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PhD Candidate at Griffith University, mummy, wife, teacher, social media enthusiast, avid reader

Monday, 28 May 2012

Blogs as lit-search tools

There is nothing new under the sun.

In 2010, all you knew was that you wanted to use Facebook to gather your data. Your hopes rose as time and time again you found literature that studied Facebook users and Facebook networks. Not once did you find a study that actually believed Facebook status updates are worthy pieces of data. Your ego is boosted by Ethic’s decision that your study proposal was necessary, despite the warnings from methodology experts. Ethics is wary but social media is not going away. You formulated a plan. You experimented with ways to archive the data. In 2011, you spent 10 months ploughing through the (often mind-numbing) eating, sleeping, partying and studying habits of 17-18 year olds. You began your analysis. You find out it’s been done before.

I now know what most scholars in my field of knowledge already know. Of course that study has been done -- and years ago. As I now finalise my literature review, Neil Selwyn’s name appears over and over again. I’m not sure how I missed it for so long, but at least I know about it before submission.

The interesting story is how I actually found Selwyn’s paper. By reading blogs.

After a Google Scholar search using the terms “Facebook” and “phenomenography” I came across another PhD candidate’s conference paper (Bonzo 2012). As I store my references on EndNote and always record the author’s expertise, I googled Justin Bonzo’s name and came across his blog. Bonzo lists other PhD candidate’s blog rolls. I nearly didn’t bother looking but thought I’d just try one link. One of Barry Avery’s (2009) blogs used Selwyn’s reference.

What do I take away from this?

Traditional methods (imagine Google Scholar now being a traditional literature search method!) can sometimes only get you so far. As with my recent conversion to writing a blog and signing on to Twitter, I needed to heed my own advice. I wanted to use Facebook status updates as my qualitative data because I believed they were just as valid as the traditional interview or questionnaire. I wanted to prove their worth for studying young people. Likewise, in the academic life world, Twitter and blogs are valuable tools for traversing the current knowledge base.

Selwyn’s (2007) study is not exactly the same, but not far off. Selwyn archived 68169 status updates from Facebook. I have archived around 457. Selwyn collected most of the posts from his 909 participants. I only collected those status updates, from my 35 participants, related to university. Selwyn collected data over three slices in time covering 15 weeks in total (before and after assessment and during the Christmas break). I collected my data during four slices in time (totalling 14 weeks) highlighted in Penn-Edwards and Donnison’s (2011) paper that highlighted key times first year university students contemplated their affiliation with university. Selwyn used Grounded Theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967) for analysis. I have used phenomenography which, according to Richardson (1997), is closely related to Grounded Theory. At least I know I was on the right track.

I know that this is not the end of my PhD’s contribution to knowledge. To quote my supervisor, Associate Professor Cheryl Sim:
“...don't regard that someone else has "done your study" - there will be unique differences - and the fact you know of these enables you to make sure you do that - and of course acknowledging the work of others in this same area,  so demonstrating you know their work exists is really good - so no more using those words my girl!!”

I now follow Selwyn on Twitter and have read many of his other papers. Our philosophy of social media seems to align (Selwyn 2011).  I believe he may provide the doorway to the academic publication.

We shall see.


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