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Conducting an Investigation Into Meaning-Making in an Online Setting

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By: & Published: 2017 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases Part 2
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Abstract

An increasing number of educational researchers have begun to study informal learning networks that have been enabled by online social network sites and tools, including Facebook and Twitter. Part of the impetus driving this interest is to better understand the nature of the self-directed learning behaviors and knowledge-building dynamics that occur in these informal online networks. For example, two questions of interest to researchers in this area include the following: “How do people search for and get answers to problems?” and “How do people draw on other people and technology tools within the informal online network to help them articulate and solve their problems?” To better understand how people share and construct knowledge, we investigated learning within an online, open-source software community. We were particularly interested in the meaning-making—that is, how do people reflect on their experiences and knowledge and how do multiple people in a conversation together negotiate and reconstruct those experiences and knowledge—that occurred among members of self-organized groups as they attempted to solve problems presented by various participants within a discussion forum. Because this topic of study represents a new line of investigation in educational research, several methodological challenges have emerged. Some of the challenges we faced in this study included determining (1) an appropriate analytical framework, (2) unit of analysis, (3) data saturation, and (4) appropriate ethics for conducting and publishing research about an exclusively Internet-based environment. This case study aims to offer some insights that beginning researchers may find helpful.

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