The more we study social media and online networks, the more evidence we find that these spaces are replete with tensions.
In our latest published study (citation below) with my colleague Royce Kimmons, we found that expectations of professionalization in online social networks cut deeply into pre-service teachers self-concept. We found that participants generally had difficulty articulating what professionalism in online social networks actually looks like and what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate action online. As participants were exposed to a better understanding of what professionalism means online, participants recognized that they were not completely aware that their behavior might be watched and scrutinized by others, and this realization surprised them. Many pre-service teachers were also surprised at the severity of professional requirements and how the public might scrutinize seemingly innocuous behaviors on social media.
Numerous participants explained that as teachers they will need to be careful to not offend any community members, and the topics of politics and religion featured significantly in these conversations.
Though participants seemed to feel that a plurality of political opinion was a good thing and that they should have a right to political opinions, they nonetheless seemed to feel that teachers should take care in voicing those opinions.
Religion, on the other hand, seemed to be a different issue altogether, as participants seemed to feel that it was appropriate for them to express religious beliefs online even if others might happen to take offense or to disagree with them.
It’s important here to pause and consider the following: Participants’ preference of religion over politics likely reflects sociocultural values of the geographic region where the study took place (i.e. at a University in the South), and may not be generalizable.
These findings suggest that teacher education students might be willing to adjust the way that they participate in some ways to fit in with professional expectations (e.g., political opinions), but that there are some cases where what they feel might be expected of them cuts so acutely into their self-concept that they are afraid of losing their sense of identity (e.g., religious beliefs).
The implications of this study are the following:
First, teachers must consider how participating in SNS or altering their participation in them (e.g., content, connections, etc.) may impact their identity and sense of who they are.
Second, if teachers do not clearly understand how moral turpitude is defined in a given community, then how can they be sure that their behavior (online or offline) is beyond reproach?
The dilemma facing teachers in SNS is the following: As teachers present themselves in SNS in a way that is reflective of their complex and ever-developing identities, they may find it difficult to maintain meaningful social connections in online spaces as they pass through new phases of life and are simultaneously judged in an historical manner.
Kimmons, R., & Veletsianos, G. (in press). Teacher Professionalization in the Age of Social Networking Sites: Identifying Major Tensions and Dilemmas. Learning, Media, and Technology.
Fecher and Friesike reviewed the literature relevant to open science and found that “open science is an umbrella term that encompasses a multitude of different assumptions about the future of knowledge creation and dissemination; an umbrella term however that comprises five more or less distinct schools of thought with different assumptions about what exact aspect of research should be ‘open’ and ‘open’ to whom.”
One of these schools of thought is the “public school” whose advocates appear to believe that “the social web and Web 2.0 technologies allow and urge scientists on the one hand to open up their research processes and on the other hand to prepare research products for interested non-experts.”
There’s a number of interesting results here, lending support to, and further defining, the following assumptions and themes of open scholarship we identified in Veletsianos & Kimmons (2012):
- Open scholarship has a strong ideological basis rooted in an ethical pursuit for democratization, fundamental human rights, equality, and justice
- Open scholarship emphasizes the importance of digital participation for enhanced scholarly outcomes
- Open scholarship is treated as an emergent scholarly phenomenon that is co-evolutionary with technological advancements in the larger culture
- Open scholarship is seen as a practical and effective means for achieving scholarly aims that are socially valuable
Veletsianos, G. & Kimmons, R. (2012). Assumptions and Challenges of Open Scholarship. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning,13(4), 166-189.
One of the highlights of academia is working closely with students and seeing them grow, take on challenges, struggle, and create meaningful change in the world. This happens in classrooms, on the web, in design/development projects, in research endeavors, and so on. Kasey Ford, who was one of my advisees, recently completed her MA thesis examining #PhDChat, an online social network, and we have published a study out of that work in the Journal of Interactive Media in Education. I’m excited to share the abstract below:
#PhDChat is an online network of individuals that has its roots to a group of UK doctoral students who began using Twitter in 2010 to hold discussions. Since then, the network around #PhDchat has evolved and grown. In this study, we examine this network using a mixed methods analysis of the tweets that were labeled with the hashtag over a one-month period. Our goal is to understand the structure and characteristics of this network, to draw conclusions about who belongs to this network, and to explore what the network achieves for the users and as an entity of its own. We find that #PhDchat is a legitimate organizational structure situated around a core group of users that share resources, offer advice, and provide social and emotional support to each other. Core users are involved in other online networks related to higher education that use similar hashtags to congregate. #PhDchat demonstrates that (a) the network is in a continuous state of emergence and change, and (b) disparate users can come together with little central authority in order to create their own communal space.
