Community building in the MTBoS: Mathematics educators establishing value in resources exchanged in an online practitioner community

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DOI: 10.1080/09523987.2019.1681105
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Mathematics educators are engaging in an online community referred to as the Math Twitter Blogosphere (MTBoS) to support their practices. Although studies indicate that educators who participate in professional online communities engage primarily in sharing and consuming resources, and in some cases also in building and maintaining professional relationships, it is unclear how they interpret these opportunities. This study explores the community building activities mathematics educators refer to when speaking about their engagement in the MTBoS and unpacks ways in which they value and establish value in the activities they refer to. Findings indicate that members of the MTBoS community refer to identifying and selecting resources frequently, that they value resources that are inspiring, relevant, and reliable, and that they establish values through identifying resources with attributes of specificity, like-mindedness, credibility, and through repeated exposure over time.
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Community building in the MTBoS: Mathematics
educators establishing value in resources
exchanged in an online practitioner community
Judy Larsen & Christopher W. Parrish
To cite this article: Judy Larsen & Christopher W. Parrish (2019): Community building in the
MTBoS: Mathematics educators establishing value in resources exchanged in an online practitioner
community, Educational Media International
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Community building in the MTBoS: Mathematics
educators establishing value in resources exchanged in
an online practitioner community
Judy Larsen
*and Christopher W. Parrish
Upgrading and University Preparation Department, University of the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford, BC,
Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, BC, Canada;
Leadership and
Teacher Education Department, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL, USA
Mathematics educators are engaging in an online commu-
nity referred to as the Math Twitter Blogosphere (MTBoS) to
support their practices. Although studies indicate that edu-
cators who participate in professional online communities
engage primarily in sharing and consuming resources, and
in some cases also in building and maintaining professional
relationships, it is unclear how they interpret these opportu-
nities. This study explores the community building activities
mathematics educators refer to when speaking about their
engagement in the MTBoS and unpacks ways in which they
value and establish value in the activities they refer to.
Findings indicate that members of the MTBoS community
refer to identifying and selecting resources frequently, that
they value resources that are inspiring, relevant, and reliable,
and that they establish values through identifying resources
with attributes of specicity, like-mindedness, credibility, and
through repeated exposure over time.
Mathematics; Math Twitter
Blogosphere; MTBoS;
community building; online
Being an eective practitioner with the capacity to facilitate mathematical
learning has been attributed to teachers holding viable mathematical content
knowledge (Davis & Simmt, 2006; Hill, Rowan, & Ball, 2005), mathematical
knowledge for teaching (Ball, Hill, & Bass, 2005; Ball, Thames, & Phelps, 2008),
and beliefs about what it means to learn mathematics (Liljedahl & Oesterle,
2014). Standards for studentsmathematical learning (e.g., National Council of
Teachers of Mathematics, 1989,2000; National Governors Association for Best
Practices & Council of Chief State School Ocers, 2010) have been developed
over the past two decades that invoke teaching practices which dier from
traditional mathematics instruction. Supporting student productive struggle,
CONTACT Christopher W. Parrish University of South Alabama, UCOM 3100,
307 University Blvd., N., Mobile, AL 36688-0002, USA
*These authors contributed equally to this work.
© 2019 International Council for Educational Media
using cognitively demanding mathematical tasks, and creating environments of
inquiry are now expectations placed on teachers. However, teacher-led direct
instruction is still often the dominant mode of instruction in mathematics
(Hiebert & Stigler, 2000; Silver, Mesa, Morris, Star, & Benken, 2009), and many
teachers have not had opportunities to experience the practices they are
expected to carry-out. This means they need opportunities in which they can
improve their instructional practice towards satisfying new and complex expec-
tations they face. Engaging in professional development opportunities is one
way to satisfy this need, but professional development opportunities are not
always physically possible.
Some teachers naturally nd ways to collaborate with colleagues (e.g., Bryk,
Camburn, & Louis, 1999). However, given the isolated nature of the teaching
profession (Schlichte, Yssel, & Merbler, 2005), this is not always viable.
