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Thursday, 14 May 2015

Research Hacks and Mobile App videos now on iTunes U

Over the last year I've (Andy Tattersall) created over 50 videos to help researchers, teachers and students leverage the power of the web and mobile apps better. The two series; ScHARR Research Hacks and Apps for Higher Education are now available to download or play directly from the iTunes Store.
For a taste of a Research Hack video see below.

ScHARR Research Hacks on iTunes U (Link takes you to iTunes)
Apps for Higher Education (Link takes you to iTunes)

Friday, 8 May 2015

When it comes to information overload, we're like frogs in boiling water

This article was originally published in The Conversation

Andy Tattersall, University of Sheffield

To consider how being constantly connected through computers and mobile devices has encroached on our working lives, consider the experiment about the frog in a pan of boiling water.
A frog in a pan of cold water that is gently heated will not realise it’s boiling to death if the change is sufficiently gradual. In the same way, the web has affected our attention span and so our productivity – slowly but surely the heat of distraction has increased as decades of internet evolution has added email, websites, instant messaging, forums, social media and video.
Striving to manage technology better or wean ourselves off from distractions such as social media updates or emails can be very hard, if not virtually impossible for some. It requires serious willpower.


What’s the answer for today’s organisations – lock-down and block, and risk restricting access to genuinely useful content and services? Blocking and locking-off parts of the web can only hinder progress and innovation, or by reacting to slow to change and innovation as seen in the NHS can have a negative impact on technology uptake, especially now the internet is now made up of things.
If we are to advance knowledge, it’s essential to have access to the full gamut of content online. Whether that’s to study the effects of pornography on society or for a student’s private consumption, we have to be mature about this, there is some content on the Web that will always be demanded. In fact the government’s efforts to deal with online pornography has led to the over-zealous use of internet filters. Dumb filters performing keyword filtering inevitably led to legitimate sex education websites being blocked.
Procrastination is not new and there will always find new and inventive ways of putting-off work. But there are means to help tackle that distraction, if only for some rather than all of the time.

And yet, despite the volume, it doesn’t slake your thirst. SparkCBC, CC BY-SA

Eat that frog

The problem with digital distraction is often starts from the first moment we sit down at our desks, or even before we’ve got there. Once we open our email we are drawn into conversations, questions and broadcasts. The more emails appear, the more we feel compelled to deal with them.
A useful solution involves that frog again: we all have tasks we ignore and delay, nagging away at the back of our minds. We have to complete these tasks, so why not start your day by doing just that and eating that frog: instead of checking frivolous updates and emails, tackle an important task that’s hanging around first thing in the morning.

The Pomodoro Technique

The popular Pomodoro Technique, which suggests using 30 minute time slots for a single task, followed by a break, can be helpful in dedicating time to specific projects. Another way to reign in distraction is to create lists or use time management apps like 30:30 or Wunderlist. These help set up a structured pattern to the working day, which is especially useful if you need to use social media professionally but also need to carve out time to get other things done.


Meditation and mindfulness has gained much attention in the last couple of years, such as Andy Puddicombe’s popular Headspace imprint. In a busy office this offers a sensible solution to problem of losing focus. Just five minutes meditation could help quiet the mind and return focus to completing the current task. Various studies have highlighted the benefits of meditation and mindfulness on a digital worker’s productivity, and general happiness too.

Create an alternative productivity calendar

Paper diaries are still often used, if less so with the modern proliferation of electronic alternatives. These often dictate the modern worker’s routine, so much so that they fill in the spaces with fractured and incomplete tasks. Another solution is to create a personal online calendar to overlay a work calendar. By scheduling everything, from checking social media and emails to family time and free periods, it’s possible to make better use of the time you have.

One of many in the armoury. lemasney, CC BY-SA

Self-management starts with you

There comes a time to cut back on things that aren’t good for you, whether that’s food, drink, or social media. We realise that seeking distraction from our daily tasks is not healthy, especially if we can minimise it.
Professor Steve Peters has helped many high-profile sports stars control this impulsive, emotional part of the brain – something he calls the “chimp brain”. The easiest way to do so is not to feed it, for example, by not opening email. But finding a happy medium between restriction and necessary use is not easy.
Some have tried to constrain email and its effects on the workforce by turning it off for set periods. In Germany there have been calls to prevent companies from contacting employees out of hours. While this is fine for those working the nine-to-five, this no longer applies to many for a variety of reasons, some personal, some due to the nature of the work.
Self-management tools are a better option. For Google users there is an app called Inbox Pause which does just that, preventing new email distraction. There’s also restrictions for email on mobile devices that only updates when connected to known work or home networks – which means less chance of compulsively checking while out and about or on holiday.
But all of these require commitment, and like any lifestyle modification there has to be a willingness to change. Technology will continue to embed itself within our lives at home and at work, especially the use of smartphones. So if we feel the need to reign-in the distractions, whatever app or technique we choose to help us, it hinges on our own self-discipline.

