Networked Community, Networked Practice

What Does the #SApro Facebook Group Actually Talk About?

Wow. It’s the end of June. It’s been pretty quiet on this blog, and really on most of my social streams. I have intentionally turn off, deactivated, and ignored my social media channels to really dig into understanding more about networked practices in higher education. June has been filled with a many research and writing tasks: reviewing up interview transcripts, editing a couple of manuscripts for journals, reading even MORE literature, and cleaning/organizing extant data (e.g. digital archives, online community spaces, etc.). Sounds like fun, right?

To take a break, I’m emerging from my #ShutUpAndWrite hiding location to give an update on one community we examined. At the end of May, a few of us (Paul, Adam, Josie, & I) discussed how and why we researched the Student Affairs Professional Facebook Group on the Higher Ed Live episode: “Researching Student Affairs Professional’s Digital Communities.” In listening to this broadcast, I thought this conversation with Tony was helpful to open up about our process and explain more about this type of research. Although we presented this study during #ACPA18 and we currently have an article “under review,” I thought I’d offer some highlights from our conversation for graduate students and professionals in Student Affairs.

In combing through the empirical literature on Facebook groups, there are a number of industries and a variety of professionals who utilize this platform for their occupation. What is unique about the Facebook groups we looked at, in comparison, it was rare to have a community be actively sustained for such a long length of time (since 2009) and to find one as as scaled in membership (30, 866 members as of today).

The community members of the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook group share a significant amount of data (information that something happened) and knowledge (information about why something happened) via this social media platform (a digital infrastructure that enables two or more groups to interact (Srnicek, 2017). There are so many assumptions, observations, and anecdotes for this group; however very little evidence has been gathered using data to inform what is being shared within the conversations of this digital space — so we guided our study with these research questions:

RQ1. What topics and issues do member of the Student Affairs Professional Facebook group discuss over 14-month period of time?

RQ2. What topics and issues gain the most shares, comments, reactions, and interactions?

To learn more about the process for data collection, analysis, and our preliminary findings, watch the archived @HigherEdLive episode here:

Here are just a few of the questions Tony asked with the relevant response after this time stamp:

  1. Introductions and about the topic [Start]
  2. [6:42] You decided to study the Student Affairs Professionals  Facebook Group. Why did you think this group in particular was important to study?
  3. [9:05] How did you collect the data you analyzed?
  4. [15:23] There has been a lot of talk about privacy issues related to Facebook and other social media lately. How did you protect people’s privacy and why is this important for researchers doing social media research?
  5. [17:25] What types of analyses did you conduct and why were these the analytical approaches you decided to employ?
  6. [20:10] What are some of the ways professionals are using this space, based on your analyses?
  7. [27:42] Which posts garnered the most engagement? What might this say about our profession and the ways that professionals are using groups such as the Student Affairs Professionals Facebook group?

When solicited for advice or resources for digital communities our panel offered a few helpful suggestions. Thanks for asking the questions and having us talk about our research process out loud, Tony. Here are our parting thoughts that closed the conversation [57:12]:

  • Josie: Instead of a resource, find people to look to “lurking and learning” and watch how they use these social and digital platforms. Pay attention to behaviors, reach out to chat with them, and ask questions – find a mentor to discussion your professional digital self with. Seek out people, and not just paper. Find others to learn and grow from within your network.
  • Adam: Look beyond the field and engage with communities beyond the field of Student Affairs and outside higher education; think with an interdisciplinary spirit about your own practice to encourage a diversity of thought to your own campus.
  • Paul: We need more experience and exposure to learn how to research in the field about the field in these digital spaces. A few suggested books: Methods – Sage Handbook of Social Media Methods; Conducting Qualitative Inquiry of Learning in Online Spaces; Digital Tools for Qualitative Research and Journals: Social Media & Society; Computers in Human Behavior; Internet and Higher Education
  • Laura: “Study problems, not things.” by @veletsianos Forget the technology or the tools. What is the question or issue you want to explore? We need more practitioners to be part of this research and be part of this process in understanding how and why we engage in digital communities and spaces. We need more people to find evidence and share the work we do.

Suggested Reads:

Helpful Resources for Community Moderators:

  • Are you a moderator or admin of a Facebook group? You might want to use https://sociograph.io/ This can help you understand more about your community and group as the Administrator; this needs to be an open group to use the tool. This can be a good starting point to learn about your community.
  • Need to gather a hashtag to archive your Twitter community conversation and interactions? TAGS is a free Google Sheet template which lets you setup and run automated collection of search results from Twitter: https://tags.hawksey.info/ [Thanks, Martin Hawksey!]

If you’re interested and want to learn more about the larger research project OR perhaps even get involved with research in this area — please reach out! To learn more the about networked practices in higher education and student affairs study, that is, general updates, publications, and presentations can be found here:  https://networkedcommunityofpractice.wordpress.com/

Reference:

Srnicek, N. (2017). Platform capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

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