Tuesday, 22 December 2015

20 Tips to get more from Google Apps in Education tools

I was asked to deliver two Bite Size sessions, well it's been a while, on Google Apps. The first one was delivered for the Faculty of Medicine and was really well attended by about 60 staff and PGRs. Then I delivered the same session as part of the University's Thirty30 staff development festival in November. It also coincided with ScHARR Bite Size's fifth birthday, it's great to see the series of short, innovative sessions still running and well past its century of talks that have covered everything from copyright to research impact. The latest session was captured and can be viewed here. If you think you're getting the most from your Google Apps, think again, there might be a few tweaks you can apply.


Friday, 13 November 2015

An introduction from a new Information Specialist

Hi! My name is Naila Dracup and I am the most recent Information Specialist to join the Information Resources Group (IRG) within ScHARR HEDS. 

Prior to working here I worked as an Information Specialist at the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) where I worked on providing Information Specialist support for a range of research outputs including 5 guidelines that were in development as part of the NICE Collaborating Centre for Social Care consortium. Other past positions have been as an Information Specialist at Bazian ltd (as part of the Economist Intelligence Unit) and NICE Evidence - cancer. 

I recently relocated to Sheffield from London to take up this position so whilst not in work I'm getting to enjoy exploring the city and the surrounding areas. I’m originally from West Yorkshire so I’m very glad to be back in ‘God’s own county’.

I obtained my Master's degree in Information Studies from Leeds Beckett in 2009 and my Undergraduate degree was in Sociology from Leeds University. I am a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) of which I am a member of their Health Libraries and Information Literacy Groups.

It's very exciting to be working here having been aware of the wide-ranging activities and research quality of ScHARR for some time.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

5 Must-Have Peripherals For Your Tablet Device


Andy Tattersall
There are an increasing array of mobile apps and technologies that learning technologists, teachers and academics can use within the institution. Added to that are a growing number of peripherals that can be employed to make teaching and content production an easier process. In this blog post Andy Tattersall looks at five that you should take note of. The five pieces of tech below are not necessarily the best ones for each task, but are ones Andy has employed personally with his iPad. There may be cheaper and better options available out there should you wish to explore further.


Be louder

CC BY NC ND 2.0 Gibbyll http://bit.ly/1kRw3Rs
All too often when going out to present or deliver teaching you can find the room facilities non-functional. There may be no sound coming from the speakers attached to the teaching lectern, or just no speakers at all. One way round this is to have your own set of speakers with you. Naturally you do not want to be carrying around a big heavy 4kw sound system, so need something small and lightweight. One alternative is the X-mini speakers series http://www.x-mini.com/
There are various models and all allow users to chain link multiple ones together to increase the sound output. Many give an output in the region of 2kw, which can be built upon with more speakers. For a small to mid-sized seminar lecture room they give enough audio to ensure you won’t be put off playing videos in your class ever again. You can get a pair of good quality x-mini speakers for about £15.


Stand Tall
When trying to capture any content, whether it be yourself in front of your tablet camera, or using it as a reading device you are often limited as to where you can prop your device. Even doing something like relaying your teaching over the web using Twitter video conferencing tools like Periscope or Meerkat it can be quite tough. This can be negated by buying a tablet stand, which looks not too dissimilar from your typical music stand. The Ezi-Tech Music Stand Mount, priced around the £30 mark is a good one which works with Apple and Samsung devices. It allows the user to free up their hands to hold a paper, or maintains a consistency when trying to record a piece to camera, whether that be video or just audio.


Be Heard
Tablets have come on a long way from the first wave of smart devices from a few years ago. One thing they have improved on is audio capture and recording, yet there is always room for improvement. Often sound can be the most important aspect of a digital artefact, as users may want to only hear what you are saying rather than watch. Content can be stripped down to a podcast, so good quality audio is essential. Using a USB microphone can help improve on your audio capture and can give a richness of sound when it lacks. A good series of microphones is the Rode USB, which comes with a tripod stand and pop shield. It works with Windows and Mac OS and connects, as you would suspect from its name, via USB. It is important to note that iPad users would require an Apple adaptor cable for the USB which costs about £25 http://amzn.to/1OKFcYo. The mic, which is powered by the tablet device, costs somewhere in the region of £100 upwards http://www.rode.com/microphones/nt-usb


Project Yourself
CC BY 2.0 Paul Hudson http://bit.ly/1kRvsiD
If you use the likes of Google Slides, Haiku Deck and Nearpod to present then it should make sense to use your tablet device to deliver them from. Just because you have a tablet device, and not a laptop, does not mean you cannot use your own little bit ot tech to deliver your slides. For Apple devices with the miniport you can use it to connect to a VGA device like a projector, which costs about £30 http://cvp.com/index.php?t=product/apple_md825zm-a Android users can hardwire connect to projectors by using a mini HDMI to HDMI cable if the projector supports it. http://cvp.com/index.php?t=product/besteady_extra-mini-hdmi_ Obviously there are an increasing number of ways to mirror and connect devices to big screens without the need for cabling, but not everyone has access to that just yet.