The Conversation
Andy Tattersall is Information Specialist at University of Sheffield.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

ScHARR Information Resources Recruiting

ScHARR Information Resources Group are currently advertising for an information officer post to participate in the running of our health research information service, specifically undertaking document supply duties. If you are interested in this post, please see the further details here.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Creating mental space in the workplace

OK, so this doesn’t have anything specific to do with libraries, information or health, but creating a space in which we can comfortably work and concentrate is important to all of us. The following are just a few tips I’ve picked up along the way - mostly from colleagues, the Internet, courses I’ve been on etc. Not everyone works in the same way, so more than anything I’d encourage you to take some time to think about your working environment and how you might be able to improve it to suit your needs. It will make you more effective in your job, but more importantly, it will increase your sense of wellbeing. Oh, and here's a picture of a cat having a snooze - because cats know how to relax!
Photo by Matthew via Flickr CC BY 2.0
Walk to work if you can
Or incorporate more walking into your daily routine. This helps to energise you for the day ahead and can help to clear out the mental cobwebs, especially if you’ve had a stressful morning or you anticipate a hectic day at work. You may even find yourself planning how to tackle your day, giving you a head start when you do arrive at the desk.

It just so happens that Walk to Work Week is coming up in May, so now is as good a time as any to get started:

Structure your day/utilise your calendar
If you’re juggling a lot of different projects, make a plan and consider blocking out portions of time in your calendar. This can help you to prioritise and focus on one task at a time.

Tackle problematic jobs early on in the day
You know that really annoying/tricky/confusing job you keep putting off? Just do it! By starting the day with something difficult, you feel a real sense of achievement and your motivation for the rest of the day might even increase.

Clear your desk regularly
And get into the habit of only having paperwork which is relevant to what you’re working on right now on your desk.

Manage your email, rather than letting your email manage you...
Some people use their inbox as a kind of electronic to-do list, which is absolutely fine. Regardless of how you utilise your inbox, you will benefit from having a good clear out - unsubscribing from unwanted emails, sending certain items straight to the bin or to a specific folder. This was a single defining moment for me in my current job, where the emails come thick and fast! I still see anything which is addressed directly to me, but a large bulk of my emails are now organised in such a way that I can go to it at a time which suits me. If you want to take your inbox management a step further, you could consider installing the Gmail Pause button ( or just closing your email down when you need to concentrate on something.

Get out on your lunch break
For mental clarity, exercise, fresh air, stress relief… The benefits are endless and your desk will look a lot more appealing when you get back to the office!

Get some headphones
If you’re able to listen to music (or the radio) whilst you work, why not invest in some good quality headphones and see what a difference it can make to your mood and productivity? Many people can’t concentrate whilst listening to music, in which case you could consider listening to nature sounds or something else without lyrics/talking.

Find a space/room outside of your office…
...where you can read and do other work-related tasks which don’t require sitting in front of a computer. Getting away from your desk can really help to focus your mind and decrease the amount of mental clutter which comes from being in the same place for the entire working day.

Get away from your desk regularly throughout the day
Most of us do this anyway by necessity - tea making, visits to the toilet, nipping to see a colleague etc. But if you find yourself without any particular need to get up from your desk, just get up and have a walk around. Maybe nip out for a bit of fresh air if you can. Your body and mind will thank you for it.

Do some gentle stretches/desk yoga
Sitting down for long portions of time will make your body and mind cease up. Just lifting your arms up over the back of your chair can help to ease any tension and help you to feel more comfortable. There are many gentle exercises you can do at your desk - just Google ‘desk yoga’ for some ideas - or see the link at the bottom of this blog post.

Have some non-caffeinated hot drinks to hand
For those moments when you need to feel soothed but don’t want another cup of tea/coffee.

