Due to the instant communicative possibilities that the internet, social media and mobile technologies now provide to the public, we are connected to other cultures and societies as never before. From an epistemological perspective, educators are using these digital channels not only to be socially connected but to develop their knowledge and understanding of teaching and learning. Traditional ethnographers, however, find it challenging to keep up with these changes and adapt their methods to begin to understand this contemporary and socially connected digital society (Garcia, Sandlee, Bechkoff and Cui, 2009; Mills & Morton, 2013). According to Hine (2000), these digital networks ‘provide a naturally occurring field site for studying what people do while they are online unconstrained by experimental designs’ (p.18) and with access to on-the-field research becoming more difficult for the deskbound researcher, the attractions of an online ethnographic study become more plausible particularly as events can ‘be ‘time-shifted’ and both ethnographer and participants ‘no longer need to share the same time frame’ (p. 23). My experiences using social media to further develop my own pedagogy and epistemology have led me to use netnography as my research tool.
Netnography is a qualitative research methodology, an extension of ethnography, which takes place online (Kozinets, 2011; Jeanes and Huzzard, 2014). Although it was developed from Kozinets’ research into consumerist behaviour of online communities, the methodology can be used to research any online community. Jeanes and Huzzard (2014) suggest that research questions could focus on status positions in community hierarchies and whether these create potential for conflict and tension (p. 139). Used alongside traditional ethnographic approaches, netnography could provide those working in academic and school-based institutions an insight into how status, power and hierarchy impact educational discourse online. Kozinets (2015) suggests netnographers need to immerse themselves in the online community that they wish to research and they should create an online persona using profiling tools that social media platforms provide. Users complete such profiles so that groups and communities can be formed around common interests, a social bond that Hinton (2013) refers to as ‘cultural intimacy’ (p. 44). A netnography then starts by exploring from the outside using a process known as lurking, almost covert in its approach. Gradually the netnographer moves into the group through interactions, joining social discussion and finally steps back to make sense of the data collected. This ‘centring in the now of cultural being is essential for the netnographer’ (Kozinets, 2015, p. 84), however, we should also consider how we present ourselves to others, how we perceive others and how they perceive us. Goffman (1971) explored a perception of self in his seminal work, ‘The presentation of life in everyday self’, and although it was written before the advent of social media, his assertions continue to be relevant today. Real-life interactions between participants can be fleeting and quickly forgotten unless recorded. When compared to the forever accessible and traceable digital interactions, participants in online communities quickly become aware of their positionality both in the real world and the online world, and adjust self accordingly. Disruptions in real-life interactions, when they occur, have ‘consequences at three levels of abstraction: personality, interaction and social structure’ (Goffman, 1971, p. 156) and, for the netnographer, similar “digital disruptions” can provide an additional insight into how teachers interact and behave online.
My netnographic study was conducted over a four-month period and involved analysing existing digital conversations, interactions and disruptions of a community of teachers using Twitter. I also instigated original digital discourse and used online questionnaires to gather qualitative and quantitative data. Using the constant comparative analysis method or grounded theory developed by Glaser and Straus (as cited by Rodrigues, 2010) patterns emerged and my interpretation of this data involved reflexive, reflective and autobiographical insights. Social media conversations (threads) are not dependent on the continued presence of the original participant(s) with other users dipping in and out of threads (Pink, Horst, Postill, Hjorth, Lewis and Tacchi, 2016, p. 109). An advantage of a netnographic approach meant I could use Twitter’s “like” and “moments” features to save posts (tweets) and threads for later analysis without having to be participant. My digital fieldwork also involved taking screenshots of specific tweets, using Twitter’s poll function to collect responses and using online data gathering tools to capture streams of conversations. A particularly powerful feature is the use of the ‘retweet’ (RT), where a tweet is shared for the benefit of a user’s follower base. Goodyear, Casey and Kirk (2014) recognised the impact RTs had as they could influence and/or disrupt conversations depending on their use and by whom. Recuero, Araujo and Zago (2011) went as far as suggesting that retweeting is a method used by some to build social capital in their networks. I found that teachers mainly use Twitter to connect with other teachers to share resources and improve their pedagogical knowledge and understanding. However, further decoding of this data revealed some users experienced disruption such as in the following example;
‘I think I’ve formed an opinion of certain groups/people (rightly or wrongly) because of the way they reply to others. Therefore, I wouldn’t attend their events or follow them. Maybe this overshadows good work from other people involved’.
One person's view does not make a study but it is telling. A teacher new to Twitter is usually introduced to it through a colleague, staff meeting, local teacher event, conference, word of mouth or merely vague interest. These 'newbies' can follow the celebretity culture crowd, news channels, music, interests etc and other teachers and education news. They can follow their teacher friends, educational news channels, government departments, colleagues that introduced them. There is every possibility that they follow and unfollow according to confimation bias. Every tweet, RT, like, photo, image, video, audio file, weblink, survey, animated image file (graphic interchange format or GIF) forms part of the digital smorgasbord of interactions and disruptions taking place on social media between teachers today. This community demonstrates a crossover between the online world and the real world, where 95.5% of the 176 I surveyed had used information gleaned from Twitter in their practice and 85.8% said it had directly facilitated in their development as teachers. However, 53.7% agreed that disruptions had increased over the last year which in turn had a negative impact on interactions within their community. This small-scale research deserves further study to analyse the phenomenological effects of online social interaction between teachers and whether these lead to offline disruptions that could ultimately lead to improvements in teaching and learning in the classroom.
|Wordcloud gathered from 'Edutwitter's' conversation reacting to disruptive tweets.|
This post is an extract from a module I wrote for my MA. The module is entitled 'A netnography of digital interactions and disruptions' and you can download it from this link.
Garcia, A., Standlee, A., Bechkoff, J. and Cui, Y. ( 2009 ), Ethnographic approaches to the internet and computer-mediated communication, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Vol. 38 No. 1, pp. 52 – 84.
Hine, C. (2000). Virtual ethnography. London: SAGE Publications Ltd doi: 10.4135/9780857020277
Kozinets, R. V. (Academic). (2011). What is netnography? [Streaming video]. Retrieved from SAGE Research Methods.
Jeanes, E. & Huzzard, T. (2014). Critical management research: Reflections from the field. London, : SAGE Publications Ltd doi: 10.4135/9781446288610
Goffman, E. (1971). The presentation of self in everyday life. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Rodrigues, S. (2010). Using analytical frameworks for classroom research: Collecting data and analysing narrative. London: Routledge.
Pink, S., Horst, H., Postill, J., Hjorth, L., Lewis, T., & Tacchi, J. (2016). Digital ethnography. London Sage Publications Ltd.
Goodyear, V., Casey, A., Kirk, D., (2014) Tweet me, message me, like me: using social media to facilitate pedagogical change within an emerging community of practice. Sport Education and Society, vol. 19, no. 7, pp. 927-943. DOI: 10.1080/13573322.2013.858624
Recuero, R., Araujo, R., Zago, G. (2011). How does social capital affect retweets? Conference Paper, Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, July 17-21.