The new year might be several weeks behind us but it is never too late to try something new in the workplace. Here are seven different things and tools you could try to change how you communicate, teach and research. Not every tool or way of working is for everyone, some are quick wins and simple to set up others require more time and effort. Some require additional guidance and support, there are a few resources listed at the bottom of the article.
Working with 2 screens
What kind of tasks would this improve I hear you ask. Firstly anything that involves collating data, such as a spreadsheet or a database - exporting data from one source such as a collection of documents into a database or spreadsheet. Having lots of numbers sitting in front of you can be snow-blinding and switching between tabs often means forgetting the last digit or two. Having two screens allows simple copy and paste or better still drag and drop from one application to another as it becomes one long desktop. A second screen could totally improve the lives of anyone working in finance or using spreadsheets and databases as a whole.
As I say it’s basically just one big desktop, so with that in mind it allows you to have multiple documents in front of you. Such as writing a systematic review, the process of digesting large numbers of documents and taking the key data from it can be done more easily on the fly as the master document remains open whilst working through those in the review. This also benefits managing references as abstracts and papers are scanned whilst keeping the reference management software open in the second screen. For modellers this allows them to watch the model running whilst a second screen can deal with the day to day business of email and other tasks.
As for email, the master screen of the two is used for this purpose, whilst attachments or supplementary reading can be dealt with whilst leaving the communication window within the eyeline. Another big plus for the second screen is that it allows greater flexibility in visual communication in the guise of Web conferencing and distance learning. Google Hangouts allows the embedding of documents, presentations and screen shots effectively. In addition, other Web conferencing and VLE tools also do similar things, but there is still the occasional need to see content on a second screen. Secondly with such as peer support, being able to see the person’s face and expressions on screen whilst viewing a resource or document on a second screen is naturally beneficial over flipping between the two. The basic ability to digest one piece of content on one screen whilst producing new content on the other just cannot be understated here.
Productivity increased for certain tasks involving document writing, data collation, textual and visual communication.
Not environmentally friendly as one screen. Cost increase. Potentially creates more issues for IT support staff, although FST computer screens are incredibly more reliable than their CRT counterparts.
Informal Abstract for Research - The Press Release
As the movement for Open Access to research and Altmetrics gains pace it is increasingly pushing what we do further into the public domain. Much of the work we do is of interest to a wider audience that goes beyond the academic firewall, various organisations, bodies, charities and the general population. Yet it can be written in a way that does not translate so easily, as with council speak that again applies to so much of the population, academic research invariably talks a different language to the masses. Very often there is a simple story within that impacts so many, and quite often the only form of translation is via the national press or in house media channels. Efforts are made to get our research out there via the various channels but only so much gets beyond the traditional mediums of journals, organisational sites and newsletters. A possible alternative is to produce press releases and laymen abstracts of the work we do to the various interested parties, ranging from charities, news agencies, patient-led and public sites to improve the profile of the department. It does not have to stop there as there is a growing movement for academics to write expert and opinion pieces which range from the national press to private blogs. Education and research is going through massive change and as a result becoming more open. Such as the LSE Social Impact Blog gains wide ranging coverage via social media channels with its short, punchy and informative articles. The collective expertise of an organisation makes for massive publicity potential by getting its content out there via the various channels. Another reason for writing releases and opinion pieces is that they are ‘quick wins’. Researchers work hard all year on publications and reports often going long periods between seeing finished products. Short informal pieces can be of interest to a wide range of academics, by their nature are short and can be written in hours not days, weeks or months. The informal style of writing can be a refreshing change from the day to day formal writing style of academic output. They can be reactive to current topics and can be self published via personal sites, blogs and social media channels. Once an article gets out into channels that are ‘social media friendly’ there is greater chance it will be shared by others further and beyond initial postings. By suggesting opinion pieces I am by no means suggesting be controversial, you can have lively debate without getting into trouble. They can still be peer-reviewed if needed, as with all forms of high quality of journalism a piece of writing can go through one or two tiers of editorial.
Gets your message and research further beyond the academic wall - and into social media. It is a quick win, a way of relating a variety of topics relating to your field of work in a very simple way. It is a promotional tool for yourself, your area of work and your department.
Not everyone can write informally naturally. You may be carrying out work that you cannot publicise or may be sensitive in nature. Not everything can be shared this way.
Delivering an Online Lecture Standing up
Makes for a better more dynamic lecture for the person delivering it and those receiving it. Makes your distance learning delivery more in line with your face to face teaching.
