Understanding the Development of Out-of-class Learning: A Case Study of a Mobile-assisted Community of Inquiry


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

View graph of relations


Related Research Unit(s)


Awarding Institution
Award date3 Jul 2020


This thesis reports on a longitudinal investigation of Mainland Chinese university students’ participation in an out-of-class WeChat-assisted English chat group. Taking both ethnographic and sociocultural perspectives, the study started with an investigation of 235 English major undergraduates’ prior experience with mobile-assisted language learning. The questionnaire survey cast light on the broad learning culture among these students at the research site and set the scene for an in-depth investigation into the use of technology in out-of-class learning.

The main focus of the study was how nine Mainland Chinese university students participated in a three-year out-of-class WeChat discussion group using English. The chat transcripts became the primary data source of the in-depth inquiry, along with the researcher’s own perspectives of being part of the group. In addition to this, an auto-netnographic approach was taken to understand an emerging issue of how the Chinese teacher’s use of emoji, stickers, and memes (ESMs) affected the mobile communication. Based on the understanding of the communicative purposes of ESMs, the thesis examined the participants’ general and specific performances in the chat group. Chat transcripts of 11 weeks were analyzed from quantitative and qualitative perspectives, particularly through the lens of the Community of Inquiry framework.

Informed by the research findings, the thesis proposes a multidimensional conceptual framework for the support of out-of-class learning from six key constructs. 1) Culture, including macro-, meso-, and micro-learning culture, plays a key role in understanding the sociocultural environment for learning to happen. 2) Teachers in an out-of-class learning project can offer support from four aspects (linguistic, technological, pedagogical, and socio-affective) while they need to develop their own technological pedagogical and content knowledge. 3) Learners make use of their agency and actively contribute to out-of-class learning. Because of the increased autonomy, learners may take on other roles such as peer facilitators. 4) Peers can offer cognitive and socio-affective support by means of peer feedback and the development of mutual trust within the learning group. 5) Tasks are vital in augmenting the learning experience if they cater to learner needs, encourage learner participation, and emphasize learning feedback. 6) Tools have to be carefully considered as the learners’ prior learning experience and technical knowledge, along with the affordances and constraints of such tools, are crucial to involvement with student learning.

The conceptual framework developed in this thesis is constructive in helping instructors and learners understand and develop out-of-class language learning in a technological environment. It also contributes to the general development of learning and teaching frameworks which attempt to integrate technology into learning.