Building relatedness through hashtags
Jensen, Lucas John
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With the rise of online education, instructors are searching for ways to motivate students to engage in meaningful discussions with one another online and build a sense of community in the digital classroom. This study explores how student motivation is affected when social media tools are used as a substitute for traditional online discussion forums hosted in Learning Management Systems. The main research question for this study was as follows: What factors influence student motivation in a hashtag-based discussion forum? To investigate this question, the following subquestions guided the research: a. How do participants engage in the hashtag discussion assignment? b. What motivational and social influence factors affect participants' activity when they post to the Twitter hashtag? c. How do previous experience with and attitudes toward social media and online discussion forums affect participant motivation in the hashtag-based discussion forum? Drawing on the motivational theories of Self-Determination Theory and Social Influence Theory, as well as the concept of Personal Learning Environments, it was expected that online learners would be more motivated to participate in online discussions if they felt a sense of autonomy over the discussion, and if the discussion took place in an environment similar to the social media environment they experience in their personal lives. Participants in the course were undergraduate students in an educational technology course at a large Southeastern public university. Surveys were administered at the beginning and end of the semester to determine the participants’ patterns of technology and social media usage, attitudes toward social media and online discussion forums, and to determine motivation levels and social influence factors. Participants were asked to use the social media platform Twitter to post about class using a specific hashtag. At the end of the semester, all tweets were analyzed and four participants were interviewed. Contrary to expectations, overall participation in the Twitter assignment was low and no meaningful discussion was created. Participants reported neutral levels of motivation on the surveys. Responses indicated that the low motivation levels might have been due to the lack of personal details shared and the lack of information that seemed relevant to the participants’ personal interests. A lack of relatedness to the content and fellow classmates online led participants to a lack of motivation that kept them from engaging in conversational uses of Twitter.