THINKING TOGETHER. ONLINE COLLABORATIVE LEARNING AMONG SWEDISH ART TEACHERS
Digital activities are a natural part of children's and young people's everyday lives and offers opportunities for meaning and learning. Accessible technology has changed the producer and consumer role, and created what Henry Jenkins (2008) call a participation culture. This culture provides possibilities for a kind of collective learning, something that is necessary to master in order to participate in the new media society. In school, this becomes relevant in two ways. Firstly, by empowering all children and young people to participate in digital media culture. This is to overcome the “participation gap” that occurs when only those already interested in digital activities develop and produce content while that majority stays passive (Jenkins 2009, Kalmus et al 2009). Secondly, by using digital platforms in the knowledge and professional development for teachers. The latter has been increasingly used by teachers to create informal networks, forums and archives online to share and develop knowledge (Johnson et al 2014).
This study aims to understand how art teachers in Sweden understand media as a part of their subject, and how this understanding is brought forward in collegial online communities. The study is a part of an ongoing PhD project that aims to compare this Swedish online collaboration with that between art teachers in Estonia and Finland. The study is conducted as a media ethnography, combining tracings of discussions taking place in digital places (in written and multimodal texts) with interviews conducted with the participating teachers. To understand what online communication tools where used by art teachers and to what purpose, a survey was carried out through a union organizing most Swedish art teachers (Lärarförbundet). The survey was answered by 78 teachers and the results are discussed in this paper, together with material in the form of discussions taking place in online forums, both formal (like the Swedish Department of Education), semiformal (sites designed for teachers) and informal (like Facebook, Twitter or private blogs).
The results showed that online collaborative learning is very common among Swedish art teachers. They mainly use informal forums and they use it to 1, Discuss specific topics (like suggestions for lessons on a certain theme or recommendations of digital tools), 2. Share own content (like students work or planning) and 3. Engage in meta reflection on the conditions of art education and digital media. In my discussion this is connected to the history and terms for the subject as such. Visual arts education as a school subject in Sweden has undergone a change: from a focus on drawing to a focus on visual culture at large. This narrative is important for the teacher community and has lead to an ongoing discourse on the boundaries and content of the subject. Further, visual art education is a small subject and most art teachers are alone in their subject at their schools. The surveys show a connection between having few or no school colleges in the same subject and the tendency to engage in collegial discussions with other art teachers online.