Betweenness Centrality – helping us understand our networks

Like many others I’m becoming increasingly interested in the many ways we can now start to surface and visualise connections on social networks. I’ve written about some aspects social connections and measurement of networks before.

My primary interest in this area just now is more at the CETIS ISC (innovation support centre) level, and to explore ways which we can utilise technology better to surface our networks, connections and influence. To this end I’m an avid reader of Tony Hirst’s blog, and really appreciated being able to attend the recent Metrics and Social Web Services workshop organised by Brian Kelly and colleagues at UKOLN to explore this topic more.

Yesterday, promoted by a tweet of a visualisation of the twitter community at the recent eAssessment Scotland conference, the phrase “betweenness centrality” came up. If you are like me, you may well be asking yourself “what on earth is that?” And thanks to the joy of twitter this little story provides an explanation (the zombie reference at the end should clarify everything too!)

View “Betweenness centrality – explained via twitter” on Storify

In terms of CETIS, being able to illustrate aspects of our betweenness centrality is increasingly important. Like others involved in innovation and community support, it is often difficult to qualify and quantify impact and reach, and we often have to rely on anecdotal evidence. On a personal level, I do feel my own “reach” an connectedness has been greatly enhanced via social networks. And through various social analysis tools such as Klout, Peer Index and SocialBro I am now gaining a greater understand of my network interactions. At the CETIS level however we have some other factors at work.

As I’ve said before, our social media strategy has raised more through default that design with twitter being our main “corporate” use. We don’t have a CETIS presence on the other usual suspects Facebook, Linkedin , Google+. We’re not in the business of developing any kind of formal social media marketing strategy. Rather we want to enhance our existing network, let our community know about our events, blog posts and publications. At the moment twitter seems to be the most effective tool to do that.

Our @jisccetis twitter account has a very “lite” touch. It primarily pushes out notifications of blog posts and events, we don’t follow anyone back. Again this is more by accident by design, but this has resulted in a very “clean” twitter stream. On a more serious note, our main connections are built and sustained through our staff and their personal interactions (both online and offline). However, even with this limited use of twitter (and I should point out here that not all CETIS staff use twitter) Tony has been able to produce some visualisations which start to show the connections between followers of the @jisccetis account and their connections. The network visualisation below shows a view of those connections sized by betweenness centrality.

@jisccetis twitter followers betweenness centrality

So using this notion of betweenness centrality we can start to see, understand and identify some key connections, people and networks. Going back to the twitter conversation, Wilbert pointed out ” . . . innovation tends to be spread by people who are peripheral in communities”. I think this is a key point for an Innovation Support Centre. We don’t need to be heavily involved in communities to have an impact, but we need to be able to make the right connections. One example of this type of network activity is illustrated through our involvement in standards bodies. We’re not at always at the heart of developments but we know how and where to make the most appropriate connections at the most appropriate times. It is also increasingly important that we are able to illustrate and explain these types of connections to our funders, as well as allowing us to gain greater understanding of where we make connections, and any gaps or potential for new connections.

As the conversation developed we also spoke about the opportunities to start show the connections between JISC funded projects. Where/what are the betweenness centralities across the e-Learning programme for example? What projects, technologies and methodologies are cross cutting? How can the data we hold in our PROD project database help with this? Do we need to do some semantic analysis of project descriptions? But I think that’s for another post.

My memory of eAssessment Scotland

Along with around another 270 people, attended the eAssessment Scotland Conference on 26 August at the University of Dundee. It was a thought provoking day, with lots of examples of some innovative approaches to assessment within the sector.

Steve Wheeler got the day off to a great start talking us through some of the “big questions” around assesment, for example is it knowledge or wisdom that we should be assessing? and what are the best ways to do this? Steve also emphasised the the evolving nature of assessment and the need to share best practice and introduced many of us to the term “ipsative assessment”. The other keynotes complemented this big picture view with Becka Coley sharing her experiences of the student perspective on assessment and Pamela Kata showing taking us through some of the really innovative serious games work she is doing with medical students. The closing keynote from Donald Clark again went back to some of the more generic issues around assessment and in particular assessment in schools and the current UK governments obsession with maths.

