Cultivating Knowledge Sharing and Trust in Online Communities for Educators: A Multiple-Case Study
Sharon Elizabeth Booth, North Carolina State University, United States
North Carolina State University . Awarded
Innovative uses of technology to support teacher learning are emerging through professional learning communities that leverage social networking technologies. The purpose of this qualitative multiple-case study is to develop a deeper understanding of the practices of successful online learning communities. Among the most difficult challenges faced by online communities is fostering and sustaining knowledge sharing. The value of an online learning community lies in the rich knowledge that is exchanged among members. Without this ongoing exchange, online communities fail to thrive. A key facilitating factor for knowledge sharing in online communities is trust. Functioning as a mechanism to keep the participants in a community integrated and cohesive, trust builds and maintains exchange relationships which can lead to quality knowledge sharing. This study examines successful online learning communities for educators in order to better understand the common practices that support and encourage knowledge sharing and the development of trust.
Cross-case findings from this study indicate that cultivation of a knowledge sharing environment was rooted by: a clear purpose; a common identity; purposeful recruitment and promotion; an experienced moderator; a flexible community structure; and guidelines for participation. Across the three communities, knowledge sharing was sustained through multiple options and opportunities for knowledge sharing. The importance of engaging community members through structured conversations is strongly supported by the data. Though the moderator(s) of each community played varied roles, the significance of their roles for cultivating and sustaining knowledge sharing is also supported by cross-case findings.
Cross-case findings suggest common factors across communities that contributed to the cultivation a fertile environment in which trust could develop and grow, including: the establishment of guidelines for participation and netiquette; the credibility of the moderator; and the competence of members. Findings further suggest that trust can be sustained by enforcing trustworthy behavior; reinforcing a sense of community through frequent communication from the moderator; increasing social presence; sharing personal and professional information; and providing opportunities for face-to-face meetings.
Future directions for research are suggested, including the use of design-based research to explore structured conversations and the use of social network analysis to explore the role of influential members in online communities of practice. The use of design-based research (DBR) methodology to study the potential of structured conversations in different online community contexts and for different purposes would provide tangible examples of knowledge sharing among educators, better ties between theory and practice, and would acknowledge learning in context. While results of this study shed some light on informal member roles within online communities, additional research is needed to better understand the role of influential members in cultivating and sustaining knowledge sharing and trust. Use of Social Network Analysis (SNA) as a methodological tool may be helpful in analyzing the interactions and connections of influential members.
Booth, S.E. Cultivating Knowledge Sharing and Trust in Online Communities for Educators: A Multiple-Case Study. Ph.D. thesis, North Carolina State University.
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