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Int. J. Social Media and Interactive Learning Environments, Vol. x, No.

x, xxxx 1

Active user or lurker? a phenomenological
investigation of graduate students in social media
spaces

Enilda Romero-Hall
The University of Tampa,
401 W. Kennedy Blvd.,
Department of Education (Box S),
Tampa, FL, 33615, USA
Fax: (813) 257-3813.
Email: eromerohall@ut.edu

Abstract: This phenomenological study describes instructional design (ID)
graduate students’ perceptions of their programs’ social media spaces. Ten
graduate students were recruited for participation in this investigation. Data
sources included individual interviews. The researcher conducted a
phenomenological data analysis seeking to grasp and elucidate the meaning,
structure, and essence of the graduate students’ participation in the social media
spaces. In summary, the results of this investigation show that graduate
students access resources from each other, feel as part of a community, enjoy
reading others’ views and perspectives about the field, and experience moments
of informal learning while participating in the social media spaces of their
graduate programs. However, graduate students also have concerns regarding
these social media spaces’ impact on privacy, time management, and
distraction.

Keywords: informal learning; social media; graduate students; virtual
communities; networking; instructional design; graduate education; higher
education.

Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Romero-Hall, E. (xxxx)
‘Active user or lurker? a phenomenological investigation of graduate students
in social media spaces’, Int. J. Social Media and Interactive Learning
Environments, Vol. x, No. x, pp.xxx–xxx.

Biographical notes: Enilda Romero-Hall is an Assistant Professor of
Instructional Design and Technology in the Department of Education at The
University of Tampa. In her research, she is currently exploring different
topics in the instructional design and technology field related to web- and
computer-based instruction and learning. Her research interests include the
design of multimedia instruction and human-computer interaction, the use of
online social communities to support informal learning, and the effectiveness of
instructional strategies in online and blended learning.

Copyright © 200x Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.
2 E. Romero-Hall

1 Introduction

The ubiquity of social media has increased tremendously in the last decade. Social media
platforms are used by public and private entities for regular communication with friends,
family, and organisations to communicate with others. These public and private entities
include government agencies, artists and entertainers, private and non-profit
organisations, community groups, and educational institutions. Institutions of higher
education primarily use social media platforms to market to prospective and current
students events, announcements, and others relevant information. However, many
institutions have recently launched initiatives to use social media platforms for learning
and instruction (Gao et al., 2012; Manca and Ranieri, 2016, 2017; Rodríguez-Hoyos
et al., 2015). For example, educators have created social media groups and communities
as part of coursework to increase social interactions (Liu et al., 2016) and/or supplement
cognitive learning (Bowman and Akcaoglu, 2014; Dabner, 2012). In other instances,
instructors have used social media chats to engage learners in class discussions between
themselves and people outside the classroom (Carpenter and Green, 2016; Liu et al.,
2016). Others have used social media platforms to create informal learning environments
(Dabbagh and Kitsantas, 2012; Wodzicki et al., 2012). Regardless of the social media
platform, the intent of these learning experiences is to share content and have virtual
social interactions with individuals who share a common interest (Dabbagh and
Kitsantas, 2012; DeAndrea et al., 2012; Wodzicki et al., 2012). Ideally, the result is to
increase social and knowledge communication between the learners through their
participation and exchanges.
These learning experiences have occurred as part of a course, in an institutional or
massive open online course (Bowman and Akcaoglu, 2014; Laru et al., 2012; Liu et al.,
2016), or a learning community with a common interest (Britt and Paulus, 2016; Dabner,
2012; DeAndrea et al., 2012). However, the most recent development is sub-divisions or
departments within higher education institutions using social media to support social and
knowledge communication. Faculty and administrators create Facebook groups, Twitter
accounts, Instagram accounts, Google+ communities, and other social media spaces in an
effort to generate more direct channels of communication with relevant stakeholders. For
example, university departments and programs create public and private social media
spaces for students and faculty. This research project focuses the social media spaces of
ID graduate programs or departments. The aim was to describe ID graduate students’
perspectives of their participation in the social media spaces of their program or
department.

