How Research Shows Peer Learning is Effective Teacher PD

Dr. Shannon Doak is the Director of Technology at Nanjing International School and a PeerSphere community host for 2023/24.

By LeeAnne Lavender, PeerSphere Storyteller

Dr. Shannon Doak, the Director of Technology at Nanjing International School (NIS) in China, is joining PeerSphere this year as a host for the technology directors community. He’s very excited about his role because his doctorate (completed several years ago) focused on how international school teachers use social media for professional development and he knows that engaged online conversations lead to improved learning and practice. 

“The literature and research is clear that a host is key for impactful learning in online communities,” says Shannon. “You need a host to keep everyone involved, and that can lead to deep engagement and new understandings. That’s why Twitter chats work, too, because someone is hosting them and keeping everything together.” 

In his doctoral research, Shannon found teachers tend to use a variety of social media platforms for PD in their content areas. Examples include LinkedIn, Twitter, WeChat and more. 

“People tend to use platforms they know and like,” says Shannon. “When teachers were actively participating and contributing to conversations on a platform, this had the greatest impact on individual learning and classroom practice. The key is quality connections with others and with the ideas being explored.” 

Shannon will share research with his PeerSphere community this year that shows engagement is key for professional growth, and that everyone who participates in meaningful conversations during synchronous sessions and on the PeerSphere discussion forums will learn and grow. 

“The back and forth dialogue over time motivates actual change in pedagogy,” he says, adding that specialized communities like the ones PeerSphere has created increases engagement because of the shared passions and expertise of participants. 

Shannon is thrilled to join PeerSphere as a host this year. He suggested a technology directors’ community might be a good addition to the 2023/24 offerings and then talked with PeerSphere co-founder Michael Iannini about hosting the group. 

“PeerSphere is a great place to meet people and have these conversations, and in my community we may use some additional platforms like Twitter to connect, as well,” says Shannon. “If members in my community click and want to have conversations on any social media platform, that’s great! The key is to share those conversations and learnings on the PeerSphere platform so the rest of us can benefit, too.” 

Shannon became interested in conducting research and learning more about social media’s potential for teacher PD when he was a kindergarten teacher using Twitter to engage in professional conversations. 

“I realized that my learning from Twitter was having a bigger impact on my day-to-day practices than any conference I had attended, and that’s what motivated me to focus on this for my doctorate,” reflects Shannon. 

Shannon’s expertise will deeply impact his own community this year, and will spill over into many other PeerSphere communities as well. He is the kind of experienced and enthusiastic host who will make the 2023/24 PeerSphere communities a robust and dynamic experience for participants. 

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