Through the ISTE Teacher Education Network, we were recently connected with Torrey Trust, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst whose research focuses on how teachers use web-based and social media tools to expand their professional learning networks and engage in ongoing learning activities. She, along with her colleagues set out to examine how engagement in the Discovery Education Community impacts teaching and learning.
In short, they found that active engagement in the Discovery Educator Network (DEN) supports educators’ growth as an individual, in the classroom, at school, and within the Discovery Education Community.
Find out more in this report.
Research Report: The Impact of the Discovery Educator Network on
Teachers’ Professional Growth
Torrey Trust, Ph.D.
The Discovery Educator Network offers a unique opportunity for K-12 teachers to engage in face-to-face and virtual learning experiences supported by a community of practice. As part of a collaborative research project between the ISTE Teacher Education Network and Discovery Education, we set out to examine how engaging in learning with the Discovery Educator Network (DEN) shapes teachers’ professional growth. We interviewed 26 STAR Discovery Educators from across the US about their experiences with the Discovery Education Community, how it shaped their teaching and learning, and how the changes they made to their practice influenced student learning. We discovered that participation in the DEN supported the growth of the interview participants in multiple ways. We identified four main domains of growth that were evident in the majority of the participants’ responses: individual, classroom, school, and DEN community.
We found that the DEN supported the growth of our participants as individuals by connecting them with a community of supportive educators who shared similar interests and goals. One teacher commented, “I am in a text group with seven other Discovery Educators, Discovery STAR people that I met at the DEN Summer Institute. One’s in Canada, one’s in Arkansas, two are in Idaho, one’s in North Carolina, and one’s in Maine. We text pretty much every single day, I hear from them every single day.” By connecting with a supportive community, our participants sought to be more innovative in their practice and subsequently more willing to seek help. The interview participants noted that they became more confident in taking risks and learning through failure. Some even felt more confident sharing their expertise with other educators. Many of the participants also mentioned that they changed the way they learned –from attending conferences and workshops to taking initiative in seeking out materials and resources they needed. For example, one of the participants shared that with the Discovery Education Community, “you are leading your own professional development.” This participant noted that when he wanted to learn about something new in the field of education or educational technology, he would post on the Discovery Education social media sites and receive multiple responses within a few hours. He commented, “I don’t have to wait for sessions to come up in my district. If I want to learn about Google add-ons, I can just throw it out there to the DEN and someone will respond because it’s about making each other better.”
TheDiscovery Education Community also supported the participants in growing their classrooms by enhancing their practice and improving student learning. Participants noted that they discovered and exchanged many new teaching tools, ideas, strategies, and resources with other community members. One participant shared how the DEN opened her eyes to new ideas that she had never considered before, “You don’t know what you don’t know. As you sit there, you don’t even know what you’re missing. Being a DEN STAR, being on the Leadership Council, I’m around the people who are trying new things. Who say ‘Gee I just found this. Have you ever done this?’ through the Facebook pages and DEN [Twitter] chat.” Since the DEN is a community of educators with diverse experiences and expertise, members often discover new ideas and insights that shape their practice.
A number of our participants also reported connecting their classrooms, using activities like Mystery Skype, video conference collaboration, and events planned and coordinated via the web. One of the participants created a virtual choir, in which more than 12,000 participants sang and recorded the same song and these recordings were edited into one cohesive movie. This participant commented, “I think it [the DEN] showed us we can do this, and we can connect with these other schools, and that’s what learning is about, connecting with other people, learning about their culture.”
The participants reported that making changes to their practice and implementing new ideas and resources resulted in changes in their students’ learning. Some of the participants shared that their students started taking ownership of their learning, while other participants mentioned that their students acquired new skills (e.g., technology, presentation, communication, leadership) and a deeper understanding of the content. Overall, teachers connected their students to global resources, saw vast improvement in skill sets relating to technology, and saw students improve their learning and interaction with material.
Another area of growth evident in the participants’ responses was the growth of the school community. STAR Discovery Educators are required to share their knowledge about Discovery Education resources with colleagues in order to maintain their STAR status. Some of the participants hosted formal trainings for their schools while others engaged in informal conversations with colleagues in the hallways or teacher lounge. A few of the participants hosted DEN events (e.g., a local get-together to watch a virtual tour) or organized the DEN Ambassador program for educators in their schools. Many of the educators also encouraged their colleagues to join the DEN to receive the wealth of resources and benefits of being connected with thousands of educators across the country and around the world. By sharing resources, ideas, and strategies with colleagues and encouraging colleagues to join the Discovery Education Community, the participants were actively engaged in supporting the growth of their school community.
Lastly, the participants also supported the growth of the DEN community. Engaging in the DEN was not a one-way street in which information flowed from DEN members to the participants. Instead, the participants helped shape and grow the Discovery Education Community by sharing their knowledge and giving back. Participants mentioned instances of writing blog posts for Discovery Education, volunteering at and hosting local DEN events, presenting at Discovery Education workshops and conferences, and supporting other DEN members through social media. Participants also supported the community by recruiting more members and creating a mutual learning experience where members could learn and lend new knowledge and resources. Perhaps most importantly, being a part of the DEN inspired and encouraged new members to join the community, which resulted in a more diverse, larger, and increasingly powerful tool as a community of education practitioners. Ultimately, the growth that the DEN supports is undoubtedly key to the growth and subsequent value of the DEN itself.
The DEN is a unique blend of a face-to-face and online community of practice that offers numerous learning opportunities. The findings from our study highlight how powerful a well-designed blended community of practice can be in shaping the professional growth of educators. Overall, we discovered that the Discovery Education Community supports and encourages educators to grow as individuals, to grow their practice and shape student learning, to grow their school community, and to reciprocally support the growth of the DEN itself.
Torrey Trust, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Learning Technology in the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her research focuses on how teachers use web-based and social media tools to expand their professional learning networks and engage in ongoing learning activities. firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian Horrocks is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, studying Education and English. With a broad focus on Educational Technology, his coursework and research interests include Teacher Development, Pedagogy, and Multicultural Education approaches. email@example.com