Professional development initiatives are also commonly limited to sparse, one-
time events facilitated in face-to-face settings which are not typically supportive
of ongoing professional growth (Ball, 2002) and are generally driven by facil-
itatorsperceptions of what teachers need rather than by what teachers want
(Liljedahl, 2018). Regarding eectiveness and sustainability, teacher professional
development is found to be most eective when it is driven by teacher needs
and interests, and when community building and networking are kept at the
core (Lerman & Zehetmeier, 2008). Since this is not always available, some
teachers are turning to online platforms such as Twitter and blogs for collabora-
tion (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012). When collaboration occurs online, the
physical limitations of meeting face-to-face are removed, exibility is added,
and teachers can pursue their needs and interests (Duncan-Howell, 2009).
One such teacher community involves hundreds of mathematics educators
who regularly use Twitter and blog pages asynchronously to communicate their
musings and practices, and who have come identify as the Math Twitter
Blogosphere (MTBoS) (Larsen, 2016; Larsen & Liljedahl, 2017; Parrish, 2016,
2017; Risser & Bottoms, 2018). Hundreds of MTBoS participants post publicly
about their mathematics teaching endeavors, often multiple times a day and
publicize promising statements about the possibilities for professional growth
they experience in the space. For instance, @Mr_geek stated that, following this
weird #MTBOS hashtag on twitter has changed my teaching practice in so many
ways(6 February 2018).
Initial work on the aordances for mathematics educators engaging within
MTBoS has indicated it is a promising avenue to learn about the knowledge and
conceptions that support eective use of cognitively demanding tasks (Parrish,
2016), that it creates opportunities to receive and oer advice through mentoring
(Parrish, 2017), space to negotiate meaning about mathematical learning situa-
tions (Larsen, 2016; Larsen & Liljedahl, 2017), and for participating in a community
of practice with other mathematics educators (Risser & Bottoms, 2018). There is
also evidence that this space fosters opportunities for mathematics educators to
develop continuing personal relationships with others that move beyond being
strictly professional in nature (Risser & Waddell, 2018).
Clearly, MTBoS seems to oer a sought-after professional learning space and
a viable alternative to in-person professional learning initiatives. However, what
is yet unexplored is how community members speak about the space from their
individual perspectives and approaches. As such, our study is guided by the
general question: How do MTBoS participants perceive their experiences of
engaging in the community concerning their professional learning as mathe-
matics educators?
Related literature
Studies have examined how and why educators in various disciplines engage in
online communities across various platforms, including forums, Twitter, Facebook,
and blogs. Within this literature, there is strong support indicating that online
spaces are providing a platform for sharing and acquiring resources for education
and are supporting the development of professional relationships. Although it is
unclear to what extent and how online educator communities aect educational
practice, there is evidence such opportunities exist and that eects on practice
can depend on the various manners in which educators participate in such spaces
(e.g., Carpenter & Krutka, 2014; Duncan-Howell, 2009).
Most prominently, educators are claiming to use online communities for
acquiring resources. Carpenter and Krutka (2014) found that 96% of 700 sur-
veyed educators who use Twitter for professional development use it for shar-
ing and acquiring of resources. Another examination of online community
content found that 54% of the content tagged with #edchat and 64% of the
content tagged with #mathchat included the sharing of resources (Forte,
Humphreys, & Park, 2012). Educators are seeing value in content-specic lesson
materials, helpful teaching tips, and lesson ideas shared in such online venues
(Duncan-Howell, 2009). Considering the frequency and reported relevance of
shared resources, acquiring resources appears to be a central activity of online
professional communities in general.
Although nding resources within online spaces can often be done with
minimal social interaction and time consumption, educators often continue to
participate in online communities because of friendships they have formed
(Carpenter & Krutka, 2014; Hur & Brush, 2009). Sharing pedagogical and profes-
sional struggles provides educators with emotional support and solutions for
their classroom, allowing for opportunities to share positive and negative emo-
tions of teaching (Hur & Brush, 2009). Aective outcomes of engaging in an
online community were also found to include a sense of belonging and
camaraderie(Duncan-Howell, 2009, p. 336). Educators who blog regularly for
professional development engage not only in acquiring resources, but also in
community building activities.
