Blog Review: SSW (Part 2): Q&A with Jenna Jacobson and Ana-Maria Teohari
Posted by GRAND NCE, September 20, 2012

Five doctoral students from universities across Canada were sponsored by GRAND to join twenty-five American peers at the Summer Social Webshop (SSW), a four-day interdisciplinary workshop on Techonology-Mediated Social Participation (TMSP). The SSW was held August 20-24, 2012 at the University of Maryland, College Park. 

The event welcomed attendees from a broad range of disciplines, creating a forum for lively banter between students of computer science, iSchool, sociology, communications, political science, anthropology, psychology, journalism and other related fields. GRAND-sponsored students will share their experience in a series of Q&A style entries. 

Part Two: 
Jenna Jacobson, University of Toronto
Ana-Maria Teohari, University of Reading / University of Toronto

Photo credits (L to R): Claude Fortin; University of Maryland; University of Maryland 

 Describe one highlight of your experience at the Summer Social Webshop.

Jenna One of the many highlights from the Summer Social Webshop in Maryland was the visit to Brookings Institute, situated near the White House. With presentations from Erwin Gianchandani, Zeynep Tufekci (@techsoc), and Lee Rainie (@lrainie), these researchers reinforced the idea of making your research matter: academic scholarship does not exist within a bubble. An underlying message was the imperative to conduct research that you are passionate about and also publicize the research in order to have influence and make change. This important message is one that I will continue to remind myself as I move through my doctorate. 

Ana-Maria The SSW provided a good view into the social technology research currently being conducted in North America, that included interdisciplinary perspectives from sociology, information studies and computer science. Also, the SSW speakers were both academics and industry researchers -- speaking about both academic and industry-based research topics -- both relevant considering social technology's implications for society, economics and politics (to name a few) and, in turn, the diverse ways to approach its study.

What impact will this experience have on your research? 

Jenna My experiences at the Summer Social Webshop will influence my research in two significant regards. Firstly, the various speakers have allowed me to conceptualize my research in deeper and more meaningful ways. From methods to ethics, my understanding of my role as a researcher has been influenced. Secondly, beyond the methodological and content-based influence, I have made some strong connections with my peers. My research will be strengthened through these ties and possible research collaborations in the future. It is unbelievably important as a young researcher to stay up-to-date with up-and-coming research, especially in a field like social media where the landscape is constantly evolving.     

Ana-Maria The SSW reinforced my knowledge that the social technology questions I am researching are relevant and unique - both because of their implications and because they are being approached from different angles than the ones explored by the speakers (and students) at the SSW.

In an area of research like social media where the ground is so rapidly shifting, SSW afforded the opportunity to meet a supportive community of innovative scholars who will undoubtedly continue to shake the ground we think we know.

- Jenna Jacobson

Q What networking opportunities did you find most useful?

Jenna The SSW encouraged natural encounters for networking, instead of forcing people into groups. Rather than being able to identity one networking opportunity as the most useful, I found that the socialization at the various meals were the most beneficial. Having the three meals a day provided was fantastic as it allowed the entire group to be together and afforded the opportunity for networking. I was able to positively connect with various professors and students at the short encounters at coffee breaks, or the longer meals at lunch and dinner. People organically met and clustered based on shared interests, which resulted in thought-provoking conversations with like-minded scholars. 

Ana Maria It was certainly a good opportunity for students in attendance to speak to academics and research professionals, who were both encouraging students to contact them and were open to possible collaborations with students. Also, as a PhD student, a lot of the research work undertaken is usually individual, and focused on a particular topic. So, it was refreshing to meet other graduate students from Canada and the US, stepping into a larger research community, even if for a few days. 

What was the coolest thing you (over?)heard during the workshop?

Jenna Marc Smith (@marc_smith) showcased NodeXL, which is a free and open-source template that allows people to easily create network graphs without any coding expertise. NodeXL reduces the learning curve of computer science, so a layperson can do networks. The software affords the researcher the ability to visualize the data to further understand the information and encourages the researcher to be a storyteller in order to make sense of the visualization. Bernie Hogan (@blurky) presented a fantastic talk and utilized NodeXl with Facebook data to explore the digital traces that we leave behind to construct identities online.

Interestingly, is a crowd-sourced data set with over 1,000 images and datasets that can be freely explored to help researchers see what other people are investigating and collaboratively build off of one another's research. As Libby Hemphill, Illinois Institute of Technology, said, "Don’t hide your research, ask for help along the way!"
Side note: The craziest thing I witnessed was the inspiring Ben Shneiderman (@benbendc) doing push-ups at his 65th birthday celebration! 

Ana-Maria The organizers of the SSW gave the Canadian students a most "warm" welcome - and were excited about and supportive towards the Canadian students in attendance. Can I also then say, it was "cool"? 

The SSW provided a good opportunity to meet academics, students and industry researchers that are not only analyzing social technologies from diverse perspectives and using various methodologies, but also finding useful strategies for (re)purposing social technologies in innovative ways. 

- Ana-Maria Teohari


Q Would you like to give kudos to a presenter or fellow researcher?

Jenna I really enjoyed and appreciated Nancy Baym's (@nancybaym) talk. Nancy Baym is a fantastic speaker who captivated the audience with dynamism. Her area of research is also most closely aligned with my own interests. The talk, Connecting with Audiences: Musicians and Social Media, had two areas of focus: first, sharing the results of her 37 interviews with musicians on the topic of social media. Second, Nancy Baym carefully directed the audience through the methods for data collection, as well as analysis. I found the overall ideas to be highly generalizable to other types of online research. As a result, Nancy Baym was able to be both specific in describing her research and methods, while also providing a larger foundational understanding of the research process. The presentation showed how a qualitative researcher could study social media, which broadened the conversation beyond quantitative methods and I benefitted from the combination of qualitative and quantitative speakers. 

Ana-Maria I enjoyed the presentation by Dr. Kevin Crowston on his research concerning "new ways of organizing made possible by the use of information technology, and its intersection with citizen science". It was an interesting example of how social media technologies can be (re)purposed for education and projects of citizen participation in the sciences. 

Read Summer Social Webshop (Part One): Claude Fortin, Simon Fraser University; Jennifer Wolowic, University of British Columbia and Elizabeth Shaffer, University of British Columbia

Return to Summer Social Webshop 2012