wecf13 semester-long study of a community on Twitter

Assignment Overview

In this semester-long project, each student will create a study around a particular Twitter hashtag or keyword. The hashtag (or keyword) can be of or for any kind of community (e.g. #edchat or #doctorwho50) or in response to any kind of media: TV show, musical group, game, movie, product, or other (e.g. #breakingbad, #springsteen). The primary goals of this assignment (and the study) are three fold: first, to observe how people are using Twitter to compose in and for a possible community. We are not trying to prove or disprove anything. Rather, we will be letting the data inform the interpretation. Second, to put into practice an important research methodology, Grounded Theory. Third, to become familiar with and apply theory on community and networks. An added benefit will be learning how to use some archiving software and a new research methodology.

Students will archive the tweets using Martin Hawksey’s TAGS 5.0 GoogleDrive integrated archiving system and will analyze the tweets using Grounded Theory. Students will also analyze the TAGS 5.0 network visualizations. In a Grounded Theory-based inquiry theories about the subject being studied emerge from the data itself. That is, theories or beliefs about the subject are not brought to the analysis, though knowledge of the community itself is important for understanding what happening in the data. The analyses will reveal quite a bit about how people are composing today and whether what emerges from the data can be considered a community at all.

When choosing your hashtag (or keyword) choose one that has tweets with a variety of content. For example, looking at the #breakingbad or #springsteen hashtags reveals reactions to the texts (the show Breaking Bad and Springsteen concerts), links to reviews, links to user generated content, and others. These kinds of hashtags will provide you with the opportunity for nuanced data analysis.

During the course of the project, students will complete the following (each portion of the assignment will be explained in greater detail below):

  • a research proposal that discusses the hashtag (or keyword) to be studied
  • a research study page linked-to from Rummage This, which contains: a brief outline of the study and its study goals, brief weekly updates, and a detailed discussion of findings
  • an archive of Tweets, which, after being archived will be made public via a link on the study web page
  • an extensive catalog of the texts and spaces associated with the hashtag or keyword archived or bookmarked using the apps in the Textual Ecologies assignment (research texts should include book, online, zine, video, image, and others) and scholarly research and archiving on communities and networks informed in part by the work cited in the books and articles we’re reading
  • an occasional blog post about the study as you see fit (these would be in additional to the work on the study page and blogging assignment)
  • a grounded theory analysis of a selection of the tweets
  • an interrater reliability test of your codes
  • a presentation of your findings (rough and final draft) in the form of an in-class 5 minute 20 second Pecha Kucha presentation which will be videotaped and uploaded to the blog and study web page
  • a text that contributes something meaningful to the community being studied in the form of a long form blog post about their study, a written portion of a community-related wiki page, or other written composition of their own choosing.

Assignment Start and Due Dates

  • 9/19: come to class with 5 hashtags/keywords you might study
  • 9/26: research proposal due by class-time
  • 9/27 – end of semester: create extensive catalog of the texts and spaces associated with the hashtag or keyword
  • 9/27 – end of semester: create a library of scholarly texts on theories on community and networking
  • 10/3: research study web page initial set-up complete
  • between 10/4 and 10/22: archive of Tweets completed
  • 11/7: initial grounded theory coding completed
  • 11/14: in-class interrater reliability testing
  • 12/5: Pecha Kucha rough drafts due in class
  • 12/12: meaningful contribution to the community due
  • 12/18: final Pecha Kucha presented and recorded in class
  • as you’d like: occasional blog posts about the study

The Research Proposal

This proposal will be just like most any other research proposal that you’ve written. I’d like you to propose the hashtag or keyword that you’ll based your study on. Address at least the following questions:

  • What is the hashtag or keyword?
  • Why are you interested in studying it? Are you a related fan?
  • What community or communities are associated with the hashtag or keyword?
  • How familiar are you with the texts related to that hashtag or keyword and their associated communities?
  • How actively are people tweeting with that hashtag or keyword?

Your proposal should be between 350 – 500 words, written in Markdown, and synched to the In Progress Work Samples folder. Please include links to a Twitter search for the hashtag or keyword and any community spaces with which you’re already familiar (that is, don’t go looking for any if you don’t already know them).

Due 9/26 by the start of class.

Research Study Page on Rummage This

One of the ways internet researchers help maintain transparency in their research is to create a web site or page that provides some biographical information, details information about the study, and provides updates about the status of the study. You can see an example of this on BW’s Springsteen Fans and Twitter study web site. We’re going to be doing a stripped-down version of this by creating a static page on Rummage This which links off of the main navigation bar.

To create the static page, in the WordPress dashboard go to Pages –> Add new. In the title area, put the hashtag or keyword you’ll be studying. In the content area, add the following by 10/3:

  • some biographical information (nothing too personal, just where you’re a student, if you’re a fan, if so, for how long, why you are interested in researching your subject, and that sort of thing)
  • details information about the study and its goals (methods, archiving software, link to class assignment)
  • a statement saying people with questions can contact you @username (and make it a link)
  • a Study Update section, which over the course of the semester, you’ll add dated updates about the status of the study itself (these should be meaningful updates; more meaningful is better than too often)

After adding your content, click “Publish.” To add the page to the Rummage This navigation, go to Appearance –> Menus. Open the Pages tab. Select the check box for just your page. Click Add to Menu. It will appear on the right. Then, click Save Menu. It will now appear in the Rummage This navigation.

