A social network analysis of teaching and research collaboration in a teachers’ virtual learning community

Study A social network analysis of teaching and research collaboration in a teachers’ virtual learning community.
Research Question In what ways do VLC’s and FTF collaboration differ?
Context A SNA was carried out from an IRIS social network community originally started by a teacher in Guangzhou, of 172 teachers collaborating.
Methods A combination of data collected from surveys, interviews and online interaction between the teachers was analyzed.


Common-sense Both VLC’s and FTF collaborations had a positive result on the individuals, allowing them to accommodate for weaknesses and heighten strengths.
Counterintuitive There was no conclusive understanding of whether or not VLC’s or FTF were better for collaboration. Just that both were effective.
Interesting That both forms of collaboration were equally valuable in the production of an empowered learner and both should be on offer to a learner as they develop different skills.

This enquiry engages in understanding a virtual learning community (VLC) and essentially how much collaboration occurs on it and in what forms these take place. Lin et al. (2014) also look into the elements that surround face-to-face (FTF) communication and how they compare with “collaborations in a teachers’ VLC” (p305). The researchers use a “blended network” (BN) where FTF collaboration and online collaborative tasks are combined together which are all used in the formation of a social network analysis (SNA).

The investigation followed the collaboration taking place on the “Tianhe Blog” wherein 172 teachers participated in the “IRIS” online social community. The blog was started by a Guangzhou teacher and originally concentrated on “creation and development of educational projects” (Lin et al., 2014, p. 305). Teachers who joined the community carried out online conversations, collaborated on ideas and shared resources.

The SNA was performed through the use of interviews, surveys and by looking at the specific information shared in the IRIS community. Specific VLC groups were created to refer to types of online presence and purposes, which were “consultant, informational and trust networks” (Lin et al., 2014, 306). The definitions were given by analysis of interaction where the first two could be understood by the names given but the “trust network” is specified by the level of “emotional support” (Lin et al, 2014, p306) being provided in the relationship. Statistics were gathered around engagement in the VLC by how many comments were made on aspects such as “blogs, recent visitors, recent comments, friends links” (Lin et al., 2014, p. 307). A comparison between survey data collected about FTF and VLC collaborations, was drawn.

All results from the study found that there is a positive element from participation in VLC’s but that they cannot take over FTF communication, instead they should accompany it. It was concluded that both forms of collaboration were effective in guiding teacher understanding and development, building on strengths and accommodating for weaknesses in each other. Lin et al. (2014) state that FTF communications were specifically effective for guiding “teaching and researching” (p. 317) and that VLC’s were more effective for building on and accompanying ideas. Both elements are said to be effective when used together.

An interesting aspect of this study was the comparison made between the FTF communication and VLC in collaboration and how Lin et al. advised that teachers should be providing many avenues using both techniques. If an individual’s weaknesses are reduced by the collaboration, then it would lead into a feeling of empowerment toward the task. This is completely relevant to the 17 students in the 201 Biology class who often lack this feeling. This type of relationship, both online and FTF will encourage learner autonomy and contribution (Lee, 2016).


Lee, L. (2016). Autonomous learning through task-based instruction in fully online language courses. Language Learning & Technology, 20(2), 81-97.