A Conceptual Framework of Teacher Motivation for Social Media Use
by Ayesha K. Hashim & Jeffrey P. Carpenter - 2019
Teachers are increasingly turning to social media to facilitate informal opportunities for professional learning, yet we know little about the motivational factors that prompt teachers’ social media use. In this chapter, we propose a conceptual framework that researchers can use to unpack the varied motivational factors that lead teachers to engage with social media for professional learning. We argue that the extant literature on teachers’ social media use lacks cohesion in terms of identifying the full range of motivational factors that inform teacher practice and that can lead teachers to engage with social media spaces with different functionalities (e.g., curating content, building community, monetizing teacher resources). We draw on utility-based theory from economics to understand how teachers negotiate between different motivational preferences when deciding to engage with different social media platforms, foregrounding both individual and social preferences and how the context of districts, schools, grade levels, classrooms, and teachers’ backgrounds might influence teacher preferences and social media use. We conclude with a discussion of how this conceptual framework can inform future research.
Informal, self-directed learning activities have long played important roles in educator professional growth (Boud & Middleton, 2003; Richter, Kunter, Klusmann, Lüdtke, & Baumert, 2011). In recent years, social media have created new opportunities for educators to personalize and direct their learning beyond the professional development (PD) encouraged or required by their schools, districts, and licensure regulations (e.g., Carpenter & Green, 2017; Carpenter & Krutka, 2014; Ranieri, Manca, & Fini, 2012; Rutledge, Dennen, & Bagdy, 2019, this yearbook; Torphy & Drake, 2019, this yearbook; Xing & Gao, 2018). Research suggests that such professional social media use by educators is quite common, with the majority of teachers in one U.S. study indicating that they have access to a social media account (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest) and log on to these accounts at least once a month for professional purposes (Opfer, Kaufman, & Thompson, 2016).
In light of the intensification of teachers work (Apple, 1986; Ballet & Kelchtermans, 2008), it is important to try to understand why teachers voluntarily spend time engaging in professional social media activities. The professional use of new technologies is rarely without some costs; digital tools can require educators to develop new skills, fulfill new responsibilities, and be more available to students and families outside the regular school day (Meabon Bartow, 2014; Selywn, Nemorin, & Johnson, 2017). Teachers who use social media must also determine how to manage boundaries between their personal and professional lives (e.g., Carpenter, Kimmons, Short, Clements, & Staples, 2019; Fox & Bird, 2017), and they can encounter thorny ethical dilemmas in their interactions with different education stakeholders (e.g., Thunman & Persson, 2018). For instance, teachers have received increased scrutiny from district leaders, other educators, parents, students, and the public regarding their behavior on social media and the extent to which their online identities and actions are perceived as disruptive to the workplace and their professional responsibilities (Sackstein, 2017).
Although some aspects of teachers use of social media are well documented, little is known about the motivating conditions that prompt teachers to engage with social media over alternative forms of PD. This information is important for education leaders to understand how they can leverage social media as a tool for teacher learning and set expectations for what teachers can accomplish through social media use that are appropriately matched to the problem spaces from which teachers are working.
In this chapter, we propose a conceptual framework that researchers can use to unpack the varied motivational factors that lead teachers to engage with social media for professional learning. We first review empirical literature on the role of teacher motivation in shaping social media use, arguing that this literature lacks cohesion in terms of identifying the full range of motivational factors that inform teacher practice and that can lead teachers to engage with social media spaces with different functionalities (e.g., curating content, building community, monetizing teacher resources). We then draw on utility-based theory from economics to understand how teachers negotiate between different preferences when deciding to engage with social media. We argue that teachers make trade-offs between different motivational factors to maximize utility, which in turn leads them to participate in different pathways for professional learning and growth (e.g., participating in formal PD, engaging in different social media outlets). These motivational factors stem from teachers individual preferences to be effective educators and social desires to fit into their organizational setting, including matching their professional identity to school goals and culture, finding community with colleagues, and developing their reputation as an effective educator. We conclude with a discussion of how this conceptual framework can inform future research.
