Reference : Couchsurfing - an empirical investigation into the online community as a platform for...
Scientific congresses, symposiums and conference proceedings : Unpublished conference
Social & behavioral sciences, psychology : Education & instruction
http://hdl.handle.net/10993/17542
Couchsurfing - an empirical investigation into the online community as a platform for information sharing and tangential learning.
English
Max, Charles mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE) > Languages, Culture, Media and Identities (LCMI) >]
Moreau, Richard mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Language and Literature, Humanities, Arts and Education (FLSHASE) > Languages, Culture, Media and Identities (LCMI) >]
Oct-2012
Yes
No
International
ENJEUX ET USAGES DES TIC Publics et pratiques médiatiques
October 17 - 19, 2012
Université de Lorraine, Metz
France
[en] interaction analysis ; online community ; tangential learning ; knowledge sharing ; trust
[en] Couchsurfing is an online community with approximately 3 million profiles from over 230 countries worldwide (Del Rosso & Gréhan, 2010). Users can create a profile with minimal information about themselves free of charge, and post offers of free accommodation in their own homes for other users if desired. Interaction and exchange typically takes place around the activity of users negotiating accommodation in this manner. Users also avail of the online facilities to exchange and discuss topics of greatly diverse and dynamic nature (Peterson, & Siek, 2009). Communication practices in the Couchsurfing community are hybrid by nature given that interaction takes place not only online, but also between users who meet in physical life while travelling or for other social reasons (Pultar & Raubal, 2009). The present paper investigates processes of learning and knowledge sharing through socializing on the Couchsurfing website. We analyse the interactional features of online exchanges, discuss the key elements of the interaction and look at the outcomes and results. Our quest for prior research on the online activities of the Couchsurfing community yielded only few results (Lauterbach, 2009; Tan, 2010; Chowdhury, 2011), so that this study will hone further the specific interactions within this particular network. Research surrounding the topic of virtual/online communities is a relatively new field in social science (Tirado & Galvez, 2007) and is still busy to find consensual definitions for terms such as online communities, virtual spaces, and social media (Tirado & Galvez, 2007; Wilson et al., 2009; Kaplan & Haenlein 2010). Given this incipient phase of research in this field, the paper starts by defining the concept of virtual community more precisely for the present case. Second we investigate phenomena which were under low consideration so far, i.e. the field of learning and knowledge sharing within the social networking environment. According to Kaplan & Haenlein’s categories of social media (2010), the Couchsurfing online platform can be classified as both a content community and social networking site. The main objective of a content community is to share media content (text, photos, videos etc.) between users without obliging users to create a personal profile page. A social networking site encourages users to create personal profile sites and to invite friends and/or colleagues to follow the exchanges taking place at that page. As a combination of both, the Couchsurfing site is used for sharing a high amount of content between users, which facilitates learning as one of the primary focuses of our interaction analysis. More specifically, we use computer mediated discourse analysis (Herring, 2007) to look at interactions related to a) knowledge sharing b) learning, and c) (online) socializing Knowledge sharing has been defined by Wahlroos (2011) as that which “includes the exchange of information, ideas, opinion and expertise”. By analysing examples of online interactions from the website, we evidence how and to what extent knowledge sharing is of paramount importance and a primary outcome of these social exchanges. Informal and unintentional learning is increasingly emphasized with novel digital technologies, which are blurring the spheres of learning and everyday life. Often learning takes place in activities as a side-effect rather than a direct objective (UNESCO, 2005; Cross, 2007; Ala-Mutka, 2010). But, even failing to learn what is expected in a given situation usually involves learning something else instead (Wenger, 1998). Social networking sites promote engagement in communities (Rogoff, 1990), which are powerful means of creating and sharing new knowledge (Wahlroos, 2011). Forums and other tools through which members interact serve to stir discussion and spur interest. This ‘spidering of ideas’ evokes the contemporary notion of “tangential learning” (Portnow, 2008), which understands the instructor, tool, or learning environment to help familiarize learners with a body of knowledge rather than actively trying to teach them. The idea here is that learners will educate themselves if the tool can facilitate their introduction to topics they might like in a context that they already find engaging (Fischer, 2011). OUTCOMES The Couchsurfing website provides an abundance of resources about a broad number of topics. A thematic analysis of discussion threads revealed topics pertaining to world change, lifestyle improvement, and societal transformations. Our analysis has unveiled here a hosting ground for ‘virilisation’ of messages and ideas influencing movements such as occupy, anti-capitalism, vegetarianism or otherwise. The Couchsurfing website is in a sense a telling reflection of current societal issues, in all its dynamism, change and endless possibilities, generating radical ideas about how to live, where, how and what to be, regardless of age, background or otherwise (Chowdhury, 2011). Our analysis revealed a wealth of evidence of knowledge sharing, and unveiled many instances where we inferred that learning was happening as for example instances where one user acknowledges another user’s provision of information, or admits to have found it of interest. Labelling such interactions as instances of learning has to be done always with prudence as one can never witness learning per se, but only interactions whereby learning would be assumed to have taken place within the norms of social discourse and behaviour. Similar difficulties arose when endeavouring to identify the dynamics of knowledge sharing as an empirical phenomenon. However instances of knowledge sharing are more self-evident than learning, as sharing by definition does not require knowing whether the knowledge gets assimilated or not. Our analysis allows to characterize communities whose members interact in real and digital life more precisely as far as regards relationships between participants, interdependence during exchanges, accumulation of shared experience as grounds for membership. Hence, a qualitative study into the concept of tangential learning as a result of online social interactions is already in progress in order to further investigate to what extent people actually do learn, and acknowledge that they do so when interacting with other users through online platforms such as Couchsurfing.
Researchers ; Professionals
http://hdl.handle.net/10993/17542

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