NodeXL and My Little Secret

I have to share a secret with you: I am really not too great with technology.

Making this blog was difficult for me at first, and I needed a lot of help from one of my friends, who blogged about her study abroad experience in Spain last spring (thanks, Mia). I still can't do all the fancy stuff or get all the details of formatting exactly as I want them, but I have the basics down now, at least.

And then I was told I would have to do a project using NodeXL, a program attached to Excel that allows you to import data from different social media and look at connections between them. I was afraid, very afraid. My professor was sitting in front of me, going on and on about all the exciting things that I could do and see using NodeXL, and all I could think to myself was: "It's not gonna happen like you want it to, that's for sure." I'm horrible with things like this.

Make it interesting, colorful, exciting, insightful--he tells me. Here's what I came up with.

A grey blob.

I was thrilled. I was not expecting it to turn out so well.

I come back the next week to meet with my professor. He is hesitant about what to say for this grey blob that I am so proud of myself for making. Maybe I could change the colors of the nodes? (How do you do that? What are nodes?) How about I change the sizes and shapes and explore the program a little bit more to see what I can come up with? (Can you please tell me exactly what you want me to come up with? I can't be creative when I am having so many technical difficulties--on the fault of my own, not the program.)

Over the next two weeks, he gives me a crash course in the basics of how to adjust certain things about the program, and a few articles to read to give me some new ideas. Suddenly my nodes are turned into images, then transformed into colorful dots of all shapes and sizes. The edges go from opaque and clumped to transparent and spread out so they are easier to see. I am actually starting to make some observations. Here are some of the "round 2" graphs. By the way, you can click on any of these to see them fullscreen.

My professor tells me he likes the third one the best and gives me some pointers about how to edit it further. Let me stop and talk a bit about what the project is about, before I reveal the final product.

The black node is me. Every other node represents one of my followers on Twitter. I started by importing all of them, which was a challenge because I overloaded the system a few times and it basically told me to "come back later." I was a little over-ambitious. By the time it was done, I had myself plus 102 other people in a neat little row on an Excel sheet. I could click back and forth between "vertices" and "edges" (something I didn't figure out until week 2). There's a very long string of information for each person or each connection between people, but I only manipulated the first few columns.

I changed the color, shape, and size to represent my different groups. I found that I had a large, tight-knit group of people living in Athens and also involved with a program called Young Life. I currently live in Athens for most of the year and I am involved in Young Life, by the way. On the opposite end of the spectrum were generally high school friends not involved in Young Life. There were some people living in Athens who were not involved with Young Life, and some people involved in Young Life who did not live in Athens, but these were the exceptions to the rule. Here is the order of colors representing people most involved in Young Life, to people least involved: blue, green, yellow, orange, purple, red.

As you can see, color matters, but size matters more. Large nodes are Athens people and small nodes are not. Squares represent Twitter accounts who are not real people, but circles represent real people. In addition, I made the edges more transparent so they were easier to see. For more information about my findings from this project, click here. I won't go into those now.

The crazy thing was, once I really got going, it was actually a lot of fun. Maybe I was just being (literally) egocentric and enjoyed learning about my own network, but the program became a lot less intimidating than it was when I started. I began to figure out how to manipulate certain things after a while, and I actually enjoyed it. Here is the final graph that I created. A lot better than the grey blob.

P.S.   You'll keep my secret, won't you?

Tweet, Twitter, Tweetest

Check it out! I made a Node XL graph of my Twitter followers! This is the final product, but I went through a lot of "drafts," modifying it a little each time. That's me in the middle. Go ahead and click on it to see it better.

One thing that I noted about my followers was that they fell into two main groups: people I know from Athens, and people I met prior to moving to Athens. Additionally, they are either involved with Young Life in some way, or they are not associated with Young Life.

Young Life is a Christian outreach program that places "leaders" at a specific high school. Different programs are run for students of each high school, and in this case, I am calling the high school students who attend these events "participants."

