Year

2009

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Faculty of Education

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to apply existing design principles for the creation of successful communities of practice (CoPs) to the development of a new online community with the aim of (1) exploring the practice of special education in Bulgaria and (2) evaluating the extent and ways in which the online community supports the practice. Research and development was framed by the design-based research approach. The study was organized into three phases: needs assessment, formative evaluation, and effectiveness evaluation. Four versions of the online community were created: prototype, alpha, beta, and final. Qualitative data were collected from personal interviews and discussions held on the online community website. Quantitative data were collected from website usage logs. Mixed data were collected from web-based questionnaires and surveys and expert consultation and usability evaluation sessions. Mixed-method studies of this nature are often described as following an exploratory research design. Such studies begin with the collection and analysis of qualitative data, which can then be used for the creation of instruments designed to collect quantitative data. In this case, the instrument was a website created to support an online community. Findings indicate that the main issues affecting the practice of special education in Bulgaria relate to the integration of special needs and Roma minority students into mainstream schools. Findings also indicate that the online community, called Special Education Bulgaria (SEB), must further evolve to adequately address issues related to integration. SEB was found to be an effective online community but only partially effective as a CoP. It is argued that future iterations of SEB be designed to facilitate an innovative knowledge community on the topic of integration. Such a community would be designed to foster the development of new practices among special and general educators and other stakeholders of the integration process. It is suggested that the results of this study may apply to countries with cultural dimensions similar to Bulgaria. Macedonia, Romania, and Croatia are recommended for further investigation.

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