within virtual learning communities and other kinds of technology mediated communities (such asdistributed communities practice). Our initial observations reveal that tacit and explicit knowledge arecommon to all kinds of virtual communities but the protocol for sharing differs from one community toanother. For instance, in virtual learning communities, the knowledge sharing process can involvecontinuous engagement in discourse with others in the community in a particular context, so the distinction between knowledge, information and data is also context dependent. For instance, when people exchangedata, the data is processed into information. In turn, information can be situated in a particular context andturned into knowledge for a particular individual. Both information and knowledge are grounded in data.Knowledge enables us to interpret information (i.e., derive meaning from data). The interpretation of meaning is framed by the perceiver’s knowledge. So what one person perceives as information can bemeaningless data to another (Daniel, Schwier & McCalla, 2003). Further, how specific knowledge isgenerated from data and information depends on how the data are stored, and how information is presented,organized, communicated and received by particular individuals in a particular community.
Research context and results
When dealing with representations it is obvious that different representations can enhance theunderstanding level of a particular problem (Tufte, 1990). The form of representation makes a dramaticdifference in the ease of the task and its proper choice depends upon the knowledge and the method beingapplied to the problem (Norman, 1993). This work aims to demonstrate how we can analyze the flow of information in a virtual learning community with the aim of understanding knowledge sharing activities.We employ social network analysis to understanding the patterns of interactions between individuals andtheir central relative importance in the network. Visualization offers advantages and opportunities when wedeal with complex data sets, ill structured and dynamic information, and the kind of settings thatcharacterize actual data sets in virtual learning community. Since visualization itself does not reveal actualcontent of interaction, we use content analysis to synthesize the actual nature of knowledge sharingactivities and categorize them into knowledge objects.These analyses draw from three years of online communication among groups of graduate studentsin Educational Communications and Technology as they participated in seminars. The classes spanned anacademic year, and were small graduate seminars with enrolments from six to thirteen students, and eachclass met primarily online, but with monthly group meetings. While most students were able to attend thegroup meetings regularly, every class cohort had members who participated exclusively or mostly from adistance. A significant characteristic of both groups was that they were comprised almost exclusively of Western, English-speaking graduate students, with the exception of one student from China. All of thestudents exhibited facility with writing, and there was ample evidence that students were willing to engagein academic argumentation with each other and with the instructor. It is possible, even likely, that our findings are culturally bound, and so we caution the reader to confine interpretations to the contextdescribed in this paper. Given the blended nature of all of the classes, we confine our conclusions to similar environments, and acknowledge that these results cannot be generalized to environments that are entirelyonline, or entirely face-to-face.
Social network analysis
Social network analysis (SNA) is a set of mathematical methods used to map and measures relationshipsand flows between people groups, and information/knowledge. It is a set of individuals or groups who areconnected to one another through socially meaningful relationships (Freemen, 2004; Hanneman, & Mark,2005). SNA views social relationships in terms of nodes and ties. Nodes are the individual actors within thenetworks, and ties are the relationships between the actors. Further, SNA seeks to understand networks andtheir participants and to evaluate the location of actors in the network. We have employed SNA to visualize patterns of interactions between individuals in order to determine the flow of information and knowledge.The visual representation was constructed out of a two-dimensional matrix (see figure 1).