You probably wouldn't be able to make sense of this unless you knew what the colors, shapes, sizes and labels meant. The colors and the labels mean the same thing for each node. There are 6 categories of colors/labelled nodes: Young Life leader (blue; "l"), former Young Life leader (green; "fl"), Young Life participant (yellow; "p"), former Young Life participant (orange; "fp"), associated with Young Life in another way (purple; "as"), and not associated with Young Life (red; "na").

There are two different sizes for nodes, not including my own. The larger nodes represent people I met in Athens, and the smaller nodes represent people I did not. Finally, most of the nodes are circles, but some nodes are squares because they do not represent actual people. An example is "@YLencouragement," which is not a real person and is therefore represented as a square.

As you can see from the chart, most of the people I met in Athens were people involved with Young Life in some way. There are 5 exceptions: 3 of these are my roommates, 1 is my roommate's boyfriend, and the 5th is an Athens High School (AHS) student who was on the cross country team that I coached last fall. This AHS student is near a lot of large, yellow nodes because these nodes are participants in Young Life who also go to AHS.

All green and purple dots are near the large "clump" of Young Life involved, Athens-located nodes. However, there are 5 small blue nodes that are farther away. 4 of these are people who attended my own high school, and now are leaders at locations other than Athens. The 5th node was actually my own Young Life leader when I was in high school.

I can't forget to mention a very unique node on the graph is the only node connected only to me. This is my cousin from Dayton, OH. (I am from a town between Dayton and Cincinnati.) Everyone else is at least connected to one other person in the graph besides me. I, of course, am connected to everyone (I'm so popular!)

The Athens-located/Young-Life-involved clump generally looks as expected, with many current leaders in the middle, surrounded by former leaders and others associated with Young Life. Most of the "others associated" are people who went through the training program to become a leader, but did not actually become one. The small purple node represents a woman married to a Young Life leader from my high school, and she helps out with events although she is not a leader.

There really aren't any small nodes that are connected to larger ones (who are real people), with two exceptions. One of the people I went to high school with (small, blue node) is connected to one of the leaders from Athens (large, blue node), and I didn't even know they knew each other until I made this graph! The only other connection is between one of my non-Young-Life college friends (large, red node) and my boyfriend (small, orange node); they met when he came to visit me here in Athens.

Seems like what's most important here is the size of the node, second only to the color of the node. Node sizes almost do not mix at all, but similar colors mix fairly often. The shape of the node hardly mattered at all; square nodes of the same shape and color lay together, but square nodes of different shapes and/or colors did not.

If you want to read about my experience and some of my failed attempts using NodeXL, click here.


Rockin Research

Photo courtesy of Ping Recreation Center website
If you decided to go rock climbing at Ping on Thursday night, you may have been watched...by me! I situated myself a few feet behind the wall to take my first stab at field research that night. I never realized I would be taking five and a half pages of notes in just one hour! I thought it would be awkward and that everyone would be suspicious of me but turns out I was just being paranoid. I was able to be pretty inconspicous pretending to do my homework while I waited for my friend to finish her Latin Fusion dance class (which you might wanna try - she really likes it).
All in all, I had some fun pretening like I was a detective or a spy. Field research can be pretty intensive, so I'm glad this project didn't involve following around criminals while they perform illegal activity or anything like that (some researchers do it!). The only problems I ran into this time were some loud dance music that drowned out some of the conversations, and some construction that I found awaiting me when I went back for a second night of spying.
I guess I should mention what my purpose was. I want to write my thesis about mentoring, so my professor and I decided that I should practice some field research looking for instances of mentoring. I found some pretty cool stuff. Turns out I barely heard any females mentoring anyone at all, and the most effective mentoring I observed was male-to-female mentoring. Males mentored each other too, but they were a bit more sarcastic and playfully insulting about it.
Maybe you should try out some field research of your own! You never know what you're going to discover.

Click here for more information about the Rock Wall at Ping Recreation Center.


Three Schools Before Thanksgiving

A qualitative study about quality education. That's what Anne F. Farrell and Melissa A. Collier's article is about. They wanted to know how a school system educated children whose parents were in the military. How do teachers deal with children who "...went to three schools before Thanksgiving one year"?

