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Draft originally published in: Ebner, M., Schn, S., Stocker, A., Rothe, H., Tsang, P.

. (2013) Discussing Public Voting in the Web as a Measure to Democratize Award Decisions. In: Tsang,P., Eustace K. Tsoi, R, & Tse, S.(eds) Proceedings of Social Media 2013, pp. 51-59, City University press, ISBN 978 988-19712-1-0

Discussing Public Voting in the Web as a Measure to Democratize Award Decisions

Martin Ebner1, Sandra Schn2, Alexander Stocker3, Hannes Rothe4, Philip Tsang5

Social Learning, Computer and Information Services, Graz University of Technology, Austria

iLab (Innovation Lab), Salzburg Research, Salzburg, Austria

Marketing and Electronic Business, University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria

Professur Gersch, Department Wirtschaftsinformatik, Freie Universitt Berlin, Germany

Caritas Institute of Higher Education, Office of the President, HKSAR, China

Abstract: As active and innovative e-learning researchers, we had been part of the voting crowd but also were applicants to public voting contents on the Web. L3T, a project delivering an open textbook about learning and teaching with technologies, was applicant at three public voting contests on the Web: at the Neue Deutsche Buchpreis (2011), at the podcast competition of the MMKH (2011) as well as at the MOOC Production Fellowship (2013). According to our experiences made, we got the impression, that there is a need to re-name public voting to social voting, as it is not the public (i.e. the crowd) that decides who wins. In fact, we found out social aspects, i.e. strong and weak ties in social communities to dictate the voting results. Therefore the publication addresses the research question, whether public voting on the Web is a democratic process at all. Keywords. Social Media, public voting, field study, voting contest

1. Introduction What is public voting?

In the last decade public voting has become quite popular as a concept. A plethora of social media based platforms has arisen (for a systematic discussion of social media building blocks see eg. [1]), allowing an easy gathering of votes and ratings by activating not only their native users, but in fact the communities of the different applicants to public voting contests. The new rationale is that organizers of public vot-

ing contests will draw a lot of attention on their topics and at best they will get a lot of data of potential futures customers and platform visitors. During the last years the authors did not only participate in several public voting competitions to win funding or awards, but even more they do research, how public voting in social media takes place. Due to the fact that the participation at different voting contests is aligned to the project open textbook about learning and teaching with technology (shortly L3T) our work strongly relates to the field of technology enhanced learning, mostly in german speaking areas. 1.1 Public Voting in the World Wide Web

Public voting is intended to let the public decide (i.e. vote) about the applicants submissions. So, what are the involved stake holders? First of all the organizers themselves are responsible to provide an appropriate web based tool, and at best they will get thousands email addresses, further contact data or even fans and likes on appropriated social network sites. Hence public voting is a popular marketing instrument for platform operators [2], because applicants (which are stakeholder nr 2.) will do their really best to get as most votes as possible through harnessing their personal communities: They will distribute their submission through different media channels and they will ask their friends, their (Online)-communities or even others for support (which makes the supporters to stakeholder nr. 3). Especially social media and specific online communities play an important role, due to the fact that common targets and interests characterize these communities [3] [4]. To sum up, the platform providers aim to maximize the page visits (by attracting applicants in the first row and many voters in the second), the applicants maximize their votes by harnessing their own friends and like-minded persons via social media, and the called voters will maximize their individual benefit i.e. by having the chance to get a reward from the applicant they vote for or by just behaving like a friend would do. The big challenge of public voting in the Web is mainly to overcome fraudulent activities and cheating [5]. Schaffert et al [6] pointed out that fraudulent activities must be taken into account already in the planning phase of reputation or rating systems for different purposes. A classical economic explanation can be found with the help of the transaction-cost-theory [7]. It points out that there is a relational risk that the transaction-partner is doing the opposite instead of following the intended goal [8]. Especially in the educational sector competitions are a popular instrument to support developments and measurements. For example in the field of technology enhanced learning it seems as a chance to give innovative teaching methods a broader audience [9]. A very new hype on the educational sector are MOOCs, shortly for Massive Open Online Courses. Such courses are offered by free (open), completely online and address thousands of learners (massive) [10]. Through the huge amount of learners the courses often lacks on interaction possibilities [11].


The competition MOOC Fellowship

Consequently following the trend the commercial MOOC-platform provider Iversity together with the Stifterverband fr die deutsche Wissenschaft (a non-profit organization) announced in March 2013 the foundation of ten MOOC production fellowships each to be funded with 25.0001. The final winners have to do a MOOC on their platform and they defined beforehand some general requirements: Participants must hold a professorship on a national or international university The course must address students of universities and should be as broad as possible to get as many students as possible There will be a public voting and a follow-up jury decision, which should use the public voting as starting point. In this publication we want to explore, whether and how this public voting succeeded. We want to learn about the participants strategies for maximizing their votes and moreover if there were any hints concerning cheating? We therefore present a detailed examination of social media usage during the votes, which we will also discuss later on.