If you’re particularly prone to feeling stressed, remind yourself daily that you are only one person and that there is a limit to what you can achieve in a day. Stressing will never help - giving yourself a break will relax you and help you to focus on the things which are at the top of your to-do list.

Further reading/useful links:

Friday, 24 April 2015

Hello from a new Information Specialist


Picture of Mark Clowes
My name is Mark Clowes and I've recently joined ScHARR as an Information Specialist.  Before coming to work here, I was a subject librarian supporting nursing and allied health professions (at the University of Leeds and - before that - here in Sheffield).

I'm a graduate of Sheffield's iSchool (or Dept of Information Studies as it was then known) and it's good to be back here in Regent Court - older if not wiser...

I've been aware of ScHARR and its work for many years and always hoped I end up working here one day.  Now I'm here, it's exciting (if a little daunting) to be working alongside so many of the leading experts in the field, and to know that my work could have a real impact on public health and Government policy.

I've always enjoyed teaching and will continue to be involved with this at ScHARR, not only in the classroom but also by contributing to our online Masters programmesMOOCs, and the FOLIO course.   And I'm always keen to share ideas with fellow professionals through conferences and social media, so hope to talk to you again some day - either in person or back here on the blog.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Internet of things devices meant to simplify our lives may end up ruling them instead

This article was originally published in The Conversation

Andy Tattersall, University of Sheffield
Technology’s promise of wonderful things in the future stretches from science fiction to science fact: self-driving cars, virtual reality, smart devices such as Google Glass, and the internet of things are designed to make our lives easier and more productive. Certainly inventions of the past century such as the washing machine and combustion engine have brought leisure time to the masses. But will this trend necessarily continue?
On the surface, tech that simplifies hectic modern lives seems a good idea. But we risk spending more of the time freed by these devices designed to free up our time through the growing need to micromanage them. Recall that an early digital technology designed to help us was the continually interrupting Microsoft Office paperclip.

It’s possible that internet-connected domestic devices could turn out to be ill-judged, poorly-designed, short-lived technological fads. But the present trend of devices that require relentless updates and patches driven by security threats and privacy breaches doesn’t make for a utopian-sounding future. Technology growth in the workplace can lead to loss of productivity; taken to the home it could take a bite out of leisure time too.

Terry Gilliam’s futuristic film Brazil was set in a technologically advanced society, yet the future it predicted was dystopic, convoluted and frustrating. Perhaps we’re heading down a similar path in the workplace and home: studies show that after a certain point, the gadgets and appliances we employ absorb more time and effort, showing diminishing marginal returns.

We’re told to change passwords regularly, back up content to the cloud and install the latest software updates. Typically we have many internet-enabled devices already, from computers, phones and tablets to televisions, watches and activity trackers. Cisco predicts that 50 billion things will be connected to the internet in five year’s time. Turning such a colossal number of “dumb” items into “smart”, web-connected devices could become the biggest micro-management headache for billions of users.
Security updates for your internet fridge or web toaster? What happens when one causes it to crash. Once you bought a television, turned it on and it entertained you. These days it could be listening to your private conversations and sharing them with the web. That’s not to say a television that listens is bad – it’s just another concern introduced thanks to this multi-layered technology onion that’s been presented to us.

Internet-connected teapot, anyone? A.cilia, CC BY-SA

Good for some, not necessarily for all

Some smart technologies are designed for and better suited to certain groups, such as the elderly or disabled and their carers. There are genuine, real-world, day-to-day problems for some people that something like Google Glass and an internet-enabled bed could solve. But the problems that affect anything that’s computerised and internet-connected re-appear: patches, updates, backups and security. Once we wore glasses until our prescription ran out and the only update a person applied to their bed was to change the linen for a cleaner version.

Internet of things devices and online accounts are unlikely to take care of themselves. With so many dissimilar devices and no uniformity, managing our personal technological and digital identities could be an onerous task. Much of this will is likely to be managed via smartphones, but our dependence on these tiny computers has already demonstrated negative impacts on certain people. Could we witness a technological version of Dunbar’s Number, which suggests there’s a limit to the number of people we can maintain stable social relationships with? Perhaps we can realistically only manage so many devices and accounts before it gets too much.

Too much choice

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg famously explained that he wears the same T-shirt every day to reduce the number of decisions he has to make. Yet technology keeps pushing us towards having to make more decisions: how we respond to emails, which software to use, how to update it, interacting on social media – and that’s before we start getting messages from our internet-enabled bathroom scales telling us to shape up. You only need to watch the weekly episodes of BBC Click or Channel 5’s Gadget Show to see the rapid pace with which technology is moving.

