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Through the wall of literacy: Transformative practice in social networks among GCSE re-sit Further Education students

Howard Eric Scott (Faculty of Education Health and Wellbeing, University of Wolverhampton, Walsall, UK)

Education + Training

ISSN: 0040-0912

Article publication date: 18 June 2018

Issue publication date: 3 August 2018




The purpose of this paper is to explain how peripheral participants contributed to and became more central members of a community of practice based in a social network that was used to support mobile learning approaches among post-compulsory education students. The notion was that in inducing participation through pedagogical strategies, individualised online presence could be increased that would support studentship, confidence and literacy improvements in participants who are normally apprehensive about online and formal learning contexts.


The network was used by four separate groups of 16-19 aged students and 19+ aged adults, with a constant comparison made of their activity and communication. A content analysis was made of students’ posts to the network, with the codes sorted thematically to examine how students used the network to support themselves and each other. Interviews were held with students across the two years to explore perceptions of the network and the community.


Peripheral participants navigate through ontological thresholds online to develop individual identity presence online. Increased communicated actions (“posts”) improves participation overall and the interaction of members in terms of developing a community of practice online. The results of communicated actions posted in visible online spaces improved the literacy control and willingness to publish content created by those peripheral participants.

Research limitations/implications

The study is taken from a small sample (approx. 100 students) in a case study comparing results across four different groups in an English Further Education college. Most of the positive results in terms of an impact being made on their literacy capability was found among adult students, as opposed to students in two 16-19 aged groups. Research implications identify hypothetical stages of identity presence online for reluctant and peripheral participants. This shows the potential of students to be induced to openly participate in visible contexts that can support further identity development.

Practical implications

The implications show that blended learning is necessary to improve the opportunity for mobile learning to happen. Blended learning in itself is dependent on and simultaneously improves group cohesion of learners in online communities. When students develop a momentum of engagement (and residence within) networks they exploit further technological features and functions and become more co-operative as a group, potentially reducing teacher presence. Learning activities need to support the peripheral participants in discrete and purposeful ways, usually achieved through personalised supported learning tasks. The notion and attention paid to the difficulties in bringing peripheral participants online has implications for the prescription of online learning as a form of delivery, especially among FE students.

Social implications

This paper problematizes the notion of peripheral participants and suggests they are overlooked in consideration of learning delivery, design and environments. Peripheral participants may be considered to be students who are at risk of not being involved in social organisations, such as communities, and vulnerable to diminished support, for instance through the withdrawal of face-to-face learning opportunities at the expense of online learning.


This paper makes a small contribution to theories surrounding communities of practice and online learning. By deliberately focusing on a population marginalised in current educational debate, it problematizes the growing prescription of online learning as a mode of delivery by taking the perspectives and experiences of peripheral participants on board.



Scott, H.E. (2018), "Through the wall of literacy: Transformative practice in social networks among GCSE re-sit Further Education students", Education + Training, Vol. 60 No. 6, pp. 569-583.



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