However, there is signicant variance in how educators use and describe the
space (Trust, Krutka, & Carpenter, 2016). Some describe their engagement as
a single activity (e.g., Twitter chat), while others describe a network of multiple
activities. This variation in view of their online community translates to how they
perceive engagement impacting their practice. While some report learning and
implementing a teaching practice, others instead report reconsidering their role
and position as educators (Trust et al., 2016). Although educators are using
online communities in vastly dierent ways, we know there is a prominence of
using them for exchanging resources and community building. However, it is
unclear how they perceive these opportunities and how these modes of inter-
action are related; and, more specically, how mathematics educators perceive
the opportunities they experience in the MTBoS community given the complex
nature of being a mathematics educator and all its demands.
Theoretical framework
Towards our investigation of mathematics educatorsexperiences of the MTBoS
community, we chose to guide our pursuits by a framework developed by
Luehmann (2008), which identies ve community building activities that
a teacher blogger can engage in, which are related to empirically grounded
teacher learning practices. The framework was developed by investigating the
professional identity work of one autonomous and reform-oriented science
teacher blogger, Ms. Frizzle, in relation to the teacher learning practices devel-
oped by Darling-Hammond and Hammerness (2005). Luehmann (2008) found
that Ms. Frizzle most frequently used her blog to help face the issues associated
with strengthening her identity as a reform-oriented science teacher through
the establishment and development of a community, which involved sharing
resources, mentoring, dialoguing, connecting, and encouraging. Descriptions of
each of these community building activities are summarized in Table 1.
Similarly, as reported in other related studies, Luehmann (2008) found shar-
ing resources to be the most common community building activity (23%),
followed by mentoring (17%), dialoguing (16%), connecting (15%), and
encouraging (2%). Although Luehmanns case was that of a science teacher
blogger rather than a mathematics teacher blogger/tweeter, the practice of
blogging is similar enough to blogging and tweeting that the same community
Table 1. Description of each community building activity identied by Luehmann (2008,
p. 306).
Community Building Activity Denition
Sharing resource Described and oered access to information of various resources
Mentoring Oered details about a particular aspect of her professional work
Dialoguing Engaged (or attempted to engage) readers in discussion
Connecting Introduced, linked to, and/or praised someone else
Encouraging Oered supportive and encouraging words
building activities may be possible for mathematics teachers who participate in
MTBoS to experience. As such, we choose to use the community building
activities identied by Luehmann as an a priori framework for our examination
of how mathematics educators perceived experiences of community building
within MTBoS. We take interest in how mathematics educators who participate
in MTBoS refer to the community building activities identied by Luehmann
(2008) with the aim of understanding how they experience the community in
their endeavours towards professional learning.
To explore how mathematics educators perceive experiencing community
building within MTBoS, a data set that aimed to reect the perceptions from
community members around community involvement was collected in Spring
2016 and analyzed. The data set consisted of transcribed interview data from
voluntary MTBoS participants who were recruited to span a variety of levels of
engagement in the community. Our primary aim was to develop a space of
possibility for how members could perceive their involvement. Therefore, our
sample of participants recruited for the study remained small so that a greater
depth of inquiry and analysis could be pursued around their reported experi-
ences. We acknowledge that this choice limits the generalizability of the results.
That is, the results cannot represent the entire gamut of MTBoS participant
experiences, nor can it conclude what all possible experiences can be like for
those participating in similar communities. However, our aim in this study is to
dig into the experiences of a smaller number of participants to attend to the
nuances in how they perceive community building within MTBoS. This ulti-
mately guided our methods in data selection and analysis.
Data and participants
The interview data served as a personalized snapshot of MTBoS participants
views on their engagement in the community. The interview protocol was
designed primarily to address the participantsperceived aordances of com-
munity engagement, semi-structured around the ve community building
activities from Luehmann (2008). Basic demographic and teaching background
questions were also included to build rapport and identify their roles as mathe-
matics educators.
Recruitment for interviewees aimed to maintain a range of levels of participa-
tion in the community. To this end, the MTBoS directory (MTBoS Directory,n.d.)
served as the sample space for which interviewees were randomly selected. It
includes the entries of those who self-identify as members of the MTBoS commu-
nity and had 413 entries at the time of this study. Members were sampled by level
of community participation, which was determined by the number of Twitter
followers they had
. Three levels of participation were identied: semi-active (less
than 200 followers), active (201 to 900 followers), and highly-active (more than
900 followers). Four community members were randomly selected from each
stratum of participation and approached for recruitment. This choice was made
to ensure as wide of a space of possibility for perceptions of experiences in MTBoS
as possible within the limited number of interviewees we were able to engage
deeply with. Based on responses to recruitment, 5 members, all from North
America, who ranged in levels of participation were interviewed. See Table 2 for
an overview of interviewees and the identifying features available at the time of
selection. Interview data was transcribed and parsed into sentence fragments, the
unit of analysis, shortly after the interviews took place, resulting in a spreadsheet
for each interviewee where each of their sentence fragments could be coded.
