Teaching Qualitative Methods via Social Media

teaching qualitative methods social media

 

This blog now has nearly 120 posts about all different kinds of qualitative methods, and has grown to hosting thousands of visitors a month. There are lots of other great qualitative blogs around, including Margaret Roller’s Research Design Review and the Digital Tools for Qualitative Research group and the newly relaunched Qual Page.


But these are only one part of the online qualitative landscape, and there are an increasing number of people engaged in teaching, commenting and exploring qualitative methods and analysis on social media. By this I mean popular platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, Academia.net, Researchgate and even Instagram and Snapchat. And yes, people are even using Instagram to share pictures and engage with others doing qualitative research.


So the call for a talk at the International Conference of Qualitative Inquiry (ICQI 2017) asked: How can educators reach out and effectively use social media as a way to teach and engage students with qualitative methodologies?


Well, a frequent concern of teachers is how you teach the richness and complexity of qualitative methods in something like a Tweet which has a 140 character limit? Even the previous sentence would be too long for a Tweet! While other platforms such as comments on Facebook don’t have such tight limits, they are still geared towards short statements. Obviously, detailing the nuances of grounded theory in this way is not realistic. But it can be a great way to start a conversation or debate, to link and draw attention to other longer sources of media.


For example the very popular ‘Write That PhD’ Twitter feed by Dr Melanie Haines of the University of Canberra has nearly 20 thousand followers. The feed offers advice on writing and designing a PhD and often posts or retweets pictures which contain a lot more detailed tips on writing a thesis. This is a good way of getting around the character limit, and pictures, especially when not just of a long block of text are a good way to draw the eye. Social media accounts can also be used to link to other places (such as a blog) where you can write much longer materials – and this is an approach we use a lot.


But to use social media effectively for outreach and engagement, it is also important to understand the different audiences which each platform has, and the subsets within each site. For example, Snapchat has a much younger audience than Facebook, and academic focused platforms might be a good place to network with other academics, but doesn’t tend to have many active undergraduates.


It’s also important to think how students will be looking and searching for information, and how to get into the feeds that they look at on a daily basis. On Facebook and especially Twitter, hashtags are a big part of this, and it’s worth researching the popular terms that people are searching for which are relevant to your research or teaching. For example the #phdlife and #phdchat tags are two of the most popular ones, #profchat and #research have their own niches and audiences too. While it can seem like a good idea to start a new hashtag for yourself like #lovequalitiative, it takes a lot of work and influential followers to get them off the ground.

 

Don’t forget that hashtags and keywords are just one way to target different audiences. Twitter also has ‘lists’ of users with particular interests, and Linkedin and Facebook have groups and pages with followers which it can be worth joining and contributing to. On Researchgate and Academia.net the question forums are very active, and there are great discussions about all aspects of qualitative research.


But the most exciting part of social media for teaching qualitative research is the conversations and discussions that you can have. Since there are so many pluralities of theory and method, online conversations can challenge and promote the diversity of qualitative approaches. This is a challenge as well, as it requires a lot of time, ideally over a long period of time, to keep replying to comments and questions that pop up. However, the beauty of all these platforms is that they effectively create archives for you, so if there was a discussion about qualitative diary methodologies on a Facebook group a year ago, it will still be there, and others can read and learn from it. Conversely, new discussions can pop up at any time (and on any of the different social media sites) so keeping on top of them all can be time consuming.


In short, there is a key rule for digital engagement, be it for teaching or promoting a piece of research: write once, promote often. Get a digital presence on a blog or long form platform (like Medium) and then promote what you’ve written on as many social media platforms as you can. The more you promote, the more visible and the higher rated your content will become, and the greater audience you can engage with. And the best part of all is how measurable it is. You can record the hits, follows and likes of your teaching or research and show your REF committee or department the extent of your outreach. So social media can be a great feather to add to your teaching cap!