Ford, K., Veletsianos, G., & Resta, P. (2014). The Structure and Characteristics of #PhDChat, an Emergent Online Social Network. Journal Of Interactive Media In Education, 18(1). Retrieved April 16, 2014, from http://www-jime.open.ac.uk/jime/article/view/2014-08
Below is a visualization of users mentioning #PhDChat, with users grouped into clusters. Users with frequent or exclusive ties, represented in this study as replies and mentions, are clustered together. Thus, each cluster represents users that are most closely associated to one another based on their frequency of interactions.
We have a new paper available that continues our research on networked participation/learning and networked participatory scholarship. This one arises out of Royce Kimmons’ dissertation, which I had the joy, honor, and good fortune of chairing.
The media is filled with stories pertaining to educators’ and researchers’ participation in online social networks. For example, a debate erupted in Kansas in December 2013 regarding faculty members’ use of social media and teachers have found themselves in trouble for their social media updates. Yet, little research has been done to understand the relationship between educator identity and participation in Social Networking Sites (SNS) or to examine the implications that institutional regulation of such media may have upon educator identity.
In our latest research study, we developed a framework to understand how a group of teacher education students viewed their developing identities within social networking sites as they began the life transition to becoming educators. We found that educator identity consists of a constellation of interconnected acceptable identity fragments (AIF)*. These acceptable identity fragments are intentional, authentic, transitional, necessarily incomplete, and socially-constructed and socially-responsive.
We arrived at the term “acceptable identity fragment,” because study participants:
- shaped their participation in social networking sites in a manner that they believed to be “acceptable” to their audiences,
- viewed this participation to be a direct expression of “identity” or their sense of self, and
- felt this expression to only represent a small “fragment” of their complete identities.
The AIF suggests that participants in a given social context may limit their participation or expression of identity in a way that is appropriate to that specific context or is acceptable to the specific relationships they have with others in that context. The existence of the AIF means that educator identities within SNS are contextual and intentionally limited and structured. Participants believe that, when participating in SNS, they are expressing their identities in a limited, though authentic, manner. In their view, such expression represents a genuine fragment of their identities.
This view of educator identity contrasts sharply with previous views of identity by highlighting the complicated, negotiated, and recursive relationship that exists between educator participation in SNS and educator identity.
First, existing literature assumes that individuals have an authentic identity and suggests that they attempt to express these identities in varying degrees via social media. Our research finds that human beings may not ever find themselves in social contexts wherein they will choose to (or are even able to) express their full authentic identities and, instead, express a different AIF depending upon the situation.
Second, in Goffman’s view (1959), identity is adaptable and constantly emergent as we “act” in contexts. In the AIF view, there is no “acting” occurring, but rather we see a guarded revelation of fragments of the self. Thus, identity was not an emergent phenomenon of the scene; it was controlled and revealed partially.
Finally, Turkle (1995) suggests that the online self lacks coherence and is fluid. However, participants in our study were operating from what they believed to be a coherent sense of self and judged their SNS participation based upon alignment with that sense. Participation did not lack coherence – it was merely a partial manifestation.
What does this mean for educators, educational administrators, and educational researchers?
First, if the AIF is intentional and authentic, then it seems important for educators to retain control of their SNS participation. If institutions seek to prescribe appropriate and inappropriate uses of the medium, then it seems that this will prevent educators from being able to make meaningful choices regarding authentic self-expression and self-representation
Second, if the AIF is transitional, social media technologies must accommodate individuals’ transition into new life phases. At present, social media spaces do not support this (e.g., Facebook’s Timeline and the difficulty of deleting participation history en masse). If technologies doe not support the transition into new life phases, they risk being abandoned.
Third, educators should seek to recognize the assumptions that SNS platform developers are making about human nature, meaningful social participation, relationships, and so forth and consider the impact that such assumptions may have on their participation and identity.
Fourth, judgments made about educators based upon their participation in SNS should consider life transitions, time-based contexts (e.g., behavior as a college freshman vs. behavior as a student teacher), and the embedded values of the media.
Finally, if the AIF is a necessarily incomplete component of a larger identity constellation, any judgments of educators based on SNS participation must recognize that the relationship of the AIF to overall identity is subject to interpretation and may not reflect an individual’s perception of how the AIF represents authentic identity. Fragmentation of identity, then, should be seen as a valuable response to complex social situations. SNS platforms should account for this, and as we make judgments about others based upon their fragmented identities, we should be cognizant of the complex relationship existing between the AIF and one’s larger identity and dispel the myth of a simple authentic vs. inauthentic binary.
