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Thursday, 26 March 2015

The Digital Academic: Tools & Tips for Research Impact & ECR Employability

On Monday I was lucky enough to be invited to give a talk as part of a half day event run by Jobs.ac.uk and Piirus, hosted at The University of Warwick. The event was aimed at early career researchers and was called ‘The Digital Academic: Tools & Tips for Research Impact & ECR Employability. I was speaking alongside two experienced bloggers and experts in helping ECRs with Dr Nadine Muller from Liverpool John Moores University and host of The New Academic Blog. The final speaker was Dr Inger Mewburn who is Director of Research Training at the Australian National University and host of the popular Thesis Whisperer blog.
 
Dr Nadine Muller
We started the morning with an excellent talk by Nadine who proposed the idea that blogs and social media are a superb way to share publications and ideas. As with the overall theme of the day Nadine was positive in the use of social media but considerate as to the issues that can emerge from blogging. Nadine’s talk helped explain how blogging can help shape you as an academic and help form and share ideas. The model being that you build a social media strategy into your career, but also not to fear it or put pressure on yourself. Nadine was able to look at statistics for her blog and see how many visits it received and where from globally. Along with user comments this is a great way of discovering the impact of a blog, which for some can feel unrewarding at times. The message is keep on blogging but not to pressure yourself to unnecessarily. Nadine also talked about perseverance and that it had taken her a concerted effort to learn the skills how to build her site, that by trial and effort she was able to create her own platform. 
  
After speaking to Nadine before and throughout the event I was impressed by her passion for learning and sharing knowledge. Nadine’s view appeared to be very much along the lines that we have great power with technology for change if we wield it correctly and for good. Nadine shared a common thread with myself and Inger that it is OK to get things wrong and that failure is just part of the process, we just need to be less afraid of it. Academia needs more people like this.

I gave my talk where I proposed 23 Research Hacks to help ECRs build an online profile, collaborate as well as discover new ideas and knowledge. As an information specialist I was keen to explain that a strategy is needed to achieve this as not to fall into the trap of bad time management when using social media and other technologies. I discussed the potential of Altmetrics and how it can aid scholarly communication and measurement much better than the past. The slides are here:


I received a few interesting questions around the issues of Altmetrics and that despite counting things they may not tell us that someone is a good academic, just that they produce a lot of stuff. The truth being that no system will ever properly weed out the charlatans but by being more open about what we do and seeing where it impacts; we have a better chance of pushing good quality knowledge forward. Also one common misconception of Altmetrics is that they are an alternative to journal citations, whereas they not only supplement them but also measure content we’d previously ignored such as datasets and reports.

I was asked by one worried academic how universities could avoid using such metrics to make decisions that as a result focus on putting extra pressure on researchers. In response, Altmetrics and other kinds of metrics do allow us to get a better picture of where research is being saved, read, shared and discussed. This is no bad thing, I think we need to know this. When fundholders, libraries and publishers are trying to their best to get more value from their resources, these tools can help. Sadly however there will always be those in institutions who will use it as a way to pressure researchers, whether this happens with Altmetrics only time will tell. As I explained to the delegate over coffee, MOOCs are a wonderful thing and an altruistic way to share knowledge to those who cannot afford traditional university places. However, there are those who see it wholly as a way to generate more income for the institution. We’d be foolish to think that either can exist in isolation right now.

Finally we were treated to an engaging talk by Dr Inger Mewburn who talked about the power of blogging. Inger gave the captive audience a wealth of knowledge that has helped her produce one of the best academic blogs on the Web today. There were confessions of starting and ending previous blogs and not always getting it right. Inger’s advice was plain and simple; be short, be regular, be useful. There was a question about what researchers could feel confident about blogging and whether there were issues about getting into trouble. As part of her answer, Inger suggested delegates got a copy of the book: 'Blogging and tweeting without being sued'.

 
Dr Inger Mewburn

Inger explained that blogging was an informal way to get research and ideas across the Web and did not require the formal referencing system that is part and parcel with journal writing. This inspirational and lively talk gave us the best line of the event with Inger’s notion that Facebook was for people she had gone to school with, Twitter was for people she had wished she’d gone to school with. The talk was filled with useful advice that encouraged delegates to find a niche and discover blogs they could guest write for.

