The Graduate Interdisciplinary Programs’ Andrew C. Comrie Doctoral Fellowship honors Dr. Comrie’s strong commitment to interdisciplinary research and study as witnessed by the many years Dr. Comrie has dedicated to research as an interdisciplinary climate scientist and geographer. In addition, he has participated in the GIDPs from the time he first arrived at The University of Arizona and through the years of his university leadership roles as former Provost, Associate Vice-President for Research and Dean of the Graduate College.
Veronica Oguilve is a doctoral candidate in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching. Veronica’s dissertation, tentatively titled, Online communities and informal language learning: Examining the dynamic evolution of an online environment in a topic-based messaging platform, is uniquely interdisciplinary and cutting-edge for several reasons. In her study, Veronica merges her interdisciplinary interests in digital technologies and language learning through a community lens. Her study addresses the creation of an online community and traces the evolution of how it grows and changes over time. The community is a learner-centered creative space where incidental language learning occurs. This exploratory research study collects observations, interviews, record members' interaction from conversations and synchronous events, and meta-data from the platform to examine how online communities evolve and the characteristics of language used in these spaces with an eye towards how language teachers might use these insights to inform their own teaching.
Language learning has been traditionally studied in formal environments or in very controlled conditions. Veronica’s dissertation study is framed around learning online within informal environments, where learning can be viewed as a by-product of interaction and communication. Veronica’s innovative research connects learners around the world in communities that link together the arts, meaning making, languages and global issues, all through social connections that view learning as a life-wide pursuit. Tracking learning across the ebbs and flows of participation in an online community encourages educators and learners to value these online connections as learning opportunities. The study is designed to examine the learning that occurs and the catalysts for that learning. Her study is cutting-edge because it examines language use in context, which may open the door to more opportunities where learners are in the driver's seat of their own learning.
Through participation in this study, educators experience learning together with their students. Authenticity of interaction and language use in context encourage speakers of different backgrounds to come together using language meaningfully as a communication tool that also supports learning. Educators can make connections and transform ideas from the community to complement their curriculum. This study will encourage learning a variety of research methodologies, data analysis techniques, and ways to discuss and disseminate research findings. It will advance my scholarship by allowing for the collection of illustrative pieces of data and conversation which can be included in publications and research articles that address learning in the wild, a topic that is very relevant for the field of Second language Acquisition. Through the inclusion of examples, my work will resonate with readers interested in informal learning environments. Teachers who read the findings from this study may come to see the importance of spaces where there is little direct, formal teaching as important spaces for learners’ agency.
As an individual and as an educator, equity, inclusion, and social justice have guided my commitment to language education. I have always centered my work in service to others, especially historically underserved communities. I am part of the Afro-Costa Rican community myself. I know first-hand what it means to have clear goals, but not having the same opportunities or resources to achieve them. Having commitment, determination, and working hard is not enough; there is also a need for social and financial capital. I am truly committed to creating opportunities for learners who are not privileged to reach their full potential. I believe in the power of sharing knowledge and growing together through the means that connect us all as life-long learners. Through my work, I aim to organize learning, lead learners, and support their learning, social, interactional, and intellectual development.
Informal online spaces abound in our increasingly digital world and have become valuable spots for interaction, communication, and participation. Networking in online communities offers opportunities for mentorship and peer collaboration that aid in the development of both personal and professional skills. Learners interact with others in self-directed, self-paced, and self-initiated ways that create learning opportunities for informal language learning. My study will look at language learning as the product of social interaction and participation in varied digital and creative activities that emerge within an online community. These activities are situated in a dynamic system that develops within a context of interactivity over time, which has subsystems that are constantly evolving and changing (Socket, 2019).
The study addresses the creation of an online community and traces the evolution of how it grows and changes over time. The community is a learner-centered creative space where incidental language learning occurs. TThis exploratory research study collects observations, interviews, record members' interaction from conversations and synchronous events, and meta-data from the platform to examine how online communities evolve and the characteristics of language used in these spaces with an eye towards how language teachers might use these insights to inform their own teaching to answer the following questions:
- How does an online space become established and evolve?
- What promotes interaction in an online space?
- What are the characteristics of community exchanges?
- What forms of communication and language are used in an online space?
- What are language teachers' insights about informal language learning and how might these perceptions inform their teaching practice?
To address the goals of this study, I am applying intersecting theoretical lenses such as constructivism (Dewey, 1896, as cited in Vanderstraeten & Biesta, 2004; Glasersfeld, 2005) and multimodality in the study of informal learning environments. Collectively and synergistically, these theories create the foundation for examining learning interactions and collaboration in the dynamic online space being studied.
Research Context and participants
This study takes place in an evolving online community with three main characteristics:
a) a flexible structure that develops as an organic process
b) content is mainly participant-led and/or participant generated and
c) contexts is not explicitly focused on language learning, but informal and incidental happening in the ecology of the community.
The online community under study is titled Creator´s Co-space has been developed in the Mighty Networks platform. Included in the research are several groups of participants including facilitators, English teachers and learners from universities in Costa Rica and the United States, and participants from around the world who gather in synchronous and asynchronous activities. Five phases of data collection include 1) establishing the community and data collection from 2) individual experience 3) groups of learners as they engage in threads of activity, 4) interactions with language teachers and 5) examination of shifts and changes in the online environment.
Outcomes and Impacts
This research will shed light on ways that an informal learning community develops, evolves, and thrives in the wild, including what motivates active participation. Developing an understanding of how an online community evolves will support language educators and provide additional options for designing spaces that have the affordances of informal language learning.