Education Scholars’ Evolving Uses of Twitter as a Conference Backchannel and Social Commentary Platform
The scholarly community faces a lack of large-scale research examining how students and professors use social media in authentic contexts and how such use changes over time. Continuing our investigation into how professors and students use social media, Royce Kimmons and I just published a paper in which we used data mining methods to better understand academic Twitter use during, around, and between the 2014 and 2015 American Educational Research Association annual conferences both as a conference backchannel and as a general means of participating online. The first paper we published using similar methods, data, and comparing students and professors’ social media use is here. All of our research on networked scholarship and students’ and faculty members’ use of social media is gathered here.
Descriptive and inferential analysis is used to explore Twitter use for 1,421 academics and the more than 360,000 tweets they posted. Results demonstrate the complicated participation patterns of how Twitter is used “on the ground.” In particular, we show that:
- tweets during conferences differed significantly from tweets outside conferences
- students and professors used the conference backchannel somewhat equally, but students used some hashtags more frequently, while professors used other hashtags more frequently
- academics comprised the minority of participants in these backchannels, but participated at a much higher rate than their non-academic counterparts
- the number of participants in the backchannel increased between 2014 and 2015, but only a small number of authors were present during both years, and the number of tweets declined from year to year.
- various hashtags were used throughout the time period during which this study occurred, and some were ongoing (ie, those which tended to be stable across weeks) while others were event-based (ie, those which spiked in a particular week)
- professors used event-based hashtags more often than students and students used ongoing hashtags more often than professors
- ongoing hashtags tended to exhibit positive sentiment, while event-based hashtags tended to exhibit more ambiguous or conflicting sentiments
These findings suggest that professors and students exhibit similarities and differences in how they use Twitter and backchannels and indicate the need for further research to better understand the ways that social technologies and online networks are integrated in scholars’ lives.
Here’s the full citation and paper:
Kimmons, R. & Veletsianos, G. (2016). Education Scholars’ Evolving Uses of Twitter as a Conference Backchannel and Social Commentary Platform. British Journal of Educational Technology, 47(3), 445—464.
As part of my research on digital scholarship and the experiences/practices of scholars in online networks, I am working with the Texas Advanced Computing Center and the newly-established Visualization Lab at the College of Education to understand learner and scholar participation patterns on the social web. Below is our first visualization, which shows interactions between three types of users who are contributing to a hashtag (red, blue, green). It’s a directed graph, with nodes representing users, and edges representing interactions between users. The thickness of the edge represents # of interactions (thick = more interactions). When nodes of a different color interact with each other, the edges take the color of the two node (e.g., when a blue node interacts with a red node, the edge is purple). What does this visualization tell us?
We are still trying to make sense of this, and we are slowly learning from the tutorials that Tony Hirst has created. This is what (i think) this says: First of all, we know that the majority of the people contributing to this hashtag are not having a conversation with each other (#nodes making up the dataset are 3 times the group shown above – this is not shown on the graph). Second, it looks likes there’s a few “central” folk through which conversations occur. Finally, even though interactions happen between red and blue nodes, it looks like the majority of the interaction is happening within those two groups. And that’s important in this situation because one of our hypothesis was that the red group was joining this community to interact with the blue group (if that was the case, we would be seeing more purple in the image above). We definitely need additional ways to evaluate some of these statements, but that’s what it “looks like” from the image above. And here’s where I think data visualizations start becoming really valuable: You can quickly see patterns and ask questions, and continue from there. We have some ideas and hypotheses, but we also want to let the data bring up phenomena that we haven’t thought about. I don’t yet feel confident that I fully understand what I am seeing here, but I am quickly learning a lot! So my question to you is: how would you interpret this? What questions do you have of what you are seeing here?
Michael Grant declared Wednesday November 16, 2011 as “My Twitter Story” day and invited others (everyone, I suppose) to share their stories. Here’s mine:
I started using Twitter in early late 2008, right after I mover to Manchester, UK. Around that time, Terry Anderson introduced me to Alec Couros and seeing what Alec was doing with Twitter encouraged me to try it out. My participation has varied over time, but I’ve come to tweet for both personal and professional purposes. I am comfortable with colleagues and students knowing that in addition to writing, teaching, and educational technology, I enjoy photography, travel, adventure, Internet culture, and food. Importantly though, through Twitter I’ve come to understand participatory media and cultures and gain an appreciation of the power and limitations of online social networking for learning, teaching, and scholarship. Through Twitter, I have been able to connect students to colleagues, become a better photographer, share my work, and learn from colleagues, who, though I’ve never met face-to-face, I consider to be dear friends. I am probably sounding like a techno-enthusiast, but if you peel away the technology, the number of followers, the character limits, and the twitter clients, you will see that behind the connections lies a desire to connect and share, a desire for openness, in order to improve education. It’s not that Twitter came about and created these feelings. Twitter merely provided the outlet for these feelings to materialize.
Stories and narratives are powerful. They help us in make sense of the world and provide a lens through which to understand experiences. This is my #twitterstory. What’s yours?
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!