Hello everyone,

Classroom 2.0 is a thriving online community of educators and we have embarked on a research project to understand why. Online social networks are growing in use and usefulness among educators and we hope to provide a formal analysis to help policymakers and future researchers support these communities in the best ways. We're calling this research project, "Understanding Classroom 2.0" (UC2) and we're looking for feedback.

Let us start by introducing ourselves. We're both PhD students in Carnegie Mellon University's Program for Interdisciplinary Education Research which is funded by the Institute for Education Sciences. April studies statistics. Before she came to CMU, she taught mathematics at the community college level. She's also mom to a little boy who just started kindergarten. Turadg studies human computer interaction, with a focus on educational tools and online communities. Before coming to CMU he worked for 8 years in UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Education on WISE and SAIL, research technologies used in classrooms in the US and abroad. Now he works on supporting open development of educational resources and tries to blog about his research at OpenEducationResearch.org.

Next, let us be clear about our intentions. We want to understand the community without disturbing it or anyone. We want to be barely noticed, lest we bother people and/or corrupt the research. The methods we plan to use don't require interacting with anyone. Instead we run computations on the data that the Ning web site shares. This post is to begin a discussion so we can get a sense of what the community is comfortable with and the project can proceed with your consent. We want this research to benefit the community and its members.

We're sure there will be lots of questions, starting with some version of, "What are you trying to do here?" To get the discussion rolling, we tried to anticipate some of your questions about UC2 and will post a short Q&A as the first comment.

We've spoken with Steve Hargadon and he has set up a web meeting for any interested parties to join and have a real-time discussion. This is scheduled for Monday Oct 20 at 5pm PST / 8pm EST. We hope everyone interested in this research can join. We also hope that in this week preceding the meeting that the discussion can evolve on this thread, to serve as an open record of the issues and opportunities this research affords.

So please tell us your thoughts. We're eager to hear what other questions you have! We're also eager to hear any suggestions you have for the UC2 project and how it could help you and the community.

Sincerely,
Turadg and April

Tags: discussion, research, uc2

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Q&A for UC2 project

Why do education researchers care about Classroom 2.0?
Online tools, including social networks, are becoming more prevalent in teacher support and professional development. The Illinois New Teacher Collaborative, and Teachers Learning In Networked Communities are examples of how these tools are moving from informal support networks to become part of the formal support networks. However, little is known about how existing online communities of educators function, become self-sustaining, and what types of information flow through the forums.

We would like to work with Classroom 2.0 because it is one of the most successful social networking site for educators and by exploring it quantitatively, we hope to model the underlying features and structures of the network that allow it to function. We are interested in three overall aspects of the site: the social ("friends") network, the network of participants in discussions, and the content of discussions.

What kinds of data will you use?
The data we're look for are all pretty easy to access technically but it's important to us to have the consent of the community to use them. These include forum posts, blog posts, replies to posts, "friends" network, and public user profile information.

How will you protect my privacy?
First and foremost, we intend to only use the blog posts, discussion threads, comments, etc. that are already publicly available on this website. (Person-to-person private messages are not included.) Of course, it is your community and you may have certain expectations about how these data are used. While they are publicly accessible, it would be quite rude for someone to, say, compile a list of each user's spelling errors to post on their blog.

As researchers, we're held to even higher ethical standards, and bound by rules that ensure that we don't harm any individuals or the community of which they are a part. Now, to be perfectly clear, harm is used here in a very broad sense. So what we're really saying is, we can't do anything that would embarrass or perturb you. That is why we would like to have a conversation about the ways you would and wouldn't be comfortable with this public data being used.

Here are a few of the concrete steps we will take to protect you and Classroom 2.0: We will anonymize all information used in any publication resulting from our research. We can even keep the community itself anonymous if that is the desire of the Classroom 2.0 community. Finally, we will not share the database that we create with any third parties without the permission of Classroom 2.0.

What are you trying to learn?
Our overarching questions are:

* What are teachers getting out of these networks?
* How does that work?
* How do the network structure, network dynamics, and discussion content factor in?


To give you an idea of what the published results might look like, here is one example from a 2008 research paper on the Yahoo Answers forum:

It's probably obvious if you think about it, but different online communities have different patterns of interaction. In this graph, each dot represents a person and each triangle represents a motif of interaction between three people. The y-axis measures how much more common each motif is in these real networks than in a similar random network. Motif 38 is might be representative of a pattern where John helps Mark, and then Mark and John both help Luke. It's a "feed-forward loop" and is much more dominant in Programming than the other two categories. But then motif 238, where communication flows both ways among all three people in the triad is much more prevalent in the Wrestling and Marriage categories. We may not use the same analysis technique used here, but this is this is the kind of thing we'll be doing.