In the rst phase of analysis, Luehmanns(2008) framework of the ve commu-
nity building activities that are found to contribute to teacher professional
growth were used as an a priori coding framework. Each sentence of the inter-
view transcripts was coded whenever interviewees spoke about one or more of
these community building activities. To begin, both authors simultaneously
coded one transcript to build a shared meaning for the codes until agreement
on the most appropriate community building activity was reached for each unit
of coding (i.e., for each sentence fragment). Through this process, some
nuanced dierences in meaning were negotiated and agreed upon. After
simultaneously coding one transcript, we independently coded the remaining
interview transcripts. Codes were then compared, and a consensus reached for
all units of coding.
In the second phase of analysis, we proceeded to discuss our respective observa-
tions both within cases and across cases for how the community building activities
were referred to by interviewees and what this indicated about their experiences in
the community. This included tabulating the number of occurrences of each
community building activity for each interviewee and considering the frequency
in which they referred to each of the activities. Since some were bound to be
discussed more than others, we proceeded to look only at the dominant activities
and to pursue another layer of analysis within these activities inductively through
Table 2. Overview of each interviewee.
Level of Community
Years in
Current Role in
Current Grade
Kathy Semi-Active 17 Classroom Teacher Secondary
Nancy Semi-Active 12 Classroom Teacher Secondary
Scott Active 37 Math Coach Elementary
Eric Highly-Active 10 Math Coach Secondary
Sydney Highly-Active 6 Classroom Teacher Secondary
a grounded theory approach (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). An inductive, open-coding
process was undertaken by both authors simultaneously on only the data pertain-
ing to each dominant community building activity, emerging themes from each of
these by recursively identifying, discussing, and agreeing upon each theme. In what
follows,wepresentthebroadndings regarding which community building
activities interviewees referred to, the themes that emerged from analyzing how
they referred to the community building activities that were most prevalent in the
data and implications of these ndings.
The community building activities identied by Luehmann served as a launching
point for exploring how MTBoS participants perceive experiencing the commu-
nity within their professional capacities as mathematics educators. However,
some of the provided denitions were rooted in the unidirectional form of activity
that her science teacher blogger engaged in (i.e., writing blog posts and receiving/
making some comments). Given that MTBoS participants engage primarily via
Twitter, which is prone to bi-directional activity through both acts of sharing and
receiving, we chose to expand Luehmannsdenitions to include both sharing
andreceiving.Assuch,ourmodication of her community building constructs
developed into those presented in Table 3, and it is with these modied deni-
tions that we approached the analysis of data and interpretation of the results.
Community building activities
Our rst phase of analysis revealed the community building activities our
interviewees indicated to be important for them as mathematics educators.
The frequencies of community building activities across the data were calcu-
lated by looking at the percentage of total sentence fragments coded as one of
the ve features within each interviewee and averaged across interviewees
(Table 4). There was a clear predominance of treating MTBoS as a space most
useful to them in terms of resource sharing and receiving, and to a lesser
degree, mentoring. This nding is reinforced by the results found in other
related literature (e.g., Carpenter & Krutka, 2014).
Given the nature of how interviewees spoke about resources and mentoring,
and that mentoring seemed to be referred to as a resource that could be drawn
Table 3. Modied descriptions of each community building activity.
Community Building Activity Denition
Resource sharing and receiving Consuming and sharing teaching related materials
Mentoring Consuming and sharing pedagogy and/or teaching practices
Dialoguing Engaging (or attempting to engage) community members in discussion
Connecting Introducing, linking to, and/or praising someone else
Encouraging Oering supportive and encouraging words
upon, we chose to combine the resource sharing and receiving and mentoring
categories together into a broader category of resource exchange. This included
sentences that referred to both sharing and consuming resources as well as
giving and receiving mentoring. Although connecting was also prominent to
a lesser degree, references to connecting were typically moments in which
interviewees noted particular people from whom they nd themselves gleaning
resources from. Since connecting could in such cases also be considered as a way
to treat people as a resource, some references to connecting were included in
resource exchange as well.