There is some really great stuff going on in the sector, and there is a growing set of tools, and more importantly evidence of the impact of using e-assessment techniques (as highlighted by Steve Draper, University of Glasgow). However it does seem still quite small scale. As Peter Hartley said e-assessment does seem to be a bit of a cottage industry at the moment and we really more institutional wide buy in for things to move up a gear. I particularly enjoyed the wry, slightly self-deprecating presentation from Malcolm MacTavish (University of Abertay Dundee) about his experiments with giving audio feedback to students. Despite being now able to evidence the impact of audio feedback and show that there were some cost efficiencies for staff, the institution has now implemented a written feedback only policy.

Perhaps we are on the cusp a breakthrough, and certainly the new JISC Assessment and Feedback programme will be allowing another round of innovative projects to get some more institutional traction.

I sometimes joke that twitter is my memory of events – I tweet therefore I am mentality 🙂 And those of you who read my blog will know I have experimented with the Storify service for collating tweets from events. But for a change, here is my twitter memory of the day via the memolane service.

Socially favoured projects, real measures of engagement?

Martin Hawksey has been doing a bit of playing around with JISC project data lately and has now created a spreadsheet of the top “socially favoured” JISC funded projects.

As a large part of my job involves supporting and amplifying the work of JISC programmes, I’m also always looking for ways to keep in touch with projects between official programme meetings and feedback on reports. Over the past few years, I have personally found that twitter has been quite revolutionary in that regard. It gives me a flexible ‘lite” way to build relationships, monitor and share project developments. I’ve also noted how twitter is becoming a key dissemination tool for projects and indeed programmes. So I was fascinated to see Martin’s table and what sources he had used.

Like many others I’m becoming increasingly interested in the numerous ways that social services such as facebook, twitter, google+ etc can be used and analyzed. I’ve got my peer-index, checked out my klout – even this morning I had to have a look at twtrland to see what that service made of me. But I do take all of these with a pinch of salt, they give indication of things but not the whole picture.

For this exercise, Martin has used several sources of data including twitter, facebook, linked-in, google+, buzz, digg, delicious, stumbleupon. (See Martin’s post on how he did it). A number of things struck me on first looking at the spreadsheet. The top projects seemed to be related to “big” collections and repository focused. There wasn’t a lot from the teaching and learning side of things till around the mid 20s the Open Spires project, again though this is very much a content related project. Also the top projects all had high scores on the bookmarking sites. Facebook and Linked-In use seemed to be limited, but again the top projects all had relatively high scores. Twitter seemed to be the most consistently used service across the board. And perhaps most striking, after the top twenty or so use of all the services decreases dramatically.

So what does this all mean? Is the fact that the top ranked projects have high bookmarking scores mean that the projects actively encourage sharing in this way – or is it down to the already web-savvy habits of their users? Checking the first couple of projects, it’s hard to tell. The first 2 don’t have any obvious links/buttons to any of the “ranked services”, but the 3rd one has a google sharing app on its front page, and others have obvious links to facebook, twitter etc. I think there would almost need to be a follow up mini-report from each project on their assessment of the impact of these services to start to be able to make any informed comment. What impact does using social services have on sustainability? Does having a facebook page make a project more likely to maintain an up to date web site as per grant funding (see Martin’s post on this too)? Another point of note is that the links for a number of the top ranked projects go to generic and not project specific websites.

I’m not sure I’ve come to any conclusions about this, as with any data collection exercise it has raised more questions that it has answered, and the ranking it provides can’t be judged in isolation. For me, it would be interesting enhance the data to identify what programmes the projects have been funded from and then start to explore the evidence around the effectiveness of each of the social channels. However, it is fascinating to see another example of the different ways people can now start pulling “social” statistics together. Thanks Martin!


Following on from previous successful events, I’m pleased to announce that on 30 September we are once again running a Design Bash at the University of Oxford.

As in previous years this event will be very hands on allowing people to share their learning designs, tools and systems and to explore potential collaborations. Once again, we’ll be using Cloudworks to share resources and activity on the day. This year we hope to extend out from our core learning design community to involve those involved with building and using tools and standards dealing with course information, describing learning opportunities (xcri), and competencies e.g. Co-gent.

We’re also experimenting with the Eventbright system for registrations which allows me to put a neat little registration widget in this post. So, if you want to come along, just click the registration button below. As ever the event is free to attend and lunch and refreshments will be provided.

I’ll be posting more information about the agenda etc over the coming weeks too.