The Next Step of Social Media Analytics in Higher Education ?

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.”

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Qualitative Spirit

I am deeply confused by many things this semester, and I felt I am almost near a breaking point at some moments. One reason is that I felt I am oppressed by some beliefs about conducting scientific research that are contradicting with part of my value system, but I don’t know how to defend myself for various intellectual and practical reasons. I don’t know whether I should defend myself, or what to defend. I don’t know whether I should learn to make compromise or is there a real compromise to make. There are, of course, various other social, emotional, practical and intellectual reasons resulting my situation now. Maybe all of these are normal during the process of growing up. I am going through some kind of transition and I don’t know how long it will take. All I can do is to be patient, and do whatever I should do. Worries and concerns will not do me any good at this moment.

I am learning qualitative research methods this semester, and the following are some excerpts from qualitative methods books. They resonate with my belief about research and sort of make me feel better.

Changes

“No one should plan or finance an entire study in advance with the expectation of relying chiefly upon interviews for data unless the interviewers have enough relevant background to be sure that they can make sense out of interview conversations or unless there is a reasonable hope of being able to hang around of in some way observe so as to learn what it is meaningful and significant to ask.” (Dexter, 1970, p. 17).

“Well-structured, focused questions are generally the result of an interactive design process, rather than being the starting point for developing a design.” (Maxwell, 2005, p. 66)

I got to know that changes happen during research, and it is normal. There are practical reasons such as IRB review, financial and time limits that constrain changes during research, but I should not feel bad when changes happen. They do happen!

Personal Goals, Practical Goals, and Intellectual (scholarly) Goals

“Traditionally, students ave been told to base this decision [of the topic, issue, or question selected for study] on either faculty advice or the literature on their topic. However, personal goals and experiences play an important role in many research studies.” (Maxwell, 2005, p. 16)

“Choosing a research problem through the professional or personal experience route may seem more hazardous than through the suggested [by faculty] or literature routes. This is not necessarily true. The touchstone of your own experience may be more valuable an indicator for you of a potentially successful research endeavor.” (Strauss and Corbin, 1990, p. 35-36)

“Traditionally, discussions of personal goals in research methods texts have accepted, implicitly or explicitly, the ideal of the objective, disinterested scientist, and have emphasized that the choice of research approaches and methods should be determined by the research questions that you want to answer. However it is clear from autobiographies of scientist (e.g., Heinrich, 1984) that decisions about research methods are often far more personal than this, and the importance of subjective motives and goals in science is supported by a great deal of historical , sociological and philosophical work.”  (Maxwell, 2005, p. 18)

“In addition to your personal goals, […] there are practical goals (including administrative or policy goals) and intellectual goals. Practical goals are focused on accomplishing something–meeting some need, changing some situation, or achieving some objective. Intellectual goals, in contrast, are focused on understanding something–gaining insight into what is going on and why this is happening, or answering some question that previous research has not adequately addressed.”   (Maxwell, 2005, p. 21)

I got to know that research questions are usually based on intelectual goals rather than practical goals, and actually, questions based on practical goals are usually not directly answerable. Practical goals are the “so what” piece, the implication of the research, and are of particular importance for justifying the research.