2 Literature review

Social media are defined as a group of internet-based applications for the creation
and exchange of user-generated content (Constantinides and Zinck Stagno, 2011;
Romero-Hall, 2017b). Social media tools are part of Web 2.0 technologies, which are
digital applications that enable interaction, collaboration, and sharing among users (Laru
et al., 2012; Sharma and Tietjen, 2016; Top, 2012). There are certain qualities, such as
ease of use, functionality, and flexibility, which have tremendously increased the use and
implementation of social media.
Active user or lurker? a phenomenological investigation of graduate students 3

Educational processes in higher education have evolved to be more participatory and
collaborative in nature. It is in these environments that social media is used in teaching
and learning for knowledge building (Gao et al., 2012; Manca and Ranieri, 2016, 2017;
Rodríguez-Hoyos et al., 2015). Today, learners spend significant time on the internet,
instant messaging, sharing pictures, posting on social networking sites, playing online
games, and watching videos as part of their daily lives (Top, 2012). Thus, instructors are
considering ways to implement social media technologies in the learning environment.
Social media’s influence on higher education teaching and learning environments has
already occurred in several ways (Bowman and Akcaoglu, 2014; Dabbagh and Kitsantas,
2012; Dabner, 2012; DeAndrea et al., 2012; Forkosh-Baruch and Hershkovitz, 2012;
Hrastinski and Dennen, 2012; Seo, 2016; Wodzicki et al., 2012). Instructors have begun
to adopt social media to support traditional learning methods (Hrastinski and Dennen,
2012). This includes using social media to empower learners to participate in online
networks, communities, and spaces in which they can be content creators, have a strong
online presence, and actively participate in the knowledge construction process with other
learners (Dabner, 2012; DeAndrea et al., 2012; Forkosh-Baruch and Hershkovitz, 2012;
Seo, 2016). Social media in higher education has also served as supplementary informal
spaces in which participants share course content and additional resources (Bowman and
Akcaoglu, 2014; Dabbagh and Kitsantas, 2012; Romero-Hall, 2017b). In these instances,
the goal is to seamlessly bridge formal and informal learning.
In an investigation of academics’ perceptions of the use of social media in higher
education, Brown (2012) found that academics value the distributive affordances of
social media and other Web 2.0 tools for certain higher educational contexts. Brown
(2012) stated that academics perceive social media tools as useful for promoting student-
centred learning. Overall, the results of this investigation prompted academics to continue
ongoing experimentation with Web 2.0 tools to better comprehend their potential for
teaching and learning. Similarly, Hamid et al. (2015) conducted research examining
students’ perceptions of using social media tools to interact with classmates and lecturers
for university work. Just like Brown (2012), Hamid et al. (2015) found that students from
different universities and disciplines recognised and valued the benefits of social media in
their learning experiences. This qualitative investigation provided accounts of real-life
events in which the use of social media resulted in the creation of a more interactive and
appealing learning environment.
Studies examining social media use in higher education, for teaching and learning,
primarily focus on forms of implementation, use, and perceptions within a course or
learning community (Bista, 2015; Lin et al., 2013; Xi et al., 2016). However, it is equally
important to understand how programs and departments in higher education institutions
use social media for informal learning. Investigations of the use of social media by
graduate programs and/or departments can help inform future implementations and tailor
educational content to suit students’ preferences. Administrators, faculty, and others
should find ways to extend resources and disseminate knowledge to their students
(Romero-Hall, 2017a). Graduate programs’ social media spaces, with proper mediation
and scaffolding from faculty (Liu et al., 2016), can serve as informal, non-traditional,
extended resources for learners (Romero-Hall, 2017a).
Research efforts focusing on the use of social media within graduate programs are
limited to a handful of investigations. One of these investigations is a design-based
framework intended to guide faculty, administrators, and students and to better
understand how institutions can use social media platforms to effectively pursue students’
4 E. Romero-Hall