You might feel a tad silly doing it. Requires more space and technology - such as a teaching room with mic and Webcam
Make a Video
It is without doubt that video will become the dominant format on the Web in the next few years with Cisco predicting that video would make up over 50% of all consumer Internet traffic by 2012. As for mobile content this has already exceeded 50%, whilst YouTube now has 72 hours of content uploaded every single minute. You cannot ignore video as an important format in education and research. The application of video in academia is endless as it is such a subjective format that you could make a video for almost anything. Most notable options include making a staff profile video, making a conference promotional video, interviewing researchers about their work, interviewing students for course feedback, informal welcome and instructional videos by teaching staff, explaining the purpose of a clinical trial, explaining a concept, a problem, an idea, a review. Delivering a lecture, a MOOC, seminar, course promo, creating a tutorial, shall I go on?
Videos translate so much more than swathes of text, you can say so much in a few minutes and it captures personality. It can be watched on the go, be embedded, shared, downloaded, enhanced with text, logos and images. With a video it can bring out the personality of a person and make the formal informal, make dull content interesting. In terms of teaching it can have the potential to bring informality to the proceedings, a student gets to know the teacher a little better than if they were just getting voiced over slides, they find out who is at the other end of the Internet Connection.
Obviously as with standing up to deliver distance learning sessions, this very much depends on the person delivering and making a video can feel daunting. There are worries about how you may appear, come across and what you say. Nevertheless these are no less than delivering a session in person in a classroom, conference or to colleagues. There is a safety net with video provided you are not delivering something live on the Web. That you can retake and retake till you are happy, after a while you may be able to deliver a short video in one take - there are colleagues who can do this. The reality is that you just do not know until you try. There are the other issues, such as time, but a video does not have to be long - it can be very effective in just 60 seconds. Depending on the content it can last for years, although many videos have short life spans. There are time issues such as getting it uploaded to the likes of YouTube and Vimeo or institutional sites. Also, who records it, if you are not familiar with the technology you will need help. This is where learning technologists, technicians, librarians and information professionals can help, not to mention peers who have already gone down this route.
Can say so much more than text at times. Is becoming an increasingly important form of delivery in academic output. Content can be embedded, shared and hosted easily and cheaply these days.
Depending on what you want to do, can have a steep learning curve but help is on hand. Can attract negative comments if someone doesn’t agree with you should you allow open comments.
Mendeley: The social reference management tool is available on the Apple and Android platforms, with the main unofficial Android versions called Droideley, Scholarley and Referey. With these apps you can read papers in your collection, share citations and sync with your Mendeley account.
Your camera. OK, not an app as such but something that comes by default with your smartphone. As more academics get social and more presentations go online it means that there is the problem of finding copyright or royalty-free images to enhance your work. There are of course the various Creative Commons sites and licences, CC Search is a good place to start when sourcing material. Sometimes that is not possible, you just cannot find the right image, but you do have a camera on your own phone, so why not use it? There are no issues regarding copyright, although you cannot simply take a photo of anything. Such as people, do you have their consent? is the image of sensitive nature? does the content breach the copyright of a company or person? Nevertheless, there are countless images you can produce for your own work if you actively use your own phone to take pictures.
You can now access your work email and calendar easily, so being on the go and staying organised is not a problem any more with these devices. There are ways of being social using Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+, whilst other tools like SocialBro allow you to find like-minded people at live events who also use Twitter.
Great tools like Audioboo and Socialcam allow you to make audio and video recordings and share them socially - such as this video promo we made for our presentation at Internet Librarian International 2012. It was recorded on my phone in one take and we were able to share it on the various social networks ahead of our presentation, the effects were deliberate by the way.
There are excellent note taking and curating tools available, including Evernote, Zite and Google Reader.
The two real issues as we use our own devices for work are simply security and intrusion into your personal life. The first issue can be resolved by making your phone or tablet device as secure as you can, certainly try not to use it. Ensure that you have password and auto lock turned on and use any inbuilt tracking software although there is also good free tracking software such as Prey worth installing.
An issue that some people don’t realise is that if they lost their phone and they had no security measures then it could be as bad as losing your wallet. It is important to make sure you back up content regularly and utilise the security measures that come with your device.
As for the work life balance issue, this is a tough one. Before the advent of mobile and smart phones, people did check emails and carried out work at all hours; the tablet and smartphone made that easier. The positive is that you can stay on top of emails so when arriving at work you have less to contend with, the downside is that it becomes harder to switch off from the workplace. The trick is to turn your phone off when you are not at work and not expecting phone calls. Some people manage this issue better than others whilst more and more people find themselves at the behest of their inbox - constantly checking for new messages, the only safe option is not to have email on your phone, but for those with smartphones it is probably already too late.
The issue is that smartphones will become commonplace in the next few years and in most cases people use them professionally as part of their job. The bigger issue is ensuring you use them productively and securely and that you stay in charge of the relationship, not the other way round.
