University of Toronto (CANADA)
About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2020 Proceedings
Publication year: 2020
Pages: 7611-7617
ISBN: 978-84-09-17939-8
ISSN: 2340-1079
doi: 10.21125/inted.2020.2050
Conference name: 14th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 2-4 March, 2020
Location: Valencia, Spain
This mixed-methods case study examines the use of hashtags by graduate students in a blended course at a leading Canadian education institution. Data was collected to provide insight into knowledge building and hashtag tool use: using note analysis, open-ended student surveys, faculty and student interviews. Findings demonstrate the value of hashtags as an unassuming tool for students to share knowledge in online discussions. The research also explores ways the affordance of a hashtag tool can set apart a student comment for the student’s own reflection. Finally, this work offers some design recommendations to make better use of hashtags as an instrument to foster knowledge sharing in online discussions.

The current paper presents results from a micro-analytic case study of asynchronous online discussions by education and teaching students enrolled in a blended course at a leading Canadian education institution. PeppeR, a learning management system (LMS) designed to facilitate online academic conversations was one of the ways students interacted and participated in creating knowledge together online and in class.
The use of the hashtag tool was prompted and modelled in the discussions. Prior to this research, we explored the use of hashtags as a way for individual students to organize their learning (Author, et al., 2019). Hashtags associated with discussion posts gradually became more aligned with supporting learner driven information and knowledge sources. This process allowed for “more meaningful discourse of distributed learning environment, the growth of collective intelligence, engagement and community” (Author, et al., 2019).

As online education becomes increasingly popular, it is important to find new ways to promote self-directed, collaborative and inquiry-oriented learning that engages learners in sustained knowledge building (Linn & Hsi, 2000; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2006; 2014; Swan et al., 2009). In a knowledge community (Author, et al., 2016; Wilton, et al., 2018), students are given a high level of agency and responsibility for developing ideas, exchanging and critiquing ideas, and evaluating their own progress. Recently, researchers have studied the use of social media tools to facilitate social presence, decrease isolation and promote community development (Makos, Lee, Zingaro, 2015; Wilton, 2018; Oztok, et al., 2015). Extending this work, this research investigates the role of hashtags as a tool for students to carve specific learning paths for themselves by tagging topics of interest, exchange ideas with peers through the use of common hashtags and building a community of learning around individual areas of interest.
Online learning, asynchronous discussion, knowledge building, social media tools, hashtags, knowledge communities.