Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology & Associate Professor at Royal Roads University

Ethics of Doing Research in Online Networks: Fellowship post #3

Posted on July 26th, by George Veletsianos in NPS, scholarship, sharing. 3 comments

This is post #3 of my summer Fellowship. The purpose is to examine practices undertaken by academics and educators in networked publics. These practices fall under the general heading of “digital scholarship” and these individuals have been called “digital scholars” or “open scholars.”

Though research in online spaces is gaining increasing acceptance, it has also gained notoriety recently. A story in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week raised ethical concerns about a Harvard study that included about 1,700 Facebook profiles as its data source. The sticking point was the use of data that should have been private, but was considered public.

Online research involving public data (like the one I am conducting for my Fellowship) is becoming increasingly common. The question becomes, what is public and what is private? Can researchers treat all information posted online as public? If it’s public, is consent to use that information for research purposes still required? Offices of Research Support have adopted policies guiding researchers to the ethical use of public data (though as you will see below, these policies do not fit all molds). My institution’s Review Board for example states that the following does not constitute Human Subjects Research:

Public and/or published data sets, accessible without restriction (e.g., password not needed*), and containing readily identifiable information and where individuals can reasonably expect this information to be available to the public (examples include letters to the editor, blogs) (source)

As such, research involving information posted publicly (e.g. on Twitter, YouTube, etc) can be used for research purposes without informed consent. The problem with the Harvard case was that the individuals mining the data were accessing data that were restricted (i.e. not public), and thus should not have been used without first securing informed consent.

The more difficult questions that I’ve been grappling with in my use of public data for research purposes are the following:

  • Let’s assume I have a public twitter account, a researcher downloads a set of status updates for analysis, and I later delete those posts. Does that mean that the researcher can no longer can use it in his/her research? Does that mean that I have “withdrawn my participation”? Or is the data still considered “public” just by virtue of it being public at one point in time?
  • Consider the case where my profile is private and someone whose profile is public re-tweets one of my status updates. Can a researcher archive the public re-tweet and use it in his/her research, even though the tweet originated from a non-public account?

These are important questions to consider. Both academics and students need to equip themselves with a greater understanding of their rights and responsibilities when conducting research in online spaces such as social networking sites.

As far as my data sets are concerned, I’ve gone at great lengths to anonymize and de-identify them (e.g., by rewriting narratives/tweets/etc and having a second researcher check whether the meaning changed and deleting any identifying information). Re-writing narratives is an acceptable, even encouraged, strategy, in various phenomenological circles (e.g., Kuiken 2001 and van Manen, 1997) and in this instance it also serves ethical purposes.

The “course trailer” phenomenon: Fellowship post #2

Posted on July 24th, by George Veletsianos in sharing. 3 comments

The purpose of my STELLARNet fellowship is to examine practices undertaken by academics and educators in networked publics. These practices fall under the general heading of “digital scholarship” and these individuals have been called “digital scholars” or “open scholars.”

This past week was quite productive, with both data analysis and writing activities proceeding smoothly. Today’s entry will discuss one of this week’s foci: “course trailers”

FILM240X Media Studies Course Trailer from Sidneyeve Matrix

The “course trailer” phenomenon refers to the production of a digital artifact (most often a video posted on a video-sharing site such as YouTube) to describe and advertise courses. While faculty members have always promoted their courses (e.g., through departmental listservs), recent initiatives have seen the development of course “teasers” in which faculty attempt to excite students, encourage follow-up, and (perhaps) enrollment. While some course trailers have been developed with university backing, are relatively formal, and have high production values (e.g., as in the case of some Harvard course trailers), the majority that I have seen posted in public were developed by individual faculty members. Even in the case of the Harvard General Education course trailers (see link above), the initiative was inspired by an individual faculty member’s efforts.