There was an engaging Q&A panel discussion afterwards with one question standing out about how you deal with trolls and negative comments. It is a tough issue and one that can cause much distress for some academics who put their head above the parapet, especially those with mental health issues and lacking in confidence. There is no simple answer as there will always be trolls and horrible people on the Web looking for a fight. Advice was given as to how best deal with negative comments, which first of all should never be taken personally, at least where possible. Always remember that the person making the personal attack is showing themselves up on a very public Web. These types of communications can be blocked and reported. Whilst there are situations where a negative comment might be the result of mis-understanding what you have said. It might be that the comment could be correct and actually aid yourself and your research if there is a hole in your logic. As long as a comment is critical, insightful and helpful it is fine, when they get personal, pointless and pinnikity they are not. Whatever happens, it is down to you as to whether you respond to a comment or review, when in doubt check with a colleague whether your response is measured. Just remember that once you do respond to a comment, there is often very little you can do to go back on it. Negative comments on the Web are just part and parcel of it, the Web reflects real life, and that for the very most part conversations will be positive and harmless. You are under no pressure to respond to such comments, provided you can justify what you say in the first place.

There are two blog pieces about the event written by Tee Ola AKA The Stylish Academi

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

"And it's goodnight from him..." ScHARR Library bids a fond farewell to Tony Mead


    Image by Angie Rees



Today we gathered in the library to wish our amazing inter-library loans officer (and very good friend) Tony Mead a long and happy retirement.

Tony has worked with us, in various capacities, for the best part of a decade, and has spent much of that time winning us over with his wit, charm, good nature and irrepressible love of cricket. His leaving gifts had a distinctively crickety theme to them, including membership of the illustrious Association of Cricket 
Statisticians and Historians.

After the formal presentation we legged it to Pizza Express where the latest IR babies, Martha and Jack, were adored and cuddled, and the rest of us stuffed our faces.

Luckily for most of us it was not so much "so long" as "see you soon", as Tony lives in glorious Darley Dale and gets frequent visits from many of the team to his lovely cottage.

So stick a brew on Tony, we're on our way already!

Altmetrics: What they are and why they should matter to the library and information community

I was asked by CILIP a couple of months ago whether I would like to write something for their popular blog on the topic of Altmetrics. So, I decided it would be good to write about what Altmetrics can mean for librarians and why perhaps they should pay more attention to it as a possible role for them in the future.

The post originally appeared here http://www.cilip.org.uk/cilip/blog/altmetrics-what-they-are-why-they-should-matter-library-information-community

The full post is below:


Altmetrics is probably a term that many readers of this blog will have heard of but are not quite sure what it means and what impact it could have on their role. The simple answer is that altmetrics stands for alternative metrics.
When we say alternative we mean alternative to traditional metrics used in research and by libraries, such as citations and journal impact factors. They are by no means a replacement to traditional metrics but really to draw out more pertinent information tied to a piece of academic work. A new way of thinking about altmetrics is to refer to them as alternative indicators.

Scholarly communication is instrumental to altmetrics

There is also the focus on scholarly communication as altmetrics are closely tied to established social media and networks. Scholarly communication is instrumental to altmetrics and much of what it sets out to measure. These include tools such as Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs as well others including Mendeley and Slideshare.
The main protagonists of the altmetrics movement are ImpactStory which was set up by Jason Priem who coined the term ‘altmetrics’. They are joined by Figshare, Altmetric.com, Mendeley, PLOS and Kudos, amongst others. These were mostly established by young researchers who were concerned that research was being measured on the grounds of just a few metrics. These were metrics that gave an unbalanced view of research and did not take into account the technologies that many academics were using to share and discuss their work.

Altmetrics is not just about bean counting, though obviously the more attention a paper gets whether that be citations or Tweets the more interesting it may be to a wider audience, whether that be academics, students or the wider world. The more Tweets a paper gets does not necessarily mean it is better quality than those that do not get Tweeted as much, but the same applied to traditional metrics, more citations does not always mean a great piece of research, it can occasionally highlight the opposite.

