What Do ELTs Write and Say Online?

Ever since I started my dissertation data collection as early as the fall of 2010, I have been following ELTs online. Back then, I was primarily looking at blogs, and I was especially interested in ones that contained narratives about the first year or two of living and teaching abroad. There were many of those, but it seemed like at least half of them would stop writing or delete their blog before the end of the first year.

In terms of online data, my dissertation only looked at blogs written by ELTs in Japan and Korea, published between 2011 and 2013. However, near the end of the my data collection, I learned that Twitter was a more efficient way of finding ELT bloggers than using a search engine like Google. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of data collection and analysis and did not want to start over because “a good dissertation is a done dissertation.”

And then, after completing my data collection and in the midst of data analysis, I learned about an online group of vloggers in Japan and Korea. Searching for ELT vloggers through YouTube was nearly as efficient as searching for ELT bloggers on Twitter, but the results were different. There was a higher frequency of ELT YouTubers vlogging about cultural matters and experiences whereas there was a higher frequency of ELT bloggers writing about professional teaching matters.

Since this discovery, I’ve been overloaded by the amount of data because I’ve become better at collection plus there are more ELTs on YouTube and Twitter now than six years ago. Looking back, it almost seems like there’s a completely new generation of ELTs online than when I first started. Many of my most reliable ELT bloggers and YouTubers between 2010 and 2016 went back home and/or stopped publishing narratives about teaching and the host culture.

Unobtrusive Research

Since I completed my dissertation research in 2014, I’ve been unobtrusively collecting public data on this topic while being distracted by life (changing jobs, moving, learning the new job, etc.). It hasn’t been until now that I’m learning how to focus this informal research for the purposes of formal research and publication. So I’m reading “Collecting Data from Social Networking Web Sites and Blogs” by Elizabeth Mazur, in a chapter of the book Advanced Methods for Conducting Online Behavioral Research.

How can I organize my voluminous collection of data?

Broadly

  • Categorize by textual, visual, and oral content
  • Investigate narratives “that often disclose information about [ELTs] that offline would normally be part of a slower and more private process of acquaintanceship but online are posted frequently and often in full public view” (p.78)
  • Study technology-integrated communication
  • Study “processes of communication on the Internet” (p.78-79)
  • Investigate specific aspects of the blogosphere, such as various issues raised about the host culture, teaching English, and using research

Specifically

  • Mine for “data on oral and visual culture, presentation of self-identity, language use, and interactive social dynamics” (p.78)
  • Analyze blogs written by persons of persons who share demographic commonalities, such as newly arrived sojourning ELTs, long-term immigrant ELTs, online community leaders, ELTs advocating for specific causes (equity, teachers as workers)
  • Collect data “about individuals’ or groups’ perceptions of naturally occurring historical events,” such as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami which occurred during my early data collection period (p.79)

The rest of the chapter informs the reader with issues that I’ve become aware of, such as accessibility and the differences of data richness across types of online writing (blogs vs. social network pages). It also reminds me of the drawbacks of this type of research, that I as a research may need to mistrust the credibility of some bloggers. However, I don’t believe this applies to most ELT bloggers. I’ve only run across a few that have had dubious stories, but humans have a tendency to exaggerate for the sake of entertainment.

So what are ELTs writing and saying online?

The short answer is “everything.” They–we write about our personal lives, our professional lives, our likes and dislikes, our concerns and issues, etc. When looking at all ELTs online there may or may not be a pattern that makes us unique from anyone else, however I notice a gap between my ELTs online and ELTs offline.

Most if not all of my colleagues at my current job do not use social media or blogs for professional purposes. I’m friends with them on Facebook where they write about their lives and local events, but not much about teaching English. Many of them find it strange or funny that I can learn from other ELTs on Twitter and YouTube.

It’s more interesting to me to see low public online participation from ELTs in higher education in the United States. I have found most people in this category collaborating in closed online groups, which makes me self-conscious about my public practices online. However, even in these closed groups, it seems that a low number of ELTs are participating.

My own professional learning network (PLN) consists of ELTs mainly outside the United States. And most of the ones in the United States have had experience teaching overseas.  My PLN has changed since I started growing it in 2011. It started with the target population of this blog in Japan and Korea, and now it’s mainly ELTs writing for professional learning. I’m interested in if and how ELTs online for professional purposes differ from those who are not in terms of teacher identity and professional goals. How are ELTs online helping, growing, or hurting the profession? Are ELTs online unintentionally shutting other ELTs out of the conversation?

For the last question, I’m thinking mainly of identity. How tightly connected and/or open are some ELTs online in terms of professional training (e.g., CELTA) or teaching context (e.g., ELTs in Japanese universities)? These are areas I’d like to explore very soon. I’m just waiting for IRB approval to start collecting data formally.

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