Notes from the PhD Dissertation defence by Oriol Miralbell entitled Webs de xarxes socials i intercanvi de coneixement. Anàlisi de l’adopció i ús dels membres de les comunitats virtuals professionals del turisme (Social networking sites and exchange of knowledge. Analysis of the adoption and usage of members of tourism professional virtual communities), directed by Francesc González and Jaume Guia.
Defence of the thesis: Social networking sites and exchange of knowledge. Analysis of the adoption and usage of members of tourism professional virtual communities.
The thesis aims at analyzing how knowledge is exchanged in social networking sites, with a focus on professional virtual networks in the field of tourism.
Main topics of the thesis or theoretical framework:
- Social virtual networks: Barry Wellman makes the difference between open and diffuse networks, and dense and limited groups. The former ones usually imply freedom of participation, while the later are more centralized and hierarchic, with stronger and fixer relationships.
- Knowledge transfer: that happens in virtual communities and communities of practice. In the later, the existence of a leader is important, as is the inclusion of the “periphery” of the network. Knowledge transfer is also related with informal learning and personal learning environments. Downes and Siemens base connective knowledge networks in openness, autonomy, diversity and interaction.
- Social networking sites. O’reilly defines the web 2.0 as a way to leverage the collective wisdom and where the user takes control of their own information. Social networking sites enable the exchange of knowledge, managing one’s relationships (interactivity), creating a public profile by articulating a list of contacts (autonomy), or sharing lists of contacts with other users (openness, diversity).
- Exchange of knowledge in virtual communities: confidence, loyalty, emotional identification, reciprocity and commitment are fundamental for the exchange of knowledge in virtual communities.
- Usage and adoption of social networking sites: there are several aspects (cognitive, contextual, etc.) that explain how people adopt technology. Davis, Bagozzi and Warshaw developed the Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), which is what based this research.
A model was designed to see what was the utility of social networking sites for knowledge exchange, based on the TAM model.
Social networking sites help in solving some barriers usually found in the field of tourism: high competition and lack of collaboration, atomization of the sector, lack of knowledge, etc.
More than 80,000
virtual communities  members out of 28 communities in several social networking sites (Linkedin, Facebook, Ning) were identified and a sample of users was selected to be surveyed about usage and perceived utility. The main characteristics of the sample is higher education, a majority of people in the 30-44 y.o. range, professionals of the tourism or knowledge sector, not very high earnings, proficiency in the use of ICTs. Facebook is the SNS more used, followed by Twitter and Linkedin, though Linkedin was much more used in relationship with the average SNS user, that is, tourism professionals use linkedin more than the average population. More than half of the users had friends as their contacts, but besides this, the level of trust in the network is very high. It is believed that SNS are adequate for sharing knowledge but not as good for creating new knowledge.
We can state that autonomy, diversity and openness favours interactivity among members and thus increase the usage of SNS. SNS are perceived more as places to get in through with people and share knowledge, rather than spaces for collaborative learning. There is a low perception of generation of new knowledge. Thus, features of SNS should be improved in terms of generation of knowledge (if that was their purpose). Notwithstanding, there is a positive perception of SNS often times based in high rates of trust in these platforms. Hence, SNS could be used for collaborative work between members of the tourist sector.
Some questions from the committee:
- Agustí Canals: was there any validation of the questionnaire?
- Agustí Canals: what is the relationship of the model and demographic data?
- Agustí Canals: is this research representative of other fields or, at least, other knowledge-intensive fields?
- José Luis Molina: how does the model relate to personal knowledge management?
- José Luis Molina: how does the model would vary taking into account only specific regions of the globe?
- Esther Pérez: what are the reasons behind the choice of the model of acceptance of technology?
- Q: does the model fit better in some specific geographic areas rather and other ones? what about different ages?
- Q: how should the model evolve to fit the pace of change in reality?
The questionnaire was validated: there was a pre-survey with a very small sample, the questionnaire was corrected and then the new questionnaire was used in the final survey.
