Role: Principal investigator

Funding body: Society for Research in Higher Education (SRHE)

Award value: £3000

Duration: July 2017 to December 2018

Networked publics : investigating the bounds of personal and professional selves presented by academics through social media platforms

Project Aims and Research Questions

With increasing pressure upon academics to promote themselves and their research online, this proposal takes as a starting point a question of how academic identity is expressed online through social media platforms. This in itself is a complex question, as academic identity online is refracted through a variety of different platforms. Academics may be highly selective of what they choose to post to different sites, through a combination of choosing whether to merge personal and professional identities, and contrasting perceptions about the audiences at different sites.

The first goal of the proposed project would be to test a model of academic online identity which emerged from my recent doctoral research. The model builds upon Veletsianos and Kimmons’ (2014) notion that academics present different ‘acceptable identity fragments’ (AIFs) through different parts of their online social interactions. However, the concept of AIFs requires further clarification. It is not clear at what scale AIFs operate; e.g. a single post, on one platform, or across multiple platforms. The findings from my doctoral research, in combination with other recent models of academic identity online, suggest a clustering of platforms in niches along a continuum from exclusively personal to exclusively professional identity. This project would test this model with a larger sample by asking academics about the types of information that they would consider posting to a range of different social networking sites.
The question of what is shared on different platforms as a reflection of identity is also linked to a perceived audience. The second goal of the project would be to explore the different and nuanced forms of research impact that academics experience through their professional interactions with contrasting and overlapping audiences (drawing upon the notion of ‘networked publics’; boyd, 2011) on social media platforms.

The study is guided by the following research questions:

  1. How are academics acceptable identity fragments mediated by different platforms?
  2. What do academics perceive to be indicative of significant impact of their research through the networked publics of social media platforms?

Background and Rationale

This project builds upon the findings from my recent concluded doctoral research project. My PhD research used a mixed-methods social network analysis approach to explore the structure of academics’ personal networks on academic social networking sites (Academia.edu and ResearchGate) and Twitter. One of the key findings from the project was that the network structures reflected the contrasting ways in which academics conceptualise different sites; academic social networking sites were viewed as presenting an exclusively professional identity, as a type of CV or repository, while a mix of personal and professional was viewed as an intrinsic part of Twitter, and was more likely to foster and reinforce professional connections as a result. From co-interpretive interviews with participants, a model emerged suggesting that social media site use sits within a spectrum from personal to professional identity being reflected through sites (Jordan, 2017). This elaborates upon Veletsianos and Kimmons (2014) ‘acceptable identity fragments’ for academics online, suggesting that clusters of sites may represent a particular ‘fragment’ between a personal and professional self. The proposed project would test this model empirically, which was derived from a small sample of interviews (18), by using a survey and larger sample to explore the types of information that academics would share through different sites.

Research Methodology/Framework

The project contains both confirmatory and exploratory elements, and to this end, an online survey will be used as the main method for data collection. First, to check the model derived in my PhD, participants will be presented with an inventory of statements about examples of the types of information that they might share through social media (both professional and personal). Respondents will be asked to indicate which platforms they would be happy to share each example of information upon. This data will be used to map the extent to which overlap occurs between personal and professional information disclosure on different sites. This analysis will be carried out using network analysis software (Gephi), by converting the information to a weighted bipartite graph and visualising for clusters. The second section of the survey will comprise free-text response items and ask participants to describe up to three specific examples of instances where they felt that their interactions on social media had created tangible research impact (including the platform and audience involved). Participants will also be asked to indicate whether they would be willing to participate in a follow-up interview, to check findings from the qualitative analysis of text responses.

References

boyd, d. (2011) Social network sites as networked publics, in Papacharissi, Z. (Ed.) A networked self: Identity, community, and culture on social network sites, Abingdon, Routledge, pp. 39-58.
Jordan, K. (2017) Understanding the structure and role of academics’ ego-networks on social networking sites. PhD thesis, The Open University, UK.
Kimmons, R. & Veletsianos, G. (2014) The fragmented educator 2.0: Social networking sites, acceptable identity fragments, and the identity constellation, Computers & Education, 72, 292-301.

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