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What are the limitations of learning at scale? Investigating information diffusion and network vulnerability in MOOCs

Despite the speculation about the role massively open online courses (MOOCs) may play in higher education, empirical research that explores the realities of interacting and learning in MOOCs is in its infancy. Rebecca Eynon, PI of an OII project on Conceptualising interaction and learning in MOOCs discusses how her analysis (with Nabeel Gillani, Taha Yasseri, and Isis Hjorth) of nearly 87,000 individuals from one MOOC helps us to understand the ways that learners interact in these settings. Full paper: Gillani, N., Yasseri, T., Eynon, R., and Hjorth, I. (2014) Structural limitations of learning in a crowd – communication vulnerability and information diffusion in MOOCs. Scientific Reports 4.

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Facebook and the Brave New World of Social Research using Big Data

The recent study on emotional contagion in Facebook has caused much debate. OII Professor Ralph Schroeder argues that we need to be thinking about regulation when access to big data on a new scale enables research that affects many people without their knowledge. Recent scandals about privacy and social media have focused on the Orwellian or surveillance dimension. Here, the implications may rather accord with Huxley’s Brave New World, whereby users don’t know that they are being manipulated, and may come to enjoy how their online experiences are conditioning them, with worrisome implications.

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Past and Emerging Themes in Policy and Internet Studies

What kind of research does the journal Policy & Internet publish? Editor Vili Lehdonvirta approaches the question from two angles; first, by examining the question empirically, through a brief thematic analysis of the articles published since its launch in 2009; second, by considering what kind of research the journal is likely to publish in the future, both in terms of what kind of trends can be seen emerging in policy and Internet research, as well as in terms of what challenges outlined in the journal’s original vision that continue to be pertinent today. Read the full editorial.

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Mapping collective public opinion in the Russian blogosphere

Blogs are becoming increasingly important for agenda setting and formation of collective public opinion on a wide range of issues — particularly in countries like Russia where the Internet is not technically filtered, but where the traditional media is tightly controlled by the state. Olessia Koltsova, author (with Sergei Koltcov) of the Policy and Internet paper Mapping the public agenda with topic modeling: The case of the Russian livejournal discusses how topic modeling and sentiment analysis techniques can be used to monitor self-generated public opinion.

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Edit wars! Measuring and mapping society’s most controversial topics

Wikipedia is more than just an encyclopaedia; it is also a window into convergent and divergent social-spatial priorities, interests and preferences: aka Edit Wars. In his chapter (with Anselm Spoerri, Mark Graham, and János Kertész) The most controversial topics in Wikipedia: A multilingual and geographical analysis, the OII’s Taha Yasseri uses a quantitative measure to locate and analyse the similarities and differences between the most controversial topics identified in 10 language versions of Wikipedia, finding that a quarter relate to politics.

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The physics of social science: using big data for real-time predictive modelling

Use of socially generated “big data” on collective states of minds in human societies has become a new paradigm in the emerging field of computational social science, but bridging the gap between real-time monitoring and early prediction remains a challenge. Taha Yasseri discusses his paper Early Prediction of Movie Box Office Success based on Wikipedia Activity Big Data (with M.Mestyán and J.Kertész), which builds a predictive model for the financial success of movies based on the collective activity of online users, showing that a movie’s popularity can be predicted far ahead of its release date.

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Five recommendations for maximising the relevance of social science research for public policy-making in the big data era

In a previous post, OII Director Helen Margetts outlined ways in which the environment in which public policy is made has entered a period of dramatic change; one in which ‘big data’ presents both promises and threats to policy-makers. Here she discusses how social scientists can help policy-makers in this changed environment, ensuring that social science research remains relevant, and warns that social science concerns or questions may be increasingly ignored if ‘big data’ education and training is left completely in the hands of computer scientists.

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The promises and threats of big data for public policy-making

The environment in which public policy is made has entered a period of dramatic change; one in which ‘big data’ presents both promises and threats to policy-makers. Big data offers a chance for policy-making and implementation to be more citizen-focused, taking account of citizens’ needs, preferences and experience of public services. But it is also technologically challenging for government, and presents new moral and ethical dilemmas to policy makers. OII Director Helen Margetts discusses how policy-makers might respond to this changed environment.

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Can Twitter provide an early warning function for the next pandemic?

With factors such as air travel act as a catalyst in the spread of new and novel viruses, the need to improve global population monitoring and enhance surveillance of infectious diseases is more pressing than ever. Patty Kostkova (UCL) discusses how the real-time streams of user data generated on social networks like Twitter can be used for monitoring the health of large populations, providing a potential early warning function for pandemics, detecting flu spikes weeks before official surveillance systems. Watch Patty talk on this subject at the OII.

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Who represents the Arab world online?

There are obvious gaps in access to the Internet, particularly the participation gap between those who have their say, and those whose voices are pushed to the sidelines. OII Research Fellow Mark Graham, PI of a project examining representation of the Arab world online discusses how despite the rapid increase in Internet access, there are indications that people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region remain largely absent from websites and services that represent the region to the larger world.

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