2. Field Study
2.1 MOOC Production Fellowship

The public voting of the described fellowship took place from 1st March to 23th May 2013. If a favorite course was chosen the voter has to provide his/her e-mail address without any further validation. Afterwards there was a possibility to share his/her vote on the major social networks including Facebook and Twitter. All three activities were counted and shown, but only the votes were finally assessed. The organizers mentioned that they are collecting IP-addresses and that they will investigate cheating issues. How this will take place was never explained in detail. Within the first 16 days there was a possibility to sort the submissions according to their already given votes without knowing the number of votes. The organizers changed this procedure four days before the voting was stopped. On Sunday 19th 2013, the number of given votes was presented below each submission and from then on the differences between the applicants were made visible to anyone.
Table 1. Overview of the results of the top eight courses
Course name Sectio Chirurgica International Agrarmanagement

Number of votes (Pickhardt) 8013 7557

Ranking according to Pickhardt 1 2

Corrected Rank (26.5.2013) 1 2

FacebookLikes (26.5.2013) 1400 2000

Mentions on Twitter (26.5.2013) 23 38

Corrected number of votes (26.5.2013) 6247 2279 (last access July 2013)

Math for Engineers Harry Potter and Issues in International Policies Online Surgery L3Ts MOOC Design 101 or Design Basics Introduction to welfare and health care

2669 2510 2365 2270 2216 2124

3 4 5 6 7 8

4 3 19 5 6 22

544 2100 234 1100 1400 305

39 257 4 308 211 19

2077 2165 1090 1957 1946 998

Table 1 points out the final results as well as the corrected ranks after a couple of days by the organizers. In the first column the name of the courses are listed followed by their final number of votes as well as their final rank according to the automatic recording of Pickhardt2. Remarkable is that in the last two days the top two courses were not displayed online anymore, because the number of votes increased in an amazing speed. After few days a new ranking was published. Especially for two topplaced courses, this correction was dramatically the course Online Surgery dropped back from place 5 to 19 and the course Introduction to welfare and health care from 8 to 22. Notable is also the decrease on number of votes for the course International Agrarmanagment from more than 7500 votes to about 2200. According to a Facebook post3 the final votes were even higher and so the corrected number of votes have been decreased for more than -80%. Bearing in mind that competitions are also cheated the authors collected online data to get an insight how the applicants tried to maximize their votes. 2.2 Methodology

In this research work we concentrated on following-up the activities of the different online-communities harnessed by the top-placed applicants additionally to the automatic tracking of Pickhardt. We explored the following research questions: Which target group does the applicant address? Which arguments or incentives are used by the applicant to maximize votes for their MOOC? What are the core social media and web activities? For getting data, we used the names of the courses and appropriate keywords and additional terms (e.g. MOOC) in common search engines like Google and Metager for our research. (last access July 2013) (last access July 2013)



Sectio Chirurgica This course won the public voting with a huge distance to the second place. Our research shed light that the applicant already operated a very popular website as well as a Facebook Fanpage with more than 6000 fans. Whether the authors observed that there are already existing different media channels in use (like articles in big newspapers) the course instructors concentrated to achieve the support of their existing online community. The most interesting posts/arguments on their fanpage are listed below: The instructor published a call for votes, arguing that only than the existing great work can be continued and the existing media center can be extended. Notable is that this specific post received more than 100 shares on Facebook, an amazingly high number. During the last days of the competition the instructors asked their community to fight for the first place. On 21.5.2013 a posting appeared where the community was encouraged to also vote with fake e-mail addresses.

Table 2. Overview about the activities of the course Sectio Chirurgica

Media channel Homepage Target group User of the existing content User and fans (>6400) Incentive/motivation Enhancement of existing media center Enhancement of the existing media center and fighting for the first place Source (last access 26.5.2013) ectiochirurgica (last access 26.5.13)

Facebook Fanpage

International Agrarmanagement An interesting fact about this course is its announcement in two languages. The instructor mentioned to do the course in German as well as in Russian. Hence on the homepage an online-tutorial how to vote in Russia was offered. Furthermore a Facebook fanpage with more than 650 fans was found to support the voting. Postings pointed out that a huge international network on agrarmanagement exists involving more than 29 universities from different countries. Similar to the top-ranked course the instructor mentioned the fight for number one again and again to harness his fans.
Table 3. Overview about the activities of the course International Agrarmanagement
Media channel Homepage with videos in Russian language Facebook Target group Mainly users of the Russian network Students Incentive/motivation Source tch?v=DodUVtcpI2o&featu re=share&list=FL4WAnK0 WrbY9W7LnrPVm35A (last access 26.5.2013)