recruitment, retention, and community building (Rosenberg et al., 2016). Another attempt
to understand the potential of social media use by graduate students and programs is a
case study investigation by Romero-Hall (2017b). In this case study, Romero-Hall
(2017b) focused on the students’ perception of the content shared via the social media
channels of a specific graduate program.
More recently, Romero-Hall (2017a) conducted a quantitative investigation to better
understand graduate students’ use of the content shared in the social media channels of
their programs. The results showed that those graduate students who used the social
media spaces created by their graduate programs engaged in sharing, discussing,
exchanging, and learning. In this process, the graduate students challenged their own
views as instructional designers and exposed themselves to an array of perspectives
(Romero-Hall, 2017a).
This initial research on the use of social media by graduate programs shows that,
through participation in social media spaces, learners can engage in social sharing,
refining of ideas, and building networks, which ultimately leads to informal learning and
professional growth (Romero-Hall, 2017b). Yet, it is important to further explore the
narratives of those who participate and use these social media spaces to fully understand
how it helps groom, empower, and connect them.

2.1 Purpose statement and research question
The purpose of this phenomenological study is to describe ID graduate students’
perceptions of their participation in the social media spaces of their programs. The
research question used to guide this investigation was:
RQ1: How do ID graduate students describe their experience as members of the social
media spaces of their program?

2.2 Research paradigm and tradition
This investigation is based on the Social Constructivist research paradigm; in which the
individual participants construct the meaning. The phenomenological model was used to
discover the meaning and essence of participation in the social media of the graduate
programs while exploring the lived experiences of ID students. As every human being is
unique in his or her life experiences, this research will bring to light each graduate
student’s inner view and depth of this experience; thus, what is knowable about this topic
is potentially unlimited. Research participants answered questions and gave information
from their unique views of life and reality; therefore, there will be multiple perspectives
of truth.
Knowledge was constructed by the interactions of the researcher with the participants
in individual interviews. The values of the researcher will be set aside and the topic
bracketed to allow the researcher to see the data freshly, as for the first time (Moustakas,
1994). The values of the research participants are reported through detailed descriptions
and direct quotations from the data collection. The data are reported from the point of
view and voice of the participants. The goal of the qualitative phenomenological research
is to describe the ‘lived experiences’ of a phenomenon. This requires carefully and
thoroughly capturing and describing how people experience a phenomenon, which
Active user or lurker? a phenomenological investigation of graduate students 5

includes how they perceive it, describe it, feel about it, judge it, remember it, make sense
of it, and talk about it with others (Patton, 2015).

2.3 Operationalised variables
At this stage in the research, the social media spaces of a graduate program are defined as
the internet-based platforms hosted and managed to post and share content with students,
faculty, and other external stakeholders of a specific graduate program/department. These
posts include announcements, photos, videos, links to papers, events, and other contents.
Examples include Twitter accounts, Facebook Pages, Facebook groups, Google+
Communities, Instagram accounts, LinkedIn groups, and other similar online
communities managed by social media administrators in a specific graduate program.

3 Methods

3.1 Sampling
A purposeful random sampling was used to identify participants. Recruitment was
conducted via an email invitation sent to all ID graduate students who were members of
the Association of Educational Communications and Technology (AECT). This
prospective group of participants (AECT graduate student members) would most likely
meet the inclusion criteria for participation (i.e., graduate students enrolled in an
instructional design program who use the social media sites of their educational
program).
Two email invitations were sent to potential participants (email invitations were sent
two weeks apart). Participants were asked to confirm that they were a graduate student
(both master and doctoral level graduate students were invited to participate), enrolled in
an ID program (part or full-time), participated in the social media sites of their graduate
program, and were available for a 30-min interview. There was no age, sexual
orientation, ethnicity, cultural, geographical, or language restrictions. Those graduate
students who met the inclusion criteria and agreed to meet with the researcher were
included as part of this investigation. Participants included males and females (n = 10)
who were 18 years of age or older. These participants were of various ethnicities,
educational level, graduate programs, and higher education institutions. To ensure
participants met the eligibility criteria, they were asked to complete an initial
demographic form.

