This study is embarking on an exploration of online activities and practices of a group of higher education professionals and endeavours to investigate if online activities are influential to academic professional development. Various studies have investigated how the participatory web can empower academic researchers. Some anecdotal evidence exists that participation in online spaces can support professional development.
Systems have become common place to assure quality of higher education and support the continuing development of academic staff. The establishment of centres for teaching and learning, which offer qualifications in learning and teaching practices aim to enhance quality of teaching in higher education. Demands from the government and European Commission require the professionalisation and development of academic staff in higher education. A recent survey of academics working in Irish higher education reported that while formal approaches to accreditation of teaching and learning activities are valued, openings for informal peer exchange and more non-formal approaches are also called for.
In light of this I wish to explore the participation and engagement of a specific group of Irish higher education professionals in informal online social spaces and investigate if this particaption is influencing their professional development as academics. Participants of this research are consenting graduates of an academic development programme from an Irish higher education institution. This research takes a case study approach as it presents the online practices and activities of this group of participants. In the research I will seek to answer (1) what the online activities and practices of these higher education professionals are; (2) How are the online activities and practices supporting the professional development of these higher education professionals?; (3) What the barriers and enablers exist in engaging in online activities and practices?
Data is currently being collected through the exploration of the online social spaces of participants. During this investigation a list of common practices and activities is being assembled. Next semi-structured interviews with participants about their practices and activities will be initiated.
I propose to thematically analyse the data and present findings of this analysis in June. Thereafter my study will continue and if necessary I will carry out further data collection with other higher education professionals outside of the initial participant group. While this research is exploratory, interpretative and limited to a confined context of Irish higher education professionals, findings from this study might lead to recommendations for the encouragement of online activities with academics for their potential professional development.