Netnography: The Why and the How to Researching Social Media
In the most recent CIDDL webinar, Dr. Tara Courchaine, Chief Research and Development Officer at CAST, facilitated a discussion regarding netnography with Stefanie McKoy and Krystle Merry, doctoral scholars at the University of Arkansas. Netnography, developed by Dr. Robert Kozinets, a professor of Journalism at the University of Southern California, is a type of qualitative research that explores cultural experiences using social media, virtual and augmented reality, and digital communication. Netnography gives researchers a method that investigates how culture and technology meet. Our panelists explored this topic through the researcher and teacher preparation lenses.
So What Is Social Media?
McKoy explained that though social media is thought of as simply being a platform, it has a more broad definition as a place that allows users to create and share for the purpose of networking with others. Social media impacts who we are and creates subcultures, which then, in turn, impact how teachers teach, how students interact, and how society views education. Some examples of social media covered in the webinar include Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat. Hootsuite, which is a social media management platform, found that there are 4.62 billion social media users worldwide.
Netnography in Research
McKoy discussed the unique research opportunity that social media provides. For example, by analyzing the comments on a TikTok video or posts related to a specific hashtag, researchers are able to find common themes and make connections. McKoy also shared her dissertation topic in the area of netnography which looks at how preservice teachers use TikTok to search online resources. According to her research, the resources pre-service teachers found were sorted into environment, behavior, and interaction. McKoy found that the videos and online resources, including the comments, illustrate research-based practices that we aim to teach pre-service teachers.
It’s important to point out that netnography is not a “quick and easy” form of research. It is not used in education very often, but it should be. It is flexible, creative, low-cost, and non-obtrusive. Netnography uses real-time human data. Data is collected in immersion journals, which are made of screenshots, videos, comment threads, and so on. Researchers sift through and code all the data themselves.
Netnography in Teacher Preparation
Social media provides an interesting viewpoint of how teachers progress throughout their careers. Merry pointed out, “You can actually follow a teacher over a course of a long period of time to see how their career progresses.” Beyond this, social media provides pre-service teachers the opportunity to “follow” in-service teachers in similar situations or settings, from similar backgrounds, geographic locations, or content areas. It provides pre-service teachers an extra layer of support where they can get ideas for classroom management, organization, and accommodations, as well as internship support and technology shortcuts.
Merry shared an activity on assistive technology (AT) she used with her pre-service teachers where she had them find an AT solution/resource on social media and create resources highlighted in the video. This activity taught the pre-service teachers the importance of reading the fine print, looking at the comments to determine the success, tips, and tricks of the project, and using their teacher brains when gathering materials.
It is also important to teach pre-service teachers how to analyze resources through the number of followers an account has, the number of views of a video, if the comments were more negative or positive, the amount of time a teacher has been teaching and where, and inherent bias in the post or comments. One struggle is that pre-service teachers in their practicum may not have the ability to integrate resources from social media into their practicum classrooms.