OVERVIEW OF TEACHERS SOCIAL MEDIA USE
Before the advent of platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, some educators already participated voluntarily in online communities that provided opportunities to explore ideas, share emotions, and combat teacher isolation (Hur & Brush, 2009). However, popular social media tools have made it easier and more common for teachers to reach outside their individual schools to find and share resources, connect, and collaborate with a bigger pool of colleagues (Carpenter & Green, 2017; Daly, Liou, Del Fresno, Rehm, & Bjorklund, 2019, this yearbook; Hu, Torphy, Jansen, Opperman, & Lane, in press; Robson, 2018; Torphy & Drake, 2019, this yearbook; Torphy, Hu, Liu, & Chen, in press). These professional social media activities are worth attention given the consensus that teacher learning is an important factor in school improvement and that traditional PD approaches are often seen as woefully inadequate (Borko, 2004, p. 3).
A number of studies have explored educators uses of single social media platforms. For example, many education-focused Facebook groups allow members to discuss topics such as academic content, pedagogy, and assessment (e.g., Bergviken Rensfeldt, Hillman, & Selwyn, 2018). Kelly and Antonio (2016) found that educators in five such Facebook groups supported one another by sharing resources and responding to one another with pragmatic advice, but the groups did not appear to host much reflection, feedback on practice, or modeling of practice. Pinterest has proven popular among U.S. educators as a means to find, organize, and share curriculum materials and as a space for educators to engage with entrepreneurial activities (e.g., Carpenter, Cassaday, & Monti, 2018; Hu, Torphy, Opperman, Jansen, & Lo, 2018; Shelton & Archambault, 2018). Many educators have used Twitter to network, build social capital, and combat the endemic isolation of the education profession (Carpenter & Krutka, 2015; Daly et al., 2019, this yearbook; Rehm & Notten, 2016).
COMMON EXPLANATIONS FOR TEACHERS SOCIAL MEDIA USE
In short, multiple social media tools play host to increasing numbers of educators engaging in various self-directed professional activities. In the remainder of this section, we review themes from the extant literature on why teachers use social media, including (1) individual preferences for improving instructional quality, (2) social preferences for building community with educators, (3) ambitions for professional growth and leadership, and (4) shortcomings in the provision of formal PD.
Although teachers are usually provided with some curriculum materials by their schools, it is quite common that they also seek out new and additional materials and ideas to use in teaching and learning activities (e.g., Hu et al., in press; Opfer et al., 2016). In these cases, teachers may therefore access social media primarily with goals for instructional improvement. For example, a ninth-grade English teacher might be preparing to teach an upcoming unit on poetry and could search Pinterest for related curriculum ideas. She could ask other teachers for recommendations on compelling new poems by sending out a tweet or Instagram post that included relevant educator hashtags. The #NCTEvillage Twitter hashtag developed by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is a common site of such information and advice seeking behaviors by English language arts teachers. For example, one educator recently tweeted at #NCTEvillage with the following request: Im looking to expand my high school classroom collection of graphic novels and novels in verse. Suggestions, please? This tweet attracted at least 34 responses. As this tweet demonstrates, teachers may use social media outlets such as Twitter in the belief that these outlets provide access to potentially useful ideas and resources that they can incorporate into or adapt to their teaching (Gomez & Journell, 2017).
Teachers may also be drawn to social media by opportunities for professional connections and/or community (Torphy & Drake, 2019, this yearbook). While educators may at times enjoy working behind closed doors and maintaining individual autonomy over curriculum and instruction (Lortie, 1975), growing evidence suggests that regular interaction with colleagues can help teachers make sense of and implement instructional reforms that require a significant departure from existing classroom practices (Frank, Zhao, Penuel, Ellefson, & Porter, 2011; Penuel, Sun, Frank & Gallagher, 2012). Teacher isolation can be especially problematic in these situations of heightened instructional uncertainty and complexity. For example, in response to growing demand for college preparatory courses, many schools have expanded offerings for Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes while depending on their existing teacher workforce to instruct these classes. As a result, many AP teachers do not have colleagues in their buildings who teach the same AP courses, with whom they can cocreate instructional material. While these educators may still be motivated and feel like they belong to and fit into their school communities, understandably, they may also feel a desire to connect with colleagues who teach the same or similar content. For example, rather than being limited to associating with a handful of school peers teaching primarily other science content, an individual who teaches AP biology might utilize the #apbiochat Twitter hashtag to make connections with other teachers of the same curriculum, and thus associate with a larger, online professional network of teachers to advance his or her instructional practice (Fischer, Fishman, & Yardi Shoenbeck, 2018).