Be Seen
CC BY 2.0 Dave Taylor http://bit.ly/1kRuvH8
A useful technology with real potential that has appeared in the last year or so is Swivl. The little round, flat Swivl robot allows your teaching and presentations to be captured and shared live as it follows you around the room while you present. By wearing a small dongle that picks up on your voice, the device hosts your tablet device allowing it to capture your teaching and either record it or deliver it to elsewhere remotely. Swivl costs somewhere in the region of £450, so is not so cheap. Nethertheless, if you do a lot of teaching, flip your classroom or have online learners and want to maximise your output, it could be a worthwhile investment. Regardless of how fast you try and move the Swivl does a really good job of trying to keep up.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Great ScHARR Library Bake Off

Andy Tattersall
Every year we host a bake sale in our library at ScHARR in aid of a local charity. This year we chose the North Derbyshire charity Fairplay that works to support disabled children and young adults.

© Fairplay.co.uk
 All of the team came together to create a host of delicious creations as well as some of our friends from within ScHARR Towers. We had everything from two types of scones, brownies, carrot cake, gluten free options, biscuits and even a Guinness cake...hic!

This year we ran the charity picnic on the same day as we welcomed our new intake of students, so we took it as a good opportunity to say hello and introduce ourselves. I was worried that the students wouldn't venture down from a day full of talks and inductions, but they did thankfully. In fact we were overwhelmed by how many came to see us. 

At one point the library was as full as I'd ever seen it in my 14 years at ScHARR. Everyone was fed and watered with juices and hot drinks provided by the library team. Although there may still be money to be donated we probably broke our record for donations from our cake sales (this is about the 8th one we've run it). At present we have raised £156 for a very worthwhile charity - so well done all. Salads are the order for today.


Thankfully there was very little left at the end of the day, and my beetroot brownies (with my own orange beetroots) and scones (with homemade and picked jam) all went.

For more information about Fairplay and the work they do, go to: 
http://www.fair-play.co.uk/

Next year we hope to have Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry on hand to do some judging.




















Thursday, 3 September 2015

For what it’s worth – the open peer review landscape

Andy Tattersall
The topic of open peer review has been gaining some traction for some time. It's been a slow burner in the academic community for many years and through the increasing use of social media in research it continues to polarise academic communities. With open research and access increasingly attracting more support, it is inevitable that open peer review will follow that trajectory. How quickly, and with what resistance is not yet known. Andy Tattersall has just published a paper on open peer review and looked at the main protagonists in a special issue focusing on open access for the Online Information Journal.
CC BY 2.0 Tim Morgan


Abstract


The aim of this paper is two-fold, firstly to discuss the current and future issues around post publication open peer review. Secondly to highlight some of the main protagonists and platforms that encourages open peer review, pre and post publication.

The first part of the paper aims to discuss the facilitators and barriers that will enable and prevent academics engaging with the new and established platforms of scholarly communication and review. These issues are covered with the intention of proposing further dialogue within the academic community that ultimately address researchers' concerns, whilst continuing to nurture a progressive approach to scholarly communication and review. The paper will continue to look at the prominent open post-publication platforms and tools and discuss whether in the future it will become a standard model.

The paper identifies several problems, not exclusive to open peer review that could inhibit academics from being open with their reviews and comments of other’s research. Whilst identifies opportunities to be had by embracing a new era of academic openness.




The paper summarises key platforms and arguments for open peer review and will be of interest to researchers in different disciplines as well as the wider academic community wanting to know more about scholarly communications and measurement.
You can find the paper here.
http://www.emeraldinsight.com/toc/oir/39/5

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

How can scholarly communication avoid becoming just a cacophony of noise?

