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George Veletsianos, PhD

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Tri-council guidance on using online public data in research

I am often asked whether there are Canadian ethics guidelines on the use of online public data in research. The  relevant section from the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans is provided below. I believe that researchers should take further steps to protect privacy and confidentiality pertaining to public data, but with regards to accessing and using public online data, this is a start.

A sample project to which these guidelines may apply is the following:  The researcher will collect and analyze Twitter profiles and postings of higher education stakeholders (e.g., faculty, researchers, administrators) and institutional offices (e.g., institutional Twitter accounts). This research will use exclusively publicly available information. Private Twitter accounts (ie those that are not public and involve an expectation of privacy) will be excluded from the research. The purposes of the research is to gain a better understanding of Twitter metrics, practices, and use/participation.

 

=== Begin relevant Tricouncil guidance ===

Retrieved on December 12 2014 from http://www.pre.ethics.gc.ca/eng/policy-politique/initiatives/tcps2-eptc2/chapter2-chapitre2/

REB review is also not required where research uses exclusively publicly available information that may contain identifiable information, and for which there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. For example, identifiable information may be disseminated in the public domain through print or electronic publications; film, audio or digital recordings; press accounts; official publications of private or public institutions; artistic installations, exhibitions or literary events freely open to the public; or publications accessible in public libraries. Research that is non-intrusive, and does not involve direct interaction between the researcher and individuals through the Internet, also does not require REB review. Cyber-material such as documents, records, performances, online archival materials or published third party interviews to which the public is given uncontrolled access on the Internet for which there is no expectation of privacy is considered to be publicly available information.

Exemption from REB review is based on the information being accessible in the public domain, and that the individuals to whom the information refers have no reasonable expectation of privacy. Information contained in publicly accessible material may, however, be subject to copyright and/or intellectual property rights protections or dissemination restrictions imposed by the legal entity controlling the information.

However, there are situations where REB review is required.

There are publicly accessible digital sites where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy. When accessing identifiable information in publicly accessible digital sites, such as Internet chat rooms, and self-help groups with restricted membership, the privacy expectation of contributors of these sites is much higher. Researchers shall submit their proposal for REB review (see Article 10.3).

Where data linkage of different sources of publicly available information is involved, it could give rise to new forms of identifiable information that would raise issues of privacy and confidentiality when used in research, and would therefore require REB review (see Article 5.7).

When in doubt about the applicability of this article to their research, researchers should consult their REBs.

=== End relevant Tricouncil guidance ===

Recent SSHRC awards

SSHRC recently announced the awards of the latest round of the Insight and Insight Development grants, and we can now announce that we were awarded two grants for our research. Both grants are collaborations. The first with Dr. Royce Kimmons and the second with Dr. Jaigris Hodson. I’m a true believer in people’s ability to collaborate to go farther together. More than 93% of the funding will go to student research assistants. Here’s the work that these two awards will support:

 

SSHRC Insight grant #435-2017-160. PI: Veletsianos; Collaborator: Kimmons, R. Faculty members’ online participation and expression of self over time.

Summary: Researchers’ understanding of longitudinal aspects of digital technology use in education is limited. While many researchers, policymakers, and businesspeople are hopeful about the potential positive impacts that academics’ use of digital technology may generate, the empirical evidence describing the nature of academics’ online participation over time is scant and is largely predicated on small-scale studies. We will address this problem by studying whether, how, and why academics’ online participation and presentation of the self change over time. We will use a mixed methods approach combining descriptive/inferential analyses with basic qualitative studies using data collected from interviews and data mining of social media sites.

 

SSHRC Insight Development grant #430-2017-00104. PI: Veletsianos; Co-PI: Hodson, J. Female academics’ experiences of harassment on social media.

Summary: Prior research shows that some female academics, especially those who are in the public eye and use technology to promote their work, are at great risk of harassment. To gain a greater understanding of this issue, this mixed methods investigation seeks to investigate women scholars’ experiences of online harassment.  The proposed research will use data arising from interviews, social media posts, and surveys to gain a deep and multidimensional understanding of harassment aimed at academics.

Institutional Use of Twitter – national analyses

We recently wrote two papers that examined institutional uses of Twitter in Canada and the United States. As part of that work, we identified similar analyses taking place in other countries. These are listed below:

CountryCitation
AustraliaPalmer, S. (2013). Characterisation of the use of Twitter by Australian Universities. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 35, 333–344.
CanadaVeletsianos, G., Kimmons, R., Shaw, A., Pasquini, L. & Woodward, Ss. (2017). Selective Openness, Branding, Broadcasting, and Promoting: Twitter Use in Canada’s Public Universities. Educational Media International, 54(1), 1-19.
TurkeyYolcu, O. (2013). Twitter usage of universities in Turkey. Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 12, 360–371.
UKJordan, K. (2017). Examining the UK higher education sector through the network of institutional accounts on Twitter. First Monday, 22(5). doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v22i5.7133
USAKimmons, R., Veletsianos, G., & Woodward, S. (2016). Institutional Uses of Twitter in Higher Education. Innovative Higher Education, 42(2), 97-111.

