Exploring spheres of sharing: Analysis of contributions to Cloudworks – Part 1

Over the last couple of years new social networking sites have begun to emerge that aim to support the sharing of teaching and learning ideas and experiences and to develop professional networks. These nascent liminal spaces are intriguing for both the social practices they may perpetuate and the new practices they may promote. In this, and I hope some future posts, I aim to look at these emerging spheres of sharing which are more qualitatively complex and quantitatively intricate than web-usage statistics or anecdotal quotes can show, as useful as both these are. What do the patterns of behaviour look like, what is the relationship between the individual and larger contributing group, and how does the act of sharing evolve and differ?

Initially I have chosen as my study group a random sample of 250 subscribers to the Open University’s Cloudworks website and use publicly available data (this represents approximately 10% of those subscribed to the site). The site looks to promote the sharing of learning and teaching ideas and experience, and currently the majority of contributors are from Higher and Further education.  The site has witnessed an impressive rate of subscriber growth given it was only launched last year (for more on the evolution of the site see Conole and Culver (2010) and Galley (2010) references to follow).

First it is perhaps useful for me to differentiate between the practice of ‘sharing’ and the perhaps more nebulous term ‘using’. Sharing implies exchange – the receipt and return of information between two or more people; a process of active dialogue that transcends simply viewing or receiving of information. Cloudworks allows subscribers to make a range of contributions including ‘Clouds’ (a learning and teaching question, topic, issue, idea or experience); comments (on a Cloud object); and links and embedded content (posted to a Cloud) (not all these features were available in early versions of Cloudworks). An analysis such as this provides not only a benchmark to chart further use, but also may help to understand patterns of behaviour and barriers.

The following graph shows the total number of contributions made to the site by each subscriber in the sample. It shows that 61% of the sample have never made a contribution and therefore could be considered never to have ‘shared’ on the site. However, we do find that some 39% of the sample have made at least one contribution (of which 16% made only one post and 15% more than one contribution but all within 28 days of the first post).



Whilst at this stage this doesn’t tell us about the intent, depth or longevity of contributions or the circumstances under which contributions were made (for example, following from Reychav & Te’eni (2009), does sharing look like that undertaken in formal spaces of conference knowledge sharing or the informal spaces), what we can say is that just over a third have at least experienced contributing to the site.

Measures of longevity of engagement are certainly important for contextualising projections for sustainability. One such measure could be to look at how many have continued to contribute. Analysis of my sample shows 7.6% have made at least one further contribution more than 28 days after their first. What is the implication of this and what does this group look like?

One implication may be that a relatively small group of individuals could contribute a disproportionate amount of content. The graph below shows that just 6% of my sample made over half (56%) of the contributions, and only 15% contributed 80%. Note how I have classified subscribers in to six group based on quantity of contributions.

How does this impact the setting and controlling of discourse and the shared sense of ownership? How much equality in contributions should we expect of such a site?

As part of my initial survey, I scored each subscriber by how much personal information they included in their profile. A ‘0’ was given for no information (i.e. only a first name), a ‘1’ for a surname and place of work and ‘2’ for adding a twitter name, photograph or personal website address. A plot of the six groups against the proportion in that group scoring ‘2’ (sharing more personal details) shows that the more an individual contributed to the site, the more likely they were likely to also share (or indeed have) personal information. The graph is quite striking.

These findings may not perhaps deviate significantly from what would be expected of a social networking website. However, they may take on greater meaning when offered against the ambitions of such sites if they aim to broaden spheres of sharing to the mainstream? Whilst barriers are likely to be social and cultural as much as technological, it is certainly useful to have data with which to benchmark practice and support future goal setting.

This data presents the broad context for the next step, a more detailed look at individual engagements. In my next post, therefore, I intend to look at a method of representing patterns of individual use and situating this in the context of other’s contributions to Clouds.

Reychav, I & Te’eni, D (2009) ‘Knowledge exchange in the shrines of knowledge: The ‘how’s’ and ‘where’s’ of knowledge sharing processes’, Computers and Education, 53, 1266-1277.

Please use the following to reference this post:

Cross, S.J. (2010) ‘Exploring spheres of sharing: Analysis of contributions to Cloudworks – Part 1’, Latestendeavour Blog, weblog post, 7 March <https://latestendeavour.wordpress.com/2010/03/07/exploring-spheres-of-sharing-analysis-of-contributions-to-cloudworks-part-1/>

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