Altmetrics provide an insight into things we have not measured before

What altmetrics sets out to do is provide an insight into things we have not measured before, such as social media interaction, media attention, global reach and the potential to spot hot topics and future pieces of highly cited work. In addition altmetrics allows content to be tracked and measured that in the past had been wholly ignored. Such as datasets, grey literature, reports, blog posts and other such content of potential value. 
The current system recognised a slim channel of academic content in a world that is diversifying constantly at a much faster pace than ever. The academic publishing model has struggled to catch up with the modern world of Web 2.0 and social media and therefore academic communication has been stunted. Tools such as Twitter, blogs and Slideshare have allowed researchers to get their content onto the Web instantly, often before they have released the content via the formal channels of conferences and publications.
Tools such as ImpactStory, Figshare and Altmetric.com look at the various types of scholarly content and communication and provide metrics to help fund holders, publishers, librarians, researchers and other aligned professionals get a clearer picture of the impact of their work. 
Fundholders can see where their funded research is being discussed and shared, as can researchers who may get to discover their research is not being talked about; which at least gives them reason to perhaps act on that. Publishers can view in addition to existing paper citations, how else they are being discussed and shared. Library and information professionals have an important part to play in all of this.

What is the role of the library and information professional?

There are certain roles in the library and information profession that have plenty to gain by becoming involved with altmetrics. Firstly those that deal with journal subscriptions and hosting content in repositories can gain a new insight into which journals and papers are being shared and discussed via altmetrics. This becomes increasingly important when making yearly subscription choices when journal and book funds are being constantly squeezed. Obviously this is not a solution or get-out clause for librarians when deciding which subscriptions to cancel, as you should not always pick the most popular journals at the expense of minority, niche journal collections, but altmetrics do offer a new set of identifiers when making those tough budgetary decisions. 
LIS professionals are often technically proficient and for those who deliver outreach services and support for academics and students there is much they can do to help explain the new forms of scholarly communication and measurement. Many library and information staff are expert users of social media and tools such as Slideshare, Mendeley and blogs. Whilst library and information professionals are in the position where they are often in a neutral role, so can make informed decisions on what is the best way to aid staff discover and communicate research. These skills are starting to spread slowly within the academic community and LIS professionals are in an ideal position to capitalise on altmetrics.

The future

Certainly how academic outputs are measured in the future is anyone’s guess. We could move away from metrics to something that focuses on case studies, or move more towards open public peer review of research. Certainly the impact factor and citation indexes are with us for the foreseeable future. It’s likely we will see an amalgamation of systems with some regarded as more uniform and formal than others. 
As each month passes we see another set of tools appear on the Web that promises to aid researchers share, communicate and discover research, so we could be at risk of information overload and decision fatigue when it comes down to choosing the right tools for the job. The reality is that we are unlikely to discover a magic silver bullet solution for how we measure scholarly work. All of the options offer something and if they can be designed and coerced to work together better; scholarly communication and measurement could reach a plateau of productivity.
Yet this requires an awful lot more engagement from the academic community, one that is already under pressure from various angles to deliver research and extract from it examples of impact. Nevertheless, altmetrics clearly look like they are here to stay for the mid-term at the very least and are gaining acceptance in some parts of the research and publishing sphere. 
For now I suggest you investgate Figshare, ImpactStory, Mendeley and Altmetric.com to name but a few in addition to signing up for an Altmetric.com librarian account and installing their web bookmarklet. 
To summarise, if we were to draw a Venn Diagram with social media in one bubble, metrics in another we would clearly see librarians in the overlapping area alongside altmetrics. It’s really down to whether you want a share of that space?

Thursday, 19 March 2015

App Swap Breakfast #4 Video and Audio Apps


The latest App Swap Breakfast this week at yet another venue, our fourth in as many sessions. This time round we focused on apps and technology relating to video and audio recording, capture and playback. The event returned to a more informal setting and agenda from the previous one that was held at the University TELFest event back in January.
We hosted the ASB in the View Deli Cafe which overlooks large parts of Sheffield and gave colleagues the opportunity to grab a coffee and pastry whilst discovering new apps and technology tips.
We started with Pete Mella from the Technology Enhanced Learning Team who gave a presentation on the collection of useful Adobe Apps. Pete showcased the brilliant Adobe Voice animation tool with a live demo to show how easy it is to get good quality results. Pete showed the 20 or so colleagues in attendance what can be achieved on an iPad (as these apps are only available on IOS sadly) with very little effort. Pete has already blogged about Adobe Voice here and I was especially grateful for Pete showing this tool at the third ASB in January. It was a tool that I had heard about from colleagues but had not tried, seeing Pete’s demo sold it to me. As a result I have used the app to create over 40 short animations titled Research Hacks, which are designed to help researchers use technologies and find smarter ways to work. The collection of videos can be viewed here.