After conducting interviews with 15 educators who worked in a school near a military base, the researchers found the following overall themes from the interviews which contribute to a positive experience in such a school:

1. The importance of family-school communication (which they called FSC)

          Such communication was almost unanimously endorsed by the educators. Since military
          families might have special circumstances, like a head of household being deployed, it is
          important to the educators to be able to respond appropriately.

2. Impressions regarding type and format of FSC

         Teachers didn't care whether it was phone, email, newletter, or face-to-face conferences--they
         wanted contact with parents in some way. They agreed that it didn't matter if a student was
         having problems at home that could affect the student's school performance, as long as the
         parent brought the issue up to the teacher for discussion and accomodation.

3. School Climate

        Educators agreed that students needed to feel comfortable while at school, both by their main
        teachers and by other school staff.

4. Teacher Preparation

        None of the teachers had formal training for this situation, but many had lived on military bases
       when they were children as well. Having such a personal understanding of the students' situations
       made the educators more prepared to face challenges that arose.

5. Roles and Skills

       Communication skills and time management were some of the top roles and skills that educators
       felt were important to them. Another was overall "hard work" when it came to communitcation
       with families. It's important to teachers to partner with parents instead of being on separate

6. Contextual Issues Unique to Military Families

      Student turnover is enormous in schools close to military bases when compared to average
      schools. It's difficult for teachers to understand what a student has or hasn't learned before arrival.
     The important thing for them was that they made a student feel comfortable and successful in the
     classroom for as long as he or she was there.

"Themes" like these are typical of qualitative studies. A qualitative researcher usually tries to limit bias by sending out interviews and objectively analyzing the results before making a thesis statement. By saving the thesis for the end of the scholarly article, researchers are able to stop themselves from only reporting results that support the thesis. By considering a qualitative study, a researcher must consider turning the scientific method on its head to find unbiased results.

Parental Homework Help Leads to LOWER Academic Achievement

Are you setting your child up for failure when you help him with his homework?

A 2006 study by Jung-Sook Lee and Natasha K. Bowen showed that you are...if you're White, that is. The survey crunched the numbers on survey responses of over 400 elementary students to answer this question. "T tests, chi-square statistics, and hierarchical regressions" sound academic, right?

Here is what the researchers found:

... lower levels of homework help were associated with high achievement among European Americans and with low achievement among Hispanic/Latinos. Increased levels of homework help, therefore, were associated with better achievement among Hispanic/Latinos but not European Americans....the effects of homework help among African American children were similar to those among Hispanic/Latino children. More frequent homework help was associated with better academic performance in this group, while more frequent homework help was associated with lower academic achievement among European American children.
Unsettling, isn't it? But don't be scared. This a simple error of confusing correlation with causation. The thing is, these researchers chose "homework help" for their independent variable, and "academic achievement" for their dependent variable. In other words, they said that amount of homework help causes level of academic achievement. They didn't take into account the amount of influence that level of academic achievement could have on amount of homework help. If your child was failing her classes, wouldn't you spend a little more time with her on her assignments each night?
So, why would this error only apply to the White children? Earlier in the study, researchers claimed that minority parents generally spent more time managing their children's time while at home than White parents did. Perhaps minority parents were better able to get their children on track academically, and keep them on track, before grades suffered.

SO, when designing your own research study, pay close attention to your independent and dependent variables... or you too could find some strange results to be critiqued by a blogger.


Theory, Methods, and Literature--Oh My

This post has been "updated" (see Parental Homework Help Leads to LOWER Academic Achievement and Three Schools Before Thanksgiving)

What I read this week:

---Part One of Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches by W. Lawrence

School Personnel's Perceptions of Family-School Communication: A Qualitative Study

Parent Involvement, Cultural Capital, and the Achievement Gap Among Elementary School Children

My goal:

The second two sources were both articles; one qualitative and one quantitative. Both dealt with the issue of parental involvement and the effects on children's success (with a focus on success in school). My goal was to compare and contrast them and offer any insights about them based on what I read from Neuman this week.


