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The following Axel’s Bruns’s paper, originally published in First Monday and summarised this week in CreativeEconomy, caught my attention for its research tools and methodology.

  • Axel Bruns (2007) Methodologies for mapping the political blogosphere: An exploration using the IssueCrawler research tool, First Monday, 12(5). URL

This paper studies patterns of interaction in blogosphere using network mapping tool IssueCrawler. Many other similar methodologies and internet research tools are available (and usually for free). Social researchers employ them broadly and provide valuable information about virtual communities and social networks (e.g., see First Monday for other ideas).

What do we know about educational virtual communities and networks? Not many of them probably thrive, nevertheless they do exist. Research issues and tools are available. Answers are missing.

PS: Methodological debate in educational research still concentrates mainly on classical qualitative vs. quantitative research approaches. New research methodologies, such as social network analysis, methods for process and change research, data mining, are out of focus in this debate and educational HRD training programs.


I think the increasingly dated IssueCrawler and similar tools provide a starting point for seeing the extent of online posting around a particular topic. But they don't do enough to characterise the nature of that chatter, for example the level of interaction between posters or how focussed they remain over time. Also, the issue needs to have a very distinct identifier, whether that is a name (eg PLE, David Hicks) or starting URI. Because it doesn't appear to reach into blog comments, where the actual dialogue occurs, it doesn't pick up the nuances of the conversation. Regarding ed virtual communities--I think we do know a lot about them because academic researchers typically use their own cohorts as their study subjects! The problem is that almost all are walled inside VLEs so there is no general access to them. For example, IssueCrawler isn't going to find any classroom blogs or wikis unless the class uses open facilities like James Farmer's EduBlogs. IssueCrawler also can't climb into commercial media blogs which require registration. Nice illustrations aside, IMO tools like IssueCrawler oversimplify the terrain in the quantitative sense--I don't think there is debate anymore that qualitative approaches are complimentary and necessary.

Author’s comment: I agree, one size doesn’t fit all. It is important: (a) to know which questions you could answer using these standard SNA tools (PS: there are different tools for exploring small course level learning communities); (b) to improve and/or create tools that are appropriate for researching various educational networks.

You may want to use VOSON (Virtual Observatory for the Study of Online Networks) http://voson.anu.edu.au/index.html

I've read about it in this paper:
Robert Ackland, Jenny Fry, and Ralph Schroeder (2007) "Scoping the Online Visibility of e-
Research by Means of e-Research Tools", Paper presented at the Third international conference on e-social science. Link: http://ess.si.umich.edu/papers/paper143.pdf

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