Equality in Education – “Distant” Analysis of AERA’s 2014 Brown Lecture

Each year AERA is hosting a lecture, AERA Annual Brown lecture, on the importance of using educational research to advance equality and equity in education. This year James D. Anderson, from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, expert on American education history and desegregation, has been selected. As I was not able to attend the lecture in person (and didn’t watched the live webcast), I decided to collect and analyze twitter feeds to get a sense of the discussion1.

Who tweeted?

219 individuals tweeted a total of 1075 tweets (mentions, retweets and tweets). The top 5 most central individuals were @aera_edresearch, @africanacarr, @drcamikaroyal, @edillinois, @ebonyteach. Those individuals held crucial position in the twitter network for passing on tweets to other people. These individuals may not have posted most of the tweets, but given their followers, were able to connect otherwise disconnected groups. It is thanks to these individuals that tweets reached otherwise disconnected groups. The average geodesic distance (shortest path between two individuals) was 2.87. This shows that the group is well connected.
The complete network can be decomposed into 14 connected components. Each component has its main characteristics in terms of top hashtag, url, word, word pairs, and tweeter.

What was tweeted?

Looking at the most used hashtags (excluding #AERABrownLecture and #education as these don’t help to understand the discussion), #thepricewepaidforintegration tops the list. #immigration was also an often used hashtag in the complete graph and appears in nearly all of the components, showing how important this issue was for listeners.
Let’s look deeper into the discussion by focusing on word pairs. Two word pairs jump out for me as European: Long – shadow (also cast – long), and school – desegregation. I assume that the first two pairs imply that something cast a long shadow on education. Thus, whatever happened in the past can still be felt before. Now, I can only assume that the school desegregation processes may be the thing which casts the long shadow.
As other often used words are ‘voters’ (or voting), and careers, I assume that the twitter discussion focused on the lack of equal access to careers. The effect of past historical events are still being felt by american youth today, influencing the choices they have, and education has done little (?) to provide more equality.

I’m puzzled to what the words ‘voters’ (or voting), ‘allow’ (or freedom), ‘states’ ‘proposed’, ’14th amendment’ refer to. Fortunately, wikipedia can help my lack of knowledge on US history.

Final Thoughts

I believe the lecture addressed equality problems in the US educational system which have not disappeared with the desegregation process, but may have been worsened by it. I think the point has also been made that states should have more freedom in their educational policies, but I might be completely off here. An abstract of the lecture is available on aera.net and the recording will hopefully be made available. That would be nice to see how much of the discussion can be traced back via twitter and is understandable for somebody outside the US context.

Below is a refined graph of the twitter network, excluding word which do not help to understand the discussion (james, anderson, dr, aerabrownlecture, aera_edresearch). The graph and the descriptives information used for the analysis can be viewed on NodeXL Graph Gallery.


1: The hashtag #AERABrownLecture was used, and tweets collected via NodeXL option for Excel, developed by the Social Media Research Foundation)

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