By the end of the semester, you’ll also add a detailed discussion of the findings of the study informed by various theories on community, networking, and fandom. More details on this will appear after the data has been collected.

Creating the Archive

Here’s a brief tutorial for how to set up and run Martin Hawksey’s GoogleDrive integrated TAGS 5.0 Twitter archive:

Further archiving guidelines to be given individually based on your project.

Library of Texts

Once you have chosen your hashtag to study, I’d like you to create an extensive and exhaustive catalog of texts associated with the hashtag. These texts should be archived or bookmarked using the apps in the Textual Ecologies assignment (most specifically, your Social Bookmarking site and Zotero). The texts should include books, scholarly articles, web pages, news articles, interviews, zines, videos, images, and others. That is, anything associated with the hashtag’s subject and the medium in which that subject is presented, whether it be TV, movies, music, gaming, small business communities, and so on.

For example, if you were looking at the #springsteen hashtag, you would look for official and fan web sites dedicated to Bruce Springsteen, zines about Springsteen (which can often be found on eBay and Etsy), his records and lyrics, and so on. Those are the obvious spaces. But, you’d also look for books and scholarship on Springsteen. You’d also look for scholarship on and histories of the recording industry, folk music, work on the subject of Springsteen’s musical influences, and so on. As written above, anything associated with the hashtag’s subject and the medium in which that subject is presented.

Your goal is to create an exhaustive library of texts and spaces associated with your subject. The more you have, the more educated you’ll be about your subject. The more educated you are the more effective your understanding of the tweets will be.

When adding work to your social bookmarking site and Zotero, be sure to use tags wisely. Create a tagging system that will afford you the ability to find the texts easily later on. Use many tags for each item, but be sure that they overlap.

Start working on this immediately and continue throughout the semester. You’ll be using these texts to inform blog posts, as well.

Presenting Your Findings

This semester you have been researching a particular fandom by studying an archive of tweets related to the fandom as well as creating a library of texts associated with it. Both parts of this project were designed to give you insight into that particular fandom so you might be able to draw some conclusions about it. In your final presentation (which will have rough and final drafts) I’d like you to discuss what you found. That is, from your analysis of the Twitter data and the library of texts you’ve created, what do you see happening?

The question is broad on purpose; I don’t want to lead you in a particular direction. The data itself should do that. But, your discussion should engage the primary ideas of the semester: community, networks, participatory culture, textual poaching, fandom, the rhetoric of community, and bastard culture (don’t discount Shaefer just because we’re reading him while working on this part of the project).

You can also consider issues of transmedia storytelling, collective intelligence, affinity spaces, communities of interest, collectivity, imagined community, the rhetoric of community, and others introduced in the readings. One thing: don’t merely state that we are seeing examples of these or a couple of these. That’s too easy. Take a risk and use the ideas we read about to build to suggest some new ideas for what we are seeing in the data. As Ferguson suggests about creativity and innovation, both occur when blending already known ideas together in new and interesting ways.

Look to the primary book texts, but also to the readings that helped us discuss community and networks, namely:

  • Rheingold (1993), Dibbell (1993); Wellman & Gulia (1997) on virtual communities
  • McNely (2010) on information ecologies (see Nardi and O’Day [1999] for more on info ecologies)
  • Bush (1945), Postman (1990), Shirky (2008) on information overload
  • Wellman & Tindall (1992) and Wesch (2008) on communities
  • Porter (1986) on intertextuality
  • Zappavigna (2011) on ambient affiliation
  • others to see that we’ve not yet read but are on the Readings page: boyd and Ellison (2007) on networks and social networks; boyd, Golder, and Lotan (2010) on retweets; Baym (2008) on online communities; Gee (2007) on semiotic domains and affinity groups

Don’t forget to look to your TAGS tweet visualization, as well. That visual can tell a person quite a bit about what they are seeing in the tweets.

The Presentation Format

Your final presentation will be 6 minutes and 40 seconds, not a second longer or shorter. This is the format of a Pecha Kucha.

Several years ago, Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham invented the Pecha Kucha presentation format (pronunciation) in response to two significant problems in presentations: people tend to talk too long and people tend to use PowerPoint slides in mind-numbingly horrible ways. I’m sure you all know what I mean. Klein and Dytham’s solution: add constraints to the presentation format:

  • 20 slides
  • 20 seconds per slide
  • total of 6 minutes and 40 seconds per presentation.

They held a conference. It was a success. And the Pecha Kucha format spread around the globe, landing, now in #wecf13 at Rowan University.