Social media can also offer a platform for classroom teachers to contribute to the development of their professionteachers who previously might have been limited to making primarily a local impact on their profession. It is not uncommon for teachers who actively use platforms such as Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram for a sustained period to have thousands of followers on these sites (e.g., Cummings, 2015; Reinstein, 2019). Through engaging with these larger audiences, teachers can access new opportunities for leadership and/or entrepreneurial activities (e.g., Daly et al., 2019, this yearbook; Rodesiler, 2015; Torphy et al., in press). For example, some educators used the opportunities created by social media to make their voices heard on matters of education politics and policy (e.g., Krutka, Asino, & Haselwood, 2018).
In 2018, teachers in a number of U.S. states employed social media to push back against mooted policies related to arming teachers via the #ArmMeWith hashtag (e.g., Sarisohn, 2018). Teachers who do not hold formal leadership roles in their schools or district have also used social media to engage with leadership, entrepreneurial, or mentorship activities (e.g., Baker-Doyle, 2017). A prominent example is the social media site TeachersPayTeachers.com, which provides an online marketplace for teachers to sell classroom materials at affordable prices and engage with a community of teacherpreneurs who develop, vet, and market solutions for improving teaching and learning (Shelton & Archambault, 2018). Or, educators working in schools where teachers are treated primarily as implementers of externally created, standardized-test-driven curricula have used social media to assert their identities as moral and ethical role models for students and communities (e.g., Brickner, 2016) and as intellectuals by discussing and developing content that is not necessarily covered in standards-based curricula (Carpenter & Krutka, 2015).
Educators may voluntarily use social media in an effort to compensate for perceived shortcomings of formal PD. These shortcomings can be associated with insufficient quantity (e.g., Harvey & Hyndman, 2018) and/or quality of formal PD (e.g., Carpenter & Krutka, 2015). Teachers could, however, also be motivated at least in part by ways in which the affordances of social media allow for professional activities that simply cannot be done, or are much harder to do, in formal PD contexts. While districts often invest PD resources in activities and programs that take a one-size-fits-all approach, social media reportedly present opportunities for educators to personalize their professional learning based on their needs and interests (e.g., Carpenter & Krutka, 2014; Torphy & Drake, 2019, this yearbook; Trust, 2012). Social media can also facilitate professional learning that is just-in-time in nature. While many formal PD activities are planned out months in advance, teachers often have professional needs that emerge in an unpredictable fashion and require immediate action. Social media spaces can help educators quickly organize to discuss and share resources related to current events that they feel compelled to address with their students. For example, Greenhalgh and Koehler (2017) described French-speaking educators use of a Twitter hashtag as a space to engage in a month-long conversation about how to respond as educators in a timely fashion to the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. Similarly, U.S. educators have used hashtags such as #FergusonSyllabus and #CharlottesvilleCurriculum to host discussions and resource sharing in response to current events.
LIMITATIONS TO LITERATURE
As the preceding discussion suggests, researchers have attended to teacher motivation as a critical factor in explaining teachers decisions to engage with social media, particularly in terms of their use of individual social media platforms. Where the extant research has addressed teacher motivations, it has often been limited by reliance on convenience samples and/or self-reports by educators who were enthusiastic social media users (e.g., Carpenter & Krutka, 2014). As a result, the anti voices of teachers who opt not to use social media professionally are missing from the literature (Owen, Fox, & Bird, 2016).
More important, the extant literature lacks cohesion, with some researchers focusing on teachers individual classroom needs, learning preferences, and desires for monetary gain, while others have pointed to shortcomings in district-provided PD or the absence of professional community in schools. Missing from this discussion is an understanding of how teachers individual preferences and actions are embedded in a broader organizational context that in turn might influence their decision making. This is not to say that scholars have neglected the role of community in shaping teacher activity on social media. To the contrary, prior research on teachers social media use has used a variety of theoretical frames for studying teacher learning as a social phenomenon, including frameworks such as Wengers (1998) communities of practice (e.g., Wesely, 2013), Gees (2004) affinity spaces (e.g., Rosenberg, Greenhalgh, Koehler, Hamilton, & Akcaoglu, 2016), and Trusts professional learning networks (Trust, 2012; Trust, Krutka, & Carpenter, 2016). However, these frameworks have been primarily used to study teacher interactions on social media rather than to deconstruct the full range of individual and organizational circumstances that prompt teachers to engage with social media.