The fact that course trailers are conceptualized, developed, and shared by individual faculty members is important. Individual development of course trailers highlights (some) modern faculty members’ take-charge attitude and willingness to act in transparent and public ways. Note that we are not discussing the average faculty member here. We are discussing the early-adopter, the technologically savvy scholar, who is willing to circumvent the institution in order to better conduct the work that s/he was hired to do. This scholar reminds me of the communities of practice literature. In the same way that workers figure out new and improved ways to do their job in the face of organizational obstacles, these modern scholars engage with others in creative and fun ways, promoting their courses and the learning experiences that they are capable of providing. The course trailer is an example of scholars “going public” with their work.

Examples of other course trailers include:

If you’ve come across other course trailers, I’d love to learn about them!

Inclusion of Computer Science in K-12 Core Curriculum

Posted on July 23rd, by George Veletsianos in sharing, work. No Comments

The Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) urges the inclusion of Computer Science in the K-12 Core Curricula. In my opinion, an understanding of computing and computing literacies (not just programming) is much needed:

“Computing is by far where the greatest demand for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs is in today’s economy,” said Bobby Schnabel, Chair of  ACM’s Education Policy Committee.  ”But the major efforts by the Governors and the Academy to define what students should know for the 21st Century make little mention of the need for computer science in the core curriculum. This is a missed opportunity to expose students to a fundamental discipline that they will need for their careers as well as their lives.”

Read the rest of the statement here.

Data meltdown: Venting entry

Posted on July 20th, by George Veletsianos in sharing. No Comments

I keep copies of my important data in 2  (sometimes 3) locations. Last night, one of my folders (containing a relatively large dataset) was corrupted. In searching for my copy, I realized that (for some strange reason) the auto-backup utility that i’ve set up has not been working on that folder for a while and the data set is gone. Gone. Setback indeed! Nonetheless, the data set that I was using was public and I can construct a new/different version…. though not without spending numerous hours on it! Ouch.

Ok. Venting over. The AERA deadline is looming, and a couple of proposals are nearing completion, so back to that. A fellowship update is also coming up in the next day or two.

UT President’s Update on the Texas Budget & Legislative Session

Posted on July 13th, by George Veletsianos in sharing. No Comments

The following is the message sent from President Powers to members of the UT community regarding the impact of the budget cuts on the university. This was also posted on the President’s blog.

Now that the 82nd Legislature and its subsequent special session are over, I’d like to give you an update.

The Legislature passed bills that are designed to make textbooks more affordable to our students, to make the financial aid application process more user-friendly, to improve student success, to provide graduate fellows with insurance coverage, and to relieve some of the costly burdens of state regulation of higher education.

But for UT Austin and our state’s other public universities, the biggest news is the budget.

The state revenue shortfall resulted in cuts throughout government, including higher education. UT Austin’s budget was reduced by $92 million for the biennium, which includes the 2011-2012 and the 2012-2013 fiscal years. That translates into about a 16.5% reduction in our state support.

This action extends a decades-long trend—UT Austin increasingly relies on resources other than state revenue. In the fiscal year ending this August, state support to UT Austin amounts to about 14% of our annual budget. In 2011-2012, our state support will decline to about 13.3%.

It is important that we recognize that our elected representatives faced great challenges during the legislative session. There were no easy solutions. I thank our friends in the Legislature as well as all of you who voiced your support for higher education.

Fortunately, we anticipated the state budget shortfall, and UT Austin has been preparing for these cuts for almost two years. My office, for example, has reduced total spending by more than 10% by trimming entertainment, discretionary programs, and staff.

But make no mistake, a $92-million budget cut will affect our core academic mission. While we have done our best to protect UT’s academic programs, our students will encounter reduced student services, course offerings, and financial aid. Our faculty and staff will have to do more with less, and we will be forced to eliminate jobs. I will share more details about the consequences of these cuts as we move forward.

I recently announced that we will provide modest merit-based salary increases for some faculty and staff. Funding for this has been created internally through our austerity. Remaining competitive for faculty and staff talent is one of our top strategic priorities. To allow our talent base to erode would betray our Constitutional mandate to be “a university of the first class” and shortchange the young people who will lead Texas in the future.

