Teacher Professional Learning Networks and the ‘politics of circulation’

Sara Bragg, Nadia Edmond

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


This paper reports on a small ‘seed’ project that investigated perceptions and uses of social media-based professional learning networks in the context of teaching and teacher education, which was funded during 2014 by the Communities and Cultures Network+. The project aimed to engage with contrasting perspectives on the potential for digital media to influence practices of professional learning: from broadly utopian claims about connection in democratic, egalitarian, geographically dispersed communities of practice, to more sceptical and critical perspectives questioning the ‘politics of circulation’ of new media (Beer 2013), particularly in a context of global education reform where ‘transnational advocacy networks’ propose marketised ‘solutions’ to educational ‘problems’ (Ball 2012). It used the example of teaching professionals as an analytically rich vantage point from which to examine the ‘politics of circulation’ which may impact on range of professional learning contexts. It engaged teacher educators, teachers and other organisations in dialogue about online communities and how these might be shaping teacher educators’, schools’ and newly qualified teachers’ professional learning cultures, identities and practices; and aimed to explore how to support teacher educators in using social media to amplify the voice of academic research and maintain commitments and values. The overall picture that emerged was one of uneven development and change, and of both opportunities and anxieties in relation to similar affordances of new media. For instance, amongst our research participants there were notable continuities with ‘traditional’ approaches to professional learning, such as the influence of colleagues in schools or of ideas encountered during programmes of teacher education. Professional subject teaching associations appeared to be powerful gatekeepers, although they could also be perceived as overly restrictive, ‘old school’, hierarchical or controlling. Social media played a greater role where relevant professional bodies did not exist or were rejected. Education communities were splintered in a number of ways, for instance through their use of different, non-interchangeable platforms. The networks and individuals that appear to have influence in relation to current government policy featured less in the accounts of our participants, who trusted instead trade unions, colleagues and other sources. Emergent issues include codes of professionalism in relation to social media, with many participants expressing anxiety about these: the opportunity to build a professional profile and identity and to communicate with others about practice online was also the cause of anxiety about ‘context collapse’ (boyd 2014) between professional and personal boundaries or the encroachment of commercial influence. It appears that new media profoundly change boundaries between public and private, demanding new kinds of practices for managing and creating privacy and publicness/ audiences, participation and visibility (Berriman & Thomson forthcoming). Participants tended to support the responsibilisation of individuals rather than the agenda of ‘digital rights’ for which Hope (2014) and others have called. Implications for professional practice and notions of professional learning within and beyond the field of education will be discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2015
EventCritical Perspective on Professional Learning: 7th Annual Conference - Leeds, 15 June 2015
Duration: 15 Jun 2015 → …


ConferenceCritical Perspective on Professional Learning: 7th Annual Conference
Period15/06/15 → …


Dive into the research topics of 'Teacher Professional Learning Networks and the ‘politics of circulation’'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this