Parent Involvement, Cultural Capital, and the Achievement Gap Among Elementary School Children

This was the first of the two articles that I read, and this was a quantitative study. Not only did the authors describe the study as being quantitative, but there were several clues in the research to indicate this as well. At a glance, a reader can see charts and graphs characteristic of a quantitative study, and these results were from chi square tests and t tests, among other methods. Data collection was through surveys with mutually exclusive answers that did not allow for extended response. By the way, one flaw that I noticed about the study was that the researchers had the parents fill out a survey on how involved they were in their children's lives, which probably meant that parents were biased because they wanted to feel good about themselves as involved parents. The data may have been inaccurate since the only method of survey-taking was self-assessment by parents of themselves. When the researchers discussed results at the end of the article, they made overarching conclusions applied to all (or at least most) members of a group based on similar situation of group members (race, etc).

School Personnel's Perceptions of Family-School Communication: A Qualitative Study

There's no mystery here; it's obvious that this is a qualitative study just by looking at the title. Let's say that there was no mention of the word "qualitative"--could the reader still figure it out? First of all, data gathering was based on interviews and extended response questions that allowed participants to elaborate on their answers. There were many direct quotes from these interviews throughout the article. In the discussion part of the article, the researchers mentioned common "themes" that arose, instead of analyzing specific statistics. Most importantly, the researchers admit that "the teachers and families portrayed here are not necessarily representative of the general population..." (page 15). All of these details place this study in the "qualitative" category.


Yes, these studies are different because they are fundamentally different approaches to researching a topic (even if it's a very similar topic). However, there are several ways that these studies are similar. Both obviously began with a literature review, and discussed their review in the beginning of their articles. Both define their variables and state their hypotheses as well as their plans to investigate the hypotheses. Both discuss how they went about their data collection, and the findings that resulted. Most importantly, both performed an acceptable way of doing research. That's the main idea that I learned this week: qualitative and quantitative studies differ in several important ways, and not all sociologists agree with one of the other, but both ways of researching can help add more knowledge to the field, and that's what's most important.


About Molly

Hi, I'm Molly and I'm a Sociology major at Ohio University (OU). I will have to write an honors thesis in a year, and I want to prepare myself as much as I can. I am currently taking a tutorial in research methods, and this blog is to help me store and share the basics of what I learn, as well as some applications. I will be posting about once a week about what I have read and thought about.

I am in the Honors Tutorial College here at OU, and a big requirement is the thesis as a senior project. Since I am probably graduating a semester early, I will start it spring semester 2014. After I graduate, I would like to work with children and/or adolescents, so I would like my thesis topic to reflect that. I haven't completely chosen a topic yet, but I hope to do so in the next few months.

I developed an interest in working with adolescents because I have done volunteer work with them for the past several years. The main influence for my interest is an organization called Young Life, in which I participated in high school, and volunteer for while in college. Young Life is a Christian-based organization which encourages "contact work" between college students and students at one of several local high schools. In April 2012, I was assigned to volunteer with the students of Athens High School (AHS). I have enjoyed volunteering for the program very much and try to be a role model for the young women of AHS as I devote 10-20 hours per week to Young Life.

Beginning in August 2012, I also had the privilege of assistant coaching for the AHS junior varsity (JV) girls' cross country team. Coaching was a very rewarding experience, and the fun thing about JV girls was that they were proud of themselves for every second shaved off their personal record (PR), and for every mile at practice they didn't have to stop and walk. I enjoyed working with them and encouraging them during practice, as well as cheering them on during meets.

College wasn't the first time that I worked with children and adolescents, because I even worked with them when I was a teenager myself. I have been involved in programs such as Vacation Bible School (leading elementary-age children through games, snacks, songs, crafts, and storytime), Girls on the Run (encouraging fourth grade girls to be physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy while teaching them to run a 5K race), and I have also spent quite a lot of time babysitting.

Hopefully now you know a little bit more about me and are interested in learning with me this semester!