Explanation of How to vote for the course Fight against the top-rated


course; show how big is our network

mba.triesdorf (last access 26.5.13)

Math for Engineers Only few web activities could be retrieved for this course: Just one weblog entry and some private appeals popped up in our search. The authors found no web activity of the instructor, so it seems he gathered the votes directly from students or colleagues of the university, which he obviously invited via mail or face2face. Harry Potter and Issues in International Politics The most interesting about this course is the idea of the course itself which uses the power of a brand, Harry Potter. It bases not on an idea of the instructors, because there are well-known publications and also a book about how to use this analogy. But the instructor advertised their course in a very clever way. First they provided a very detailed instruction of their course on their personal website and described also the assessments and how to pass the course. Second, they asked Harry Potter fans (and there are obviouslya lot of them) for their support extensively on the social networks Facebook and Twitter.
Table 4. Overview about the activities of the course Harry Potter and the Issues in International Politics
Media channel Homepage of the instructor Twitter Target group Students and colleagues Harry-PotterFans Incentive/motivation Detailed description of the forthcoming course Better schools with Harry Potter Source mma_norman/20/ (last access 7.6.2013) Twitterstream

Online Surgery Similar to the course Math for Engineers there were no hints to online resources, just some few posts on the Facebook profile of the instructor. L3Ts MOOC In this course social networks were used heavily. Beside the announcements of the course on the weblogs of the instructors, also continuous posts on the Facebook fanpage, Google+ site as well as on Twitter could be observed. In detail the posts addresses mainly three arguments: Digital literacy is one of the most important competences for the society of tomorrow, i.e. the argument directly addressed the courses topic. Furthermore there is also the argument for sustainability. This course was one of only few dedicating the whole content to be an Open Educational Resource through the use of appropriate Creative Commons licenses. Finally, there was also the argument that this course is the only one from Austria and therefore all Austrian colleagues should vote for it.

Table 5. Overview about the activities of the course L3Ts MOOC

Media channel Weblogs of the instructors Social networks Target group Readers of the weblogs Fans, User, supporter Incentive/motivation Support OER Support digital literacy and OER Source http://elearningblog.tugraz.a t; m (last access 7.6.2013) (last access 7.6.2013) Twitter and Google+stream

Design 101 (or Design Basics) This course is about learning design and the instructors are already well-known in this area, due to the fact that they provide a social-web-game called Whoami4. This game holds a couple of Facebook Fanpages, where support posts could be found. Furthermore this course was also supported by fans through posts on their public profile.
Table 6. Overview about the activities of the course Design 101
Media channel Homepage of the project Facebook Fanpages Target group Mainly Users of the game Users of the game Incentive/motivation Let us do an open course on design Let us do an open course on design Source (last access 7.6.2013) whoamigame (last access 7.6.2013

Introduction to welfare and health care This course was announced on the homepage of the university of applied sciences, including a short introduction to the course concept. On the Facebook fanpage the authors found posts asking for support with a hint to a special MOOC campaign for all students. In some posts the keyword PIVO-MOOC and working title BeerMOOC is readable, but without no further description.
Table 7. Overview about the activities of the course Introduction to welfare and health care
Media channel University homepage Facebook Fanpage Target group Partner, students, colleagues Students Incentive/motivation Support the MOOC Support your university, Hints to a Beer-MOOC Source (last access 7.6.2013) FH.Diakonie (last access 7.6.2013) (last access 08.06.2013)

3. Discussion and Conclusion

The research work aims to explore successful strategies on how to get a maximum number of votes for a competitive public voting. Of course the authors were only able to track public web activities, mostly on Social Networking platforms. Nevertheless the arguments used by the instructors are interesting and give a feeling, how to argue to address a high number of supporters especially in the field of technology enhanced learning. It can be summarized that following arguments motivated the online communities to support the courses: Support the development of Open Educational Resources (addressing the relevance of openness in education as a social goal to attract voters) Support an open course for a specific topic or Support the development or the extension of a big media center (addressing the relevance of a particular topic to attract voters) Support a project from your country, your town or your university (addressing the relevance for a country, town or institution to attract liked minded persons) Help us to win against competitor or Help us to defend our current ranking (addressing the need for support in a subjective way) If you support us, you will get a reward (addressing the desire for prices) It can be finally summarized though the MOOC competition has the touch of a public democratized voting contest, the research clearly pointed out that there is one essential precondition for being successful: Applicants simply need a big supporting community and all top-ranked course already owned such a community before the start of the voting. Nevertheless also the cheating percentage was rather high and we can confirm that this seems to be quite usual. If you would like to be successful you have to play the game, just waiting for public votes will be to less. This is different to mechanisms on e.g. Amazon, where due to the number of users, rated objects have a more fair chance to attract experts rating products or writing reviews.

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