative technologies simply because the facilitator of the online discussions is particularly skillful in engaging teachers in discussing their practice; or is it simply because of teachers desire to communicate with teachers outside of their local environment? Finally, there needs to be an examination of teachers' social network (i.e., do teachers who use networks have colleagues who support them) to determine what factors influence, support, or inhibit the use of collaborative technologies for the sharing of teaching practice at both the pre- and inservice level. It is through investigation of these questions that we as an educational community can not only support teachers' professional growth, but also become more cognizant of teachers' voices and nurture them as they grow as professionals.


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This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant # 9980081. The author wishes to thank the ILF design team for making this paper possible including: Sasha A. Barab, Larry Campbell, Ana Correia, Don Cunningham, Debi Hanuscin, Chris Keslin, James G. MaKinster, Justin Marquis, Julie Moore, Karen Rogers, Rebecca Scheckler, Feng-Ru Shu, and Kirk Sluder. The author also wishes to thank James MaKinster for his comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


Boston College

Chestnut Hill, MA USA
Table 1 Example Interview Questions

1. How do you think students' best learn science?
 a. What is your role in supporting this process?
2. How prepared are you to teach in this way? a. What would help you
 feel more prepared?
3. Describe a positive, memorable teaching experience, one where you
 felt successful.
 a. Why is this lesson memorable? What went well?
 b. How would you change it?
4. What did you find to most useful about the ILF in helping you to
 understand how to become a better science teacher? What was
 frustrating or least useful?
5. Did you find the discussions in the ILF helpful? How so? In what
6. Describe what you felt was the most valuable component of the ILF?
 What was the least valuable?
7. Do you think you will continue to participate in the ILF in the
 future? Why or why? If no, what changes would you make to the ILF?
8. If you had to pick one part/aspect of the ILF that helped you better
 understand how to teach science what would that be? Why?

Table 2 General Summaries of Postings

Discussion Student Initiated Replied to replied Inservice
Area Posts by student by student to by teachers

inquiry circle 415 200 133 65 97
(private space)
Video 218 45 26 31 28
(public space)
General ILF 186 88 19 15 16
Space (public)
private space 180 73 32 19 0
Totals 999 406 210 130 141

Discussion thread greater thread greater thread greater Total
Area than 3 than 5 than 7 Posts

inquiry circle 24 23 14 971
(private space)
Video 28 26 20 422
(public space)
General ILF 14 1 4 343
Space (public)
private space 14 4 2 324
Totals 80 54 40 2060
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Inquiry Learning Forum
Author:Barnett, Michael
Publication:Journal of Technology and Teacher Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2006
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