Can improve communication and workflow on the go. Allows access to your diary and email when out of the office. Great functionality for social networking, content curation and digest. Some mobile devices allow the ability to present information to a larger screen, saves taking a laptop with you. Gives the ability to capture audio and video feedback. Also allows the audio dictation of documents and emails.
Makes it harder to switch off from the workplace as emails and social networks are easier to access at any time. Using own device for work means more wear at tear of your device at your own cost. Security of content such as email and documents can be compromised if not password protected or encrypted.
Upload a presentation to Slideshare
For anyone who has ever given a presentation at a conference or a seminar the chances are that after you have used the slides they will be put away into a folder someone tucked deep within your file store only to be retrieved to form the part of a new presentation. Some will get hosted on organisational or conference websites, but invariably the sharing and viewing potential is quite often capped or hidden from wider audiences. Hosted presentation slides on Slideshare is a very quick way to get them out into the wonderful world of the Web. Setting up an account takes minutes, uploading a presentation the same. The benefits are easy to see, firstly this is a social site, so people can Tweet, Google+, Facebook Like your work. There is the ability to embed the presentation into other web sites, blogs and even deliver the presentation from the site, no more worrying about whether you have saved it onto your USB stick. The cons are quite simply this, can you actually share the presentation? Do you have the rights to share content within, where are the images sourced from? With search engines getting better at helping copyright owners find misused examples of their work, putting your work into the public domain increases the chances of being caught. The trick is not to get caught by using Creative Commons images via the correct licences - a good place to start is: http://search.creativecommons.org/ Even if your presentation is plain old text and graphs, make sure you atribute everything correctly. Even though this sounds a bit onerous and off-putting, it needn’t be. Once you understand their are legal alternatives to enhancing your presentations you could begin to realise the potential of uploading to Slideshare. A presentation of mine: ‘Welcome to the University of Google’’ has had over 3000 views on the site. Not a big figure in the scheme of Slideshare, but 3000 more views than if I had just placed it on to a static website potentially. Also it meant my other presentations got more views, I picked up followers to my account and it was shared on the Social Web - so what’s not to like?
Free and simple way to upload your presentation to the Web. Visually nice looking site. Has the main social networking tools embedded within each upload. Each presentation can be embedded into other websites and blogs.
Content could breach copyright if not used correctly, make sure you attribute images and content and that this content can actually be shared on the Web - do not just take any old image from the Web. Slides do not always translate on their own - where possible it is better to make a screencast or at least add an audio soundtrack.
Perhaps out of the whole list this is the one that is most likely to polarise and scare those working in academia. There are a few reasons for this, firstly despite the simplicity of Twitter, that you communicate in 140 characters, it can still feel like an alien concept to many people. There is also mis-understandings towards its use and who is using it. Much of the recent publicity around Twitter has focused on footballers Tweeting abuse, unprofessional comments about their team or peers. Then there has been the recent Tweets by an HMV employee regarding alleged sackings as the company went into administration. This was more about a large company not having the access to what was regarded as the official account as it had been set up by intern; a lesson for any organisation.
As with data loss, copyright breaches and other embarrassing technological own-goals an organisation can befall, the issue quite often comes down to the actions of an individual. They may be accidental, caused by a lack of literacy or knowledge or just plain malicious.
A recent article in the Guardian Higher Education Network wrote about the reasons academics are afraid to engage with Social Media.
Twitter is no more than a communicator in the public domain, and allows a simple way to connect with people with similar interests. Beyond the likes of Stephen Fry, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber the tool is being embraced by more and more academics and the organisations which they operate in. The University of Sheffield has dozens of Twitter accounts for departments, projects and key academics here: https://twitter.com/sheffielduni/university-of-sheffield/members
This is not to mention the growing large list of individual users who use the tool to share resources, practice and communicate. Yet the issue remains that people are worried about this tool, and that is understandable to a point. It is a third-party piece of software, so you can never be 100% certain that it is secure, but that can be said of so many other tools academics are using these days, Academia.Edu, Facebook, LinkedIn, the list goes on. The key with everything is to pick a strong password and again think about what you are going to Tweet carefully. What you say on the Web, stays on the Web. This is very much true now as recent cases have shown, by simply deleting your Tweet or account does not ensure what you just said hasn’t been retweeted or captured in another way. There have been several high profile cases of politicians and celebrities Tweeting things they wish they hadn’t only to find out it had got out into the Web even after they had deleted the incriminating evidence. The rules here are simple, don’t Tweet anything you will regret, don’t get into, or pick a fight on a Social Media platform (certainly one that ends up as a brawl, or that you are going to lose), and don’t Tweet under the influence, remember that if you are Tweeting in a professional capacity to treat it no different from any other aspect of your professional life. That is not to say you cannot Tweet about what you had for breakfast or that you don’t like who won X-Factor, Twitter brings the informal to the formal.
