Clustering Blog Posts: Part 3

No interesting visuals this time.  I’ve been spending my Saturday going back and hand-labelling what will become a training set of blog posts.

I should have done this before now, but I’ve been putting it off, mainly because it’s so tedious.  I have my sample of 2,316 blogs grouped into 136 clusters, and I’m going through them, entering the appropriate labels in the spreadsheet.  Some background reading has made it clear that a set of well-labelled data, even a small set, is extremely beneficial to a clustering algorithm.  The algorithm can choose to add new documents to the already established set, start a new set, or modify the parameters of the labelled set slightly to include the new document.  Whatever it decides, it ‘learns’ from the examples given, and the programmer can test the training set on another sample to refine the set before launching it on the entire corpus.

There has been some research into the kind of things teachers blog about.  The literature suggests the following categories:

  1. sharing resources;
  2. building a sense of connection;
  3. soapboxing;
  4. giving and receiving support;
  5. expressing professional concern;
  6. positioning.

Some of these are clearly useful – there are plenty of resource-themed blogs, although I instinctively want to label resource-sharing blogs with a reference to the subject.  ‘Soapboxing’ and ‘expressing professional concern’ appear relatively straightforward.  ‘Positioning’ refers to the  blogger ‘positioning themselves in the community i.e. as an ex-
pert practitioner or possessor of extensive subject knowledge’.  That may be more problematic, although I haven’t come across a post that looked as if it might fit into that category yet.  The ones  that are left – ‘support’ and ‘connection’ are very difficult, grounded as they are in the writers’ sense of feeling and emotion.  I’m not sure they’re appropriate as categories.

The other category that emerges from current research is ‘reflective practice’.   I’ve already come across several blog posts discussing SOLO taxonomy which could be categorised as just that – SOLO taxonomy – or ‘reflective practice’ or ‘positioning’ or ‘professional concern’.   My experience as a teacher (and here’s researcher bias again) wants to (and already has) labelled these posts as SOLO, because it fits better with my research questions, in the same way that I’m going to label some posts ‘mindset’ or ‘knowledge organiser’.  What I may do – because it’s easy at this stage – is to create two labels where there is some overlap with the existing framework suggested by the literature, which may be useful later.

It’s also worth mentioning that I’m basing my groups on the content of the blog posts.  An algorithm counts the number of times all the words in the corpus are used in each post (so many will be zero) and then adjusts the number according  to the length of the document in which it appears.  Thus, each word becomes a ‘score’ and it’s these that are used to decide which documents are most similar to one another.   Sometimes, it’s clear why the clustering algorithm has made the decision is has, other times it’s not, and this is why I’m having to go through the laborious process of hand-labelling.  Often, the blog post title makes the subject of the content clear, but not always.

Teachers and other Edu-professionals, Gods-damn them, like to be creative and cryptic when it comes to titling their blogs, and they often draw on metaphors to explain the points they’re trying to make, all of which expose algorithms that reduce language to  numbers as the miserable , soulless and devoid-of-any-real-intelligence things they are.  How very dare they.



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