Additionally, the extant literature on teachers social media use has not accounted for the different online platforms that teachers can choose from and how these choices reflect distinct motivational preferences (Frank & Torphy, 2019; Hu et al., 2018). Most studies focus on a single social media tool and, as such, fail to consider the broad range of tools at teachers disposal and how teachers might use these tools to fulfill different needs. Studies of individual social media tools in isolation can contribute useful knowledge to the field regarding certain aspects of teacher professional learning, but such studies may not lead to a more holistic understanding of teachers professional activities in a digital age. Indeed, a broader conceptualization of teachers social media use can offer a more nuanced understanding of why teachers choose to use (or not use) social media, why they engage with certain social media platforms over others, and how their actions are informed by individual, organizational, and other contextual circumstances.
BUILDING A CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK FOR TEACHERS SOCIAL MEDIA USE
We use utility-based theory as a framework for understanding how teachers negotiate between different motivational factors when deciding to use social media. Frank, Kim and Belman (2010) highlighted three important benefits of using utility-based theory to understand teachers decision making for professional learning. First, focusing on teachers utility gives importance to teachers agency in driving educational outcomes and their motivation for educational excellence. Second, utility-based theory acknowledges that time and resources are finite and that teachers therefore have to balance expected utility from efforts to improve teaching with transaction costs (e.g., information search, uncertainty, opportunity costs). This balancing act can lead teachers to make trade-offs between different courses of action for improving their professional practice (e.g., participating in formal PD or engaging in social media), and utility functions can be estimated with empirical data to formalize this ordering of individual preferences. Third, utility-based theory is versatile in that it accounts for multiple, overlapping factors that motivate teacher behavior, from individual preferences and incentives to psychological and social factors.
The preceding points are central to our conceptual framework. As shown in Figure 1, we identify two categories of motivational factors that drive teachers social media use and have been foregrounded in the extant literature. The first category is a teachers individual preference to perform well in his or her professional role as an educator. This category can include preferences that are closely tied to teacher self-efficacy for instruction, such as supporting positive student behavior and engagement in learning (Tschannen-Moran & Woolfolk Hoy, 2001), improving student test scores and instructor effectiveness (Firestone, 2014; Papay, 2012), and increasing ones professional responsibilities, status, and/or compensation (Firestone & Pennell, 1993; Podgursky & Springer, 2007). To perform well, teachers make trade-offs between different courses of action for professional learning that balance expected utility with transaction costs. For example, the quantity of formal PD provided for teachers can vary by content area (Borko, 2004), and teachers outside of tested subject areas such as English, math, science, and social studies might perceive low expected utility (e.g., lack of relevant content) and high transaction costs (e.g., participation time and additional information search to tailor formal PD to individual needs) from participating in these formal trainings. Accordingly, these teachers might use social media to self-direct some proportion of their professional learning given that this online activity could yield more targeted information and resources (i.e., higher expected utility) while minimizing participation time in nonoptimal formal PD events (see Harvey & Hyndman, 2018, and Wesely, 2013, for research on physical education and world language teachers Twitter use, respectively).
