Users of the Internet nowadays create a tremendous amount of data online. How do we turn these data into knowledge? These data provide valuable information, but information is not knowledge. Twitter co-founder Biz Stone gave a keynote speech at the recent HIMSS (Healthcare Information Management System Society) 2012 conference at Las Vagas. He quoted Einstein on “information is not knowledge”. More information doesn’t necessarily mean more knowledge. The next phase of the web is the one in which we’re able to turn that information into understanding and true knowledge.
The study of mining, analyzing, and presenting valuable knowledge from existing data online is a rough definition of web analytics. In particular, if the data is retrieved from social media sites, then we can call it social media analytics.
Social media analytics is widely used in many fields. For example, companies monitor their brands on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, in order to formulate marketing strategies. According to a report by University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research, 70% of the 2010 Inc. 500 companies (The Inc. 500 is a list of the fastest-growing private U.S. companies compiled annually by Inc. Magazine www.Inc.com) monitor their companies’ names or brands on social media sites (Barnes, 2011). Besides, social media analytics is also used to monitor public events, predict popularity of new movies, predict trends in stock markets, measure scholarly impact, and assist disaster management and healthcare management systems.
However, the use of social media analytics in higher education is very limited. There are efforts in using social media to promote communication and active learning in classroom, but this is NOT what I mean by social media analytics in higher education. Social media analytics (at least the one I am thinking here) is trying to analyze what students have created on public social media sites anytime anywhere in their own will in order to understand what they are experiencing. The focus is to analyze what students said online to understand their experiences, rather than to direct their use of social media to fit classroom requirement.
Based on one project I did last semester (manuscript accepted with changes by ASEE2012) looking at engineering students’ college experiences through Twitter, the conversations on Twitter by students are largely reflective of their college life. These conversations happened anytime in life, not necessarily in classroom. These conversations if properly analyzed and presented can serve as a resource for higher education policy makers to get fast feedback for what students are experiencing, and make informed policy decisions.
According to a 2011 report entitled “The State of Web and Social Media Analytics in Higher Ed” by Higher Ed Experts, many higher education institutions use web analytics nowadays, but the usage is largely limited to track the number of visits, page views, length of visits on the university websites or the social media pages such as the institution Facebook pages. These mostly serve the purposes to improve the university websites, to optimize social media pages, to optimize email marketing, and to optimize online advertising, etc. There are many commercial tools such as Radian6 and Visible Technologies designed for companies, however, there is no proper social media analytics tools serve the purpose for educational policy makers to get insights from the students’ conversations online to make informed decisions.
While believing using social media analytics in higher education to get deeper understanding of students, and inform policy-making can be an idea of great potential. I am still having questions regarding what is exactly the insights and knowledge we are looking for? I see students complaining about their life, their class, professors, exams, etc. What does this mean? Are these just students whining? Should we listen?What can be done to help? Who are the stakeholders that care about these knowledge the most? How the ethical issues of monitoring students should be properly dealt with? What do you think? Welcome to leave me any comments and suggestions.
I here end this post by quoting Biz Stone HIMSS 2012 keynote again, “If Twitter is a triumph, it’s not a triumph of technology, it’s a triumph of humanity.”