Finding the SuperFan

An Oiler fans trek through blogs, hockey analytics and academia.

Back in 2008, I decided it was time to head back to school to finish a graduate degree. Something I can do part-time, something related to my day-job, and something that would interest me enough to stay motivated. I came across the Communications and Technology program at the University of Alberta while surfing the web and decided to take the plunge.

My background was in sociology and my interests were always research methodology and group dynamics (how do groups get together to accomplish stuff). I figured a lot of the technology starting to take off was changing the way groups interact and to how much they could accomplish as a group. My main interests have always been information and knowledge management. How do we know what we know, and how do we work collectively to build new knowledge and information. That group dynamic is always intriguing since it’s been occurring for centuries, but has really accelerated because of the advancement of communication technology. The web is an obvious example, but what is it about the web and what sort of rules apply that allows it to be so critical for information development and knowledge sharing. It was pretty high level thinking at the time since I honestly had no idea where my graduate career was going to go.

The Program

Before starting the MACT program, all applicants had to submit a research idea for their final project. I had no clue what I wanted to do, so I decided to something work-related and chose electronic health records. It was a hot button topic in healthcare, so I thought some sort of research on it would be interesting. I received my acceptance letter and was to start the program in the spring of 2009.

All students were also asked to maintain a “digital portfolio” (i.e., a blog) as a way to centralize assignments and reflect on key topics. Not many students actually did one, but I figured this might be a useful way to find a supervisor for my final research paper.

Within a couple months of starting the program, getting deep into communication theory, I realized there wasn’t anything interesting about electronic health records. There had already been a ton of research on it, including the type of technology used, its adoption in various countries and the benefits of it. That realization and the fact that others in my cohort had some killer ideas, I knew right away that I needed to find another topic.


By the end of the spring session, which included a three week residency-type set up on campus to complete a two courses, I was absolutely spent. We covered a ton of material and new concepts and spent hours completing assignments and presentations. I really tried to apply my research topic of health records to everything we covered, but it just wasn’t interesting. My attitude about the program reflected it. And my grades showed it as well.  Continue reading

Alumni Council Meeting – Alumni Pride Chapter, Research at UAlberta, Volunteer Events

ECHAHere’s a quick recap of the topics discussed at the latest Alumni Council meeting.

We learned about a new Alumni Pride Chapter here at the University of Alberta. From the Alumni and Friends website:

We are proposing to develop the Pride Chapter to provide opportunities for sexual and gender minority (LGBTQ) and allied alumni to meet, socialize, and support current students and LGBTQ programs on the U of A campuses. Collectively, we are committed to making the University of Alberta a more welcoming, inclusive and supportive place for all LGBTQ students, faculty and staff.

Dr. Lorne Babiuk, VP of Research at the U of A, provided the Council with some information on his department and answered questions about funding and priorities. To learn more, check out the UAlberta Research & Creative Activities website.

Dr. Babiuk noted that Alumni play a major role in the development of research. Not only can they tap into the many resources and programs available, but they also promote the U of A to those unfamiliar with the great research being done.

Worth noting that the Faculty of Extension continues making major contributions in the research world. For more information about the different institutes and centers, visit the Faculty of Extension website.

Council also discussed new ways to support and encourage volunteerism among Alumni. It’s been amazing to see the volunteer work done by Alumni as well as current students in the community. For more information about how you can get involved and make a difference, check out the Alumni & Friends Volunteer website.

Congrats to Council member, and MACT colleague, Glenn Kubish. His blog article, The Accidental Protester, which was published in New Trail Magazine, received a CASE award. More details can be found on the UAlberta Tumblr site.

Research Ideas

Source: Wikimedia Commons

If I had extended my tenure as a student, my research would have probably focused solely on hockey fans who conduct data analytics. Blogs, which was the focus of my MACT final project, would play a prominent role, along with other social media tools and analytics software.

That got me thinking of what other research projects could possibly spin out from the research I did complete. Here’s my random, evolving list:

–       History of hockey analytics

–       Comparison of hockey fans across teams, regions and their online activity

–       Does following a horrible team make you more likely to get into hockey analytics? Looking at you, Oilers fans.

–       Interview people who do hockey analytics to find out why they do it, what methods they use, what barriers they face and/or what they think the future holds for hockey analytics.

Qualitative Content Analysis

My research project is utilizing qualitative content analysis to see if online hockey fans can be considered produsers. This method isn’t as common as the quantitative approach, but does have its strengths as an analytical tool.

There’s a few excellent sources of information regarding this approach. None, however, being more useful than this article. Zhang (2009) provides a summary of other research done on this method to illustrate its strength and weaknesses. It then provides steps to follow when conducting qualitative content analysis.

I’ve selected one hockey blog and will examine its homepage as well as a few blog posts. What I’ll do is comb through the blog and code/mark-up/highlight whatever content falls under the categories outlined in my codebook. I’ve established four categories, reflecting the four key characteristics of produsage (Bruns, 2008). I’ve established a codebook to sort my observations and interpretations of the blog. Definitely a rigorous process to ensure that my coding is accurate and consistent.

Bruns, A. (2009). Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

Zhang, Y. & Wildemuth, B.M. (2009). Qualitative analysis of content. In B. Wildemuth (Ed.), Applications of Social Research Methods to Questions in Information and Library. Retrieved October 18, 2011 from

MACT Project Update

I’ve used my third elective to work on my literature review, which will be used in my final MACT research project. You can find my application form here [PDF]. This includes my list of readings and assignments approved by the MACT program.

I started with an initial reading list, with the work of Henry Jenkins and Axel Bruns as foundational concepts. After assessing this initial list, I conducted a systematic search for literature to understand what has been done on my research topic.

In terms of sports fans and participatory culture, the initial readings I came across fell into three categories:

  1. Research that examined the consumption of sports by fans. This would look into what and how much they were consuming.
  2. Research that examined why sports fans behaved the way they did. This is where the psychology theories would be applied. Why do fans get aggressive? Why and how do they identify with teams and players? That kind of stuff.
  3. Research that examined how fans engage with sports. Video games, fantasy sports and activity on message boards are examples of fan engagement.

Based on these three categories, I think fan engagement is the one closely related to what I’m pursuing. Plus, not much has been done on it.

Then I did a systematic search of all the literature available to explore fan engagement even further. It will be these readings, along with Jenkins’ and Bruns’ work, that will make up the bulk of the final literature review due in August.