Do I get anything out of this?
This is an exploratory project. We would also like to hear your questions. What do you want to know about Classroom 2.0? How can our work benefit your community?
Looks interesting. And, after all the cross-connections and new discussions it would be intersting to see a snapshot summary of the themes and issues. One of the topics I'd be interested in is replication: given the size of the community, it's likely that a topic is treated again and again. It would be nice to know if indeed this is the case, and how often.
If there are parallel strands, (how often) are they picked up by community members and introduced to each other?

For me - I'm not desperate to protect my pontifications, nor to be either anonomised or advertised. But, it is important to note that in these kinds of community, much of the contribution is thought in progress and not to be taken as obiter dicta.

Where will you post the research? (And, as we are the data source, do we gain a copy of it - for the CR2 archives)
Hello, and Welcome, fellow CMU'ers.

One of the things I came here looking to find is, how much do online communities distract from real work?

By that I mean, in my technical work, online communities, be they oldskool usenet groups, listeservs, web based discussion forums, etc., are immense time savers. I could never get fixed what's broke and build what I've built without them, or certainly not in an order higher time.

Once I crossed into the education forums, however, I became, and still am, much less sure. I tell myself I am thinking about education, perhaps illuminating others, often learning myself. And I tell myself I am developing a base for future writing and speaking.

Yet how much of the time here really does that, and how much is more of an addiction to interaction? Just participating because conversation is easy and other things are harder to take up?

And for FT teachers (I'm not), I wonder, should more time be spent on mastering content, not new tools? Many studies show that teachers with better content mastery produce more successful students. Or should they be spending more time with students as individuals?

I agree with my fellow Firesider Ian both on his research question and on indifference to privacy...If I wanted that I should have watched my mouth long ago.

Also, speaking of Fireside, I wonder how much discussion moves from here elsewhere. I believe that Ian and a number of us moved to a new Ning community, essentially taking a large subject area with us. Is this true? Common?
hello Turadg and April ...

i am delighted to know of your interest in exploring the impact of social networks in education. this is a subject very close to my heart .. and as a teacher in a Management School in India -- Praxis Business School -- i have set up our very own Kollaborative Klassroom. This serves both as (a) laboratory to learn about the usage of Social Networks in a B School and (b) platform to facilitate the actual delivery of educational services in a real life setting.

my primary hypothesis is that distance learning is the future of education and with the proliferation of broadband -- even in India, this will be the primary vehicle to distribute educational services. however there are two kinds of methods that we can adopt .... asynchronous ( that is text, images and video that can be downloaded and studied ) and synchronous ( that is online lectures, using Skype, GoogleDocs, and white boards) ....

i have tried out both and my success rate has been uneven ... sometimes the students just love it, sometimes they are indifferent .. i am trying to figure out what is the best model ? when should one use what and why ?? perhaps that question is ill-posed but that is where i am at the moment ...

which is why i am delighted to know that the two of you are planning to study something that is similar ...

i may not be able to join your meeting because of timezone issues but would be happy to participate and if possible contribute to your work.

cheers

prithwis
Good luck with the research! I would be very interested in seeing the results of your research and, as the editor of a forthcoming academic journal (Second Nature; Journal of Creative Media), would also like to encourage you to submit research papers to me for publication. I personally use Ning in my teaching through running it as a site for my students in which they upload their exercises to share with each other as well as organise their graduation show, share resources and post their creative content. http://dagrmit.ning.com/
Excellent idea and a great topic. I have no problem with using the information publicly in any way. Since you are trying to obtain information from the raw data that Ning provides, you probably won't be looking into many of the questions that arise from the effect of using networks on prior methods of professional networking, but perhaps in the future you will. My question would be to see how the use of these new forms of networking have replaced or enhanced older methods. For example, I often find it easier to go online from the classroom and ask a question then to search out a colleague on campus during class time. I appreciate the need for "hard data" on the use of these technologies because in my role as a teacher adviser for ESL programs in our district, I am often asked for such data when trying to implement new techniques. "Research-based" is the new watchword and there just isn't that much of it yet on what we're actually doing in the classroom or for our own professional development with technology. The icing on the cake would be if you could somehow link what educators are doing to enhance their own technology usage in the classroom (by way of classroom 2.0 for example) to positive student outcomes....
Thanks everyone for the words of encouragement!