3.2 Participants
The ten participants are described in Figure 1. The description of the participants includes
the participants’ education level, type of instruction, enrolment status, and personal
preference of social media platforms. It is important to note that 9 out of 10 participants
mentioned using social media daily. One graduate student mentioned using social media
weekly.
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Figure 1 Participants [Description and personal social media preference]

Additionally, the participants described their preference of social media platforms for
personal use (see Figure 2). They also mentioned the social media platforms used by their
graduate program to communicate, interact, or disseminate information to the graduate
students and faculty. Last, the participants mentioned which of these social media
program accounts they follow regularly.

Figure 2 Use of social media (see online version for colours)
Active user or lurker? a phenomenological investigation of graduate students 7

3.3 Data sources
Data sources included individual interviews with the participants. In phenomenological
qualitative research, anyway the participant can describe their lived experience can be
used to gather data. However, the best way to gather such data is to undertake in-depth
interviews with people who directly experienced the phenomenon of interest (Patton,
2015). These participants had ‘lived experiences’ as opposed to secondhand experiences.
In this investigation, the participants described their lived experience as ID graduate
students participating in the social media spaces of their program. All of this lived
experiences are based on voluntary participation in the social media spaces.
Each participant (n = 10) was interviewed for approximately 30-min. Prior to the
interview, participants were asked to specify their interview format preference (phone
interview or a video conference interview). Open-ended questions (see Appendix A) and
probes yielded responses about the participants’ experiences, perceptions, opinions, and
feelings. Data consists of verbatim quotations. Post-interview quality control was used to
ensure the rigour and validity of the data. Immediately after each interview, the research
made extensive notes to acknowledge any recording malfunctions, potential missing
words, areas of ambiguity, or other unique observations. Each individual interview was
transcribed and copied verbatim into an MS Word document. The individual interviews
yielded thirty-five pages of data.

3.4 Data analysis
Phenomenological analysis seeks to grasp and elucidate the meaning, structure, and
essence of the lived experience of the phenomenon for a person or group of people
(Patton, 2015). It focuses on a deep understanding of the meaning of the description. The
first step in the phenomenological analysis is called epoche. This is a Greek word
meaning to refrain from judgement, to abstain from or stay away from the everyday,
ordinary way of perceiving things. In taking the perspective of epoche, the researcher
looked inside to become aware of personal bias, eliminate personal involvement with
subject material, or at least gain clarity about preconceptions.
Following epoche, the second step was the phenomenological reduction, a way to
conduct this analytical process by bracketing the data. Bracketing involved locating key
phrases within the personal experience and statements that speak directly to the
phenomenon in question, interpreting the meaning of these phrases, obtaining the
participants’ interpretation of these phrases, and inspecting their meaning for what they
reveal about essential features of the phenomenon being studied.
To conduct the bracketing of the data the researcher used NVivo, a qualitative data
analysis software. First, the researcher conducted a word frequency query to gain an
understanding of the common words used by the participants. A total of 19,023 words
were analysed. To filter out or remove irrelevant words, certain words were specifically
removed from the word frequency query. The final frequency query included the top fifty
common words. Based on the most common words, as quantified by the frequency word
results, specific text queries were conducted. The text queries help further bracket the
data.
After the data was bracketed, all aspects of the records were treated with equal value,
which means the data was ‘horizontalised’. During the horizontalisation process, data are
organised into meaningful clusters (Patton, 2015). To create these clusters, the researcher
8 E. Romero-Hall

undertook a delimitation process whereby irrelevant, repetitive, or overlapping data were
eliminated. To get at the essential meaning of the lived experiences, themes were
abstracted out of the data. Usually, there are two types of themes that result from
bracketing: collective themes that occur across the group of participants and individual
themes that are unique to one or a few individual participants.
In this investigation, the horizontalisation process was conducted using the NVivo
software text queries results. The results of the text queries were saved as nodes (or
clusters). Irrelevant, repetitive, or overlapping nodes (or clusters) were eliminated. Next,
specific themes were created. The formation of the themes was primarily achieved
through an analysis of the nodes during the creation of a concept map (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 Horizontalisation process results

3.5 Strategies for trustworthiness
The validity of this research is increased due to ‘data triangulation’. This type of
triangulation involves using different sources of information to increase the validity of a
study. In-depth interviews were conducted with different types of ID graduate students,
the stakeholders, to gain insight into their perspectives. During the analysis stage,
feedback from the stakeholders was compared to determine areas of agreement as well as
areas of divergence.