Since the first conferences others have added additional constraints to the format, notably limiting the number of images on a slide, limiting how often an image can be used, and how many words may appear on each slide. These are often written in rules that look like this:

  • 1/1/0 — 1 image per slide / each image can be used only once / zero written words per slide (words can be in screen shots)

Because of the limited time, Pecha Kuchas are wonderfully devoid of fluff and filler. Presenters using such a format get to the point and explicate their points. The presentations are idea- and narrative-driven. That is, they take a single idea or issue (for example, fans tweeting about the newest Springsteen release) and over the course of the presentation explicate on that idea, the implications of that idea, and offer unique (not cliched) takes on what we are to do with this idea or issue. The presentations, when done well, are fascinating and gripping. They are funny when they need to be. And the leave the audience wanting to know and understand more. That is what you are going to try to do in your project.

Here is an example of a Pecha Kucha by Dan Pink of Wired Magazine in which he explains and provides an example of the format (and mispronounces the name):

For an outstanding example of a Pecha Kucka, see the Sketchbook of Life by Martin Willers. For a fun but less successful example, see Make it So by Shannon Downey.

Pecha Kuchas are most successful when the images exist in support of the content of the talk. In most presentations, the images are the main focus (and people tend to look at them and talk to the screen as a result). Here, the format is reversed. The content of the talk is primary; the images support and enhance it without taking away the focus on the content. As such, the composing process for a Pecha Kucha is changed, as well:

  1. The 6 minute 40 second talk is composed in full
  2. The talk is broken into 20, 20 second segments
  3. 20 images are created or found, one for each of the 20 sections of the talk—the images support, illuminate, or enhance what is discussed in each

This process forces the presenter to focus on ideas, not slides. To focus on the quality of the text, not the merit of the slides.

There are a few requirements for the project:

  • the presentation should be in first person narrative style; that is, tell the story of your study and what you have found
  • the format is 1/1/0 (zero words written that are not in screen shots); the one exception where you can type words are slides showing a tweet or group of tweets
  • images must be ones the student created themselves (such as screen shots or hand-drawings, which tend to work great) or must hold a Creative Commons or public domain license which allows the student to use it
  • an additional 21st slide should include a works cited list
  • compose a version of your conclusions and add it to your research study page; don’t just paste in your talk; locate your conclusions within the theories we’ve read this semester and what you have learned about your research subject, include links to the data and network visuals; the length is up to you

Due Dates
Written narrative broken into 20, 20 second parts. As mentioned above, compose the narrative in whole first, then break it up. Resist thinking about this as a presentation with 20, 20 second chucks. Rather, it is a 6 minute 40 second talk (that is, just over 3.5 double spaced pages). Also have up to 10 of the images you’ll use matched to the text. Choose the images after writing the narrative, not before. Bring two printed copies of the segmented narrative to class and have the images available online. We will do a kind of peer review on the narratives. I’d prefer you compose using Markdown (this might be a time to try one of the other (free) Markdown editors I mention in the Markdown assignment so you can easily export to Word or Open Office).

Final Presentation due in finalized format. The presentations will be shown in class, recorded, and put online on your study page. Practice, practice, practice, at home. You can use notes or read from your transcript.

Setting Up PowerPoint (on a Mac; PC may look different)
These steps can be taken before you start adding slides or after all the slides are completed.
1. Go to Slide Show –> Transitions

2. Click on Options.

3. Uncheck “On Mouse Click”; check “Automatically after” and add 20 “seconds”

Setting up Keynote (Mac only)
These steps should be taken after all the slides are completed (or during the process if you want to test things out)

1. Click on one of the slide thumbnails. Highlight all the slides by going to Edit –> Select All. You should notice all the slide thumbnails highlighted in yellow.

2.  Go to the “Inspector” window and select Slide Inspector icon (second from the left). In the Effect pulldown menu, select None. In the Slide Transition pull-down menu, select Automatically and change the time to 20.0 s.

Contribution to the Community

Fan communities employ what is called a gift economy, which Suzanne Scott discusses at length. Because you have been able to gain much from studying a particular fan community this semester, I’d like you to do something for them that shows your appreciation and also engages ideas within the community itself.

This project is wide open. You have studied your fan community for most of the semester and should have an idea what it values, what kinds of texts are associated with it, and what the people in the community might enjoy seeing. You could make your own fan fiction, slash fiction, mashup, or remix; you could interview fans and create a podcast and post it to our blog and another fan-based blog; you could update or create a Wikipedia page; and so on. It is up to you.

One thing I require is that it challenges your composing skills in new ways. By “composing” I don’t mean just writing; video, audio, and so on, are all forms of composing. The more challenging for you, the more you will get out of it. I will be able to offer some help, but it depends on if I know how to do what you are trying to do.

Due Dates
by 11/30: tweet brief description of your gift to the community using #wecf13 and #gift hashtags and compose a brief blog post in which you describe what you have in mind (be sure to mention the software you’ll be using if you are going to use any and how the project is a challenge– note, video mashups and remixes take a VERY LONG TIME to compose)
12/12: gift completed and either embedded or linked-to from your study page; also compose a brief blog post about it and tweet it to those in the fan community

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