We then had a demo from my colleague Claire Beecroft who showcased a tablet device tripod that we had purchased for ourselves. The tripod cost £20 from Amazon and can be used in a variety of settings from being a camera stand to a autocue for reading text. The one that we have is the iStabilizer tabMount Tripod Adapter available from here. Claire talked about the ease of using such a small, lightweight device and the benefits of using it when all too often people fumble about trying to hold them when recording content.
I gave a presentation on a few tools that had been around for a while but were nonetheless still very useful for staff and students. Firstly I showcased the YouTube Capture app that allows users to record directly from their tablet device and upload straight to YouTube. In addition I showed another tool, that despite not being free, but is worth having in your collection as a teacher or student with Explain Everything - Formerly Explain a Website. This allows users to capture any website and screencast it, the recording will capture the user zooming in and changing pages as well as add their own notes and annotation. Jesrine Clarke-Darrington from the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Dentistry shown how students were using this app to annotate and draw on medical diagrams to explain a problem or intervention. As with many of these apps, you often find that if you cannot devise a good use for them someone else is, and Jesrine proved that very well.

I then showed a tool that was getting much publicity at the moment called Meerkat App. This app allows users to broadcast live or schedule one later to their Twitter followers. A url is created in your Twitter timeline and you can then broadcast live to who sees it, or at least is given an advance link. The tool has much potential and already some major stars are using it for impromptu broadcasts to their fans. The app could be used to broadcast live events and talks to Twitter followers for those who do not have the means to do this within their departments.

David Read gave us an excellent demo of the Swivl robotic platform for learning his department has purchased. The robot hosts a tablet device which can they track the movement of a speaker via a dongle they carry based on their voice. The robot tracks the person through 360% whilst the table can be set up to record the presenter as well. Thankfully my colleagues in ScHARR have now purchased one of these which will be interesting to use. David also talked about two apps/extensions he uses to annotate video. The first one, developed by The University of Minnesota is called Video Ant which allows users to add descriptive and analytical text along the timeline of a video recording. We also discussed videonot.es which again allows users to annoate videos and save these notes directly into Google Drive.

Graham McElearney discussed the option of using the University’s iTunes U platform to create and store podcasts. At present, iTunes U is all too often seen as a video only platform, yet there are plenty of options for uploading audio versions. There are even occasions where a video and audio version can be uploaded, therefore giving more opportunity to listen to the audio recording whilst travelling.

Claire Beecroft talked about her extensive use of AudioBoom (previously known as AudioBoo) to capture short audio  commentary by herself. Claire uses the app to record audio feedback for students as well as creating segments and audio introductions for modules and lectures. By doing this Claire is able to add an extra dimension to her feedback and interaction with students that goes way beyond that of text.

The latest App Swap Breakfast was a great deal of fun and hopefully attendees took something useful from it. We certainly covered a lot of tech and at times it felt like an episode of The Gadget Show, which is no bad thing. Certainly a big positive for the future of App Swap Breakfast was the number of attendees, the quality of talks and the venue. Certainly the plans will be to run future App Swap Breakfasts at The View Deli from now on. The next App Swap Breakfast is likely to take place in June and will look at the topic of infrastructure and legacy. Without sounding all Olympics 2012 about it, the session will be a platform to discuss how an institution like Sheffield addresses issues like support and purchasing of mobile devices of apps. About how we deal with security and privacy and how do colleagues manage a good work/life balance of using tools that increasingly creep into our private life. Obviously we will look and share apps relating to these issues whilst we sip coffee, looking of the city of Sheffield. What’s not to like?
Apps covered in this App Swap Breakfast