Our second phase of analysis aimed to make sense of how interviewees
approached resource exchange in community. Since they not only referred to
resources, but also described the resources, their interactions with them, and
how they used or adopted them, we pursued inquiry into what they valued in the
resources with respect to mathematics teaching and learning, and how this value
was determined. Since only two of the ve interviewees briey referred to sharing
resources and most referred to consuming resources, we present ndings for their
perceptions towards consuming resources in this paper. In what follows, we reveal
the resources that interviewees referred to, their perspectives on why they valued
these resources, and how they established these resources as valuable.
Resources described by members of the community varied, but included
tangible materials and descriptions of teaching practices, as well as collec-
tions or databases of these (e.g., community specic search engines and
newsletters). Tangible resources included materials that could be used
directly in practice or adapted in some way. These often fell into categories
of tasks that seem to be referred to frequently by community members,
such as visual patterns tasks, Which One DoesntBelong(WODB)prompts,
or 3-act mathematics tasks. For instance, Scott indicated that, When you go
to say the resources that the hashtag has developed . . . like the visual
patterning, the Which One DoesntBelong, those are the two that pop
to mindand Sydney claimed, I keep seeing over and over his idea, of
3-acts. Descriptions of teaching practices such as quiz corrections and
learned questioning strategies were also referred to as resources:
Table 4. Sentence fragments relating to each community building activity category.
Community Building Activities Eric Kathy Nancy Sydney Scott Average
resource sharing and receiving 20% 27% 41% 33% 24% 29%
mentoring 22% 11% 14% 23% 23% 19%
dialoguing 9% 4% 2% 7% 15% 7%
connecting 20% 15% 7% 15% 14% 14%
encouraging 1% 0% 3% 2% 1% 1%
My number one favorite was quiz corrections. When my kids nish a quiz, they go look
at the answer key, they switch out their pencil and take a pen with them, and they go
look at the answer key and they make their corrections on there. (Sydney)
As such, resources were not simply physical or technological tools, they were also
ideas and people that couldbe used towards teaching practice either in its current
form or in an adapted form. In a broad sense, anything that could be used in
practice or to make practice related decisions was considered as a resource.
Why resources were valued
As interviewees referred to resources in the community, they also either explicitly or
implicitly indicated why they found the resources valuable. We assumed they found
they chose to save it for future reference. We found that they regarded a resource
valuable if it inspired them in some way, if it was relevant for them, or if they
considered the source reliable. We exemplify each of these below.
Interviewees often referred to the ideas they found within MTBoS as inspiring.
Whether the idea was a tangible resource, one to use as is or to adapt, or simply
a teaching account that seemed inspiring, resources that were novel and in line
with current educational trends were valued and considered sources of inspira-
tion. For instance, Kathy indicated that, It mostly just makes me feel more like
Im staying on top of what is going on in the math education worldand to get
a new idea [or] new technique.
Being inspired by a resource also was related to whether it was easy to adopt
into current practice, particularly if it included tangible materials. For example, Eric
noted that, it does help if teachers have already mapped out certain questions or
have handouts that go with something or with media is a nice package.Thiswas
especially true if the resource was like something they were already implementing
but had some sort of novel aspect to it. As Kathy indicated, since she uses Desmos,
something inspiring for her might be something Desmos specic that [she
hasnt] tried and ties into what [shes] doing tomorrow.
Inspiration also was expressed when the resources motivated an overall excite-
ment towards teaching mathematics, possibly by making them feel like a better
teacher if they use the idea. As Nancy indicated, it does get me excited about
teaching, [and] when Im reading other peoples ideas and thoughts, it makes me
glad to be a teacher and excited to go do it again tomorrow.
