Exploring EFL Learners’ Online Participation in Online Peer Writing Discussions Through a Facebook Group

Huda Suleiman Al Qunayeer
Journal of Information Technology Education: Research  •  Volume 19  •  2020  •  pp. 671-692

The aim of the present study is to explore the online participation of nine English as foreign language (EFL) Arab learners in group writing discussions through a Facebook group over the study period of three months and how the EFL learners view the role of the Facebook-facilitated peer review activities in promoting their online participation.

Research has addressed the issue of isolation among distance learning students by integrating various technological tools into online courses. Yet, little is known about the role of Facebook groups in addressing this issue among distance learning learners from the sociocultural theories, and how online participation supports learners’ nurturing of social relations still needs to be answered through an empirical analysis of their interactions and reflections on their online learning experience.

Being situated in a Facebook group mentored by two instructors, the study was conducted over three months using a case study approach. The data was collected from two sources: (1) learners’ comments/interactions on their peer review posts, and (2) their reflections on their experience through online call interviews. The study used a content analysis of learners’ interactions and a thematic analysis of the reflections. Moreover, simple descriptive statistics, including the number and percentage of learners’ patterns of interactions: on-task, around-task, and off-task were used to determine the intensity of learners’ online participation over the study period.

The findings contribute to the research at the international level in several ways. It supports the argument that online participation is not merely taking part in activities, but it also involves social relations among learners. The findings also underlie useful pedagogical and technological implications for EFL teachers and lecturers. Facebook groups can be used as interactive platforms for EFL learners in distance courses. In addition, owing to the students’ increasing access to Facebook groups, instructors can engage learners in useful learning activities that contribute to their language learning, particularly writing. This study raises people’s awareness of the usefulness of Facebook groups as interactive platforms for university students in distance courses.

The findings indicate that the learners engaged in active online participation, which is partly evidenced by their increasing intensity of participation in terms of the on-task, around-task and off-task aspects over the three months. However, learners’ online participation is facilitated by the course instructor as he posted comments that reflect his diverse roles in facilitating the online group discussions. The learners also view the positive role of Facebook-facilitated group discussions on collaborative writing in contributing to their online participation, friendships and sense of community.

Since learners’ maintenance of active participation in online discussions is a critical issue reported by many previous studies on online learning at the international level, the present study suggests that instructors should play the role as facilitators and mentors of learners’ online discussions in order to engage learners in active learning and also enable them to pursue their online discussions.

Based on the findings, researchers should focus on how to promote learners’ sense of community in distance courses in order to enable them to feel attached to one another and overcome the feelings of isolation. Facebook groups can be used for the purpose of language learning, especially at the university context.

The study informs us of how teachers can assign their students to collaborative writing tasks by making a good use of information technologies.

Based on the findings, researchers should focus on how to promote learners’ sense of community in distance courses in order to enable them to feel attached to one another and overcome the feelings of isolation. Facebook groups can be used for the purpose of language learning, especially at the university context. Future research could maximize the opportunities for online learning using a combination of social networking sites, such as Facebook and other social technological tools in distance courses. Such integration of more than tools will increase learners’ online participation in such courses.

online participation, group writing discussions, Facebook group, sense of community
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