Online social spaces, who doesn’t use them. From Facebook and Twitter to special interest group wikis, and in-company forums we love to participate in ongoing debates and join in liking what we like. The time we devote to partaking is booming. Online activity of some of us exceeds almost 18 hours a day (1). Mostly for a reason. Online spaces offer a huge resource of information, products, informal learning, political action, dating and you name it. So, we join to connect, collaborate, and share (2). It may seem these spaces offer neutral ground to wander around and browse on what is on offer but that would be naïve to think. Online spaces like their social counterparts in daily life attract, select, shape, and create (as well as hurt) identities. As environments, manifold as they are, they structure the nature of online engagement. After all, Facebook is not VSCO, and Foursquare not Meetup. But are we aware that online social network environments govern how we interact and allow (or not) for the kind of agency we like to express? They certainly are not engagement-neutral or interaction-open but shape discourse.
This is precisely the point made in a study on teachers online peer interaction. Three environments were compared. An (open) Facebook page, an (invitational) Facebook group and an (anonymous) Forum run by a publishing house. The kind of interaction and nature of communication differed substantially. In the open space teachers felt uncomfortable about being liked or not; in the anonymous space conflicts led to naming and shaming; in the invited space micro groups developed which tried to dominate the agenda.
Online networking is an inspiring, enhancing tool of teacher connectivity and professional learning – many have stated in its favor (3). However it helps to know that its format contours how we take position or what we bring up. Then it may be realized too that trust and familiarity come to the foreground when connecting to peers. The interplay between the type of functionality and the nature of commitment requires careful consideration of teachers before going online. In some cases they do better to ask a friend.
James Robson (2016). Engagement in structured social space: an investigation of teachers’ online peer-to-peer interaction, Learning, Media and Technology, 41:1, 119-139, To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2015.1102743