1. Introduction



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Academic engagement: Differences between intention to adopt Social Networking Sites and other online technologies

1. Introduction


Online technologies have long been established as communication and collaboration tools in academia. In particular, when it comes to networking and information exchange Social Networking Sites (SNS) seem to prevail. SNS have been defined as “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (Boyd and Ellison, 2007). Although many of them have not been created specifically for professional purposes, research has shown that scholars employ them as professional tools that can be used beyond instructional purposes (Veletsianos, 2012). SNS use has been found to have a positive effect on job performance and help employees balance their work-life realms (Moqbel et al., 2013). In addition, SNS can facilitate the creation of social capital in academia (Madhusudhan, 2012; Richter, 2011) and make Networked Participatory Scholarship, “the practice of scholars’ use of participatory technologies and online social networks to share, reflect upon, critique, improve, validate, and further their scholarship”, feasible (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012). Equally importantly, SNS can help both academics and institutions increase community outreach, their impact on society and their effectiveness in accomplishing their goals (Forkosh-Baruch & Hershkovitz, 2012; Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2013).

Due to the significant benefits that SNS can potentially offer in an academic context, scholars have begun to examine the use of SNS for academic purposes more systematically. However, so far research has focused exclusively on addressing “how” SNS can change academic practice and “what” the academics’ usage patterns are (Forkosh-Baruch & Hershkovitz, 2012; Madhusudhan, 2012; Van Noorden, 2014; Veletsianos, 2012; Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012; 2013). For example, a recent study has shown that Italian academic staff uses SNS mainly for personal reasons and for connecting with other academics in their professional networks rather than for teaching (Manca and Ranieri, 2016). Our work builds on this emerging body of research, extending it by focusing on “why” scholars are willing to use online technologies and participate in SNS as part of their academic engagement activities. To the best of our knowledge this is the first scholarly article that attempts to understand the motivating factors that drive academics to adopt online technologies (SNS and other technologies) for networking quantitatively. Previous studies have been of an exploratory nature so far, using qualitative approaches and focusing exclusively on SNS (Gruzd et al., 2012; Lupton, 2014). Even in the cases where the researchers have used a mixed method approach, like in the study of Donelan (2015), the quantitative part is not theory-driven, but follows the interpretivist paradigm, mainly analysing answers to open ended questions. Although such approaches are really useful when studying new phenomena, they hinder the generalisability of the results and therefore the applicability of them in practice. In addition, current research is based entirely upon the views of users of SNS, ignoring the vantage point of academics that do not use online technologies for professional purposes. Examples of such studies are the ones that are based largely on the analysis of data extracted from Twitter (Ferguson and Wheat, 2015; Li and Greenhow, 2015). This could limit the potential practical value of the findings as stakeholders such as SNS providers and universities are equally interested in knowing the factors that could motivate non-users to adopt such technologies, so that they can launch appropriate strategies.

Based on the above, the research objective of this article is to study the use of online technologies for academic engagement, taking into consideration both users and non-users of online technologies. More specifically, we aim to study firstly why academics are willing to use online technologies in order to engage with their peers and what the motivating factors are and secondly whether there are any differences between academics using Social Networking Sites for engagement purposes and other technologies (OT, e.g. webpages, blogs, forums, portals etc.). By separating SNS from other online technologies and studying them in parallel we also provide insights as to how social networing applications are perceived compared to other more established technologies. In order to address the above questions, we synthesise and apply the Decomposed Theory of Planned Behavior (Decomposed TPB) and the Uses and Gratifications Theory, proposing a conceptual model that aims to determine the factors that affect academics’ intention to use online technologies in order to disseminate their research and engage with their colleagues. On one hand, the Decomposed TPB has been found to provide a fuller understanding of behavioural intention in IT studies compared to other acceptance models (Taylor and Todd, 1995), while on the other Uses and Gratifications Theory is an appropriate theoretical framework for examining the uses of new media by individuals (Foregger, 2008; Papacharissi and Rubin, 2000). The joint use of the two theories will provide a robust theoretical framework that will capture the technologies under study holistically.

This paper is organised in the following way. Firstly, we review the related literature and propose a research model and associated hypotheses. Then, we present our methodology and the results of our data analysis. The discussion of the results follows and the paper concludes with the implications of our findings, the limitations of our study and potential directions for future research.




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