A Methodological Approach for Blended Communities: Social Network Analysis and Positioning Network Analysis

A Methodological Approach for Blended Communities: Social Network Analysis and Positioning Network Analysis

Susan Annese (University of Bari, Italy) and Marta Traetta (University of Bari, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-040-2.ch006


The current diffusion of blended communities, characterized by the integration of online and offline interactions, has made necessary a methodological reflection about the suitable approaches to explore psychosocial dynamics in virtual and real communities. In this chapter we propose a mixed approach that ‘blends’ qualitative and quantitative methods: by combining qualitative content analysis with Social Network Analysis we investigate participation dynamics and by employing this methodological combination in an original way we create an innovative method, called Positioning Network Analysis, to examine identity dynamics. We will describe the characteristics of this methodological device, providing some examples in order to show the manifold use of these original tools.
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Over the last years there has been a growing development of new models of communities, innovated by the use of technologies. Recently the integration of Computer Mediated Communication technologies in face to face communities has produced blended models (Ligorio & Annese, in press; Ligorio & Sansone, 2009) of communities. They originate in educational contexts with Blended Learning (Bonk & Graham, 2006), but are now spreading in other contexts, particularly in professional ones.

The mixture of face to face and mediated interactions triggers psychosocial dynamics such as the sense of belonging to the community and the subsequent identity construction process (Ligorio, Annese, Spadaro, & Traetta, 2008), that have considerable implications on learning process. Our concern for psychosocial dimensions and psychoeducational implications of blended communities is framed in a socio-cultural perspective that defines learning as a social event deriving from the participation in community life and affecting the construction of identity (Lave, 1991; Wenger, 1998).

Our interest for the psychological processes emerging in blended communities engages us in a new research trend (Annese, Traetta & Spadaro, 2010; Ligorio, et al., 2008) looking for appropriate methodological procedures. The aim of this chapter is to propose a unique methodological approach to observe blended communities. It is a distinctive approach because it does not simply mix qualitative and quantitative methodologies, but it employs a quantitative tool in a qualitative way; it tries to qualitatively interpret a quantitative method. In this sense it could be interesting for qualitative scholars who are looking for new methodological modes, able to represent their epistemological attitude towards knowledge building.

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