An Investigation into the Utility and Affordances of Online Communities as Contexts for the Professional Learning of English Language Teaching Professionals

Year: 2019

Author: SharifJafari, Alireza

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This study investigated the utility and affordances of online communities as contexts for the professional learning of English language teaching (ELT) professionals. Along with the proliferation of Web 2.0 and its affordances, many ELT professionals turn to online communities for professional related purposes to the extent that such environments have been acknowledged and promoted within main stream professional learning programs and literature. Despite the scholarly and professional applause towards online communities, there is lack of consensus as how to best conceptualize them. In particular, while existing literature reports that online communities can facilitate professional learning of their participants, the utility of these self-initiated initiatives as well as the nature of participation and professional learning through them has remained mainly unexplored and unexplained. In view of such concerns over the quality of online communities, the present research utilized a qualitative multiple case study approach to explore three online communities of ELT professionals. By acknowledging a situated view of professional learning, this research drew upon third generation of Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT). Through this lens, data were collected via an online survey, asynchronous observation of online participation in three online communities of ELT professionals, as well as observation of their online platforms, features, and resources. Findings suggest that the studied online communities of ELT professionals were self-sustaining, dynamic, and multi-faceted systems of interrelated elements. Findings also reveal that ELT professionals’ participation in such contexts as holistic systems has evident outcomes for the participants, their target communities such as students, the online communities, as well as the field of ELT. Beyond that, an important contribution of my research is in establishing an explicit link between different dimensions of such an online community and its quality as a context for the professional learning of its participants. The knowledge and insights from this research should prove helpful to ELT professionals including teachers, administrators, policy makers, and other stakeholders in their attempts to decide whether and how to integrate online communities into their mainstream professional learning initiatives. This can have significant practical and educational benefits for the field of ELT as which forms of online groupings could be acknowledged and promoted as effective contexts for professional learning.