Figure 1. Conceptual framework of teacher motivation for social media use
The second category is a teachers social desires to fit into his or her organizational setting. To fit in, teachers look to match their professional identities (e.g., goals, beliefs) with their organizational setting (Flores & Day, 2006), build community with colleagues (Penuel, Riel, Krause, & Frank, 2009), and develop their reputation as effective educators (McMahon, 2011). Consistent with Frank and colleagues (2010) and literature on the economics of organizations (Akerlof & Kranton, 2005), we argue that these social factors can be just as important to teacher utility as individual preferences in determining how teachers make trade-offs. Moreover, with the broad uptake of social media, the boundary between school and the outside world has become porous, meaning that teachers can develop a sense of identity, community, and professional reputation both inside and outside their schools (Daly et al., 2019, this yearbook; Rutledge et al., 2019, this yearbook; Torphy & Drake, 2019, this yearbook). Evidence on teachers social media use also suggests that these socially embedded preferences are important and that teachers social context has expanded to include educators outside of their school setting. As noted earlier, teachers report opportunities for collaboration and networking as important aspects of their social media use (e.g., Carpenter & Krutka, 2014; Rehm & Notten, 2016; Trust et al., 2016). Various studies have documented the potential for social media to support educator communities of practice (e.g., Daly et al., 2019, this yearbook; Torphy & Drake, 2019, this yearbook; Wesely, 2013).
Ultimately, teachers process for utility maximization may lead them to engage (or not engage) with social media as a resource for professional learning. As shown in Figure 1, for those who choose to engage with social media, their individual and socially defined interests may lead them to engage with social media spaces with different functionalities that support activities such as teacher-to-teacher dialogue, individual information seeking and curation, crowdsourcing (i.e., gathering and building content in collaboration with others), community building, mentoring, networking, identity exploration, and entrepreneurship, among others. For instance, while educators uses of Pinterest tend to be relatively more oriented toward information seeking and curation (Carpenter et al., 2018; Hu et al., in press), opportunities to partake in discussion and community appear to be more central to teachers uses of Twitter (Frank & Torphy, 2019; Gao & Li, 2017). In combination with each teachers unique needs and interests, each social media tools set of affordances and constraints can thus influence teacher uptake.
Finally, there are broader district-, school-, grade/subject-, classroom-, and teacher-level factors that may influence teachers social media use. Many of these factors have been foregrounded in literature on teacher sensemaking (e.g., Spillane, Reiser, & Gomez, 2006), PD (Desimone, Porter, Garet, Suk Yoon, & Birman, 2002), teacher social networks (e.g., Moolenaar, 2012), informal teacher learning (Kyndt, Gijbels, Grosemans, & Donche, 2016), and teachers technology use (e.g., Lawless & Pellegrino, 2007). While it is not possible to call out all the contextual factors that could be at play for each individual teacher, we mention a few that could be relevant.
Relevant factors include, for example, district/school offerings for PD and the extent to which these offerings are tailored to specific teacher needs and provide opportunities for classroom-embedded and collaborative learning (Desimone et al., 2002; Flint, Zisook, & Fischer, 2011; Timperley & Alton-Lee, 2008). Additionally, teachers social media use can be shaped by district and school policies governing teacher participation in social networking sites and the extent to which these policies are conducive to open teacher involvement (Rodesiler, 2017; Warnick, Bitters, Falk, & Kim, 2016). As noted earlier, teachers are increasingly relying on social media to meet professional learning needs that districts are unable to address through districtwide PD offerings. Yet these educational possibilities may be less feasible in districts that maintain strict policies on teachers social media use. In other contexts, some school districts have found ways to leverage, encourage, incentivize, and/or recognize teachers professional social media activities (e.g., Carpenter, Krutka, & Trust, 2016).
Additional contextual factors potentially influencing teachers decisions regarding social media use can include school culture (Jurasaite-Harbison & Rex, 2010); school leadership on instruction (Moolenaar, Daly, & Sleegers, 2010); norms and routines for teacher collaboration (Coburn & Stein, 2006); shared understandings, aims, and practices for instruction (Bridwell-Mitchell, 2015); access to expertise and know-how for instructional change (Frank, Penuel, & Krause 2015); and teacher knowledge, goals, beliefs, and self-efficacy for technology use (Ertmer & Ottenbreit-Leftwich, 2010). For example, teachers who are closely connected to know-how for instructional change in their school communities may be less inclined to undertake additional transaction costs and search for new information on social media (Chen, Torphy, Hu, & Liu, 2017). Alternatively, these teachers could be engaged in professional learning communities that are heavily invested in social media use for instructional change, leading them to search for and share instructional resources with others outside their school.