You can download a pre-print copy of the study from the link below:
Kimmons, R., & Veletsianos, G. (2014). The Fragmented Educator 2.0: Social Networking Sites. Acceptable Identity Fragments, and the Identity Constellation. Computers & Education, 72, 292-301. Journal link.
* The usual grounded theory and interpretive research caveats apply.
What is the value of a critique?
The value of critique is to help us see a phenomenon through a different lens, to help us make sense of something in a different way, and to spark a conversation. This is the purpose, and value, of a paper we recently published with IRRODL on the topic of open scholarship.
The paper identifies the assumptions and challenges of openness and open scholarship and attempts to put forward suggestions for addressing those. A summary of our paper, appears below:
Many scholars hope and anticipate that open practices will broaden access to education and knowledge, reduce costs, enhance the impact and reach of scholarship and education, and foster the development of more equitable, effective, efficient, and transparent scholarly and educational processes. Wiley and Green (2012, pp. 88) note that “only time will tell” whether practices of open scholarship will transform education or whether the movement “will go down in the history books as just another fad that couldn’t live up to its press.” Given the emerging nature of such practices, educators are finding themselves in a position in which they can shape and/or be shaped by openness (Veletsianos, 2010). The intention of this paper is (a) to identify the assumptions of the open scholarship movement and (b) to highlight challenges associated with the movement’s aspirations of broadening access to education and knowledge. The goal of this paper is not to frame open scholarship as a problematic alternative to the status quo. Instead, as we see individuals, institutions, and organizations embrace openness, we have observed a parallel lack of critique of open educational practices. We find that such critiques are largely absent from the educational technology field, as members of the field tend to focus on the promises of educational technologies, rarely pausing to critique its assumptions. Selwyn (2011b, pp. 713) even charges that our field’s inherent positivity “limits the validity and credibility of the field as a site of serious academic endeavour.” Our intention is to spark a conversation with the hopes of creating a more equitable and effective future for digital education and scholarship. To this end, this paper is divided into three major sections. First, we review related literature to introduce the reader to the notion of open scholarship. Next, we discuss the assumptions of openness and open scholarship. We then identify the challenges of open scholarship and discuss how these may limit or problematize its outcomes.
Common assumptions and challenges are summarized as follows:
|Common themes and assumptions||Challenges|
|Open scholarship has a strong ideological basis rooted in an ethical pursuit for democratization, fundamental human rights, equality, and justice.||Are these ideals essential components of the open scholarship movement or are merely incidental to those who are pioneering the field?|
|Open scholarship emphasizes the importance of digital participation for enhanced scholarly outcomes||Scholars need to develop an understanding of participatory cultures and social/digital literacies in order to take full advantage of open scholarship.Need to redesign university curricula to prepare future scholars to account for the changing nature of scholarship.
|Open scholarship is treated as an emergent scholarly phenomenon that is co-evolutionary with technological advancements in the larger culture||Technology both shapes and is shaped by practice.Technology is not neutral, and its embedded values may advance tensions and compromises (e.g., flat relationships, homophily, filter bubbles).|
|Open scholarship is seen as a practical and effective means for achieving scholarly aims that are socially valuable||Open scholarship introduces new dilemmas and needs (e.g., personal information management challenges; Social stratification and exclusion).|
Given the topic, the best home for this paper was the International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, through which you can download the paper for free in an open access manner:
I’m always excited to participate in dialogue regarding my work. In this post, I will respond to a couple of questions/comments posed to me as a result of a recent paper I published in IRRODL with Cesar Navarrete, who is a doctoral student at the Learning Technologies program at UT Austin.
The paper is: Veletsianos, G. & Navarrete, C. (2012). Online Social Networks as Formal Learning Environments: Learner Experiences and Activities. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 13(1), 144-166. [PDF]
In this paper we try to make sense of student experiences and practices in an online social network using within an online course. The abstract reads: While the potential of social networking sites to contribute to educational endeavors is highlighted by researchers and practitioners alike, empirical evidence on the use of such sites for formal online learning is scant. To fill this gap in the literature, we present a case study of learners’ perspectives and experiences in an online course taught using the Elgg online social network. Findings from this study indicate that learners enjoyed and appreciated both the social learning experience afforded by the online social network and supported one another in their learning, enhancing their own and other students’ experiences. Conversely, results also indicate that students limited their participation to course-related and graded activities, exhibiting little use of social networking and sharing. Additionally, learners needed support in managing the expanded amount of information available to them and devised strategies and “workarounds” to manage their time and participation.
