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Virtual Ethnography

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a twittorial, a twitter chat -
semi-ephemeral, volatile, chaotic, superficial …
yet under the surface might be hidden
a dense web of affiliations,
a netscape of distributed presences,
for ever interconnected and interacting …


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13 Responses to “Virtual Ethnography”

  1.   Austin Tate Says:

    I have been exploring the many facets of your ethnography Anna. Thanks.

    The observations on the existence of a number of other persistent sites for community information beyond the twitter chat sessions is interesting… as I assume both sync and async elements are needed for any good long lived community like this.

    As with some of the other studies its clear that many of these communities act as a social network for things far beyond their core advertised field of interest. People make connections in a community and then go beyond the initial interest area as they communicate and share.

  2.   Daniel Griffin Says:

    Wow Ania this is brilliant,
    I really like the way you’ve presented the whole piece. As I read it I felt like I was opening lots of little windows into the Twitter community. To be honest, prior to reading this I had always considered Twitter to be less of a community and more of a tool for self promotion – perhaps due to the “sound bite” nature of tweets and the fact to be noticed in such a crowded group requires a bit of work. I love the quote that the feeling of belonging to the community “usually occurs when the participant starts participating more actively and experiences reciprocity and mutuality first-hand”, and when I think about that, it is probably true to a degree in any community. Its almost as if the very act of sharing something useful with others is creates a type of currency and reputation for group members. Really exploring enjoyed this, thanks!

  3.   Jen Ross Says:

    you’ve produced a tremendously rich piece of work, Ania, and your choice of ethnographic site was a great one. I love the prezi tree (including the ‘leafed’ version). There’s lots that could be focused on here, but I was especially drawn to your comments about texts on the ethnography page. Here’s where a virtual field site probably comes into its own: allowing you to pay attention to the production and consumption of texts as a way of understanding something about how a community maintains itself. Your example of your real-time and archived experiences of the chat demonstrates brilliantly how we can think differently, and creatively, about research in the online domain. I also appreciated the tensions you drew out in relation to democracy – taking on issues of access, influence and interpretation. All in all, a lovely job!

  4.   Jen Ross Says:

    ah, ps, meant to say – you might be interested in this paper, if you haven’t come across it:

    Bassett, E. H., & O’Riordan, K. (2002). Ethics of Internet research: Contesting the human subjects research model. Ethics and Information Technology, 4(3), pp. 233–247.

  5.   Grace Elliott Says:

    Hi Ania,

    A wonderfully creative ethnography. I really like how you’ve put it all together. I had no idea that the ELT community was so vibrant. I’m not a great lover of Twitter, have similar views to Daniel, believing it to be ‘chaotic’ and ‘superficial’ as quoted above. But you’ve proven how well and to what extent it can be used.

  6.   Jeremy Keith Knox Says:

    Some really elaborate and thoughtful work here Ania, and I enjoyed exploring it. I was interested in your reference to trust, and the development of further affiliations between group members. It seems this would be a really interesting element to try and map – how initial connections in Twitter, such as replies or retweets, might lead to extended commenting and communication in other sites, and the time scale involved in such transitions. As Austin suggests, I find it interesting to think of Twitter, in the very open and exposed way you describe it, as a gateway to further, perhaps more sustained, forms of community interaction (whether online or off). Yet, for its chaos and public disclosure, the Twitter stream seems integral to the community. Despite the intimacy and bonding that goes in in communities, perhaps the need for distance, brevity, and the ‘safety’ of the public sphere are just as important.

  7.   Ania Rolińska Says:

    Thanks everybody for your kinds comments and apologies for replying late – personal commitments!

    @Austin and Jeremy: I found that presence of other related sites interesting too. It’s like the Twitter chat is only the tip of the iceberg, growing into much greater network of professional and personal bonds (the petri dish?). It would be curious to study it in more detail and maybe map it out, as Jeremy suggests, to see the sheer scale and persistence of the phenomenon.

    @ Grace and Daniel – I’ve always thought it myself that Twitter might be superficial and sometimes used to stroke one’s ego but there is a lot of giving in that community and it’s interesting to see how they refer to each other, using a term ‘family’ for example. I’m training some English teachers online now and two of them are #eltchatters – when they discovered that there was an immediate outburst of friendliness. Not sure if that’s related to them belonging to the community, but they seem to be more into sharing that the rest of the participants. One of them said ‘Sharing is caring’, which echoes what you, Danie,l said in your comment.

    @Jen The prezi tree is a bit random in its selection of blogs and the leafy version is me going mad with a crayon – perhaps it’s me imagining the imagined community? my hunger after an ideal community? Jokes aside, I do think the trees represent the point and given more time and ability I would love to explore the connectivity in more detail as it’s the ‘background’ activity that actually foregrounds eltchat as a community (noticed by its members on a number of occasions). I think more exploration could uncover more tension as to the perceived/actual/imagined democracy. Thanks for the link to the article!

  8.   Geraldine Says:

    Hi Ania,

    Just wanted to add my appreciation of your ethnography to the others. I have really enjoyed the variety of visual productions you used to represent this text based community! I wandered to what extent the synchronous nature of the chat created a more intense community presence – a buzz and whether and how this stimulated further interactions across the asynchronous media.

    Fascinating – thanks :)

  9.   Siân Bayne Says:

    Ania – a terrific piece of work as everyone says. Just one thing to add – in thinking about ‘objectivity’ as a researcher (and quite a few people are grappling with this) it might be useful to read Elliot Eisner’s paper on ‘Objectivity in Educational Research’ (http://www.jstor.org/stable/1180090) which I think does a really nice job of questioning whether objectivity is possible, or even necessarily desirable.

    Thanks again for a great ethnography : )

  10.   Marisa Constantinides Says:

    Dear Ania,

    Thank you for choosing #ELTchat for your study and for this very rich tapestry of viewpoints and angles into what we do every Wednesday!

    On another level, it was really fascinating to see how academic work can be presented now – dissertation work in my time as a student was never presented in such an interesting way.

    It was also great to see how your choices reflected the variety and diversity of the tools we use on #ELTchat to maintain a connected community of ELT practitioners who are keen on their professional development.

    Thank you again.

    Marisa Constantinides
    #ELTchat Moderation
    @Marisa_C on Twitter

    •   Ania Rolińska Says:

      Dear Marisa

      Many thanks for your visit and comments on the ethnography. I found it fascinating to uncover the diverse layers of interaction and connection between the eltchat participants, not only on Twitter but also other sites online (and offline) – I look forward to eltchat symposium at IATEFL conference in Glasgow!

      As to the new ways of presenting academic content, the msc encourages us to explore the possibilities technologies offer in that respect, something I’m really grateful for as it helps me think more creatively. I also like the fact how the whole process of writing (and reading) starts to liken that of designing. You can see more examples of such multimodal assignments in the course gallery: http://www.education.ed.ac.uk/e-learning/gallery.htm


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