4 Questions Researchers Need To Ask Before Using The Web To Communicate Their Research

 The idea that all researchers, from early career researchers through to professors are engaging with the Web is pretty much a fallacy. Sure, they may use the web to search for papers, read conference proceedings and respond to funding calls; but beyond email and calendars that’s really about it for the majority. Everett Rogers’ ‘Diffusion of Innovations’ graph showed that innovators and early adopters made up for just a small percentage of those who take up a new idea or technology. So it’s probably quite right that after a decade of the web moving from a read only version to a read-write one that we would be where we are right now with regards to scholarly communication and measurement.
Much has already been written on how researchers can use the many various social, Web 2.0 and altmetric tools to communicate, collaborate and measure their work. Even so, many academics are still not sure about opening the shutters to a wider audience that transcends their institution. For any researcher contemplating using the many tools out there designed to facilitate open research there are a few questions you should ask yourself.
Will I respond to comments?
The web today has given anyone connected to it a voice, and that can be anyone in a variety of guises. Thankfully most communication of research appears to be open and mature. That’s not to say there are not unsavory characters in academia, but trolling happens less in these communities than say something like 4Chan or YouTube. The way to think of it is that online communities are like real world ones, you have some neighbourhoods you wouldn’t venture into after dark.
So posting your work online could result in someone commenting on it. These comments might be agreeable or not, the decision you have to make is whether you want to respond to them. The answer often depends on the comment, as someone may have misquoted or misunderstood your post. They may not agree with it for a good reason and could in turn reveal new evidence for your work. It could even lead to a collaboration later on. However the main thing to remember is not to take it personally, and if it feels personal then look to contact that person outside of a public forum, via email or by telephone. The reason for this is that very few people come out of an online spat looking good. The chances are that this kind of communication is unlikely to happen, although if you are an academic who likes to court controversy read on. 

Am I likely to get into trouble?
University researchers and lecturers have come unstuck using social media as part of their work. Contracts have been cancelled and academics told off for inappropriate comments and language using social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. It can feel daunting to start using these tools in the knowledge that you could get into hot water over your comments. It’s quite common to see academics use the disclaimer ‘views are my own’ on a profile that links back to their organisation. In the eyes of your institution you are communicating to the world as a representative of them, so that kind of one-liner is unlikely to be a legal defence and prevent at best, a telling-off when you Tweet something objectionable about them or their students.
It’s important to remember that your professional and personal profiles can cross over using these tools. There is nothing wrong talking about your views and interests interspersed with your research, it adds an informal and human touch. There is also the option of keeping the two worlds separate, Facebook for homelife, ResearchGate for work. The main thing is to think before you Tweet or write that blog post that there is nothing wrong with stirring debate and proposing left-field ideas; after all that’s how a lot of research starts. Just remember that like driving, you shouldn’t drink and Tweet… well don’t drink too much. That what goes on the web, stays on the web and that what you think is a private comment is easily sharable by your contacts. Just remember to ‘Tweet Responsibly’.

