Exploring Spheres of Sharing: Analysis of Cloudworks Part 3

In March last year I looked at the extent and longevity of contributions made to the Cloudworks website by a sample of 250 users who registered in 2008 and 2009 (approximately 10% of registered users on the site). In this post I’ll ask what pattern of use, especially continued use, has this sample demonstrated over 2010? And is this similar to those who registered in 2010 year?

Cloudworks aims to support the sharing of teaching and learning and my original aim was to get an indication of how many were using the site to really ‘share’ and discuss ideas; that is to say, the proportion who posted on the site (rather than just using it as a resource to read). So how did the 2008-09 cohort do in 2010?

  • In 2008-9, my original review found 8% (20 people) had posted two or more contributions over a period greater than 28 days from their first post (what I termed a ‘prolonged’ contribution). In 2010,  just over half of this group (13 our of 20 people) continued to make a contribution to the site. The remaining 7 did not post anything in 2010. However, this decrease is almost balanced by the fact that in 2010, 5 new people (from the original sample) made posts in a period of more than 28 days. This may be an indication of an emergence of a core group (5-7%) of sustained users. Scaling this 10% sample up to the entire Cloudworks usership this suggests there may be some 150 to 250 users making prolonged contributions.
  • In 2008-9, some 39% of registered users demonstrated some ‘activity’ on the site (such as posting a comment or link). In 2010, however,  just 14% of the sample had made a contribution to the site.

Taken together, these data seem to point to a core group of contributors posting to the site.

So what are they contributing to? I took the original 8% of core contributors (n=20) and recorded details of every post they made since 2008; including the topic, whether they had set-up the cloud,and the number of contributions made to the cloud. In total these 20 users contributed to 103 clouds. Of these clouds:

  • 40% were associated with workshops or events that had been held in a face-to-face context
  • 20% were posed questions – the Cloud asking the community for comment or feedback
  • 10% were about or refered to ‘real things’ such as reports, tools, objects or publications
  • 7.5% were about virtual media (online newsletters, re-tweets etc)
  • 7.5% focused on presentations that had been made (e.g. at a conference)

Although only a few Clouds specifically focused on sharing designs or talking about the theory of learning design explicitly, in some way all could be considered to be ‘talking around’ the subject of designing learning. Of interest to me is the apparently high proportion of Clouds formed as supports or ‘on-the-back-of’ real face-to-face workshops, events and meetings.

This is evidence that, mixed-in with the process of creating a new virtual community, the site is recreating, consolidating and reinforcing existing real-world relationships taking place in real spaces. This is intriguing and perhaps unsurprising but it does suggest we need to pay attention to how people move between spaces and how SOVC (sense of virtual community) and SOC (sense of community) overlap. Blanchard, Welbourne & Boughton (2011) talk of the connection between trust, norms and sense of virtual community and suggest that as members adhere more closely to the community norms their bond to it increases and the risk in participating increases. Galley et al. (forthcoming) also review a range of indicators of community. From a quite different field we find Raymond (2010) attempting to bring together different dimensions of attachment to place. If one were to see Cloudworks as a virtual place there are perhaps some parallels with this work – not just in the indicators of community, but also in personal contexts (place identity and rootedness) and online environmental contexts (affinity to the virtual world, online identity etc).

I also looked at these 103 clouds from a second perspective: the average number of contributions made to Clouds started by one of the core (20) users and by the project team. In the case below we can see that a Cloud started by a ‘core’ user attracted fewer comments from other (non-project team) users and from the project team than Clouds started by the project team. Of course, the sample is relatively small yet I use this merely to suggest that the experience of using Cloudworks to elicit contributions from others may vary between groups.

 

Cloud started by ‘core’ Cloudworks user (n=34)

Cloud started by member of the Cloudworks project team (n=42)

‘Core’ Cloudworks user

1.2 comments 1.4 comments

Other users

2.0 comments

5.2 comments

Members of the project team

1.0 comments

5.6 comments

Moving on, I also wondered how new people joining the site in 2010 got on. Are they making a greater or fewer number of contributions? To do this, I made a second sample, this time of 93 new users, who had registered between March and June 2010. I’ll call this the 2010 Group. Here’s how they compare to the 2008-09 group:

  2008-2009 Group (n=250) 2010 Group (n=93)
First Year of using site 39% contributed to site of which 8% contributed to site for period of over 28 days 38% contributed to site of which 4% contributed to site for a period of over 28 days
Second year of using the site 14% contributed to site of which 7% contributed to site for a period of over 28 days N/a

In would appear that rates of user contribution in the first year are similar for both groups (the original 2008-09 sample and the new 2010 sample). If this trend were to hold, then it may offer a good guide as to the attrition rate for new members of the site.

The analysis above has tended to focus on contributions and it is clear from the strong viewing figures for the site that many registered users, and non-registered users, are reading/consuming the information on the site without ever contributing. Certainly reading alone is important for building norms, encouraging new contributions, helping individuals assess the risk of contributing and forming a perception of trust across the group. However, the question remains, how do we interpret their silence?

  • Do those who simply read the content on Cloudworks agree with and acquires to it?
  • Can we take their absence of discussion or challenge to indicate agreement and consensus? – That is to say, does what is said on Cloudworks represent the consensus of those who subscribe to the site – the consensus of the community?
  • If not, and we take seriously the intent  to create/represent a community, on whose behalf does the content speak?
  • Who is exerting the greatest voice?
  • Does it matter that there is an apparent inequality in contributions?

Such questions become increasingly important for Cloudworks as it continues to grow both in terms of the number and range of contributions.

Blanchard, A., Welbourne, J. and Boughton, M. (2011). A Model of online trust, Information, Communication & Society, 14, 1, pp76-106.

Galley, R., Conole, G. and Alevizou, P. (forthcoming) Community Indicators: A framework for building and evaluating community on Cloudworks, Interactive Learning Environments.

Raymond, C., Brown, G. and Weber, D. (2010). The measurement of place attachment: Personal, community, and environmental connections, Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30, 4, pp422-434.

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