Peer Interview: Martin Hawksey

This peer interview is with Martin Hawksey. You can follow him on Twitter @mhawksey. All links open in new windows. If you read this interview and find it interesting or useful, please take a moment to share it on your networks. Thank you.

Martin Hawksey

Martin Hawksey

Ernesto Priego: Can you describe who you are and what you do?

Martin Hawksey: I’m an advisor at the Centre for Educational Technology and Interoperability Standards (CETIS), a national advisory and innovation centre supporting the UK Higher and Post-16 Education sectors on educational technology and standards. My main role was providing technical support for the UK Open Educational Resources programme (UKOER) but following its conclusion this has broadened out to supporting Open Education in general.

As well as my UKOER work I also helped and continue to support with CETIS social media monitoring. This mainly focuses around developing custom dashboards within Google Spreadsheets which combine activity data from various sources like Twitter and other social network channels to give an overview of how our various channels are performing.

This work on aggregating activity data is now spilling over into Open Education with research around Connectivist Massive Open Online Courses (cMOOCs). My main focus has been applying social network analysis techniques to data extracted from Twitter around course hashtags. A recent example of this is summarised in this blog post for the Current and Future of Higher Education course (CFHE12).

A key tool I use as part of this is the Twitter Archiving Google Spreadsheet (TAGS) template which I developed for storing, visualising and analysing search results from Twitter. TAGS has evolved over the last couple of years, developed in my spare time over evenings and weekends, and has been the seed for other tools like TAGSExplorer which is an interactive ego-centric view of a Twitter archive.

EP: Please tell us more about your work at

MH: I treat my blog as an open lab book. Everything I make or do I try to record. Because I make and do things in my own time as well as my work the line between what is me and what is CETIS supported often gets blurred.

The blog you see today isn’t the one I set out to write 4 years ago. Back then I was employed by another JISC-funded service, the JISC Regional Support Centre Scotland North & East (RSC), and my main focus was disseminating Higher Education news and events.

Directly influenced by Tony Hirst at the Open University, who was the first person to comment on one of my posts, my focus evolved and started mirroring his recipe for exploring and recording educational hacks. These started as quick hits usually turning a random idea into reality and recording it in a couple of hours, but now have more sustained focus, ideas like combining conference/TV tweets with video recordings evolving over several posts.

This last example is one of the reasons I keep blogging and avidly subscribe to over 465 other blogs. By reading and publishing thoughts and ideas, and in my case even if half-baked or at times only reporting failures, adds to the collective intelligence and creates opportunities for collaboration.

EP: Can you tell us about how you use Twitter and how you integrate it into your blogging/research work?

MH: Twitter is very important to me on several levels. Twitter is all about connections and through Twitter I’m connected to a very dynamic network of people from academia and other sectors. Through these connections I can gain a realtime insight to the ideas that are interesting them as well as the opportunity to ask questions. Critically this works both ways, so at the same time people following me can see what I’m interested in and ask me questions. As Twitter is an important dissemination channel for my work this also means I get immediate engagement and feedback.

Monitoring for references to my work isn’t limited to tweets that mention my name. In the Twitter application I use (TweetDeck) I’ve setup a search column for tweets that include links to my blog posts or pages on using the term “ OR” (without quotes). The big advantage of this is can ‘listen in’ to how other people are referencing and discussing my work.

Martin Hawksey's TweetDeck (screen shot)

Martin Hawksey’s TweetDeck (screen shot)

I also keep a record of all these tweets using the TAGS spreadsheet I’ve developed as part of my other research. So for the last year not only do I know 1,530 people have tweeted links to my work but I can tell you in what context (the tweet text) they used.

EP: I’ve found your TAGS spreadsheet a really useful and generous tool (thank you!). Can you tell us briefly about the rationale behind it and how you’ve found other people have used it?

MH: Originally I developed TAGS way back in 2010 as a way to capture daily/weekly stats from event hashtags. The entire project was borne out of curiosity, an opportunity to see if it was something I could do. At the time the solution wasn’t really necessary as free services such as what used to be allowed you to archive and export the same data and analysis in seperate services like Summarizr.

Later, in early 2011 when revisiting the idea, I tried justifying the project: With services like and downloadable apps like ThinkUp why have a Google Spreadsheet version? Not entirely sure I’ve got a good answer to that one. The biggest advantage is maybe it’s a quick way to collect tweets, make publicly available and collaborate exploring the data.

Shortly after that post TwapperKeeper announced the Removal of Export and Download / API Capabilities and was later sold to Hootsuite. Around the same time I was getting more interested in analysing and visualising data around hashtag communities. Using the flexibility of Google Spreadsheets TAGS was the ideal platform to research ideas like sentiment analysis of conference tweets, translation of multilingual hashtag communities, extended conversation analysis and even as a data source for Twitter generate subtitles.

In terms of who else is using TAGS it’s been fascinating to track who’s been using it and how. I get a lot of students (usually at post-graduate level) who are looking to capture data as part of their research or courses. There has been an interesting series of posts from Sam Martin, PhD student and author on, exploring ideas like Visualising Twitter Networks: John Terry Captaincy Controversy.

At course level I’m aware of instructors like Mark Sample who uses Twitter in the classroom using TAGS to archive the class conversation. There is almost a daily mention of TAGS/TAGSExplorer being used to archive an event feed and it’s great to see people like the Modern Language Association not only use TAGS but also extend it’s functionality.

In the library sector #uklibchat use TAGS to record their weekly chats. Recently I commented on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog on how TAGS could be used to record evidence as part of the REF. Outwith education citizen reporting projects like #CitizenRelay and #CitizenCurators have used TAGS to capture some of the activity around their projects. And the list goes on.

EP: Finally, can you tell us about what you consider your core ‘technical’ skills to be, and how did you acquire them? What would you advise to scholars interested in developing their coding or data research skills?

MH: I wouldn’t say my technical skills are that strong but I benefit for having a broad range. So I’m by no means a programmer but I know enough code to get by, I’m not a statistician but I’m good at handling data in spreadsheets and so on.

The skills I’ve picked up mainly come from finding similar examples, trying to understand how they work and tweaking bits for my own purposes. Finding these examples involves following similar-minded people (in my case Tony Hirst is a big influence), being part of communities and having decent search skills. You can get by on very little technical skills if you are curious, creative and connected.

EP: Thanks a lot, Martin!


About Ernesto Priego

I coordinate the editorial work at Networked Researcher. I founded The Comics Grid Journal of Comics Scholarship, a pioneering open access, peer-edited, collaborative online journal. I've got a PhD in Information Studies from University College London and I'm a lecturer in Library Science at City University London.

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