Do you have the time?
This is a common question, especially as all this communicating and measuring is just extra stuff to do, isn’t it? The reality is that many of the tools emerging around scholarly communication take a lot less time than you think. Take this blog post for example, I had the idea to write it at a conference and managed to write it in about 50 minutes. Given it’s a topic in my area of interest and expertise and that I think it could help some people I regarded it as a good use of that time. Social networking tools can be very time consuming if you let them get unwieldy and disorganised. So using tools like TweetDeck or Hootsuite for your Twitter account and such as Figshare and Altmetric.com to host and measure your outputs can reduce the labour involved for such tasks. By engaging with these tools you start to see other benefits, such as who is reading and sharing your research. Also it creates a personal learning network, that potentially leads to collaborations and the discovery of fresh ideas and research. If you are a researcher very much tied to a set way of working and feel that these tools will disrupt your flow there are things you can do. As with any distraction such as email, you can set parts of your day aside to engage with these technologies. Also, you can engage with the scholarly community using your smartphone and tablet if you have one, which allows you to work whilst in transit, at a conference or in between meetings. These technologies do not have to rule your work, if used correctly they can enhance it.
Am I sure I can mention my work?
There are times when a researcher cannot mention their work and this can often depend on who is funding it. It may be that the work is funded by a private company or industry and sharing it could be a breach of a research contract. It may be time sensitive or have an embargo on it, there is also the issue of it being incomplete. All of these concerns are quite legitimate, and it is always a good idea to check first if you are unsure. Nevertheless, there is always something in your field of research you can discuss and share across the Web. You may have datasets and publications that are free to be shared and discussed. Even by starting a blog to discuss your topics of interest you are putting a communication out to your research community. It might be just to discuss new research you have discovered or promote previous work that is now available for open access. Not everyone can just plough ahead and do this, and some researchers may seek guidance from a senior academic. It is helpful to see what other colleagues and departments in your institution are doing with regards to scholarly communication. If there are any seminars or training events try to get along to them as you are sure to find new ways of sharing your research as well as new contacts.
The main thing to remember that working the way you have always done may bring positive results, but they will be delivered the same way via publication and conference. It reminds me of a quote by the brilliant Australian cricket spin bowler Shane Warne, when asked about the England bowler Monty Panesar. Warne was asked about Monty’s record and Shane replied that he was one-dimensional player with no variation. Warne said: “Monty Panesar hasn’t played 33 Tests, he’s played 1 Test 33 times”. By entertaining some of these tools you could discover new ways of working and communicating your research and snaffle a few extra wickets in the process.

This blog post was originally published on the Digital Science Blog
http://www.digital-science.com/blog/guest/4-questions-researchers-need-to-ask-before-using-the-web-to-communicate-their-research/
 

Friday, 27 February 2015

ScHARR Bite Size - Apps for Research and Teaching

It's been a while since I presented a ScHARR Bite Size session after handing over the running of the series last summer. So it was good to return to the 20 minute format and deliver a talk promoting some of the better research and teaching apps on the market. The video was recorded after the Bite Size session so is much shorter at just under 12 minutes. Nevertheless you should find more than a couple of useful apps you could employ to help you work and study.


Wednesday, 25 February 2015

For many academics, the web is just a means to an end: Shifting gears to solve the digital divide

