Enhancing Informal Learning Using Social Media: A Case Study of Blogging on Al- Jazeera

Eppard, Jenny, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Hoffman, Diane, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Bunch, John, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Feree, Ruth, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Lefkowitz, Daniel, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

Social media sites can be an important source of information during a crisis situation. This was particularly true for the “Arab Spring”. These sites provided a forum for information exchange, collaboration and reflection. However, there have been very few studies, which examine the nature of participation on these types of sites. Therefore, the primary goal of this study was to understand explore the nature of participation in a social media site that was dedicated to a humanitarian crisis. As part of this context, I examined indications of learning as well.

For approximately one year, I collected data on the Al-Jazeera English Syria blog and the Go Free Syria blog. The Al-Jazeera English Syria blog was under the umbrella of the Al-Jazeera satellite channel. Staff at the channel established the blog as a forum to discuss the Arab Spring as it pertained to Syria. Members of the Al-Jazeera English Syria blog started the Go Free Syria blog when the AJE blog no longer functioned. Data collection included detached and participant observations, conducted interviews with 10 informants. The types of data collected included text, images, videos and links to other websites.

Activity Theory served as a framework for initial questions guiding the examination of participation. However, this study was exploratory so more themes emerged during the analysis process. The nature of qualitative research allows for this.

The findings in this study highlight the mechanisms used for participating on the blog, the interplay between the various mechanisms and the connections between the blog and other external virtual systems. While learning could not be proven with certitude, theoretically all of these points represent the characteristics needed for a learning environment. One of the most obvious findings on the blog was the strong sense of community felt by many of the bloggers. Despite the political nature of the blog, many felt a connection to one another and to the community in general.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
social media, Arab Spring, blog, blogging, informal learning
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