Twitter archeology, swirly, twirly diagrams and people #lak15

It’s the #LAK15 conference this week and as I can’t be there in person I’ve been following the twitter stream to try and keep half an eye on what is going on.  This tweet from Brian Kelly led me to an this post and paper from Bodong Chen on some work he has called Twitter archeology. Bodon and his colleagues have mined the “ Twitter archives from the past LAK conferences to uncover insights about the community.”

Now I’m confess I am a complete sucker for a bit of SNA.  I do believe that twitter is an invaluable tool for promoting engagement and fostering and maintaining a sense of community particularly around conferences. Both in the post and the paper, Bodong highlights how their analysis has highlighted the transient nature of the LAK conference twitter community. Very few “tweeters” seem to have engaged in all of the conferences. In the paper I am one of 18 tweeters who seem to have managed to get through all the data processing and have been active in the past four conferences.

Unsurprisingly I tweeted most when I was actually at the conferences in person.  I haven’t left the community but due to changes in my job and the fact that the conference has been held in the States for the past 2 years has meant that I can’t justify the expense of going to the conference. The #hashtag allows me (and many others) to still connect with the community. At the moment my involvement is decreasing and I am looking to others in own twitter community who I know are at LAK this year to keep me informed of what is happening. I will of course still be using the hashtag now and then.

Again, in both the paper and the blog post Bodeng and colleagues highlight the limitations of their analysis, and state that they if they did future work they would like to “connect tweets and academic publications, to further construct a more integrated picture of the learning analytics community”.  I think that would be great. Speaking personally, twitter is kind of my shorthand or note taking from a conference. I tend to write more considered posts after the event.  These posts have also been part of my wider community building efforts (particularly when I was working for Cetis).

However as well as all this data analysis, why not speak to the people involved too? I know reading the paper and blog post has made me reflect on my engagement in the LAK community.  I know this would take time and if LAK were a commercial company, had money to spend, this is exactly what this kind of analysis would allow them to do to help improve their “product” (community). Community is fundamentally about people. As the paper beautifully illustrates, data analysis can give some insights into topics and trends. But I hope that any community is more than the sum of its data.

If learning analytics is to become an everyday “thang” for those of us in mainstream education then we need some hear some real stories and voices from the people in the community and not just algorithms and swirly, twirly diagrams.

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