The direct interaction of the researcher with many of the surveyed networks leads him to believe that there are not many differences in the usage and perception of utility of SNS for tourism professionals in different regions of the world… but language. Indeed, problems are shared, attitudes are similar and practices do not differ much from different SNS and/or social networks.
It is worth noting that the personal relationships factor is crucial in the usage of SNS. Knowledge is defined very different and is thus difficult to measure, but personal relationships have common structures and this is what usually shapes social networks.
TAM was adopted because of its wider use in many other researches.
People of different ages may end up using SNS in different ways, but the core of professional virtual communities, which is knowledge and relationships would still be the same. That is, forms may vary, but content would still be the same.
Generation of knowledge not only happens when it is actively pursued, but also serendipitously, in sharing ideas, information or other knowledge.
For the last 15 months I have owned an iPad, which I use for many purposes but, mainly, for my academic activity. Every now and then I am asked or find myself involved in a debate on why and how to use an iPad (or, in general, tablets) for research. Although an offtopic in this blog, this post here will save me lots of typing and talking elsewhere.
For the sake of the context, I must say that I am a social scientist working in the crossroads of the Knowledge Society and development, especially in what is related with individual empowerment (education) and social empowerment (governance). I teach at a 100% online university, which means that all my working tools are a computer, some common software and access to the Internet. My professional life is mostly digitized, and gathered in my personal research portal. I mostly do not work with paper and mostly do not work offline. I am quite a fast typist (my liveblogging sessions a proof of it) and have a very light (circa 1,000g) while powerful laptop which I can take anywhere without hesitation. I do not own any Apple computer and do not plan to own one in the nearest future (i.e. I am not an Apple fan).
So, how does an iPad or a tablet fit in this context at the professional level?
Reading it not anymore what it used to be.
Reading used to be sitting with a bunch of papers. Maybe a pen would be handy to scribble some notes on the margins, underline some sentences. Maybe not on the margins, but on a piece of paper. Maybe even on a notebook. You would stand up to look up something on the dictionary or the encyclopaedia. And that was it.
Now reading is, for starters, not knowing what you will be feeling like reading. Maybe it will it be a couple of academic papers, maybe it will be correcting some assignments, or proofreading a paper of yours. Or them all: some trips are long and you want to carry everything with you. What is the weight of 500 pages? And the weight of 5 MB?
Besides the dictionary, or the encyclopaedia, you might search for a description of Aztec god Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli or you might even want to see how Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli looks like; you can wonder how Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray would sound like when playing before Jack Kerouac or just listen to a live performance by Gordon & Gray; or you can imagine Jon Krakauer’s Stampede Trail or locate it on a map and pay a visit to it.
Now combine everything said above: picture yourself with a dozen papers; reading all them at the same time (those papers with interesting bibliographies…); underlining and taking notes on them; writing some other notes on a separate file which you can tag and categorize and store and search and retrieve; accessing on the go the authors’ personal websites and their curricula and their list of published works; writing a short e-mail to them asking them for a pre-print of a difficult to find paper; forwarding your annotated copy of the paper to a colleague; or copying and pasting a table of data on a spreadsheet to plot some graphics (why hadn’t they in the original paper?).
And that is enhanced reading.
Picture yourself doing all that sitting (or standing) on the train. Or sitting on your couch.
And that is a tablet.
Why not an eReader
I tried several eReader devices based on e-ink before trying the tablet. There are two main reasons why an eReader is not an option for me:
eReaders are very slow for academic papers reading. They may be fair enough to read a book (whatever its kind) whose content has been repaged for your device and for you to turn the pages sequentially, once a minute or two.
But if you are reading a PDF, A4-sized, with footnotes or endnotes and definitely with a bibliography, you will find yourself turning pages very often. Mainly because it is not optimized for the eReader. And also because the eReader is not prepared (yet) for continuous and quick page-turning. And if you want to compare different papers in parallel, the exercise of exiting a paper, opening a new one, closing that one and going back to the former one… that is simply not bearable for the common human being.
The second reason is that, usually, e-readers lack everything that is not strictly for reading purposes: browsing the internet, writing an e-mail or running an application (notebook, spreadsheet, etc.) are not usually supported by e-Readers. And if they are… aren’t we already talking about a table?
