AERA Research Conference Grant Cindy Poortman

Cindy Poortman (ELAN Dept. of Teacher Development) has been awarded an 
AERA Research Conference Grant together with Prof. Alan Daly (US),
Prof. Chris Brown (UK) and dr. Joelle Rodway (CAN) to organize the conference
Professional Learning Networks in Education: Tearing down Boundaries for School
and System Improvement”

Chris Brown and Cindy Poortman edited a book about Networks for Learning*,
published in 2018. This book is a product of collaboration within their international
network Professional Learning Networks in the International Congress for School
Effectiveness and Improvement. Based on the book, the team identified three
challenges to address at the research conference: conceptual clarity; further
development of a theoretical approach to study depth versus breadth of learning
within PLNs; and methodological development. The conference is an opportunity
to study and address these challenges in-depth with scholars from 6 different countries
and collaborate on further conference sessions, papers and research proposals.

There is an international focus on school improvement to better prepare youth for the
demands of the 21st century. In a fast-changing world, individuals must be capable of
constantly learning and improving through collaboration. Today’s students need to be
prepared for this reality, with teachers correspondingly required to be high-level
knowledge workers who constantly advance their own knowledge and that of the
profession. Achieving this goal will be dependent on high quality, continuing
professional development. In this respect, there is a growing focus on the
collaborative power of inter-school social capital.
Within this context, Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) are defined as any group
who engage in collaborative learning with others outside of their everyday community
of practice; with the ultimate aim of improving outcomes for children. Teachers
working and learning together in PLNs is considered one way to support teachers,
at scale, to rethink their own practice. At the same time, there is still a lot to learn
about this process of professional collaboration and influencing conditions.

To truly advance research on PLNs and realize their potential for impact, we have
identified three challenges to work on in the proposed research conference:
1) conceptual clarity; 2) a theoretical framework for studying both depth and breadth
of learning in PLNs; and 3) methodological development for moving beyond singular,
self-report approaches. This research conference will bring together international
research and practitioner input from specific areas and disciplines (e.g., evidence
use in PLNs, healthcare networks), perspectives (e.g., networks of teachers and/or
policy makers), theoretical frameworks (e.g., learning, leadership) and methodologies
(e.g., social network analysis, case study methodology) to discuss not only these
three challenges, but also opportunities for collaboration. The conference will
significantly contribute to advancing further research and impact on school
improvement within the field of educational change.

*Networks for Learning: Effective collaboration for teacher, school and system
International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement: