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A Metric to Assess Brokerage Positions Within Social Networking Sites

by Martin Rehm, Frank Cornelissen, Ad Notten & Alan J. Daly - 2020

Background/Context: Teachers and educational professionals can draw on (informal) networks to foster their professional development. Moreover, a growing number of studies have shown that teachers use social networking sites (SNSs), such as Twitter, to keep up to date with the latest news on education and share resources with colleagues. Additionally, social capital can help to explain potential benefits of networking and has already been used to better understand professional development.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The aim of this study is to contribute to a better understanding of the informal networking of educators in SNSs. To achieve this goal, we first indicate how the concept of social capital can be used to assess communication flows within SNSs. Then, we consider social networking metrics and question whether they are as relevant in an online realm. Next, we argue for an adjusted brokerage index, namely the social brokerage index (SBI), which can help to shed light on how brokerage positions are shaped by different people within SNSs. Finally, we provide empirical data from six educational hashtag conversations on Twitter to test the relevance and applicability of the SBI.

Research Design: Using Twitter data from six (international) hashtag conversations between teachers and educational professionals, we apply social network analysis methods to assess the potential formation of social capital. In applying this method to the Twitter conversations in question, we first collected data on the Twitter users who contributed to the applicable hashtag conversation. Subsequently, we built directed unweighted one-mode networks based on mentions, and replies matrices. Second, we computed the in-degree, out-degree, and overall degree centrality metrics of all users (nodes) taking part in the applicable hashtag discussions. Additionally, we also determined users’ brokerage positions, which is another indicator for social capital formation within networks. Questioning the relevance of these metrics in the context of SNSs, we propose the SBI, which departs from previous work that has largely been framed by considerations around general account characteristics (follower/following ratio), general communication patterns (retweet/mention ratio), or in-degree metrics.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Based on our findings, we believe that our proposed SBI has added value to the analyses of network behavior beyond the scope of Twitter. More specifically, the SBI could help to understand what type of discussions draw what type of participants and thereby shed more light on how SNSs contribute to social capital formation among teachers and educational professionals.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 6, 2020, p. 1-32
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23305, Date Accessed: 3/6/2021 1:00:52 AM

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About the Author
  • Martin Rehm
    Pädagogische Hochschule Weingarten, Germany
    E-mail Author
    MARTIN REHM obtained his PhD at Maastricht University, the Netherlands. He is currently the transfer manager at the Institute for Educational Consulting at the University of Education in Weingarten, Germany. His research interests include informal learning in social media, social opportunity spaces, and applying mixed methods to assess the educational value of social media. His recent work includes: Rehm, M., Cornelissen, F., Notten, A. Daly, A., & Supovitz, J. (2020). Power to the people?! Twitter discussions on (educational) policy processes. In Mixed methods approaches to social network analysis for learning and education. Routledge.
  • Frank Cornelissen
    University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands
    E-mail Author
    FRANK CORNELISSEN is an associate professor, program chair, and director of the Educational Sciences master’s program at the University of Amsterdam (the Netherlands). He also holds a position as an affiliated lecturer at the Faculty of Education of the University of Cambridge (UK) and professor of applied (educational) sciences at the Dutch national training center for the judiciary. His research interests include the role of social networks in educational innovation, school–university (research) partnerships, and adult (lifelong) learning. Recent work comprises a coauthored review study of self-organizational network effects in the field of networked learning, published in Education Sciences.
  • Ad Notten
    UNU-MERIT, Maastricht University, the Netherlands
    E-mail Author
    AD NOTTEN is a researcher and information and data specialist at UNU-MERIT, Maastricht University. His research interests focus mainly the dynamics of social networks, the influence of these on the recombination and diffusion of knowledge, and the impact of these changes on science and society. His research interests return in a more applied form in the numerous research evaluations, assessments, and forecasting projects he has been involved in. His latest publications are: Rehm et al. (2020) “Power to the people?!,” and Wintjes, Es-Sadki, & Notten (2019), “Systemizing social innovation initiatives and their regional context in Europe.”
  • Alan Daly
    University of California San Diego
    E-mail Author
    ALAN J. DALY, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Education Studies at the University of California, San Diego. He specializes in social network analysis and educational change processes. He has multiple publications and several books on the topic, including one published by Harvard Education Press entitled, Social Network Theory and Educational Change. Professor Daly is also a Fulbright Global Scholar, having spent time in New Zealand and South Africa.
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