An eReader is mainly to read and to read plain text. But academic reading, enhanced reading, is much more than that.
Why not a laptop?
First of all, there is weight. Even if we assume that your laptop does not weight much more than your average tablet (which is quite an assumption), the iPad, one of the heaviest ones, is similar in weight as a 200 pages hardcover. You are already used to handle that weight. The best ultralight laptop will normally double that weight (and cut to a half the autonomy, BTW): if you think a hardcover edition of a book is heavy, try holding a pair of them for more than a while.
Second, there is comfort. Let’s speak only about reading for a while: for reading purposes, the extra keyboard in the laptop and the tactile screen in the tablet make a huge difference. Not only a keyboard is almost useless when reading — almost because you just type scattered notes ‐, but it is only uncomfortable: it takes extra space (and weight) of your surroundings (remember the crowded train: I spend, on average, 2h on it, daily) and key operating is much more difficult than simply touching a screen.
Besides weight and comfort, there is a third aspect, very subjective, but that I have tested several times, and is friendliness.
I’ve been to several “serious” meetings where people brought their laptops to take notes while I tapped and typed on my iPad. Unbelievable as it might sound, laptops all raised suspicion on whether their owners would be taking notes or reading e-mail or checking their preferred social networking site. On your iPad “of course” you are taking notes. Laptops are for writing and working and iPads are for taking notes, and you are supposed to take notes during a meeting.
And the fact that laptops raise a wall (the screen) between the owner and the rest and the iPad does not (because it rests on your lap or almost flat on the table) makes a huge “emotional” difference. Really.
Related to that, working at home is also different. We scientists know that there is no big difference between reading a paper for work or for leisure. But there actually is a tremendous difference between reading that paper in your home studio sitting in front of your desktop, or reading it sprawling on your couch. Especially if you do not live alone and it’s Sunday. Believe it or not, my Sundays or afternoons are very different now.
On the other side, laptops — or desktops — are unbeatable for writing. But we were talking about (enhanced) reading, right?
The added value of the tablet
In my own experience, the main added value of the tablet can be summarized in some keywords: read, notes, train, couch, shoulder bag.
Having get rid of most my paper usage in the last years, with the tablet I succeeded in getting rid of all paper. Period. This means, specifically, getting rid of:
- The annoying collection of separate sheets and stickies with casual notes you will never revisit but never dare to trash: the tablet keeps them all together, searchable and easy to transfer (to other people by e-mail, to more serious documents).
- Printouts of readings with limited life-span (destroy after read): thousands of times more digital documents in your tablet than printed ones in your usual bag, immediate transfer, time and paper saving — and healthier back.
Even more important than working paperless, the tablet provides full mobility, especially if accompanied with an Internet connection (embedded 3G or using your cellphone as a hotspot). And full mobility means that the tablet is always in my shoulder bag. Instead of everything else. The laptop is something you consider bringing with you: the tablet is always with you, as a pen or a notebook used to be.
For those more curious, I’ve shared my setup (or most of it) in the following set of snapshots. Enjoy.
On February 15, 2012, I am speaking at a research seminar at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute on how to use online tools on the process of doing research. This is a very slightly modified version of a former seminar that I did back in January — e-Research: social media for social sciences —, so all the things that were said there apply here: RSS feeds (and a feed reader) are your best friends, a personal website is not an option, adopt tools as you need them (not all of them in a row and without a sense of purpose), and be digital.
Since I began my crusade for the adoption of web 2.0 tools (now social media) to enhance research, I have evolved from the “you do need all this stuff” motto to “you do not need all this stuff… but a couple of things are a must”. So, I would really like to stress a couple of points:
- In a knowledge society, ICTs are a must. They are a train that you cannot let pass: you will either jump in or you will be crushed under its wheels, but there is no stepping aside. This especially applies for knowledge workers (e.g. scientists). Some people still see the use of some tools (blogs, twitter, RSS feeds) in science as rocket science: this is not even wrong. ICTs are to scientists what tractors are to farmers. Of course you can live without them, but it is very likely that you will be working with less efficiency and less efficacy.