3.6 Researcher
A primary researcher, who was responsible for study design, administration of
participants, and coordination of results analysis and reporting, conducted the research.
The primary researcher is a Hispanic female in her mid-thirties who is an ID faculty
Active user or lurker? a phenomenological investigation of graduate students 9

member in a master’s program. The institution in which the primary researcher serves as
faculty is located in the Southeastern USA.
An important step of the phenomenology approach is to bracket the researcher(s)
assumptions and biases. To this end, it should be noted that the primary researcher
entered the process with a series of past experiences, bias, and beliefs about social media
participation. The bias is that the researcher is an active user of social media personally
and professionally. The researcher uses social media to connect with family and friends
as well as a medium to engage with other academics and share content with members of
the ID field. Other bias includes personal beliefs and assumptions about social media use
and participation by academics and graduate students. The researcher has prior
experience and knowledge of the topic being investigated.

4 Results

Based on the described lived experiences of the participants and the phenomenological
analysis of the data, this investigation provides the following collective themes.

4.1 Access method
During the interviews, participants mentioned having different types of devices to access
the social media spaces of their graduate program. Most participants mentioned using
their desktop computer. Other participants mentioned using their cellphones and/or
laptops. Those participants that used their desktop computers, mentioned that it was
primarily because they sat in front of this devices at work and it was easy to use them to
login to the social media spaces.

4.2 Participation
When asked about their level of participation in the social media spaces of their program,
most participants mentioned that they like to engage with the content posted (likes,
comments, click on links, tweet, re-retweet, and others). However, three of the
interviewees mentioned that they would consider themselves ‘lurkers’. One participant
mentioned being an active user on one platform (Twitter) while being a lurker in a
different platform (Facebook). Regardless of their level of participation, active user or
lurker, interviewees mentioned setting notifications to keep up with new content. Other
participants would set time to intentionally look through new postings. Two participants
mentioned in their interviews that they would simply stumble upon content if it came up
in their social media feed.

4.3 Benefits
A significant part of the results are the benefits sub-themes that were experienced by the
interviewees in their use of and participation in the social media spaces of their ID
graduate program.
Access to resources. The participants mentioned that the ability to quickly share
additional resources related to the ID field via the social media spaces of their graduate
10 E. Romero-Hall

program was one of the main benefits. Participants also mentioned that they enjoyed
sharing at their own speed and comfort level. One participant mentioned that:
“sharing information (i.e., newspaper or technology) using the social media
spaces of the graduate program had greatly enriched both her professional and
personal life.”
Feeling connected. Interviewees mentioned that using and participating in the social
media spaces of their graduate program made it easier to engage and connect with their
classmates. It helped them ‘break the ice’. Furthermore, another participant mentioned
that she interacted more with professors via social media during this graduate education
experience than other educational experiences. The participants felt more connected to
peers and professors because communicating is more relax via this social media spaces.
One participant said:
“the conversations felt more casual because I do not have to worry about
grammar and all those other things.”
For several participants, this level of connection translated into a sense of community in
their graduate program. One participant mentioned:
“I have connections to people that I would never have if I was not a member of
the social media community.”
Another participant mentioned the following when referring to her use and participation
in the social media of their graduate program:
“it gives you a sense of community and you kind of already know the people in
the community so you are not as hesitant to post something because you are
building a relationship amongst each other.”
Lastly, one participant mentioned that being able to grow the personal network and
seeing other graduate students being able to grow their personal learning communities
had been extremely beneficial. Overall, the participants mentioned that: “the community,
having relationships with others, and solidifying those relationships” is one the main
benefits of having a program with an active social media strategy.
Different perspectives. Another benefit and outcome that was mentioned collectively by
the interviewees was access to different perspectives on issues and trends in ID. One
participant mentioned, “getting to see posts from classmates and/or experts in the field
has given me a whole different view of the field”. Another participant mentioned that the
posts and resources allow him to learn more about what is happening and what is “up and
coming” in the field. One participant mentioned that, at the moment of the interview, her
involvement in the social media spaces of their program was helping her learn about the
field and that as they continue it would probably help shape her opinions.
Informal learning. A popular sub-theme within the benefits theme is the focus on
informal learning. Participants mentioned that the informal learning experience was
‘subconscious’. One participant mentioned using the information learned during informal
discussions with classmates in the social media spaces of the graduate program to share
and participate in the formal instructional setting of a course. However, it was also
mentioned by one participant that there was little, if any, informal learning occurring
from her standpoint and personal experience. This participant mentioned that perhaps it
was enriching her life in ‘indirect ways’.
Active user or lurker? a phenomenological investigation of graduate students 11