The most important message is this. We are resolved to pursue our vision for UT Austin, and this requires change. We are reinventing the way we do certain things, such as harnessing technology to teach more effectively and more efficiently. We are aggressively commercializing intellectual property and developing other revenue streams. We are working daily to streamline our operations and to make our campus more energy efficient and sustainable. And we are collaborating with other universities across the nation to define the public research university of the future.

But some things never change, such as our commitment to education and to nurturing the people and the research that changes the world.

I have heard from many of you in recent months. I cannot express how grateful I am for your ongoing support. Thank you.

Hook ’em Horns!

Update from STELLAR Mobility Fellowship #1

Posted on July 13th, by George Veletsianos in my research, scholarship. 1 Comment

This is just a quick update from my summer fellowship. So far, I have been:

  • Reading and re-reading my data,
  • Arranging the data in various structures, in an attempt to make sense of the relationships between them
  • Reading more and more about ethnography and its digital variants (digital ethnography, netnography, cyberethnography, etc)
  • Finalizing the themes that arise from prior literature

Destination: Cyprus. Purpose: STELLAR Fellowship

Posted on July 7th, by George Veletsianos in NPS, online learning, open, papers, scholarship. 2 comments

I timed this entry to appear while I am flying across the Atlantic Ocean en route to Europe. During the next month or so, I will be in Cyprus under a STELLAR Mobility Fellowship. STELLAR (Sustaining Technology Enhanced Learning at a LARge scale) is a European Union initiative to foster Technology Enhanced Learning dialogue and collaboration between the young generation of researchers and experienced researchers. While I’ve worked with colleagues from Cyprus in the past, I haven’t had a chance to spend dedicated time working there, so this will be a good chance to explore and learn with others.

My STELLAR project focuses on educators’ and researchers’ participation in online networks. I will be analyzing a large data set relating to online participation and I will be working towards completing a set of manuscripts dealing with online practices, challenges, and activities, in an attempt to understand the meaning of online participation for the today’s “public” educator, scholar, and researcher. Anecdotal evidence suggests that scholars’ absence from online networks can be detrimental to teaching and scholarship, but empirical evidence as to educators’/researchers’ online practices is missing. This research is closely aligned to ideas of openness (open participation, open scholarship) and digital scholarship.

I hope to be able to post more about the project (and these topics) soon, so please feel free to tag (and comment) along!

Digital Scholarship Debate at #EdMedia 2011: Additional pressures

Posted on July 1st, by George Veletsianos in sharing. 7 comments

This year’s debate at the EdMedia conference, focused on the following motion:

This house believes that in the next decade, digital scholarship (in open journals, blogs, and social media) will achieve the same status in academic settings as traditional scholarship

Martin Weller was in favor and has shared his slides (with audio) on his blog (thanks!)

My perspective on the issue is that we, as educational technology researchers and scholars, albeit early adopters and perhaps not representative of the population of scholars, have started paving the way for the recognition of digital scholarship in our discipline. I am hesitant to compare digital scholarship to “traditional” scholarship because I don’t consider “traditional” scholarship to be a monolithic concept, nor do I consider scholarship to be a binary divided between traditional and digital.  But, I agree with Martin that there’s a move towards more digital forms of scholarship, and in addition to the pressures he identifies, I wanted to add the following:

  • Participatory cultures in existence outside of the university encourage us (academics, universities) to move towards a more social form of participation enhanced by digital technologies. For instance, as a society we have found great value in large collaborative projects (e.g., the development of GNU/Linux). We increasingly see such project taking place in academia (e.g., Crowdsourced Video).
  • Scholars as agents of change. Scholars have begun questioning a number of assumptions upon scholarship has been built. Examples include peer review, the value of collaboration, engagement with diverse audiences, etc.

While these pressures do not necessarily guarantee adoption (or reconsideration of traditional approaches), they point to a rethinking of the ways we do things. Conversations around these issues are important and valuable for they allow us to recognize the changing nature of scholarship in the 21st century.