Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Education and Human Services


Teacher Education and Teacher Development

Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Emily J. Klein

Committee Member

Michele Knobel

Committee Member

Reva Jaffe-Walter

Committee Member

Suzanne McCotter


This qualitative study investigated an online space for educators, known as #sschat, for the purpose of helping to inform and shape more formal professional learning experiences. Participants were able to engage in asynchronous and synchronous discussions related to social studies education by interacting in any of the four hashtags associated with the #sschat affinity space (i.e., #engsschat, #hsgovchat, #sschat, #worldgeochat), the #sschat Facebook page, the archived #chat sessions, and/or by contributing to the creation of the weekly #worldgeochat questions.

Seven common elements of Gee’s affinity spaces conceptual framework were used to frame this study. This framework drew attention to the practices of self-directed learners who were guided by their passions related to teaching and learning. By engaging as an insider during this one-month study of #sschat, I was able to consider what was happening in this affinity space from the participants’ perspective. I collected and analyzed more than 6,000 tweets and almost 300 Facebook posts along with the websites associated with the #sschat affinity space and shared by the participants. The question that guided this study was: what could be learned from online spaces such as #sschat that can help inform and shape more formal professional development experiences.

Through a deep analysis of the data, three important findings emerged that help to provide insight into the types of experiences that are likely to be valued by educators and conducive to learning. The first finding concerns how the diverse experiences and needs of the participants seemed to affect the interactions that occurred in the #sschat affinity space. The second key finding involved how the combination of social media platforms and functions, participants’ knowhow and experiences, and their practices appeared to contribute to a participatory environment that facilitated a wide range of interactions in support of social studies education. The third key finding of my study suggests that professional learning is a personal experience; educators want the ability to choose with whom they interact, the design of the space, and the manner in which they engage in these experiences. Digital technologies were leveraged by participants making it possible for them to engage in crowdsourcing, reflective thinking, and role-shifting activities. This study expands the notion of affinity spaces beyond a space for individuals to engage in activities involving their personal interests and passions. A deep analysis of the data suggests that affinity spaces may also be beneficial for professionals, such as educators who want to engage in experiences involving teaching and learning.