Preparation to Write the Paper: Spend 5 weeks+ (approximately 5 hours a week) engaging and initiating with a virtual community. Your goal is to immerse yourself as much as possible in a virtual community (either one that you already have some experience with or a new one) to investigate what being a part of such a community is like. This is like doing ethnography and participant observation in a virtual space. Take notes about people’s reactions to you and the social interactions that occur in such a community. Reflect on your own experiences, feelings, and interactions.
You may create social experiments (without harming anyone) or observe other people’s interaction in the virtual community. You may even conduct interviews (virtually) with people that you meet. And look for connections from your experience to the readings, lectures, and themes from the course.
NOTE: Please follow basic ethical guidelines when conducting research, especially if you decide to do some social experiments or conduct interviews. If you have any questions, please ask me.
Write a 6-8 page paper where you (1) MAKE AN ARGUMENT about the nature of virtual communities and/or social media based on your data you collected from your experience with the virtual community that you chose. Please state your argument clearly in the first page (or paragraph) of the paper.
For example, “In this paper, through participant observation in the sub-Reddit gaming community, I argue that limitations in interactivity prevent the development of strong ties, but using social media to promote and advertise more interactive and engaging events have the potential to create a vibrant, diverse, and vast blended community.” This thesis is very specific in terms of the argument and theories that it will interact with, as well as some of the qualities that it tries to prove. It is also general in that it implies an argument that goes beyond just Reddit (and could be applied to other similar communities). The paper tries to prove that 1) interactivity is a crucial component to developing strong ties over social media, 2) but strong ties are possible and supported through social media, and 3) that these ties are diverse and come from specific forms of engagement that social media can support.
After making your argument clearly, (2) PROVIDE EVIDENCE FROM YOUR DATA as well as (3) UTILIZE AT LEAST TWO READINGS FROM THIS CLASS to make your case. Please provide detailed and specific examples from your participant observation. This means talking about specific interactions and observations. Describe an interaction. What did you post/say? How did they respond? How does this interaction prove your thesis/argument? How do readings (at least 2), theories, and concepts from this class also support your interpretation of your evidence? In other words, how do the readings prove your argument? Conversely, if what you find somehow contradicts the findings in readings, provide more evidence and explanations to show how and suggest why you observed such a difference.
As with the disconnect paper, your interactions with the readings are CRUCIAL and should be the CENTER of the paper. In other words, choose to make an argument that interacts with at least 2 readings in the course. You likely could make MANY arguments with the data you found, but choose something that will allow for deep interaction with the class readings and let that be the focus of your thesis.
My suggestion on how to approach gathering data for this paper:
Step 1: Spend the first week doing some basic exploration and learning about the virtual community you have joined–try to become a member of that community during this time. Note things that stand out to you and you find interesting. Ask yourself meaningful questions about the community you are participating in.
Step 2: Once you feel like you have a good grasp of the community, review key themes that we have been discussing in the course. Review the syllabus (looking ahead as well as behind where we are in the course) and look for readings and topics that you think are relevant and interesting to your virtual community. Choose at least 2 readings that you think will be good to engage with in your paper as it relates to your virtual community.
Step 3: Go back to your virtual community and gather more data. This time, do not just do general exploration, but rather focus on the key themes, concepts, and ideas that appear in those 2 readings you chose and gather more data surrounding those readings. Ask yourself key research questions that relate to those readings about your virtual community and try to find data that will help you answer the research question
A simple example: Can you make strong ties on the Internet? Several readings on the syllabus asks this question in different ways. You could ask the same kind of question of your virtual community. In step 3, you would do deliberate, targeted interactions to try to answer this question in regards to your virtual community. Then, when you go to write your paper, you would use the readings to help you compare and contrast the data you discovered and whether or not it is possible to make strong ties in your virtual community and discover why it is or isn’t.
1. What kind of virtual community works for this paper? (this is repeated from your proposal assignment)
A virtual community that has a visible, discernible boundary where you can identify members clearly is generally the kind of virtual community that will work for this. So that means saying “Facebook” might be simply too large, but identifying a subgroup on Facebook (like a Facebook Group) would likely work better. For Twitter or Instagram, this could be a hashtag or communities that revolve around a specific person, theme, etc. Look for subgroups rather than overly large communities with unidentifiable boundaries.
Blended communities (communities that are partially virtual and partially offline/face-to-face) work as well, as long as a relatively large portion of interaction takes place online. This would include things like dating apps, Meet Ups, and other communities that have a predominately online interaction space but has a significant physical component as well.
You are welcome to do a virtual community that you have been a part of for awhile–my only concern is that if you are too close to the community, it could blind you to interesting things to notice, simply because you are too close to the culture of that community. You should pick something that interests you, but something new could also be beneficial for this assignment.
One suggestion is to look for niche virtual communities. These are sometimes on random websites, fan pages, forum spaces, reddit subgroups, etc. and are not always found on massively popular and mainstream social media websites. Some of the most interesting virtual communities are more specific and more hidden. These communities can be relatively small, as long as there is daily engagement so that you can plug yourself in and really get to know people.
The virtual community should also have a social media space that allows you relatively meaningful engagements. In other words, if you did some kind of gaming community, look for specific spaces to engage with a set group of people. This could be a guild, discord site, fan page, resource guide/community, etc. Just playing the game will not work as you probably have fairly limited access to engagements and gathering data.
2. I don’t see a reading that really fits with what I want to talk about in my paper. Can I draw on outside readings?
The short answer is no. This is NOT a real research paper. Unfortunately, I don’t have the resources or guidance to feel comfortable unleashing you all to go online to do independent research. Instead, I think of this project more as an introduction to virtual community research that uses simple, flexible research methods as a way to introduce you to the field–perhaps in the future, you can build off of what you do in this class.
As a result, you are only graded on readings that are found on the syllabus. This MAY limit the scope of what you can talk about (see above suggestions on how to approach gathering data for this paper). If there is a course concept that appeared in lecture but I did not assign on the syllabus, you ABSOLUTELY can use this reading if you get approval. Please come talk to me as soon as possible to get permission and a copy of the reading that pertains to the course concept and you can use that in your paper and it will count towards your usage of two readings.
Note: Under the Files section of our bCourses site, in the folder title “Readings” there is a folder of “Extra readings” that are okay to use for the virtual community paper. You might want to check there first to see a reading has already been approved and added to that folder.
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