What I learned about teachers' use of CAS.
About two years ago, I reached out to CAS members for my PhD research studying teachers' use of online communities. It speaks volumes to the professional generosity of CAS members that 920 of you responded to the survey and 20 of those respondents agreed to participate in a follow up interview. (Thank you!) You taught me a great deal about teachers' participation in online communities in general and CAS in particular, and I wanted to share the findings with the CAS community.
How does CAS help teachers teach?
The main question my research sought to answer was whether teachers' participation in CAS had any influence on their teaching of computing. An astonishing 89% of surveyed teachers said that a resource from CAS prompted a change in their classroom teaching (see figure below). The vast majority of CAS teachers surveyed reported that they trust the resources or help they receive on CAS. A closer look at the data showed that some teachers only use CAS to download a new lesson plan or activity, while others report that their use of CAS has influenced more profound changes to their own knowledge or understanding of a topic or how to teach it, as well as the way they run, plan or assess their class. In other words, some teachers use CAS as merely a resource bank, while others have found in CAS a real community of practice.
What is CAS doing right?
The research literature shows that one of the main barriers to teachers actively participating in an online community is trust (of the quality of resources, members, discussions, etc.) -- an issue that CAS clearly does not experience. So, what is it about the CAS online community that works?
First, CAS is not just an online community. The combination of the online platform and in-person events (hub meetings, training, conferences) helps build trust and strengthens ties between members. Teachers spoke about the benefits they experience from CAS face-to-face activities in terms of helping them build relationships with other members.
The most powerful driver of teachers to CAS ,however, are the regular email digests. Teachers do read these and use them to link to the site directly to check out a new resource or participate in a discussion.
CAS teachers are different
Yes the CAS community is well-designed, but this research made me wonder whether a similar online community for teachers of English or History would be as well-received and as actively used by teachers of those subjects. Teachers of computing have some unique characteristics that lend themselves to the use of an online community for professional development and support:
- CAS teachers all share an urgent need for support around the teaching of computing
- The field of computing and the curriculum are constantly changing, and an online resource is able to keep up with the changes
- CAS teachers should be familiar with technology and comfortable with online nature of community, which is often a barrier for participation in online communities
- CAS has the monopoly on computing teachers in the UK. Teachers are motivated to join CAS because their colleagues are members.
Not all teachers of computing use CAS in the same way- or at all
It's important to mention that the teachers who responded to the survey and interview are all fairly frequent users of CAS. Even so, not all of them felt comfortable doing much more than "lurking" and downloading resources from CAS. I interviewed A-level computer science teachers with many years of experience who still lacked the confidence to post their own resources to the community or participate in discussions. In addition, other teachers are missing the opportunity to use CAS to develop their teaching of computing. These teachers might log in to download a lesson plan, classroom activity or scheme of work - or find training. But they aren't going to hub meetings, forming a community of peers, sharing their own practice or jumping in to help others. And then there are those teachers who have registered for CAS and then never- or rarely- sign in again. Where are those teachers going for help with their teaching, and why doesn't CAS meet their needs? Those are the questions I asked myself after completing my research.
CAS has gone to great lengths to support teachers of computing, especially in light of the Network of Excellence work, which was not part of my research. Those frequent users who responded to my survey said the major barrier to their use of CAS was a lack of time, which is not at all surprising.
But what about everyone else? Those of you who teach computing and don't use CAS, I'd love to know why. Leave me a response in the comments, reach out on Twitter (@KW_Research) or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org).