Technological complexity increases – and what reaches the marketplace are essentially unfinished versions of software that is in a perpetual state of beta testing and updating. In a highly-competitive industry, technology companies have realised that even though they cannot legally sell a product with a shelf life, there is little to gain by building them to last as long as the mechanical devices of the last century, where low-tech washing machines, cars and lawn mowers wouldn’t face failures from inexplicable software faults.
Of course some will find their lives improved by robot cleaners, gardeners and washing machines they can speak to via their phone. Others will look to strip away the amount of technology and communication in their lives – as writer William Powers did in his book Hamlet’s Blackberry. The majority of us will probably just be biting off more than we can chew.

The Conversation
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Research Hacks at LILAC 2015

ScHARR Research Hacks handout
I attended my second LILAC (Librarian's Information Literacy Annual Conference) at The University of Newcastle to deliver a Teachmeet session on the use of video. It was my second LILAC, with the first being the one held in Glasgow in 2012 where I took a poster about the Bite Size series I'd launchedtwo years earlier. On both occasions it was obvious that LILAC is a very well subscribed event that attracts delegates form around the globe. Being a librarian-focused conference it was as you'd expect, very friendly and talks focused around the perennial topic of information literacy and initiatives to improve it for all.

I was there delivering a Teachmeet session, something my colleague Helen Buckley-Woods had taken part in the previous year. A LILAC Teachmeet is their version of speed dating your ideas and projects to small groups of delegates. Six large round tables were situated in a big room, with each speaker given a total of eight minutes to deliver a talk to those who chose to sit in. Each talk was repeated four times whilst a big countdown timer was projected onto the stage. I took a batch of posters and with my trusty iPad sat waiting well in advance to see whether I would get any custom. Minutes before starting, a dozen or so people had appeared in the room, whilst I presumed many would be instead attending some of the other parallels. I was wrong, the room quickly filled, resulting in most tables being full for each talk. With six tables and four choices, delegates had to chose which of the six they wanted to hear speak. Thankfully my table was full for each sitting, with a few left standing. I was warned in advance by a colleague that I would probably have a feeling of deja vu delivering four straight talks in quick succession. They weren't wrong as the eight minutes whizzed by as I explained the reasons behind making videos for instruction, the tools I used and the quick tips to make it a smoother process. On the fourth delivery I stopped momentarily as I was convinced I'd only previously said the same sentence - which I had in the previous Teachmeet delivery. 
Compared with delivering a 20, 30 or even 40 minute talk, this was quite hard work. I've even delivered two Pecha Kuchas that are under seven minutes, so that extra minute helped somewhat. Nevertheless, Teachmeets are a great, informal way to explore multiple ideas, projects and technologies in a very short time. I attended the second round of Teachmeets and found them a good and vibrant way of delivering ideas. I felt quite spent afterwards, but very enthused, it was a nice alternative to delivering the usual stand up plenary to a theatre style audience. 

In my talk I showcased the ScHARR Research Hack videos, the research apps collection as well as mention how videos are a quick and easy addition to any library and information professional's arsenal. I received plenty of questions within the sessions and afterwards and think hopefully encouraged others to go away and try tools like Adobe Voice and YouTube.

I also got to see what others were doing in the area of information literacy and training support, including another talk on video from Australia. Amongst the keynotes, posters and parallel sessions one talk struck me above others. This was a talk by Geoff Walton, Senior Lecturer at Northumbria University. Geoff's talk in collaboration with colleagues from Staffordshire University was titled; 'The Fishscale of Academicness'. It was a very thought provoking, interactive and visual presentation about how students perceive different levels of information they discover as part of their study. There is also a really good guidebook on the theory which you can purchase from below

I spent three days at LILAC in Newcastle but was located in the beautiful city of Durham, whoch I got to explore the day before LILAC. It was probably one of the friendliest, jolliest conferences I'd ever attended, almost verging into a festival feel. Whilst everywhere I went in Newcastle and Durham, everyone was incredibly polite and helpful. I certainly enjoyed delivering my first Teachmeet session and think as a format it has a lot to offer from just plenaries and keynotes. It added a vibrancy to the event and was a great way to share information and ideas quickly to a variety of delegates, hopefully I'll get to deliver another one soon :-)