Mental Models and Social Media Personas

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    Mary Jane Hughes

    This week’s paper discussion features a recent paper by Lisa Lundgren, Kent J. Crippen, Eleanor E. Gardner, Victor J. Perez and Ronny Maik Leder (2018), published in the International Journal of Social Media and Interactive Learning Environments.

    The paper, “Mental models and social media personas: A case of amateur palaeontologists,” describes the connections between social paleontology, the ways in which people use online spaces (their “social media personas”), and the ways they understand the world (their “mental models”)

    If you don’t have time to read the full paper, here is the abstract provided by the authors:

    “This study explores social palaeontology – an inclusive and collaborative form of science occurring across digital habitats. The purpose was to: 1) examine conceptualisations of amateurs via expressed mental models and 2) use the unified media-user typology (MUT) to explore any relationship between these models and social media persona. Data collection involved a survey, modelling task and interview. Findings reveal that persona was demonstrated in subtle ways, offering limited evidence for a relationship between persona and mental model. Sequential models were most common, but more so for advanced personas. Expertise development was expressed through the number of conventions used during modelling. However, the degree of inaccuracy suggests a lack of metacognitive awareness, implying that any increase in expertise with persona was not conveyed as such. The results bolster the capacity to design community-centred social spaces and inform understanding of science learning and the utility of MUT as a predictive tool.”

    To buy online access here is the link, or reach out to Lisa Lundgren (@llundgren) on the myFOSSIL website.

    Who: Nine amateur paleontologists who were members of fossil clubs in the southeastern United States

    What: This is a qualitative case study from the field of educational research, which is a social science. In this field, qualitative researchers usually collect and analyze data from a small number of people to understand a topic. In this study, that topic was social paleontology. The researchers collected data using three instruments: a survey about social media personas, pictures of the amateur paleontologists’ completed card sort tasks, and a recorded transcript of the people talking through the card sort task. The card sort task helped researchers understand the way people interact with and think about a topic. Amateur paleontologists were given cards with social media terms (like, share, follow, tag), then talked about which terms they would use in certain situations. The researchers then compared these responses with a survey.

    Where: The research was conducted in person, but it was done in order to understand how amateur paleontologists interact with online social spaces, like Facebook, Twitter, and myFOSSIL.

    When: (Time table) The data was collected in 2015 and published in 2018.

    Why: To unite palaeontologists in the practice of social palaeontology—an inclusive form of collaborative inquiry of the natural world through the collection, preparation, curation, and study of fossils which is enacted across digital habitats with the overarching objective to promote citizen science.

    So what? The amateur paleontologists created different mental models with the card sort task. Some models were complex, but some were simple. An example of different mental models is found in Figure 3.

    Learning about the amateur paleontologists’ conceptions of social media can help to build better-designed websites that support social paleontology.

    Why personas? The authors hypothesize that a person’s social media persona, or way of interacting in an online environment, had an effect on their mental models.


    Questions for Discussion:

    • What were the different personas that were used in the study? What kinds of mental models did these personas create?
    • What similarities/differences between the personas were found?
    • How do you think this study adds to people’s understanding of social paleontology?
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