FE Teachers exploring identity and values in strange days

As I’m just completing the final small changes to my PhD thesis after a successful viva, I thought it time to share some of my findings via this blog – especially those that chime with the times we’re living in. The blog has been much-neglected of late, so it’s great to revive it!

There’s been much talk  – and sharing of memes on social media – since C-19 changed our world, around ideas like “in the rush to get back to normal, we should decide which aspects of normal we really want to return to”. Arundhati Roy sums this strong ripple in  communal consciousness up beautifully here. “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”

My doctoral research, undertaken as part of ETF’s PRP programme investigates how FE teachers use informal online networks for alternative professional learning, specifically looking at Twitter community dialogues. Netnography was a key method used, essentially ethnography for online contexts. Pioneered by Kozinets, data originates from digital imprints of natural, public conversations.

Analysis of threads from 3 significant teachers’ Twitter communities over a 6-month period led to development of this original model of the dialogues:

3 lenses graphic

We might have expected the presence of pedagogy lens including dialogues on curriculum planning, strategies and resources, development of maths, English and digital skills, meeting learner needs, positive behaviour and learner journey stages. Equally, Learning Community dialogues where educators build professional networks, share CPD and networking opportunities and support each other during career or role changes are familiar.

A more unexpected outcome for me was the number – and force – of dialogues around teachers’ values and core identity. Identity and Voice dialogues explore teachers’ wider roles and advocate for peers and learners.

These dialogues concern social justice and mobility, aiding learner self-empowerment, sustainability, student and educator mental health, funding impacts and under-represented groups. There is encouragement for increased political awareness by teachers and learners. A key identity and voice theme is advocacy for positive impacts of post-16 education beyond work and individual learners. Promotion of how FE (in its widest sense extending to WBL, ACL, OL  and beyond) benefits each learners’ family and community and has beneficial impacts between generations and in wider society.

These dialogues seemed to have momentum even before 2020 turned the world upside-down, as my research was completed in autumn 2019.  It will be fascinating to see how the ‘new normal’ unfolds and how teachers’ emerging ‘identity and voice’ dialogues help to shape it.


Published by ltaylerson

I am a former FE Computing and Teacher Education Curriculum Leader and ex-BBC engineer and trainer. Worcestershire-based, I specialise in teacher education and CPD, educator mentoring, digital skills and pedagogy, I am director of Real Time Education, an independent provider and a keen commentator on further education and digital skills on social media @realtimeedu. I completed a PhD in Education investigating teachers' use of informal social media dialogues for professional learning in April 2020.

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