Lola Olufemi and student/faculty social media harassment

Below is a short interview with Lola Olufemi. The description from the BBC reads “Lola Olufemi is 21 years old and Cambridge University Students’ Union Women’s Officer. She found herself on the front page of a national newspaper, the face of a campaign to “decolonise” the English curriculum at Cambridge University. She discusses with Jenni Murray how she feels she’s been scapegoated by the media and her fears for the impact this could have on other young, black women wanting to speak out.”

I was watching this unfold yesterday, and witnessed the racist and misogynistic tweets fly by. One of which came from a professor at a well-known unversity, and as I responded at the time, what sort of academic responds in such a vile way to a person, let alone a student. As was shared on Twitter the institution has policies processes to deal with the harassing faculty member, but the questions that have been preoccupying my thinking over the last few months is the following: In what ways should our universities respond to the harassment that their students and faculty receive online, and on social media in particular? What are the institutional and individual responsibilities when we encourage students and faculty to be present on social media?

Discreet Openness: Scholars’ Selective and Intentional Self-Disclosures Online

What do scholars share on social media? Like the jelly jars below, some topics shared/discussed are familiar. The center jelly nn the top row? I’ve seen many of those. A scholar sharing a link to a paper? I’ve seen many of those, too. Other jellies, and scholarly activities online, are more complex and require a closer look. The bottom right jelly? I’m not quite sure what to make of it. Some scholars disclose challenging professional and personal issues on social media. That’s what Bonnie Stewart and I set out to understand in a our paper Discreet Openness: Scholars’ Selective and Intentional Self-Disclosures Online. Popular literature tends to offer conflicting advice on this topic. Scholars are encouraged to share both personal and professional aspects of their self online, but at the same time they are advised to “watch what they say.”  The empirical literature examining scholars’ online self-disclosures and the reasons for making these disclosures remains limited.

jelly_jars

DGJ_5184 – Jelly Jars by Dennis Jarvis

Research into emergent forms of scholarship focuses on academics’ use of technology for learning, teaching, and research. Very little attention has been paid in the literature to scholars’ uses of social media to disclose challenging personal and professional issues. This article addresses the identified gap in the literature and presents a qualitative investigation into the types of disclosures that 16 scholars made online and their reasons for doing so. Results identify wide-ranging personal and professional disclosures. Participants disclosed not only about academia-related issues but also about challenges pertaining to family, mental health, physical health, identity, and relationships. Some scholars disclosed as a way to grapple with challenges they faced; others disclosed tactically, sharing information for political rather than personal reasons. Yet others disclosed as a way to welcome care in their lives. In all instances, though, disclosures were selective, intentional, and approached with foresight.

Unlike popular literature that suggests that scholars are “naive users of social media” and must exercise caution, our research shows that people might be thinking deeply about the the ways that the share aspects of their lives.

You can retrieve the paper from here:

Veletsianos, G. & Stewart, B. (2016). Scholars’ open practices: Selective and intentional self-disclosures and the reasons behind them. Social Media + Society, 2(3). doi: 10.1177/2056305116664222

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.

The tensions and conundrums of public scholarship

Scholars are often encouraged to be public intellectuals – to ‘go online’ and engage with diverse audiences. Yet, scholars’ online activities appear to be rife with tensions, dilemmas, and conundrums. In a presentation that I gave last week at AERA, I discuss some tensions and challenges scholars face when engaging networked publics and highlight some uncomfortable realities of being a public scholar. Evangelizing public and networked scholarship without acknowledging the existence of tensions is detrimental to the field and misleading to the scholars who may be considering greater public engagement- becoming more networked, more public, and more “digital.” Individual scholars and institutions need to evaluate the purposes and functions of scholarship and take part in devising systems that reflect and safeguard the values of scholarly inquiry.

New Research: Is Academic Twitter Egalitarian?

Royce Kimmons and I have been exploring the use of large-scale data in a number of recent studies. We just published a paper that tries to make sense of students’ and professors’ social media participation on a large scale. We are continuing our qualitative investigations to understand “why, in what ways, and how” scholars (students & professors) are using social media, but this is our first data mining study making use of Twitter data. It’s also the first study using large-scale Twitter data to make sense of how professors and students of education are using Twitter.

Here’s a high-level summary of three of our findings:

  • There is significant variation in how scholars participate on Twitter. The platform may not be the democratizing tool it is often purported to be: The most popular 1% scholars have an average follower base nearly 100 times that of scholars in the lower 99% and 700 times those in the bottom 50%.
  • Civil rights and advocacy seem to be an important activity of social media participation – this is rarely captured in research to date, which most often focuses on how social media are used in teaching & research. Scholars’ participation on Twitter extends well beyond traditional notions of scholarship.
  • We found that those scholars who follow more users, have tweeted more, signal themselves as professors, and have been on Twitter longer will have more followers. This model predicts 83% of the variation on follower counts. This finding raises questions as to the meaning of follower counts and its use as a metric in conversations pertaining to scholarly quality/reach.

Veletsianos, G., & Kimmons, R. (2016). Scholars in an Increasingly Digital and Open World: How do Education Professors and Students use Twitter? The Internet and Higher Education, 30, 1-10.

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