As in grounded theory, there was no a priori pre-defined theoretical embedding. Exploratory and very openly led interviews proved to be the most appropriate source for the data collection. The scientific community of TEL is the defined target group of this study. A main reason for choosing this research community is the fact that the use of social media in educational environments has been an important topic for the last few years in TEL research. Thus, while TEL researchers are looking at the implications of social media from a research perspective there is less knowledge about their personal usage of such media.
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A more practical reason for this choice was the personal accessibility to potential participants for the data-gathering process. In the tradition of grounded theory, the investigation started with a small set of cases and applied a snowball system to obtain further cases. Originally, six typical cases of social media users in different career stages were identified e.
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Complementary cases of individual researchers who stopped or drastically reduced their participation in social media were added early in the recruiting phase. The initial set of participants covered the expected spectrum in terms of career stages as well as social media usage intensity and explicit changes in social media practice.
In the context of Internet studies, such observations are usually referred to as online ethnography. However, no in-depth online ethnography was performed. Nonetheless, the regular observations of those study participants who are active social media users helped to shape the analytical part of this work. In total, 15 individual cases contributed to the analysis.
The data-gathering process spanned from June to May The participants showed a rather balanced gender distribution with eight male and seven female researchers; the majority were working in European academic institutions at the time of the interview. The academic position of the study participants ranges from some very senior positions three full professors and two associate professors to senior research fellows five and research fellows in the earlier stages of their careers three lecturers and two junior fellows.
The use of social media by TEL researchers in their professional practice is very heterogeneous and the cases show great diversity in their uptake for professional purposes. Twitter and weblogs are the core instruments for personal Web publishing practice and online profile building. However, interviewees also spoke about their use of social networking sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn. They describe two types of users at the two extremes of a continuum. Visitors, on the one side, are considered as making use of specific tools in specific contexts to achieve certain goals.
They have little to no online presence and consider the Web as just another tool. On the other side of the scale, the online residents consider the Web as a place where they live part of their lives, where they meet friends, where they have a specific identity or identities and where they belong to a community or communities. The boundaries between online and off-line get blurred.
Following a dense description model e. Personas [ 2 ] are not real persons but represent archetypical users Cooper, described by their specific behavioral patterns and salient characteristics. While this approach has been previously applied in marketing studies and product design, there are current tendencies to combine personas with grounded theory and embed the persona in traceable empirical data Faily and Flechais, ; Johansson and Messeter, In the following, the three emerging personas — Helen, Tom and Rose — are presented highlighting their social media usage.
Helen is a junior lecturer of educational technology and is especially concerned with the use of social media in secondary education. Her academic background is in education and she has a Ph. Her current research focuses on personal learning environments, digital identity, social networking, social networks and the behavior people display in social networking. She has about six years experience in TEL research and she started lecturing around five years ago. Helen has a very outgoing and communicative personality.
She likes to add a personal flavor to her online profile, but is consciously keeping parts of her private life restricted to a close circle of friends and family. Helen considers herself a resident of the Web who is connected all the time, 24 hours a day, seven days of the week.
She is herself aware of a certain addiction or dependency on social media. Her family and friends are sometimes complaining about her constant connectedness. Social media are an integral part of her daily work practice. It is the first thing that she turns on in the morning and she is constantly connected. In addition, she is continuously online on Skype, Messenger, Twitter and via e-mail.
This is the minimum set of tools that she uses continuously on her computer.
Helen is also interested in trying out a lot of new tools, from personal as well as a professional interest. She calls herself an early adopter and beta user. Overall, Twitter is her main preferred social media tool and she publishes at least over 10 tweets daily and reaches up to 60 tweets on days of heavy Twitter usage. She tends to tweet work-related content, but mixes it with some more personal statements. In addition to Twitter, Helen also maintains her own weblog where she discusses work-related topics and reflects on her research. Social media have become an integral part of her life, professional and private.
The media penetrate her whole life and she notices a complete fading of boundaries between private and professional usage.
For Helen, social media is foremost an information and communication channel. It gives the feeling of being connected and even gives her affective support. She uses social media in a very active way to communicate, collaborate and for self-marketing. It has increased the size of her network and has made her relationships more intensive. Participating in a worldwide online community is very important for her. For Helen online presence is important for a career in research and she complains about the lack of TEL researchers and TEL projects in social media. She considers personal Web publishing an important part of her work and sees a clear return on investment from her online participation.
Tom is a senior researcher and holds a Ph. He has been involved in studying and teaching in the field of TEL for approximately 10 years and is well connected in the community.
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Currently he is working at a private research organization, being involved mainly in TEL research projects funded by the European Commission. Previously he worked in higher education institutions. His online presence is very targeted towards specific objectives. Thus Tom accesses social media especially when looking for specific information or when providing information to the community of peers.
As time is an important aspect Tom does not spend a lot of time on social media. In addition, he stresses the fact that the majority of people he works with in his TEL research projects do not use social media extensively and thus he misses a social media culture in his close working context. Tom accesses social media only via his computer, not via any mobile device. The main tool that Tom uses is Twitter. In addition, he has a weblog, which he updates only occasionally.
Twitter has a double time saving function for him. On the one hand it is not very time consuming in terms of usage. On the other hand Twitter helps him save time because the information obtained via Twitter is filtered, mainly via social filters.
These filters, stemming from trusted sources, save time that he would otherwise have spent on looking for high-quality information. Tom also tries out new tools, triggered by his research interest, but does not use them for personal Web publishing. Finally, he also uses Facebook, where he tries to keep the content and network part of his private life. However, he notes that private and work-related contacts overlap and that there are no clear boundaries.
The most important factors for Tom, in using social media, are being able to get quality information in a short amount of time and promoting his own work. When he posts something on Twitter, he is aware of his target audience and also posts things that might be interesting either for his target community or for himself. Generally, Tom considers that social media have restricted value for his specific career as a TEL researcher, but admits a certain importance for his personal reputation management.
He also has a clear professional interest in social media for their potential in education and thus wants to participate. Rose is a senior researcher and professor at a technical university. She has a background in computer science and has been working intensively in the area of knowledge management and on related topics since completing her Ph. She considers herself clearly part of the TEL research community.
The online presence of Rose is very restricted and she does not make any active use of social media for personal publishing. Her Web presence is defined by the information given on her static profile Web site provided by her institution and a number of project websites. Rose is involved in various TEL research projects which she also considers as her main source of online identification. Her main argument for not participating actively in any social media communication is her lack of time.
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She also makes a clear distinction between professional and private life and tries to keep her online profile purely professional. Rose acknowledges a certain potential to gain reputation in the community by actively using social media and sees it as somehow problematic not to benefit from this. On the other hand she just does not have the time to dedicate to such practice and also has not noticed any great disadvantage so far as she is already very well connected in the academic community.
Rose does not make use of any social media tools for personal publishing or active participation in any online TEL-related networking activity. She makes use of wikis in closed environments, for project work, for internal collaboration at institute level as well as for teaching.
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