Teachers’ Identity Work in a Professional Facebook Group
The aim of this study is to investigate posts that deviate from the norm by receiving many more comments than likes in a teacher thematic Facebook (FB) group.
Social media sites are currently becoming standard tools for professional practices. Swedish teachers use thematic FB groups as a platform for professional learning.
Data from a large teacher FB group over a three-year period have been collected using programmatic approaches. The interactions have been analysed through a three-phased process: (1) meta-data selection criteria and computational analysis to identify in-depth discussions, (2) content selection criteria, and (3) interaction analysis of selected threads.
FB discussions provide a platform for teachers for sharing resources and for emotional and professional support. The support and sharing do not merely constitute explicit requests, but also bring about professional discussions.
The 79 original posts that significantly deviated from the norm of the group, were formulated as questions and/or requests, which implies that they were designed to attract comments and not only likes. The original posts were organized around four themes: (1a) functionally motivated technical features, (1b) instructionally motivated technical features, (2) pedagogical ideas and premises, and (3) sharing. The nature of these unusual threads was that teachers used the thematic FB-group to share teaching material and resources as well as to give and receive emotional and professional support. Such sharing and support meant a transformation from working in isolation to finding a professional community. In the discussion threads the teachers displayed a variety of identities, such as active and engaged teacher, a thematic expert, or a central group member.
In terms of practical implications, teachers’ competencies towards using social media platforms for collective and constructive discussions need to be strengthened. The challenge is to promote more teachers to partake in challenging such group norms in such groups so that discussions characterised by openness, debate, and constructive criticism are established.
It is vital to empirically investigate teachers’ online interactions as new types of collegial discussions that, while rich, could be seen as valuable even if they are unpredictable compared to well-established professional learning efforts.
This study contributes with knowledge about the impacts of social media platforms as becoming standard tools for all human activities, let alone professional practices.
Additional detailed analysis of teachers’ use of social media platforms for professional purposes are needed as well as methodological competence development with regard to computational approaches such as those employed in this study.