Social media tools are quickly becoming popular professional resources that are shaping teacher practice, making it important for education leaders to understand what purposes social media serve and how social media can be leveraged to improve teaching and learning. In this chapter, we argue that a critical first step is to understand the interrelated motivational factors that draw teachers to use social media in the first place and result in their continued use of these media. Through exploring teacher motivation for social media use, we can begin to understand the complex problem spaces that teachers are working from and what outcomes we can expect for teaching and learning. Consideration of educators diverse motivations for their professional learning activities can help explain their distinct experiences and perceptions of those activities (Noonan, 2018).
The preceding conceptual framework affords several advantages to education leaders and researchers interested in teachers social media use. First, we provide a framework for thinking systematically about why and how teachers engage with social media. Specifically, our framework embeds individual teacher preferences that researchers have commonly discussed in a broader organizational context that, in turn, can foster social desires and contextual circumstances that facilitate or inhibit social media use. In attending to interrelatedness between individual teacher preferences and their organizational context, we provide a complete picture of the factors that drive teachers social media use and the range of outcomes that can be achieved through the same. For example, while our conceptual framework suggests that teachers can be self-interested in using social media to improve instructional quality, they can also act to fulfill social goals that are not as directly related to student achievement, such as building community with educators, finding match with their organizational setting, and pursuing opportunities for professional growth. As such, we may expect teachers social media use to accomplish a broad range of outcomes outside of improving student achievement, such as enhancing teacher job satisfaction, collegiality, and leadership. More research is needed to understand how teachers balance these preferences with transaction costs when deciding to engage with social media.
In foregrounding the role of organizational context in motivating teachers social media use, our conceptual framework also calls attention to specific levers at the school or district level that can shape teachers social media use and could be studied further. For example, education leaders and researchers could investigate how teachers use social media to supplement and/or supplant different forms of PD (e.g., workshops, coaching, professional learning communities) and the extent to which this social media activity is helpful for improving teacher practice. Additionally, we know little about how teacher interactions with colleagues in schools (or absence thereof) motivate social media use and if this social context can be deliberately shaped to support optimal uses of social media. For example, teachers might turn to social media in the absence of collegial support at their schools or in direct response to local communities of practice that prioritize engagement with social media. Do these social conditions translate into different patterns of social media engagement and, if so, how? These questions have yet to be fully investigated but are crucial to motivating teacher practice and outcomes of social media use. Moreover, with social media dissolving the boundary between schools and their external environment, education leaders and researchers need to attend to how social media might be changing teacher conceptions of the workplace and professional community.
Our conceptual framework also calls attention to the diverse functionalities of social media and how teachers decisions to engage with these functionalities can reveal varied motivational preferences. For example, teachers who are curating lesson content on Pinterest, crowdsourcing lesson ideas on Twitter, or monetizing lesson plans on TeachersPayTeachers.com are likely acting from different sources of motivation that should be explored further. Documenting these different choices for social media use will be crucial for education leaders and practitioners to understand the full scope and expected outcomes of teachers social media use.
Finally, while our conceptual framework offers various inroads for improving research on teachers social media use, we recognize that there are limitations to this framing that could detract from its applicability. By drawing on economic theory, our framework positions teachers as rational actors with complete information on their preferences and the transaction costs of their actions (Loeb & McEwan, 2006). Yet we know from implementation research in education that this rational actor model does not always hold in practice (Honig, 2006; McLaughlin, 1987). Indeed, teachers could make decisions about PD and social media use based on individual goals, beliefs, values, political interests, and social forces (e.g., norms, institutional logics) that are not fully captured by their economic preferences (Malen, 2006; McLaughlin, 1987; Spillane et al., 2006). Additionally, teachers may not have complete information on the PD opportunities available to them and the affordances and constraints of social media (Loeb & McEwan, 2006). Our conceptual framework accounts for many of these extraneous factors as part of the broader organizational context of teachers and by acknowledging that teachers derive utility from their social identity (e.g., belonging to a professional community, demonstrating leadership) as much as from their individual desires and outcomes. Yet it is possible that these considerations are not comprehensive and that our framework could still neglect important factors that inform teachers social media use. Nevertheless, given the nascent stage of research on this topic, we believe that our conceptual framework provides a useful starting point for researchers to explore the why and how of teachers social media use and to propose alternative theoretical frameworks for understanding this phenomenon.
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