Discovering Metrics for Evaluating an Academic Weblog Community [First Draft of CCCC 2005 Proposal]

Speaker #n will present a statistical analysis of the activity on a student weblog community in order to identify possible correlations which may advance our understanding of the pedagogical value of weblogs. The community is a group of personal blogs, all hosted on the same server and sponsored by the university. Activity on the site will be monitored during the summer break, during which all students will have the ability to continue posting to their blogs.

While most members of this particular community are undergraduates who are required to blog for course credit, but the server does not, at the moment, host any “class blogs”. Those students who blog for credit do so on their own personal blogs, where they are given free reign to blog on whatever they wish, in addition to their academic blogging. A small number of faculty and students who are unconnected to the classes where blogging is required nevertheless keep blogs on a voluntary basis. About 5% of the bloggers in the group are responsible for about 50% of the activity on the site, and the voluntary bloggers are well-represented in this list of active users. Preliminary analysis of the ratio between number of posts (top-level entries created by registered bloggers) and comments (brief responses, which can be added to the main entry by any web visitor, including random web surfers) reveals several interesting details: male bloggers wrote less frequently than the female bloggers, but typically attracted more comments per post.

Other areas to examine include the relationship between the blogroll (a sidebar containing a list of a blogger’s favorite weblogs) and the classroom seating chart, and the usual computer-assisted textual analysis subjects such as word count, word frequency, and average word length. In order to present this information, an analysis of the peculiar ethics of this particular research situation may prove illuminating. All students who blog for class are informed of the inevitably public nature of their work, which makes the invention of pseudonyms almost pointless (since Google would easily help the curious audience member identify the “real” author of any quoted passage). Information such as average number of posts per month, or average number of comments attracted by each post, is already public (even though only the weblog administrator has push-button access to an up-to-the minute master list). Other factors which may be examined for possible associations include the degree to which the student personalizes the blog templates (leaving it “plain vanilla,” modifying it in simple or complex ways), the average number of links per post, and the average number of inbound, on-site, and off-site links per post.
Discovering Metrics for Evaluating an Academic Weblog Community [First Draft of CCCC 2005 Proposal]Jerz’s Literacy Weblog)

First draft of my component of a panel proposal for next year’s CCCC (I am “speaker #n”.)

I was resisting putting in buzzwords such as “emergence” and “network,” since I think of this as a practical exploration of just what it is possible to learn once we learn to read all the data that’s being encoded in the networks the students form when they link to each other and post comments on each other’s blogs.

I can’t really come up with a cuter humanities-style title for the paper, not until I’ve actually got some results to work with.

I was thinking of “Mene, mene, tekel, uparshin,” if only to remind me to look for signs that weblogs aren’t the heaven-sent answer to every single thing that might possibly be less than perfect in academia.