The role of Twitter in Personal Learning Networks

My Masters thesis (the full title is The Twitter experience: the role of Twitter in the formation and maintenance of personal learning networks) is now publicly available in the DSpace archives at Royal Roads University.

Here is the abstract:

This qualitative phenomenological study involving in-depth interviews with seven educators in K-12 and higher education examines the role that the microblogging service Twitter plays in the formation and development of Personal Learning Networks (PLN) among educators. A double hermeneutic data analysis shows that Twitter plays a role in the formation and development of PLNs by allowing educators to; engage in consistent and sustained dialogue with their PLN, access the collective knowledge of their PLN, amplify and promote more complex thoughts and ideas to a large audience, and expand their PLN using features unique to Twitter. This research also examines the nature of a PLN and shows that participants believe their PLN extends beyond their Twitter network to encompass both face-to-face and other ICT mediated relationships. Secondary research questions examine how Twitter differs from other social networking tools in mediating relationships within a PLN, what motivates an educator to develop a PLN, how trust is established in a PLN, what the expectations of reciprocity are within a PLN, and what is the nature of informal learning within a PLN.

It has been on the site for just over week now and I was holding off to post this until the RRU thesis office could correct the typo in the title (all fixed) I noticed that people have started making reference to it (thank you, Dan), so thought I should get something up here.

Other than the spelling mistake, one glaring oversight on my part is the lack acknowledgments, so if you will indulge me I want to publicly acknowledge some people.

First, to the 7 participants in the study, thank you for your time, your voices and your stories. This was not a “spend 10 minutes filling out a survey” type project, and I appreciate your graciousness and generosity as participants.

To my thesis supervisor, Bill Muirhead – a calming presence who was always there when I needed him, his steady hand guided me through the process. I feel extremely fortunate to have him as a mentor.

To my PLN (and you know who you are but if you don’t here’s a big hint – you are reading this right now). You feed my head with the best stuff. Thanks.

To my co-workers at both Camosun College and Royal Roads University, specifically Susan Chandler (Camosun) and Mary Burgess (RRU) who’s support and understanding cleared many non-thesis related hurdles away from my path during this project.

Finally, to my family; Maggie and Graeme, who missed their Dad a lot during the whole Masters journey (yes, Graeme, Dad is finished his see-ssus). I know a trip to Disneyland won’t make up for all this missed weekends, but I suspect it might help :).   And to my wife, Dana. No one has had to wear the extra burden of this project more than her, and I feel truly blessed to have someone as supportive as her in my life.


Delicious – the place I got it

Delicious is dead.

Er, sorry. Delicious is in the sunset column.

I don’t know if I could write a better eulogy to Delicious than Marshall has at ReadWriteWeb. He hit on so many points and ways in which the service was so valuable to so many people. Me included.

I started experimenting with Delicious in 2005 after hearing a hallway conversation between Scott Leslie and another of my BCcampus coworkers at the time. They were talking about these things called folksonomy and tagging. I was intrigued.

Delicious was the place where so much of the Web 2.0 world first made sense to me. With Delicious, I got it. I got the power of networks. I got social learning. I got tagging. I got the cloud. I got transparency. I got open. I got web as tool. I got what a “social” network was, even though I was still years away from joining Facebook or Twitter. Delicious armed me with enough conceptual knowledge of what a social network was that I was able to scaffold that knowledge and easily “get” the value of Facebook and Twitter when they arrived a few years later.

Today I kinda feel like when AOL announced they were killing Netscape; a kind of melancholy sadness at the passing of something that was once so great.

But what makes this different from Netscape is that Delicious is still great and remains one of the most valuable tools in my network. It did what it did extremely well. Sure there was the convenience of storing your bookmarks on the web and having them accessible from anywhere, but that wasn’t the real value of Delicious for me. The real value is its transparency in that I am able to see what my network is bookmarking. Delicious gives me a glimpse into what they found important on the web. What they bookmarked helped me focus my attention on what was important. It helped me learn. Delicious was a small piece of social learning in action. I was observing skilled practitioners in my field through their bookmarks, and was able to follow their links and find out why they felt this article or this link was important to them.

Oh sure, there is that Twitter thing where links are shared all the time.  But Delicious is different. Beyond the realtime stream of what my network is bookmarking at the moment, I also had access to everything they had ever bookmarked in the past. Through the Delicious search engine, I was able to search through hundreds of  thousands of links curated by the members of my network. The people who I connect with in Delicious are dealing with the same problems, questions and challenges that I do. When I needed to recommend a new tool for a job, I would go to my Delicious network first and search what my network had squirreled away there. Being able to have access to this collected archive of links vetted by people I trusted? Invaluable.

Rarely did a conversation happen “on Delicious”. It wasn’t that kind of social network. It was a lurkers paradise. Not that I didn’t contribute. I bookmarked and annotated, passively adding to the collective knowledge (so I hoped) of my network.

Yeah, I know Diigo is there. That is probably where I will end up. But I always found Diigo too heavy, too feature rich. In Delicious, there was simplicity. It was the journeyman of Web 2.0 tools. Dependable, gets the job done, no nonesense. But yet flexible enough that you could mash it and collaborate in numerous ways.

In some respects, Delicious is just a tool. I mean, I still have those connections, and I can and will recreate them in other venues and services. My network will survive. I’ll find ways to continue doing what I do. That’s what distributed networks do. Survive thermonuclear bombs to rebuild and thrive again. But it was this tool (and, more specifically, the architects of this tool) who taught me so much about how the web works that calling it “just a tool” seems cheap and demeaning. It deserves more respect from me than that. A shovel is a tool. Delicious was disruptive and changed my view of how things worked.

Sometimes it IS about the technology. And I can’t give it much higher praise than that.