4.4 Challenges
In addition to benefits sub-themes, interviewees also experienced and shared challenges
due to their use of and participation in the social media spaces of their ID graduate
program.
Time commitment. The amount of time that the graduate students have to connect,
participate, and use the social media spaces of their graduate program was mentioned as a
major challenge by the interviewees. One interviewee mentioned that “setting aside the
time to check [the social media spaces] was an obstacle that prevented me from getting
engaged’. This participant mentioned that she “gets really busy during the day”. Another
participant mentioned that it is challenging to take time to write posts and created events
while not knowing how many people (classmates and/or faculty members) would take the
time to read what was posted. The interviewee mentioned:
“work all day, drive home, I don’t really sign on my computer as soon as I get
home because all I have been on the computer all day. There is only so much
time I can pop-over [into social media].”
Possibility of distraction. Another challenge of use and participation of the social media
spaces of graduate programs, mentioned by the interviewees, was the possibility of
distraction. One participant mentioned, “sometimes I get caught up, distracted, and
overwhelmed from all the information shared”. Participants mentioned that due to the
amount of information shared by others, it is easy to “go down the rabbit whole.”
Security and privacy issues. The issue of security and privacy was also mentioned as a
major concern. This concern relates to publicly sharing ideas with others and the potential
ownership of those ideas. A participant mentioned,
“sometimes I wonder the security of it all. I do not want to put an idea out there
for someone else to run with or take as their own because it is so casual.”
Also, participants mentioned feeling worried about others viewing and reading the casual
thoughts and conversations posted in the social media community of their program.
Particularly, the interviewees worried about how others outside the community would
view those thoughts and conversations.
Resistance. One last sub-theme is the issue of resistance to use and implementation of the
social media spaces of a graduate program. Some participants felt that even if faculty
and some students tried to use and partake in this social media space specifically created
for graduate students, others would still be hesitant to fully appreciate its benefits.
One participant made a comment about her own judgements and how she was cautious to
contribute. The participant mentioned:
“I think the biggest challenge is to get someone like me to actually become
actively involved. I am older and perhaps it is also my personality.”
Collectively, most participants felt that due to resistance, the social media spaces of
graduate programs “would not be used to their fullest extent”.
12 E. Romero-Hall