There has been an increasing number of technologies released in the last five years to help academics manage, communicate and deliver their research. Several have now established themselves within academia and can count hundreds of thousands of users, if not millions. Successes include Mendeley,ResearchGateSlideShare and Prezi. Many of the first Web 2.0 technologies employed by researchers and teachers were not exclusive to the academic community and whilst that has been a facilitator by reducing the learning curve, it has also been a barrier as the lines between the professional and personal are blurred.
Even with the increasing number of new and bespoke academic technology start-ups that build on existing models, the idea of using something established like Twitter as an scholarly communicative tool is still new to most academics. Whilst the majority still do not consider using Slideshare as a repository for their presentations, when they do, they must also get their heads around copyright and  Creative Commons images as alternatives to their reliance on Getty Images, etc. Take for exampleJOVE which aids scientists’ efforts to share and understand each others’ experiments using video. But for most academics this seems a radical change in approach and for some an unnecessary one.
Given social and collaborative technologies in their current guise, i.e. Web 2.0 tools and more recently social media and the Cloud, you would think the majority of academics would be taking every opportunity to use them, but the reality is that they are not. They are not even close to widespread adoption in some fields of research. This is because we are working on a system that predates the majority currently working within it. The journal impact factor was first thought of in 1955 and as a result researchers have largely formed their careers based on publications, memberships and presentations.
In academia the problem has often been the lack of translation: academics are advised how to use Twitter but rarely why, they are told to upload to Slideshare but not how to embed it into a blog post, and most do not know how to write a blog post or why it could benefit their work. From the academic’s perspective all of these things take time and that includes figuring out how to use them, time they often do not have and the evidence is not always that immediate. The problem is that for an academic going from a point of using minimal technology to employing it in multiple aspects of their work for collaborating, creating and communicating research it can be quite a learning curve. As a result tools are used sporadically, in silos and incorrectly.
Consider what it was like for researchers moving from Web 1.0 to 2.0 moving from a world based on static web sites to ones that allow interaction, from hard drives to the cloud, from presenting at a conference to delivering it over the Web. With Tweets captured in Storify, the video on YouTube, the slides uploaded to Slideshare and then embedded in a blog with complementary informal text and post presentation tweets. Web 2.0 is best described as a ‘state of mind’, not in some kind of higher state of consciousness but in the clicking together of the principles of authorship, creation, sharing – embedding the whole process. For the Web 1.0 academic that would be like going from first to five gear whilst up a steep hill: a lot of grind but no momentum. That’s not to say that these technologies are too clever for academics to understand, far from it, but understanding the wider context and connecting them requires support. We have to understand that the Web is just a means to an end for many academics. Their email and calendar is there, so is Google and the papers they read, anything else has to be proven to have a benefit.
neutrality-digital divide
Image credit: Digital Divide, EEF (CC BY 3.0)
As with research, teaching is going through a period of change, driven on more so by technology. For academic institutions taking advantage of the many learning technologies, often freely available, they employ experts such as learning technologists. Apart from doing the nuts and bolts jobs of making sure the virtual learning environments work properly, the learning technologists also make the connections between technology and pedagogy. It makes sense that if the teaching community embraces the support mechanism for the modern classroom, then the same should be happening in the modern research office.
Much discussion revolves around the problem of digital divides, see for example the work of the Tinder Foundation in Sheffield, where those unconnected to the Web do not have the same opportunities as those with a broadband connection. Does that digital divide extend to those capitalising and understanding the issues relating to social media, Creative Commons, infographics, video, altmetrics etc in the professional setting?
Amongst the many increasing demands academics have is that of staying up to date with new technologies, which is often treated as an ‘as and when’ job. This is not just in relation to niche technologies but core tools as well, such as email, smart devices and office packages. Often the easiest option is not to engage rather than take a leap of faith and try a new way of working, say for example Google Docs or Mendeley instead of Word of Reference Manager.
The reason often stated is that given that technology moves at such a pace, why invest in one tool when a better one may be around the corner. There is some truth in that, yet actually changing that practice, getting things wrong and picking the wrong tool can have benefits. As the ‘Web 2.0 state of mind’ testifies, individual technologies become less important, and become pathways to another output, collaborator or audience. If Microsoft had decided to scrap Word 15 years ago many would have been left looking in the office stationery cupboard for a pen and paper, now that is less important with Openoffice and Google Docs to name but a few.
The new wave of technologies for researchers show no sign of slowing down and the past problems of too much choice will seem trivial when there are now several ways a scientist can manage their research project, publish it and disseminate it. The problem is for those who so far have chosen not to engage with these technologies, whether that be through choice or ignorance and many will at some point need to address this. We are still some way from seeing any form of critical mass within the academic community in relation to the use of blogging, cloud-based working, social media amongst other things. Yet there has been a few shifts that academics cannot ignore, open access being one of them and MOOCs within the teaching community. Yet, even these models are not set in stone, nobody can predict what the next ten years will look like in academia, they can hazard a guess but it will be nothing more than that.
But it is almost a decade since Tim O’Reilly popularised the term ‘Web 2.0’ and still many academics have achieved an awful lot career-wise without ever really embracing it. It does not mean this will always be the way as Web 2.0 has branched out into specialised academic tools and were more often than not started by PhD and early career researchers. These innovators are invariably part of a generation who cannot remember a world before the Web.
Even though some of these technologies will fall by the wayside, it does feel like we are at the dawn of a new technological revolution driven by people who see academia operating in two time zones, a full century apart. For academics to take advantage of it all does require some effort as engaging with these technologies could in the short term prove to be hugely disruptive for those without support. For those who do apply the web 2.0 state of mind it could be beneficial once they set out their objectives and reasons for using the technologies that could help shape how research is measured and communicated. There is change happening and for individual researchers working in a Web 1.0 world it cannot happen overnight and requires ongoing support for the most part. Without this, opportunities could be missed. But in the longer term, core skills such as real-time collaboration over the Web, new forms of writing, reviewing and communicating will become harder to grasp, leaving some further behind than ever. The digital divide is not just those connected to the Web and those who are not. It is grey-er than that – it is those who take advantage of the Web, understand not only its value but the problems that come with it. For the later stage career academic the benefits will be harder to quantify, but for those just starting out, it is better to understand those tricky gear shifts now rather than grind them later.
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