It should be an interesting web meeting on the 20th. I'll be traveling until then so I thought I'd reply to the comments so far.

@Ian
Snapshots of themes and issues is indeed one of the analyses we plan to do. Once we have the discussion data, we can compute what topics were discussed and how much, in weekly or daily time slices. We are also interested to see how the allocation of messages to different topics has changed (or maintained) over time.

I like your idea of detecting parallel strands and when they merge. That's something we may be able to look into once we have the general topic detection working.

We would be happy to share the results of the analyses with the community here on CR2. We would probably consult Steve and other engaged community members such as yourself to check any such messages before we post them. Ultimately we will write the results up in a paper for submission to journals or conferences and we should be able to share some version of it here on the site.

@Ed
That is an important question, how much (if at all) do online communities distract from real work? The points you raise are poignant. Answering that question requires answering the deeper question of what is "real work" and what activities online help people achieve their goals. Our plans at this point are to stick to more quantitative and objective methods of inquiry, but certainly these issues are important and if we aren't able to expand into them, I hope at least the results that April and I find will be of use to people pursuing them.

I clicked through to Fireside and it looks like a good additional community to study. It has 280 members. Any idea how many are also in CR2? It would be interesting to see how those overlapping members participate in both and whether discussion topics pass between them.

@Prithwis
Online collaborative learning is something that I and, I believe, April are very interested in. At this point, we are keeping focused on networks of teachers and analyzing the in the context of professional development. How do teachers share information to improve their skills, knowledge and efficacy as educators? Understanding student learning in online networks is a larger scope that we may reach eventually. We hope this work will be useful to people like yourself (and possibly our future selves) trying to understand student learning in these networks.

@Carol
Nice use of wiki. :) Your qualitative approach and our quantitative approach could complement each other to tell a more full story. As above, we are focused on the teach professional development, but some of that fits into the questions you listed.

@Incognita
I notice that you and Carol are in Australia. Do you have any guesses what proportion of users are outside the US? We look forward to finding out how the network is spread out geographically, and how that interplays with interaction dynamics."

@Barry
Thanks for the encouragement. Yes, we are interested in comparing these online social networks with traditional offline networks. In fact, the idea for this work started as about offline networks. We soon realized that the data from online networks is orders of magnitude richer and easier to gather. Your example of asking online instead of next door is a salient one and ultimately it would be excellent to find effects of online activity on teacher activity in schools. We hope that completing this online research will put us in a position to continue on and look at that. "Research-based" is what we're all about. :)
PLCs are just being set up across my school division. We are a northern school division (in Canada) spread across an area the size of Montana with a population of less than 20,000. We have many schools with only one teacher for every 2 grades or one teacher teaching all the high school math etc. so setting up PLCs is difficult.

I'm wondering if you could refer me to any rural school divisions that are using on-line PLCs or teacher networking sites in place of face-to-face or in conjunction with regular PLCs
This is interesting research and I look forward to tracking your progress. I am a Doctoral Candidate at NorthCentral University and beginning my dissertation proposal. I am proposing to research the use of online social networking within traditional high school classes. My research will explore the relationship between online social networking with engagement and student learning. I will also be researching the connection to the Theory of Connectivism.
Robert Miller
Doctoral Candidate
NorthCentral University
Carol,
Thank you and I have already started looking at what you have on your wiki. I think it is a great idea to post in the manner you have, especially in light of studying social networking. We will certainly keep in touch. My direct email address is robertdmiller@gmail.com.
Hi Robert and Carol,
I am a doctoral student at North Carolina State University. Though I am not quite to the dissertation proposal stage that Robert is at, I am very interested in online professional development and the use of online social networking.
Sherry Booth
As a manager of a PD blog site (http://goapes.blogspot.com), a wiki site (http://goapes.wikispaces.com), and a Ning site (http://goapes.ning.com) for AP Enviornmental Science teachers around the world, I am very interested in what makes a successful community. These tools allow teachers to come together to share ideas on a common topics of interest. I am interested in seeing how these tools can be used for schools to collaborate on data collection and analysis of environmental issues. As more and more people around the world become familiar with these tools and how they can be employed in the classroom, various communities will develop. I expect like all societies, some will flurish and others will decline and become part of web 2.0 history. I would expect that some lessons can be learned from the physical world and that anthropological methodology and research into the lifespan of a culture may pay a role in determining what makes an online culture successful. I look forward to being part of the discussion on Monday.

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