The first question/comment is from Jenny Mackness who says: “I was surprised by the finding ‘students did not appear to mix social and educational participation’. In my experience, students have always mixed social and educational participation, e.g. in the coffee bar – or in my own work, wiki discussions will sometimes veer off into more personal, social discussions. Do you think your students did not mix social and educational participation in your Elgg environment because of the constraints of tutor presence/control, assessment and so on. I’m wondering where else they might have mixed social and educational participation. Did you ask them whether there were any ‘back channels’?”
Thanks for the question, Jenny! I agree with you that students tend to mix social and educational participation. We did not observe this on occurring in this study though. I believe both of these tendencies can be true, and sometimes even co-exist. One or two students sought social, non-educational interactions, but their attempts were not reciprocated. The majority of them just didn’t mix the two. Following up from this, it is interesting to ask why. We did not ask students about it but I can say that (a) just because we didn’t see it on the social network, it doesn’t mean that it did not happen (i.e., it might have happened on email), and (b) a lot of reasons might explain why: the fast pacing of the course might have been a factor; students might have been focusing on completing the course and its requirements; or students might not have felt that Elgg was the appropriate place for them to do that. It’s highly likely that it’s a combination of all of these. What’s important, I believe, is the implication that just because students are on an online social network, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they will engage with each other in the types of social interactions that we see occurring elsewhere (e.g., twitter, facebook, etc).
The second comment is from Stephen Downes who says: “We haven’t heard a lot about Elgg recently but it remains an important model for online learning. One weakness of the case study is that it takes place in a traditional institution.” Results also indicate that students limited their participation to course-related and graded activities, exhibiting little use of social networking and sharing.” Then again, this might just be a feature of the (very) small group studied. I think the discussion of Elgg is valuable, but would place the case study as just one out of (we would hope) many data points.”
Again, thank you, Stephen, for the comment! I may be misunderstanding part of the comment, but I wouldn’t say that the fact that this study took place at a traditional institution is a “weakness.” That was actually part of the reason why we did the study, as the majority of the work that we have seen focuses on the use of these technologies outside of the institution, and individuals tend to think that findings will easily transfer to institutional settings. If you mean that the results were influenced by the fact that the course occurred in a traditional institution or that the institutional setting influenced how the technology was used, you are absolutely correct, and that’s an implication of the study. Finally, I agree with you in that this is just one case study of the use of Elgg and online social networks in an institutional setting. A collection of case studies can help us make sense of this phenomenon, and these are slowly appearing (e.g., in our paper we cite Arnold & Paulus (2010), Brady et al. (2010), Dron & Anderson (2009b)).
I have just had an article published with the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, entitled Higher education scholars’ participation and practices on Twitter. The paper focuses on a qualitative analysis of 45 scholars’ (anonymized and edited) tweets to acquire a deep meaning of practice, and is part of my research into Networked Participatory Scholarship. Those of you interested in how faculty members use social media, the relationship between social media and identity, digital scholarship, scholarly use of online networks, and the rise of the digital scholar, may find this worthwhile.
Citation and link to pdf: Veletsianos, G. (2012). Higher Education Scholars’ Participation and Practices on Twitter. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 28(4), 336-349.
If you have been participating on Twitter for a while, some of the findings won’t be surprising, but the paper can serve as a starting point for deeper conversations on the why and how social media is used by scholars, academics, and faculty members. Nonetheless, interesting implications to point out include the following:
“Even though social networking technologies in general were developed for purposes unrelated to education, they have been co-opted and repurposed by scholars, in part, to satisfy educational and scholarly pursuits.”
“Is Twitter fostering more social opportunities and community-oriented approaches to education and scholarly participation? Or, do the individuals who espouse these kinds of beliefs happen to make use of Twitter for scholarly pursuits?”
“Are scholars altruistically sharing information for the benefit of the community in which they belong? Or, is information sharing a self-serving activity? Are scholars sharing information in order to assist the profession grow intellectually, or are they attempting to develop a ‘brand’ around themselves?”
“Twitter is often dismissed as a platform of meaningless soliloquies and dull updates…Rather than representing meaningless chatter, [Twitter] updates may introduce opportunities to explore shared interests, experiences, goals, mindsets, and life dispositions/aspirations.”
The themes relating to participation and practices highlighted in the paper are the following: Scholars participating on Twitter (1) shared information, resources, and media relating to their professional practice; (2) shared information about their classroom and their students; (3) requested assistance from and offered suggestions to others; (4) engaged in social commentary; (5) engaged in digital identity and impression management; (6) sought to network and make connections with others; and (7) highlighted their participation in online networks other than Twitter.
Enjoy, and if you have any input, I would love to hear it!
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!