wrts15 semester-long study of a Twitter hashtag

Assignment Overview

In this semester-long project, each student will create a study around a particular Twitter hashtag. The hashtag can be of or for any kind of community (e.g. #edchat or #doctorwho50) or in response to any kind of media: news event, community organization, TV show, musical group, game, movie, product, or other (e.g. #believeinfilm, #crimingwhilewhite, #iamcharlie, #icantbreathe, #MLKDay,  #springsteen,  #supernatural, #walkingdead, #yesallwomen). The primary goals of this assignment (and the study) are four-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 become familiar with and apply theory on communities, networks, and participatory culture. Third, to put into practice an important research methodology, Grounded Theory. Fourth, to expand our writing skills to include theory-driven data analysis.

Students will archive the tweets using Martin Hawksey’s TAGS 6.0 GoogleDrive integrated archiving system and will analyze the tweets using a modified version of Grounded Theory and network visualizations. 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.

Students will present their results on their research blog and in an essay composed over 3 drafts, each progressively longer until it reaches the final minimum of 10 – 12 pages. Students will also compose reflections on their research process.

When choosing your hashtag (or keyword) choose one that has tweets with a variety of content. For example, looking at the hashtags listed above reveals reactions to texts, 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 your collaborative blog 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 using Zotero (research texts should include book, online, zine, video, image, and others) and scholarly research and archiving on fields associated with your hashtag (for example, if your hashtag is #thesimpsons you might read Watching With The Simpsons: Television, Parody, And Intertextuality by Jonathan Gray)
  • blog posts in which you write about the study
  • a grounded theory analysis of a selection of the tweets
  • an inter-rater reliability test of your codes
  • a presentation of your findings on your research blog and in an essay composed over 3 drafts, each progressively longer until it reaches the final minimum of 10 – 12 pages.
  • reflections on your research process

Assignment Start and Due Dates

  • 2/3: come to class with 5 hashtags you might study
  • 2/5: research proposal due by class-time
  • 2/12 – 3/24: create extensive catalog of the texts and spaces associated with the hashtag
  • 2/12 – 3/24: create a library of scholarly texts on theories associated with your hashtag
  • 2/12: research study web page initial set-up complete
  • between 10/4 and 10/22: archive of Tweets completed
  • 3/26: initial grounded theory coding completed
  • week of 3/31: conferences to discuss your study and coding
  • 4/11: first rough draft due
  • 4/28: second rough draft due
  • TBD: final draft and reflections due 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 you’ll based your study on. Address at least the following questions:

  • What is the hashtag?
  • Why are you interested in studying it?
  • What community or communities are associated with the hashtag?
  • 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 and posted to your collaborative blog. 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 2/5 by the start of class.

Research Study Page on Your Collaborative Blog

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 your collaborative blog which links off of the main navigation bar. Each student will create their own static page.

To create the static page, in the WordPress dashboard go to Pages –> Add new. In the title area, put the hashtag you’ll be studying and the word “Study.” In the content area, add the following by 2/12:

  • 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)
  • detailed information about the study and its goals (methods, archiving software, link to class assignment; you can just summarize what we’re doing from the course description and above)
  • 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)

Your page should me multi-modal, including alphabetic text, images, videos, etc., where applicable.

After adding your content, click “Publish.” To add the page to your blog 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  navigation. If it is not, don’t stress; we’ll see what’s going on in class on Thursday.

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

Due 2/12 by the start of class.

Creating the Archive

To create your TAGS archive, please follow this tutorial:

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

Presenting Your Findings

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