As for the use of Twitter in academia, certainly there is growing evidence of widespread use in certain fields including library, information and computer science, the humanities. Whilst some MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) have really embraced Twitter as a way to get students to communicate and share ideas. Whilst Tweeting has started to creep into the traditional classroom with some classes encouraging students to Tweet in real time. I have also used hashtags to participate in an open library discussion with dozens of other professionals about the topic of open access. This open form of communication is not new as many academic conferences now have live Tweeting via the aid of a hashtag to encourage pre, post and actual conference Tweeting. I ran a small conference last year for about 60 delegates, over the course of the day there was over 500 Tweets which were shown on the screens in the foyer of the venue using the excellent http://visibletweets.com/ tool.
With Twitter you don’t have to feel obliged to Tweet constantly, not every day at least and if you don’t have anything to say then just share something interesting you have discovered with your followers. If at first you just want to follow people in your area of interests then just do that; not Tweeting is better than just once announcing to the world you’re about to start and then fall slilent. There are plenty of curation tools out there to find content automatically to your research fields, Netvibes, Google Reader, Zite, News.Me, Scoop.It! In amongst the various sites and other social media platforms you may visit over the course of a working week. If this feels like a lot of work, trust me, it isn’t - Tweeting takes seconds not minutes and at first it can feel like you are throwing your message into an abyss. Yet the reality is that Tweeting as with other Web 2.0 and social tools is no different from some medications, you need to give it a while before you see the benefits. It may take months if not years to build your connections, again this is not an onerous task and with mobile apps you can do it on the go. One issue I come across is that people do not want to engage with a tool because a better one might come along, which even with something like Twitter is true. Yet the size of Twitter with 500 million users and that it shows no sign of slowing down means it is here for a few years at least. A better tool for the job of micro-blogging could come along, but it will take a long time before it gained that number of users. Perhaps one area that could change this from our perspective would be the introduction of an academically focused microblogging service, such as Academia.edu is to Facebook. If you do decide to take a look at Twitter there are countless guides, tips and tools online. Whilst for curating your content easier you can employ the likes of Tweetdeck, Hootsuite or Silverbird to enhance your Twitter experience.
Finally, Twitter really is a great way to stay in touch with what interests you, professionally or otherwise. Much of what I learn and find useful to mine and my colleagues’ roles comes from that source, it is often the first place to look to find something out. This is becoming very much an important tool in spotting trends or news. Just look at how the media use Twitter to find out what is going on around the world, or to gather views. Like Google searches it can crowdsource information on such as flu outbreaks or even earthquakes, Tweets coming from one location has proved to be one of the fastest and effective ways of conveying information about a situation elsewhere. As Twitter grows globally and no doubt more and more students engage with social media, you have to ask yourself one question, do you really want to get left behind by not engaging with one of these tools?
Follow your interests
With half a billion users on Twitter now there are no shortage of people within academia to follow and by doing so you get to see what they are finding interesting as well as what they are working on. As who you should follow, here’s a few suggestions:
@trishgreenhalgh - 5,251 followers
@bengoldacre - 256,260 followers
@bmj_latest - 59,083 followers
@sirkenrobinson - 151,331 followers
@timeshighered - 62,088 followers
@tedtalks - 1,424,400 followers
Statistics and data
@guardiandata - 30,818 followers
@royalstatsoc - 1,776 followers
@visually - 102,750 followers
@figshare - 4,666 followers
@mendeley_com - 6,262 followers
@lseimpactblog - 7,987 followers
Technology and the Web
@jiscdigital - 4,920 followers
@rww - 1,259,213 followers
@thenextweb - 841,007 followers
A quick and simple way to communicate with your peers on-line. Is not labour intensive. A great way to stay abreast of your interests and topic areas. Simple to learn once you understand the @ and # concepts of communication.
If used incorrectly can lead to bad publicity for you and your organisation. People can struggle to know what to Tweet. The conversation is public, so does not work with all communications.
Further resources and information
Advantages and Disadvantages of Working with Multiple Screens - http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2009/05/advantages-and-disadvantages-of-working-with-multiple-screens/
Comprehensive list of Twitter tools http://www.twittereye.com/
Twitter for Researchers http://www.scribd.com/doc/124317896/Twitter-for-research
Live Tweeting at Conferences: 10 Rules of Thumb http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2012/oct/03/ethics-live-tweeting-academic-conferences
The 25 Most Used Mobile Apps In Education http://edudemic.com/2012/10/most-used-mobile-apps-education/