Value was also placed on resources that seemed relevant and were possible to
use with the topics and contexts they were currently working in. This is slightly
dierent from inspiration because of its pragmatic avor but can be considered
a way to build inspiration towards using a resource since it is readily applicable
to ones setting. Resources viewed as relevant also has a sense of being suitable
Theres this one blogger I follow who posted . . . a worksheet of proofs that had errors in
them. I had been wanting to create one those myself for my students but hadnt gotten
around to it, and I thought Oh heres one. And I did have to adapt it . . . [but] I literally
downloaded it and adjusted it and used it the next day in class because it hit at just the
right time for me. (Nancy)
Finally, interviewees also valued resources that were reliable, and generally
indicated that resources they identied within the community were reliable.
Kathy noted, even if it doesnt work magic, its not going to make for a bad class
for my studentsand Sydney indicated, the MTBoS folks are more likely to
produce a better-quality looking product . . . way above what you are going to
see from just a random Google search. The community was also referred to as
reliable in terms of sharing the most relevant information as it related to
teaching and learning mathematics, as a sort of lter:
For me, a huge piece of it is, this is my lter to the internet, there are some people who
read particular blogs that I dont and I know that if there is something relevant to us on
there, that theyll share it on Twitter. (Sydney)
Mechanisms for established resource value
Not only did interviewees value a resource because of one or more of the above
attributes, but these attributes seemed also to have been established through
various mechanisms over time. Either the resource was specic enough, giving
them the full picture of what they needed to decide if they valued the source,
the source came across as like-minded in terms of their pedagogical approaches
to teaching mathematics, they found the source credible in that it had not let
them down in the past, or they had seen the resource so many times and knew
the community valued it. We exemplify these in what follows.
Given that various levels of specicity can be revealed in a resource, sources that
provide more specicity give them the opportunity to decide whether the
resource ts their values as an educator or, at least, gives them the ability to
adapt it. Interviewees reported their own desires to understand what went well
when the resources were implemented, or what types of conversations
occurred. Specicity in resources provided a sense of safety:
I like that sort of in-the-trenches reporting, . . . it doesnt have to be an attachment with
an actual worksheet or something there, but just a description of something that, I did
this activityor I taught the lesson in this way and this is the results of it all. (Nancy)
Interviewees also looked for establishing like-mindedness and nding people
who share resources that align with shared pedagogical values. Nancy noted, It
sort of feels like me, this feels like something that I would likely do. Generally,
they referred to the community as like-minded in terms of perspectives on
teaching mathematics, but they also indicated that their community was com-
prised of the people they choose to follow, who are like-minded:
I love the fact that you start to follow people and you know who is kind of like minded
or thinking kind of outside the box, which persons tweets you might want to read up
on, and I like that it ts in when I want to do it. (Kathy)
The like-mindedness, however, was centered around reform-oriented approaches
to teaching. For instance, Sydney indicated, these are people who skew towards
progressive education . . . so, we dont have to start the conversation with agree-
ing on basic principles, were already thereand Scott clariedthat the people and
resources tend to be more common core, expansions, constructivist learning.
This was also what interviewees looked for, as Eric noted, he was looking for high
engagement and high interest at the same time. In turn, as they participated in
the process of looking through and nding resources, they found themselves
armed by the views of the community. Scott remarked, I would say that Im
feeling more vindicated or veried in knowing that I was on the right track and so
Another way in which value was established was through the credibility of the
source who shared the resource. In many cases, an endorsed resource soli-
cited blind trust from interviewees because the source had credibility. It also
meant that the person was being treated as the resource. For instance,
Sydney indicated she would frequently pull something [from Kate Nowak]
and use it almost completely as it is, while Eric noted that he knows where he
can go to get content he trusts, so for example, Ill go back to John Stevens.
Similarly, Kathy indicated, [Dan Meyer] is over at Desmos too, and I really like
some of the Desmos things he is putting out. So certain people were being
considered credible sources that could be trusted. In other cases, it was also
the credibility of having multiple community members endorsing a resource
that led to its credibility. As Sydney indicated, I like that so many of the tasks
Ind are crowdsourced [and] created by multiple people [and] for that
reason, fewer mistakes, fewer chances for it to go othe rails in the
The slow burn”–trust over time
Finally, value in a resource was not always established immediately, and inter-
viewees seemed to commonly refer to the notion that the community had not
failed them, meaning they came to view resources as high-quality and safe to
implement in their own classrooms through participation over time. As Nancy
noted, its not a moment of inspiration so to speak, its more of a slow burn
overtime. She also elaborated that seeing the same idea recurrently made it
more attractive over time:
It seems to take place more over time . .. I keep seeing over and over his idea, of 3-acts.