5 Discussion

The purpose of this investigation was to describe ID graduate students’ perceptions of
their involvement in the social media spaces of their program or department. The results
of the interviews provided the ID students’ lived experiences while partaking in the social
media spaces. The participants shared how they access the social media spaces, how they
view their level of participation, the benefits experienced, and the challenges of getting
involved.
The results show that graduate students access resources from each other, feel as part
of a community, enjoy reading others’ views and perspectives about the field, and
experience some moments of informal learning while reading posts in the social media
spaces of their graduate program in their tablet, cellphone, or desktop. These outcomes
coincide with prior research (Brown, 2012; Hamid et al., 2015; Romero-Hall, 2017a,
2017b), in which academics and graduate students compliment social media for its ability
to aid and enhance formal education in an informal manner.
Additional results show that some of the graduate students reach into their inner
extroverts. They comment, like, and share social media posts with others. In other
instances, students are lurkers who watch what is happening in the social media spaces of
their graduate program. In their role as lurkers, they are merely observers. However,
regardless of whether the graduate students are lurkers or active participants, the use of
social media seems to allow the learners to groom their knowledge about the field. Rather
than just accepting new ideas, concepts, theories, and perspectives shared by their
instructors; their participation in the social media spaces of their program allows them to
challenge their instructional design knowledge and compare it to those who they connect
with (internal or external stakeholders) in the social media spaces. Additionally, the
participation of the graduate students in the social media spaces of their program
empowers them to take ownership of their learning experience. The graduate students
seem to condition themselves to browse these social spaces for additional content that can
complement or enhance their learning experience (provide new skills, increase
knowledge, or access to scholarly opportunities). Based on the experiences shared by
graduate students, both lurkers and active participants, enjoy how this social media
spaces of graduate programs provide a level playing field to connect and share with other
graduate students, faculty, or scholars at other institutions. Based on the results, these
spaces connect graduate students with other (‘friend’ or ‘follow’ each other). In some
instances, these spaces permit the graduate student to engage in conversation and
correspond with others (publicly or privately). These conversations tend to be more
spontaneous and candid compared to other formal face-to-face and electronic discussions.
Of course, there are also undesirable experiences. Graduate students experience
privacy concerns, time management issues, and they worry about getting distracted. In
some instances, they resist using the social media spaces of their graduate program
because it ‘is not their thing’. These challenges are rarely mentioned in the research
literature. However, some researchers have recently examined how scholars and graduate
students navigate the challenges of using social media for both professional and personal
matters (Pham, 2014; Pham et al., 2014; Veletsianos and Kimmons, 2016; Veletsianos
and Stewart, 2016).
Knowing how graduate students perceive their use and involvement in the social
media spaces of their program is tremendously valuable for administrators, faculty, and
other students. It highlights the outcomes of their participation and provides a better
Active user or lurker? a phenomenological investigation of graduate students 13

understanding of their experience. There are positive and negative experiences. It is
important not to overemphasise the positive aspects and overlook the negative
experiences. Although there are advantages to adequately implementing social media
spaces for teaching and learning, just like any other environments, it presents challenges
that should not be ignored.
Overall, the results showcase that participation in the social media spaces of their
graduate department or program help support social and knowledge communication. For
active users, the content shared encourages both social and knowledge communication
with others. For lurkers, it afforded access to supplementary sources of knowledge
(people, content, and resources). It can be said, based on these results, that it is not
necessary to actively engage in order to gain from the experience. However, based on the
results, it seems that active participation can help build a sense of community and help
members of the community further improve social and knowledge communication.
It is important to mention that the lived experiences shared by the participants happen
very naturally and intuitively in the social media spaces of the graduate programs.
Participants use these spaces as extensions of their graduate education. However, they use
them as if they were part of their personal social media experiences. It can be concluded
that the participants are still learning from these experiences and trying to make sense of
them.
A major limitation of this investigation is that the sample is limited to ten
participants. Another limitation is that all participants are ID graduate students in one
specific country. The use and participation of the social media spaces of a graduate
program by students in other disciplines and/or countries could be significantly different.

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Appendix A

Interview questions
• How often does your educational program social media channels post content?
• How do you seek information from your educational program social media channels?
• How would you describe your use of the social media channels of your educational
program/department?
• How do you primarily access the social media channels provided by your
educational institutions (device/location/time)?
• How has your use of the social media channels of your educational program
(re)shape your graduate education as an instructional design and technology graduate
student?
• What is the main benefit of having a program with an active social media strategy to
you as a graduate student?
• What is the biggest challenge of having a program with an active social media
strategy to you as a graduate student?