Your browser is not currently supported by this app and may not look or work as intended. Please consider using a modern browser.

(The Engagement Lab supports the following: Chrome 57+ (70+ on mobile), Firefox 53+, Safari 10+, Edge 16+, iOS 10.3+.)

Continue anyway
Background shape image for trust and the news initiative page>
Background shape image for civic smart cities initiative page
Background shape image for health advocacy initiative page

Transforming conceptions of Teacher Professional Development: a three year-case study at a rural school in Spain

March 30, 2016

Sara Villagrá-Sobrino (University of Oviedo and University of Valladolid), Luis. P Prieto-Santos, Iván. M Jorrín-Abellán, and Sara García-Sastre


The use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in education has the capacity to radically change the nature of education. We live in times of rapid sociocultural changes promoted by the transformative impact of digital technologies. Classified as the world of modern liquid by Zygmunt Bauman, education requires new models to help students to construct a digital identity to survive in stormy waters within contexts of distributed learning and flexible literacies (Edwards, 2002).

This paper describes a qualitative three-year case study conducted in a Primary rural school where a new collaborative software was introduced alongside other existing classroom technologies, in order to analyze how teachers designed and orchestrated classroom activities in technologically-rich settings. The analysis of teachers designs and the enactments as well of the activities allowed us to identify a set of recurrent elements called “atomic patterns” (Prieto, Villagrá, Jorrín-Abellán & Martínez, 2011) that we have used to improve teachers’ reflection about on their teaching practices. Atomic patterns are small-grained, recurrent elements of teacher practices (extracted from actual practice), using the available classroom elements to further their pedagogical goal, within the restrictions of the (authentic) classroom setting ( assessment needs, curriculum ..). Examples can be seen in the complete catalogue of design and enactment atomic patterns2: “use the digital board to exemplify, “on-the-fly assessment, “disable anonymity on the collaborative tool,”“disallow collaborative tool usage to focus kids’ attention,” etc.

Furthermore, we conducted several Teacher Professional development initiatives such as workshops. This way we pretend to enhance teacher professional competencies to address the challenges for teachers professional development of the 21st century, as well as to contribute in the creation of a community of practice in this educational setting.

Weaving networks between schools and University: a three year case study in Cigales (Spain)

In an attempt to understand how teachers orchestrate Technology Enhanced Learning activities in authentic, computer-integrated primary classrooms, a three-year qualitative (2008–2011) intrinsic case study (Stake, 2005) was carried out in the educational setting of a primary school called Ana de Austria, located in a rural area close to Valladolid (Spain).

The main issue in the initial research effort was to introduce a new Computer Supported Collaborative Learning technology in those classrooms, and observe the way teachers designed, enacted and even improvised with the new tool called Group Scribbles (GS), alongside the other ICT and non-ICT tools in their classrooms. GS is a CSCL tool that was designed in order to allow social coordination of activities, having flexible activity enactment and improvisation in mind. This software is based on well known metaphors such as public and private boards, where ideas are shared, organized and improved, in the form of adhesive stickers (i.e. post-it), where teachers and students can draw and write text, using an ink-based interface.

> > Thus, co-design workshops were performed with the aim of supporting teachers during the design of ICT activities as well as we had the chance to observe the activities of the K6–8 teachers in their first attempts in the integration of Group Scribbles (GS) in their face-to-face classrooms.

For this critical and transformative inquiry process data was collected using a variety of qualitative techniques: three semi-structured in depth interviews and one focus group with teachers, as well as 31 participant observations of classroom enactments. In addition screen, audio and video recordings, scripts of teacher’s activities and other documentation such as teacher training school programs etc, were analyzed in order to provide triangulated conclusions supported by enhanced evidence (Prieto, 2012; Villagrá 2012). Figure 1, provides an example of the conceptual structure of “Ana de Austria Case Study.”

[Figure 1]: Conceptual structure Ana de Austria Primary School (Spain)

Understanding teacher design and enactment in technology enriched classrooms

A sit was expected, the observation of teachers designing with GS showed that teacher scripts tended to describe high-level tasks for the most part, such as large portions of the activity, spanning several minutes and involving teacher decisions and complex interactions between the teacher and the students (Prieto et al, 2010).

The analysis of the designs allowed us to identify a set of pedagogical recurrent atomic patterns understood as recurrent elements (DeBarger, Penuel, Harris, & Schank, 2011.; Prieto, Villagrá, Jorrín-Abellán, Martínez-Monés & Dimitriadis, 2011), such as those shown in figure 2.

[Figure 2.] Example atomic pattern cards used in the workshop, both for design-time (left) and enactment-time (right).

An equivalent set of recurrent elements was encountered when we analyzed the observed activities where these designs were enacted in the classroom. As an example of how the analysis of teacher orchestration was performed, we present here a description and graphical representation in figure 2.1.