- Yes, mastering ICTs and those always changing social media require a certain degree of digital competence, which is not innate and, thus, has to be acquired. As the Spanish saying says: there are neither hurries, nor pauses. But lack of digital competence should not stop you from trying to use social media for research (“those ain’t for me”), the same way you began with your elementary maths to end up calculating multinomial logistic regressions.
- Be digital. Just be it. If you are duplicating your tasks, you are not being digital (enough). Social media is about leveraging what you already did on your computer by putting it online. Your papers, your slides, your notes, your readings… if they’re on digital support, they can be online with minimum effort (if they ere not on digital support, please see point #1). I tend to say that e-Research is about making your “digital life” overlap 90% of your “analogue life”. There is an added 10% extra work, indeed, but it is worth doing it compared to benefits.
Peña-López, I. (2009). “The personal research portal
”. In Hatzipanagos, S. & Warburton, S. (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Social Software and Developing Community Ontologies
, Chapter XXVI, 400-414. Hershey: IGI Global.
On January 12, 2012, I spoke at a research seminar on how to benefit from the use of social media to enhance research, both in the stage of being aware of the advancement of one’s discipline, and in the stage of diffusing one’s own research production.
The seminar had three different parts.
During the first part, I provided an introduction to social media, where I mainly explained the main ways that information can be shared (and, thus, also monitored): RSS feeds, widgets and open APIs. Put short, RSS feeds share preset bits of information (e.g. an article, a list of articles, etc.), widgets share preset bits of information plus a preset way of presenting it (a list of last tweets you can embed on a website, a like button, etc.) and open APIs allow an external user to ask a database for customized collections of data (e.g. put on a map the last tweets on a given subject).
During the second part — the core of the seminar — I went through an imaginary typical research process, from the moment one has an idea that wants to explore until the research is over and a research output can be presented. I draw two parallel timelines where I complemented the traditional way of doing research (on the right in the presentation) and how this could be enhanced with social media (on the left in the presentation). I stressed the idea that social media is a complement and never a substitute of the traditional ways of doing research. That is, tweeting about a topic or writing on an academic blog should not stop anyone from attending conferences or writing academic papers.
The last part of the seminar was a debate about the pros and cons of using social media to do research.
There are four points I would like to highlight from that debate and that were directly or indirectly asked to me during our talk.
- What is the basic, fundamental tool: RSS feeds. Period. It is for me very important to be aware of the fact that, with the help of RSS feeds, you don’t have to look for information, but information will get to you. And this is a significant leap in reaching higher stages of efficiency and efficacy in managing information.
- If you are a knowledge worker and you are not present in the information landscape, you are not. Having a personal/research group/research project website is not an option, but a must.
- Where to start from? It depends. Begin with a part of your research. If you are in the stage of gathering information, set up a monitoring/listening strategy: identify your actors and subscribe to their blogs, twitter accounts, slideshare accounts, etc. If you are in the stage of diffusing your research production, set up a diffusion strategy, upload your papers and slides, comment on others’ websites (pointing back to yours, etc.). Managing efficiently your bibliography (i.e. with a bibliographic manager) is also a way to begin managing your own information/knowledge.
- Think digital, be digital. e-Research is not about adding a digital layer, and, thus, adding an extra amount of work, but about changing your working paradigm, about levering all the work you are already doing on digital support.
Following you can find and download the slides I used. You can also download a book chapter where I explain in detail the building of a Personal Research Portal. There is a collection I maintain, The Personal Research Portal: related works which gathers everything I have written or said about this topic.
Peña-López, I. (2009). “The personal research portal
”. In Hatzipanagos, S. & Warburton, S. (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Social Software and Developing Community Ontologies
, Chapter XXVI, 400-414. Hershey: IGI Global.
There is a difference between networks where content is generated and is what binds the network together, and networks where the social component is what provides sense to that network. Wikipedia is an example of the first one; Linkedin is arguably an example of the second one. Probably the former ones are more engaging.
To create valuable content, a goal is needed, and thus comes a need for focusing. This goal, notwithstanding, may not be included in the original design, but come with the use that the users do of the social networking site.