You know, eventually, it starts to be like, oh, this seems like a pretty nifty way to
introduce a problem to a class. .. It was more like the 12th time I saw it, it was like ya,
I get how this works now and maybe Ill try this at some point. (Nancy)
Inquiry into how MTBoS participants perceive experiencing community building
activities clearly points to a prominence of treating it as a place for resource
exchange, and, to a large extent, resource consumption. This is to be expected
since prior literature strongly suggests that acquiring resources appears to be
a central activity of online professional communities in general (e.g., Carpenter
& Krutka, 2014). However, this research nuances the nature of resource acquisi-
tion within such settings and reveals that not only do participants simply use
the community to acquire resources, they actively engage in establishing
resource value in the process of resource exchange. And, this process of estab-
lishing resource value is a prominent aspect of their engagement in the com-
munity. That is, social relations are necessarily intertwined with processes of
establishing resource value. As such, the key takeaway from this work is that
resources do not stand alone, but rather, they are encased in the social con-
nective tissue involved in community building. Therefore, researchers or practi-
tioners seeking to enhance online professional learning settings for educators
should consider the mechanisms that allow for resource exchange, the valua-
tion of resources, and how these values are established.
More specically, in the process of identifying and selecting a resource, inter-
viewees referred to various manners of establishing resource value, and this was
a prominent form of engagement for them within the community. Although value
is deeply personal, there were features that all interviewees referred to in terms of
how they decided a resource was valuable for them. Resources were found to be
valued if they were inspiring, relevant, and reliable for their own mathematical
teaching contexts, and these aspects were identied through either specicity, like-
mindedness, credibility, or trust over time. While resources were sometimes valued
strictly for their inherent quality, this quality was found to be closely interwoven
with endorsements of others who promoted or revealed implementation details of
a resource. Interviewees tended to express their desires for resources that were
tried and true, that will not fail, but that will enhance their teaching practice in
terms of progressive views of teaching mathematics. They expressed interest in
seeing detailed reports from the trenchesof lessons in which they could get
a glimpse of not only what teachers were doing, but also how students were
responding. Overall, this points to the importance of developing trust that
a resource will work and will help make the classroom experience more eective
in some manner. Moreover, interviewees did not merely refer to nding resources
as an end unto itself, they positioned it as a means towards further activity. That is,
a sense of developing trust in certain sources over time and experiencing the slow
burnof certain resources being shared repeatedly convinced them to value the
resources as they saw them more frequently. This may be related to a phenomenon
of herd mentality, where people tend to want to do things that they see others do,
which is only if those things are observable (Berger, 2013). Nonetheless, the notion
that trust developed over time meant that interviewees found certain sources to be
relevant to them as they gained trust towards them. The implications of this are that
sources that become trusted, also become relevant, which means they are more
likely to be taken into practice. This result questions the simplistic views of resource
acquisition and reveals how intertwined resource acquisition is with social relations
within a community setting.
Given the limitations of this study, namely with its smallsample size and limited
generalizability, subsequent research could investigate a larger sample size to
develop or add to the presented space of possibility for how participants in
MTBoS perceive community building. It may also be interesting to pursue how
and why certain resources are taken up by teachers while others are not. Further
research could also explore the uptake of resources from MTBoS into practice to
dig deeper into the implications of participants engaging in this online commu-
nity of mathematics educators. Overall, this research highlights the importance of
resource exchange within a self-organized online professional learning commu-
nity and points to the valuation of resources as a community building activity.
While the results of this research may not be representative of the entire populous
of MTBoS, the results of this investigation serve as a ag for researchers and
practitioners who may wish to design professional learning initiatives. Namely, we
suggest that establishing resource value is a natural aspect to resource uptake,
and a driving component of activity within self-organized professional learning
settings found within the social media context.
1. We use the term mathematics educatorscolloquially to be inclusive of mathematics
teachers, leaders, and coaches.
2. We acknowledge this is not the only way to measure community participation, but
anecdotal evidence suggests that continued community involvement will generally
increase Twitter followers.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
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