[Figure 2.1]: Example atomic pattern cards used in the workshop, both for design-time (left) and enactment-time (right).

[Figure 2.2] Graphical representation of the enactment analysis of an observed Group Scribbles activity at Ana de Austria School.

Figure 2.1 shows one of the observed activities performed by a K6–7 teacher in a Science class. The activity involved a group of 18 students working in pairs with tablet PCs. Through this activity students were to asked to recognize common objects, professions and buildings that are more present in rural contexts, in contrast with others commonly found in the cities.

These diagrams distinguish the recurrent elements that were explicitly present in the teacher design (in bold face, e.g clues, marked as 2 in figure 2.1), from those that emerged during the enactment of the activity (in regular typeface). Among these emergent elements we can also identify two kinds: those which are necessary for the teacher to bridge the gap between the higher level design of the activity and the concrete actions in the classroom (e.g. Use whiteboard to illustrate/exemplify, marked as R1a) and those which were not part of the original plan at all, and thus can be considered discipline improvisations (Sawyer, 2010). These improvisations arise from real-time decisions of the teacher in order to face problems (e.g Disallow tool usage, marked as R1c) or take advantage of emergent opportunities.

Fostering teachers’ reflections using pedagogical routines through Workshops

As a result of the analysis explained above, we asked ourselves the following question arose:

> > How can we use these recurrent routines as particular strategies to promote teachers professional development?

Thus, several workshops were conducted with teachers at Ana de Austria school to illuminate the aforementioned Issue. Nevertheless, for the sake of brevity, they will not be described here. Figure 2.2 provides an illustrative scheme of a prototype example of workshop.

[Figure 2.3] Phases of a prototype workshop with teachers carried out in Ana de Austria Primary School

A conceptual idea of pedagogical routines has been in usage in professional development workshops both in primary and higher education settings, as a tool to help teachers in designing and enriching collaborative learning activities with ICT, as well as part of a learning design approach (Prieto, Dimitriadis & Villagrá, 2011). This kind of representations could be specially useful embedded as a “professional language” (Law, Laurillard & Lee, 2011) to help teachers and practitioners in the path of describe and communicate their reflections about designs and their own practice.

Furthermore, this case study provided a good opportunity to explore how we can implement innovations using technology: how can we use data visualization and collection to promote teachers reflection, and how use them for changing and understand teacher practice. In a globalized world, educational policies and educational stakeholders have to provide roadmaps to educational community to exchange meaningful information and share perspectives, in an attempt to identify ways for foster critical citizenship as well as to take advantage of social distributed learning.


Bauman, Zygmunt (2007). Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Cambridge: Polity press.

Edwards, Richard., Nicoll, Kathy., Lee, Allison. 2002. Flexible literacies. distributed learning and changing educational spaces. In Distributed learning: Social and cultural approaches to practice., ed. Mary R, Lee and Kathy Nicoll, 196–210. New York: Tylor & Francis. Routledge.

DeBarger, Angela Haydel, William R. Penuel, Christopher J. Harris and Patricia Schank. “Teaching Routines to Enhance Collaboration Using Classroom Network Technology.” In Techniques for Fostering Collaboration in Online Learning Communities: Theoretical and Practical Perspectives, ed. Francesca Pozzi and Donatella Persico, 224–244 (2011), accessed June 29, 2014. doi:10.4018/978–1–61692–898–8.ch013

Law, N., Laurillard, D. & Lee, Y. (2011). Learning Design as a medium for scaffolding teacher learning and collaboration. Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL 2011), Vol. 1, pp. 526–533.

Prieto, Luis.P., Villagrá-Sobrino, Sara., Dimitriadis, Yannis., Jorrín-Abellán, Iván. M., Martínez-Monés, Alejandra., Anguita-Martínez, Rocío (2010). Recurrent routines in the classroom madness: pushing

patterns past the design phase. In Proceedings of the 7th International Conference

on Networked Learning (NLC2010), pages 499–507, 2010.

Prieto, Luis. P., Sara Villagrá-Sobrino, Iván M. Jorrín-Abellán, Alejandra Martínez-Monés, and Yannis Dimitriadis. 2011. “Recurrent routines: Analyzing and supporting orchestration in technology-enhanced primary classrooms”. Computers & Education 57 (1) (8): 1214–27.

Sawyer, R. K. (2004). Creative teaching: Collaborative discussion as disciplined improvisation. Educational researcher, 33(2), 12–20

If you like what you just read, please click the green ‘Recommend’ button below to spread the word! More case studies and calls for submissions are on the Civic Media Project. To learn more about civic media, check out the book Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice.

The Engagement Lab @ Emerson College

Engagement Lab small logoEmerson College
Facebook link imageTwitter link imageInstagram link imageMedium link imageGithub link image
120 Boylston St. Boston, MA 02116