Chris Csikszentmihályi points to the decreasing (and almost non-existent) transaction and coordination costs of bringing people togheter and build things collaborativelly that Yochai Blenkler explains in The Wealth of Networks: ICTs have made collaboration so cheap that centralization may not make a lot of sense or, in other words, decentralization of production is now feasible in many more ways than it was before.
Indeed, most people need specific cases or even direct commands so to start up using an online service. I f you’re told you can do “anything” on a web site, that’s what you’ll do: nothing. A good example to kick-start a service was Twitter: “what are you doing?”. With time, it evolved to much more than what one was doing. But for starters, the idea worked.
Llorenç Valverde: so, translated to the education arena, problem based communities, addressed to specific topics and with clear rules is what would work. That would contribute in building a community. But, why don’t online students usually gather around virtual communities and/or specific “social learning networking sites”?
Chris C.: And how do you make people engage if 2% will be creators and 98% will be lurkers?
Eduardo Manchón: there actually are two really separate communities (creators and lurkers) and the one that really matters is creators. You have to develop your site for the creators, for the content generators, for the active ones.
Lev Gonick: We have situational communities and we have intentional communities. Sustainable communities are more on the intentional side of communities, strongly motivated and are normally well moderated/led. And we should try and find, in the educational field, what is the difference we are making, what is the advantage we are providing our students.
Eduardo Manchón: (some) noise and (some) trouble helps the community to raise, and to mature. Online communities are small societies and so they need some controversies to grow in all senses. Of course a minimum amount of moderation is needed, especially to avoid the destruction of the community as a whole, but tension is generally good, is a sign of health.
Eduardo Manchón: we may know what does not work in a virtual community, we most probably do not know what does work, but we can only find out by creating the online community and bring it to live. So, the best advice when designing and building an online community is to build it and see whether people “comes”.
NOTE: As usual, this kind of events are much richer than what these humble notes may suggest :)
This is a three-part article whose aim is to serve as an update to my work on the personal research portal, as long as to explain yet another practical example of a PLE, something that many found useful at the PLE Conference as a means to embody theoretical ramblings.
The first part deals with infrastructures and how my PLE is built in the sense of which applications shape it. The second one deals with the information management workflow. The third one puts the personal learning environment in relationship with the university.
If in the two previous parts we have seen what can the infrastructure of a PLE be like and what can the workflow be, we here will see how the personal fits into the institutional. I agree that PLEs are not just tools but ways to understand learning on the Net, hence the debate around institutional or non-institutional PLEs may seem void. Still, I think this question is indeed relevant because, beyond their learning specificities, I believe in PLEs as a driver of change in formal learning en educational institutions, as a wedge that breaks through the interstices that have opened in the education system.
An introduction to the (new) UOC Campus, a virtual open campus
In the last years, my colleagues at the Office of Learning Technologies (OLT) at the Open University of Catalonia have been doing a terrific job in preparing our virtual campus for openness.
Being part of the faculty and not part of the OLT team, I’m not fully knowledgeable of all the work that has been done there, but I can speak of perceptions, which is most of the times what in the end matters. And the perceptions are that our campus has undergone (at least) two drastic transformations in the recent years from the standpoint of view of the user:
- The Campus project, a multi-stakeholder initiative, changed our virtual campus from a closed legacy system into a service-oriented architecture that now can interact or incorporate most services and applications existing around, from modules from other LMSs (e.g. a Moodle classroom) to the most common web 2.0 applications (e.g. a WordPress blog). These services can be selected (with the required profile permissions) and set up into a classroom at will. New services and apps take from one to two semesters to be added to the current pool of options, depending on complexity.
- The MyUOC project provided each and every university member with an “i-Homepage” inside the Campus, the flavour of Netvibes or iGoogle thus allowing for a brand new path towards personalization and external information self-integration (i.e. DIY integration of external information, not top-down led).
Fitting the personal into the institutional
So, what have these changes meant? And, especially, how is that new virtual campus coping with my own PLE?