White Noise -CC BY 2.0 Kyknoord (Mental State)
I was asked to write an editorial for the UKSG newsletter. UKSG purpose is to connect the knowledge community and encouraging the exchange of ideas on scholarly communication. So wrote a piece on how can scholarly communication avoid becoming just a cacophony of noise - a tough one to answer.
You can visit UKSG and subscribe to their free newsletter here http://www.uksg.org/




In Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the author sums up how big space is by writing:  “Space is big. really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space.” Well the same applies to the web. In our own personal online universe we see it as something big, but do not realise how truly vast and diverse it is. Take for example the 300 minutes of video that is uploaded to YouTube every minute of every day. In 2013 it was estimated that there were over 14 trillion webpages on the Internet; and does that include the non-indexed, dark, intranet content or is it much, much bigger than that? When we think about scholarly content we often think about it in simple terms, journals, papers, presentations, databases and (for more web-focused academics) a collection of tools and social networks. It is likely to be much more than we can imagine, as academic content and comment seeps into the media, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter with the latter providing a constant stream of academic Tweets. Then we have tools like iTunes U, JOVE, Piirus, Slideshare and Mendeley to name but a very few.

Even though academia has been slow in embracing what we used to often refer as web 2.0 in 2005, there is still an awful lot of chatter around the web from academics. Lots use Twitter, over 7 million on ResearchGate, 3 million on Mendeley and over 21 million are on Academia.edu. It is a very big place with a lot of conversations going on 24 hours a day, globally. Naturally not all of these users are active or engaging with the platforms and communities. Nevertheless that is potentially a lot of sharing and conversations and this is before we really get our teeth into open peer review. Then look at Twitter and how many academics are on there using the micro-blogging site as a regular communication tool. There are no exact figures, but it is likely to be in the hundreds of thousands at the very least. Founder of Academia.edu, Richard Price estimated in 2011 that there were about 17 million faculty members and graduate students in the world. This is of course an estimate, as it is hard to track staff in-between contracts and those retired but still working.

We are now at a crossroads within academia when we think about openness, whether that be MOOCs, altmetrics, open peer review, open access or big data - they all have an open element to them. With more websites creating opportunities for open dialogue between academics worldwide, it seems wrong not to grasp them with both hands, provided that this openness comes with responsibility. The problem is that researchers have not adapted to these changes very well, and through no fault of their own. After all, they are busy professionals who are encouraged to build a sustainable and credible career mostly based on publishing and winning grants. As the web has changed, they have too, just not at the same pace. Critiquing, discussing or passing comment on a peer’s output has very little in terms of formal recognition and reward. Added to that there has been a lack of support for academics to reap the rewards afforded to them by being able to share their work via the various freely available technologies. Academics are still very cautious when it comes to publicly discussing and commenting on research in their area. The notion of discussing someone else’s work in the open, away from the safety of the office or blind peer review is somewhat uncomfortable, and with good reason. It is understandable given the legacy that pre-21st Century academia created, that not to rock the boat is the safer career option. Many wonder what there is to gain from talking about their own work on the web, which can be seen as narcissistic or another person’s work which can seen as antagonistic, even when it might not be in both cases.

CC BY 2.0 Nancy<I'm gonna SNAP!
Whilst critics of open peer review might see public commenting, discussing and reviewing research as a luxury or waste of time it does have potential benefits. It can help identify flaws in published and ongoing research, as you may believe that you are the only person conducting research like this, but there is always a chance someone has carried out similar work and can contribute their knowledge. It aids forming potential collaborations and help identify peers who can help build a personal learning network. Communicating, collaborating, problem-solving are all things we teach students at university. Academics have the potential to tap into an organic, intelligent community on the web for similar benefits. Yet it still feels like the exception to the rule. In time I am certain we will see a lot more open peer review, post publication comment and review and the continued growth in useful communication using social media platforms, in particular academic-inclusive ones.

If the digital immigrant - native model is anything to go by we will soon see further changes within academia underpinned by open access and the wealth of research-focused web-tools appearing almost daily. This will happen as more web native students move on from junior to career researchers and utilise the technologies that are so openly available on university campuses, that is of course unless they become institutionalised by existing practices. Change is already happening, but we are still some way away from a critical mass. In time this change will be good as more knowledge is shared, mistakes spotted earlier by peers and collaborations forged from around the world. Naturally with these benefits comes a bitter taste as internet trolls do and will continue to exist, bad and mischievous research will be published, and we could struggle to sort out the useful chatter from the banal. There is also the Kardashian Index to consider, as academics should always be judged on their research output over their social media popularity and an ability to communicate. That said, researchers should hone the core skills of communicating their work to a variety of audiences.

The biggest problem is still one we have struggled to cope with since the beginning of the web: how best to sort out all of the data into easy to access, discoverable, manageable chunks. If academics spend more time traversing the web to discuss and reply to the new forms of scholarly communication, they might well get fatigued by it all. The modern phenomena of social media fatigue is just one of the problems, as for example active and popular Twitter users simply stop using the platform once it becomes unmanageable. Therefore there is a need for training and support to help researchers not only understand why they should embrace their online communities but also be skilled-up to flourish in them. That includes netiquette, dealing with negative feedback, time management and deciding which technology is best. Communities need to be well defined, moderated and where possible open.

The likes of Twitter and blogging are essential tools for academics to communicate beyond their peers to a wider audience, but there is also a strong need for secure, private academic-only communities, that are open but also closed to elements outside of their subject areas. No single solution can push scholarly communication forward, it has to be lead on several fronts. Whilst the benefits for participation in such communities might seem modest right now, so more thought is needed as to how active participation in scholarly communication and open review can be more rewarding. The benefits of creating a hive community of knowledge across the globe could be that it solves huge problems faster than before. We need to have systems that allow us to see these solutions, rather than lose them in a wall of sound.  


Thursday, 16 July 2015

Work experience in the ScHARR library



Hi! My name's Eleanor Rimmer (also known as Melanie Rimmer's daughter). I'm a year 10 student at Poynton High School, and I've been doing a one week work experience in the ScHARR library.

I want to work with books, either in a library or a bookshop, once I'm done with education, because I've always liked books and organizing things. I think my house counts as a miniature library in its own right-family and friends are always 'borrowing' books, and there are even shelves in the bathroom!

Work experience may not be over yet, but I've really enjoyed it so far. Everyone I've met has been really friendly and helpful, and I've learned a lot about databases and social media and shelving and things like that. It's obvious that the people working here take pride and enjoyment in what they do-that attitude is inspiring. This has been a great learning experience for me, and I'll definitely have a lot to think about when I'm done with my GCSEs.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Research Hacks - How to Hack Your Research

I was lucky enough to be invited to give a talk for Jobs.ac.uk in the spring as part of a half day event themed about the Digital Academic at The University of Warwick. The talks were captured and have now been published on YouTube.
I have to say that I am not asleep in the last video :-)


Monday, 6 July 2015

Andy Tattersall and Leo Appleton's CILIP Conference Presentation on Social Media


Dr Andrew Cox talking about Wicked Problems
Last week I made the trip over the Pennines as part of a small ScHARR expedition to present alongside my MmIT colleague Leo Appleton at the yearly Cilip Conference, formerly called Umbrella. The presentation followed one by my colleagues Anthea Sutton and Helen Buckley Woods about the work they continue to do with their distance learning courses for library and information professionals called FOLIO. I’d arrived in Liverpool the day before and attended various presentations and workshops including one by my MmIT colleague Andrew Cox from the iSchool in Sheffield. Andrew gave a talk about the concept of the wicked problem (Rittel and Webber 1973). He argued that research data management might be considered as a wicked problem. It was not a term I had heard prior to the conference but very much now realise I come across ‘wicked problems’ quite often in my work. According to that font of all knowledge, Wikipedia: “A wicked problem is one that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize.” I think we’ve all come across such problems at some point in our professional lives and at least I know what to call them when I meet one now.


I also saw the superb Cory Doctorow for the second time give a keynote which twisted and turned through the complex problems the web deals with in the 21st Century. Problems such as net neutrality, security and ownership were dissected by the journalist and blogger at lightening pace. It was an entertaining and as you would expect, a thought-provoking talk which perhaps left the audience with more questions than answers afterwards.



The day ended with two good keyontes from Stuart Hamilton, Deputy Secretary for the International  Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and a really inspiring talk by Barbara Schack. Barbara who is the Director of Development at Libraries Without Borders talked about The Ideas Box. This is a comprehensive portable media centre and built in power source. You can see more in this video below.





