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Equitability and dominance in online forums: an ecological approach Jon Rosewell EATING, 13 th  November 2008 Dept of Comm...
The few and the many… <ul><li>Participation in forums is very variable </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>a few students post m...
It seemed a good idea at the time… <ul><li>A relatively painless way of analysing FirstClass forums </li></ul><ul><li>Look...
What is the point? <ul><li>Analyse past forums </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>make sense of what went on </li></ul></ul></u...
Forums included in study <ul><li>Course-based: moderated, not tutors </li></ul><ul><li>Large: 100-800 students </li></ul><...
The few and the many (again) <ul><li>Robin Mason: ‘Rule of thirds’ </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>1/3 post many, 1/3 post f...
 
All the data you want
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Do you want to see it again?
Do patterns vary?
Ecological analogy <ul><li>Communities often composed of dominant species plus a long tail of rare species </li></ul><ul><...
Diversity indices <ul><li>How to measure diversity? </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>simple species count risky because of lo...
Shannon’s index <ul><li>where: </li></ul><ul><li>S total number of species (participants) </li></ul><ul><li>p i proportion...
Ecological stories
From May (1975) Patterns of species abundance and diversity, pp 81-120 in  Cody & Diamond  Ecology and Evolution of Commun...
Shorrocks  Genesis of Diversity   after Lack (1947)  Darwin’s Finches Pianka (1981) ‘Competition and niche theory’ in May ...
From Whittaker (1972) Evolution and Measurement of Species Diversity,  Taxon ,  21 , pp. 213-251
 
Mark Newman  Power laws, Pareto distributions and Zipf’s law Contemporary Physics,  46 , 323-351 http://www-personal.umich...
 
State of play <ul><li>No simple underlying model </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Not geometric: not straight on log-linear plot </li...
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Other possible analyses <ul><li>Thread lengths </li></ul><ul><li>Starters & finishers </li></ul><ul><li>Groups </li></ul><...
Is it useful? <ul><li>At least in subset here, patterns of participation seem remarkably consistent, so: </li></ul><ul><ul...
<ul><li>www.open.ac.uk </li></ul>Jon Rosewell The Open University Walton Hall Milton Keynes MK7 6AA [email_address]
 
 
 
 
The fruitees
The fruitees – how many readers
 
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Equitability and Dominance in Online Forums: An Ecological Approach

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Participation in online forums varies greatly: a few students post many messages, some post a few, and many only read. A rough ‘rule of thirds’ has been suggested (eg Mason 1989), but it is possible that this rule of thumb hides interesting structure.

However, similar patterns can be seen when analysing the abundance of species in ecological communities, so maybe indices of ecological diversity could also provide a useful characterisation of an online community. Such indices can unpick both ‘species richness’ (here number of participants) and equitability / dominance.

To explore this, 36 forums containing 27,000 messages were analysed to see if an ecological approach to online communities could offer useful insights.

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Equitability and Dominance in Online Forums: An Ecological Approach

  1. 1. Equitability and dominance in online forums: an ecological approach Jon Rosewell EATING, 13 th November 2008 Dept of Communications and Systems Faculty of Mathematics, Computing and Technology
  2. 2. The few and the many… <ul><li>Participation in forums is very variable </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>a few students post many messages </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>many students post a few messages </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  3. 3. It seemed a good idea at the time… <ul><li>A relatively painless way of analysing FirstClass forums </li></ul><ul><li>Looking at patterns of messages, not content </li></ul><ul><ul><li>quantitative, not qualitative </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Postings only, not ‘readings’ </li></ul>
  4. 4. What is the point? <ul><li>Analyse past forums </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>make sense of what went on </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Relate to structural features </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>how to design the perfect forum </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Dashboard approach </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>monitor the health of forums </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  5. 5. Forums included in study <ul><li>Course-based: moderated, not tutors </li></ul><ul><li>Large: 100-800 students </li></ul><ul><li>Mainly 10 pt, 10 week intensive courses </li></ul><ul><li>Peer support </li></ul><ul><li>Varying purpose: chat, discussion, help, … </li></ul><ul><li>Only some presentations analysed </li></ul><ul><li>4 courses, 36 forums, 3000 posters, 27000 posts </li></ul>
  6. 6. The few and the many (again) <ul><li>Robin Mason: ‘Rule of thirds’ </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>1/3 post many, 1/3 post few, 1/3 lurk read </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Or should it be: </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>posters, readers, phantoms? </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Or for posters: </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>post many, post some, post one or two </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Actually a bit more subtle… </li></ul>
  7. 8. All the data you want
  8. 45. Do you want to see it again?
  9. 46. Do patterns vary?
  10. 47. Ecological analogy <ul><li>Communities often composed of dominant species plus a long tail of rare species </li></ul><ul><li>Biodiversity </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>a statistic of academic and practical interest </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  11. 48. Diversity indices <ul><li>How to measure diversity? </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>simple species count risky because of long tail </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>dominance should count against diversity </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Diversity indices try to capture both: </li></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>richness (species count) </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>equitability (relative abundance of species) </li></ul></ul></ul></ul>
  12. 49. Shannon’s index <ul><li>where: </li></ul><ul><li>S total number of species (participants) </li></ul><ul><li>p i proportion of i th species (proportion of total postings) </li></ul>
  13. 50. Ecological stories
  14. 51. From May (1975) Patterns of species abundance and diversity, pp 81-120 in Cody & Diamond Ecology and Evolution of Communities , Harvard University Press
  15. 52. Shorrocks Genesis of Diversity after Lack (1947) Darwin’s Finches Pianka (1981) ‘Competition and niche theory’ in May Theoretical Ecology
  16. 53. From Whittaker (1972) Evolution and Measurement of Species Diversity, Taxon , 21 , pp. 213-251
  17. 55. Mark Newman Power laws, Pareto distributions and Zipf’s law Contemporary Physics, 46 , 323-351 http://www-personal.umich.edu/~mejn/courses/2006/ cmplxsys899/powerlaws.pdf
  18. 57. State of play <ul><li>No simple underlying model </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Not geometric: not straight on log-linear plot </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Not broken stick or log-normal: not sigmoid </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Not power law: not straight on log-log plot </li></ul></ul><ul><li>So use diversity index as summary </li></ul>
  19. 67. Other possible analyses <ul><li>Thread lengths </li></ul><ul><li>Starters & finishers </li></ul><ul><li>Groups </li></ul><ul><li>Readers </li></ul><ul><li>etc… </li></ul>
  20. 68. Is it useful? <ul><li>At least in subset here, patterns of participation seem remarkably consistent, so: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>doesn’t seem to tell us much about existing forums </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>no clues as to what to do differently next time </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Dashboard not likely to be much help </li></ul><ul><ul><li>although simple measures might (rate of posting…) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Moderators </li></ul><ul><ul><li>offer quicker route into feel of conference </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>can intervene more rapidly </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>skilled moderation more useful than statistics! </li></ul></ul>
  21. 69. <ul><li>www.open.ac.uk </li></ul>Jon Rosewell The Open University Walton Hall Milton Keynes MK7 6AA [email_address]
  22. 74. The fruitees
  23. 75. The fruitees – how many readers

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