The following image re-visits the infrastructure of a Personal Learning Environment, simplifies it and puts it in relationship with the infrastructure of UOC’s virtual campus (also greatly simplified).
Of the virtual campus (painted in green), I listed several web 2.0 applications currently in use. These are the usual suspects: on-site installations of blogs, wikis, fora, repositories, question tools, etc. Of course you do not always (for several reasons) can or want to install something in the campus. Then, you always have the option to install it in your own web server (i.e. your own personal learning environment or, in this case, your personal teaching environment) and either call it with a link from the virtual classroom. But there are better ways to cross the line that separates the walled garden of the virtual campus from the rest of the cyberworld:
- The MyUOC i-homepage, which now can hold information from third parties. Some of this information is retrieved by using widgets especially adapted to the campus. But potentially all kinds of information, apps and services can be embedded by means of iframes. Simple (and not elegant) as this solution may be, it definitely works and lets any user (i.e. me) to add information without bothering or requiring anyone to code anything. I’m currently using this page to collect in there my academic schedule on a Google Calendar, the dropbox account I use(d) to share huge MSc thesis documents and datasets with an student of mine living in Panama, Google Docs with a collectively edited and authored ongoing book, or the teaching blogs that I installed in my own site but for teaching purposes and to be used by campus students..
- The Wikispaces wiki: unlike your typical Mediawiki or PmWiki installation, which resides in your LMS (we use these too), you can now use a wikispace which lives outside the campus (i.e. at Wikispaces), though it has been wired to the campus so that the user is automatically kept logged in so they do not have to bother whether they are in or outside. Again, simple as this might sound, it does not only enables installing external applications to your campus, but use external services that may not be available for custom install.
- Third, the nanoblogging project (being implemented in the next two semesters in different phases) will bring StatusNet to the classroom in a first phase. So long, no big news: there is, of course, technical stuff to be done, but it is “only” a matter of installing and wiring tools and classrooms. I’m not trivializing this part, but “conceptually”, there’s no big difference with setting up the first blog. Hopefully, though, in a second and third phase, the idea is to bring the nanoblogging timeline to the MyUOC i-homepage and to make possible an interaction with Twitter. If everything goes well (time, resources, etc.), it should very much look like what was described in The Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE) into practice: an example with Twitter , where the boundaries of the virtual campus are totally overridden.
Back to the Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment
At this point, it is necessary to pay back a visit to the concept of the The Hybrid Institutional-Personal Learning Environment (HIPLE). Even if still at a very low level and with a lot of effort invested, the LMS I’ve been mainly using for almost 11 years and the PLE I started almost 7 years ago now speak one to each other. They sometimes speak in smoke signals, they sometimes speak like Italians and Spaniards do (each one in their own language, but more or less understanding each other), but speak they do.
Why is this so important?
It took years to journalists and, especially, to news businessmen to understand that the monopoly of news distribution was over, and that there were news streams outside mass media. Part of the crisis media are living today comes from the late understanding (and negation) of that fact, with consequences in job losses, decreased quantity of quality information, negative effects on democracy… you name it.
While journalism is important, I believe that education is even more important… and much more complex. As it happened with news, learning is increasingly happening “out there”. And if blogs were the main tools of “citizen journalism”, PLEs are becoming the tools of out-there-education.
It is my opinion that all the forecasts about the emergence of life-long-learning, informal learning, social learning, etc. are coming true, but are taking place outside of formal education and its walled institutions. And while educational institutions — and their components, including assessment, accreditation and educators — definitely need a dire transformation, they still play a core role in our society.
And it is precisely here, in bridging what is happening in out-there-education with the important socioeconomic role of educational institutions that PLEs can come to the rescue. As we have just shown, PLEs can permeate the waterproof membranes of educational institutions, the brick walls of classrooms. PLEs as personal research portals (PRP) can turn the academic ivory towers into crystal, enabling peeping the inside… and bringing some external light to its dark matters too.
That is why, in my opinion, PLEs are not only learning tools, not only ways to understand learning on the Net or to understand informal learning. In my opinion, PLEs are transforming drivers with an extraordinary potential for change.