Crosby Beach
At the end of the first day I decided not to take the guided tour to Liverpool Museum and attend the sponsored drinks reception, as I felt like I’d been inside long enough and persuaded Andrew Cox to join me and head off up to the coast to Crosby. I’d been recommended Crosy by Leo as it was his old home town. So once we had navigated Liverpool’s rail infrastructure we found ourselves trekking towards blue skies and a vast beach populated by 100 cast iron sculptures made by the artist Antony Gormley. It was a beautiful clear evening, so we headed down the coastal path for about five miles before hopping onto a train back south to Crosby and then grabbing a bite to eat; opting out of the general knowledge quiz that was going on around us. Back in Liverpool I headed to the Cavern Quarter and my The Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night Hotel. I could hear the sounds coming clearly from the Cavern and various bars till the early hours, probably much of the noise generated by a bunch of librarians, post conference. Nevertheless that’s what you should expect when you book a hotel in the cultural heart of Liverpool :-)


Erwin James giving his Keynote
Day two started with another popular keynote from the Director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti who talked about the threats to our democratic institutions. The final keynote of the day was from someone who knows all too well what it is like to be stripped of all liberties after spending a long spell in prison. It was a very powerful and thought-provoking talk by ex-prisoner and now Guardian journalist and author Erwin James. His talk had the audience engrossed as he told his very candid story about being sentenced for 20 years and finding his way out through the power of books and writing. In particular one book, Prisoners of Honour by David L Lewis had a dramatic and positive effect on James. From there onwards James was hooked on the power of learning and reading and has become a strong advocate for prisoners and other marginalised areas of society being given the opportunities to learn and engage with the arts. His talk was the highlight of the conference for me, it captured the idea of how important books and learning is to all parts of society and that we should never forget that. James showed he was still incredibly remorseful for his actions in what was a powerful but subtle a talk you would ever see.

In the afternoon myself and Leo gave our presentation ‘With Power Comes Great Responsibility - How Librarians can Harness the Power of Social Media for the Benefit of Others. We were very lucky to present in such a grand setting as St George’s Hall in Liverpool. Our own presentation took place in a very grand but intimidating old court room. So we found ourselves in the dock talking in trandem about the four themes relating to social media that make up for our conference in Sheffield on 14th-15th September. We showcased the potential for social media as a facilitator in marketing and promoting services. We spoke about the emerging interest in altmetrics, social media for professional development and with our own areas of research. It was great as always to deliver a talk with Leo but also to deliver one following my ScHARR colleagues who gave a very informative presentation. Next year the CILIP conference rolls onto Brighton, so all being well I will get another run out to the seaside.


Also, I noticed this sign at the conference, obviously from a previous event, suffice to say that we all ignored it. 






Wednesday, 1 July 2015

ScHARR IR team - going the extra mile



Growing evidence suggests that our increasingly sedentary lifestyles can lead to adverse health outcomes including back pain, obesity and diabetes.   For several years the University of Sheffield has taken part in the Global Corporate Challenge, a worldwide initiative aimed at making employees more active.

Participants wear a pedometer which monitors their activity for 100 days, and over this period are encouraged to try and improve their personal best at the same time as competing with others on a team or individual basis.

Never ones to shirk a challenge, the IR team are joining in and last night four of us braved the heat to go on a "night walk" through Sheffield's Whiteley Woods, where we achieved a total of 100,000 steps for our team, HEDS Will Stroll.



Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Productivity Hacks for the Digital Academic: Part Two

This is part two of a blog post I wrote for the Digital Science Guest Blog


Image CC BY 2.0 Dennis Hamilton
The first part of this guest blog post looked at the problems that new and existing academics face when considering web and social technologies as part of their profession. The second part looks at a few options for dealing with digital distraction in the academic institution. Given that the web and technology is increasingly becoming important to how researchers do their work, from communication to measurement, it makes sense to have strategies at hand should managing them all becomes too much.

Create to do lists
Starting your working day as you mean to go on can be a helpful thing to do. We often start our working day full of good intention and a strong sense we can achieve many things. By mid morning and a few checks of your email and favourite research and news websites we find ourselves promising more for later. Soon lunch is with us and by mid afternoon we start feel bad we have not nailed that proposal, article, literature search. So for the last hour the temptation is just to reply to email and complete a few conversations, as that feels like moving things forward. The reality will be that it did not, as more emails pop up in some kind of technological ‘whack a mole’. A list is a way of prioritising your tasks and what you need to complete. Tools such as Wunderlist can help structure your working to be more productive and constructive. Of course like any of the suggestions below it requires a level of willpower but so does any kind of change for the better.

Use a timer
Like the suggestion above, this is about structuring your working day that fits in with the modern digital academic. For some researchers they have to consider the notion that they will often struggle to retain focus, whether that be internal or external factors. That for some, the idea of sitting hour after hour reading or writing will never happen naturally. Work may always be in some kind of fractured state and by giving yourself set times to work on projects and pieces of work you can have a better chance of at least nudging them forward bit by bit. By applying a timer you can set waypoints and reminders to change task that it is less disruptive than just jumping from one thing to another. One way to do this is called the Pomodoro Technique which encourages you to work on one thing for 25 minutes at a time with regular short breaks in between to recharge the brain cells. Whilst apps like 30:30 on IOS and ClearFocus Pomodoro App on Android help break your day up into more productive chunks.

Put a leash on email
Email is a constant distraction for academics, whether it be the prospect of getting an exciting communication, response to a conversation or just passing on your latest idea to a colleague; it can be very addictive. The quicker we respond to emails the more they seem to come, and with it expectations by others you will reply speedily each time. Email is essential to modern academia and platforms like Google Wave and more recently Slack have tried to change that. There are tools available like Inbox Pause for Gmail that allows you to pause incoming mail till a time you want to receive it. Whilst restricting email on your mobile phone might also help break that pattern of constantly checking it up for new communications. Doing something like restricting email so it only updates when in wifi range not only gives you peace and quiet but could save on personal data charges. There is of course the option of just not checking, which is quite hard for some, but by turning off email whilst working at least puts an extra step in the process. Some organisations have tried ‘no email days’, or periods, but that approach has often been seen as using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Use a blocking tool
Any digital academic keen to communicate their research across the web will more than likely at some point start using social media. Add this to email and you have a double whammy of digital distraction if you don’t contain it. Obviously there are detractors who believe social media is bad for the modern workplace, whilst there is the opposing view who believe it has revolutionised work and communication. Like so many other things in life, it is about everything in moderation, if you are on social media every minute of the day you will get little else done. On the other hand if you ignore social media as a researcher you could be missing out on valuable information, conversations and of course a platform to communicate your research. To bring some balance back for the researcher who wants to structure their working day around writing, reading and communicating there are things you can do. By applying blocking tools so that you use them when you want, not when others prompt you. One of the most popular tools is StayFocusd which allows you to limit time on a certain website. That website might be legitimate for work or not, nevertheless if you think you are spending too much time on Facebook personally or LinkedIn professionally, this could help.  

Create an alternative calendar
Again like the to do lists and timers this is a useful way to create a more structured and disciplined working day. Most academics have digital calendars these days, whether they use them is another thing. For anyone using platforms such as Google there is the ability to create additional, private calendars. These can be used as gentle reminders with repeated daily events to check your email, read or write for set periods of time, rather than mix up the various tasks into one cluttered, unstructured day.

Use an aggregator
Trying to stay on top of the latest published research, news and updates from experts in your field gets increasingly harder to do. The sheer volume of content across the web means finding new and inventive ways to keep up to date. One tried and tested way is to use an aggregator to pull in the disparate collections of content into one location. Such as journal contents, blog posts and news can be subscribed to by using an RSS aggregator such as Feedly. Whilst Twitter users can refine the continual stream of Tweets into various strands based on users, search terms or hashtags using tools like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck.

Set up a personal Dashboard
Working on a similar model to aggregators and employing rss are personal dashboards. Personal dashboards used to be more popular thanks to iGoogle, PageFlakes and Netvibes, with only the latter still in existence. Nevertheless, Netvibes is a useful tool that goes beyond rss aggregators that allows social media monitoring, video embeds as well as using the xml format to bring in traditional rss content.

Eat a frog
The final suggestion might seem like the most drastic, and before anyone goes out in the garden to find a frog, I need to say you do not actually eat one. For most people, apart from survivalists and Bear Grylls, eating a frog would be considered a very hard thing to do. So are many tasks an academic has to complete, they can feel almost impossible at times. Yet that comes with the territory and at some point you will have to tackle that piece of work. So why not do something radical about it and start your day by ‘eating that metaphorical frog’. By keeping email locked away for the first hour of the day you could instead work on that piece of work you have been avoiding for the last few weeks/months/years. The chances are by practicing this approach a few times you will begin to feel a real sense of achievement. So by the time email starts to suck you in, or you pop out of the office for a coffee, you will feel that little bit better about it.

In Conclusion
Whatever tools and tips you apply you are certain to find a few that will work with refinement. Everyone is different and works differently so these kind of suggestions will have different results. It might be that you are already very well organised, so in that case - well done. It might be that you are a terrible procrastinator and incredibly dis-organised, many people are for a variety of reasons, some of which they cannot change. