The Discursive Construction of Distance-Learning Student Identities in a Module-Related Facebook forum

Horne, Judith Rye (2021). The Discursive Construction of Distance-Learning Student Identities in a Module-Related Facebook forum. EdD thesis The Open University.



Student use of social media in Higher Education is almost ubiquitous, yet academic understanding of how such groups function is limited. Innovatively, the aim of this research was to explore how distance learning, entry level, Open University students informally used one Facebook forum, with no official tutor presence, to discursively build and manage identities. Previous research has shown that online and in ‘real life students construct positions of ‘ordinary and ‘struggling thereby resisting academic identities. The analysis from this research demonstrates the complexities involved in discursively managing being a student on Facebook when they are outwith the formal university environment.

By employing discursive psychology and examining how psychological states are worked up and managed via discourse and Facebook affordances, such as emoji and use of laughter (like ‘haha’), the research captures the scale of variability of available identities students draw on in the forum. When asking for help, advice or support, students positioned themselves as seekers, strugglers, anxiety-laden, desperate, panickers, procrastinators and obsessives, but not without a sense of humour. When offering help, advice and support, students positioned themselves as helpful, advice-givers and supporters, using alignment and idiom, among other techniques. Complaint sequences demonstrated that openings were alternatively launched into straight away or delayed; that they were established by providing detail, extreme case formulations, alignment and contrast and, they were completed, done by using idiom, punctuation and emoji. The research demonstrates that Facebook forums are places students can go to find and build social solidarity but also are a double-edged sword: positive in that they can offer support and negative in that student voices can create subject positions of disempowerment.

This empirical illustration can be applied to help students understand the dynamics of Facebook forums. Such dissemination will be done by creating and delivering conversation analytic role play method (CARM-text) (Stokoe, 2014) workshops for students, so they become empowered in their decision making when using social media. The research could also inform others in education of how such forums may function.

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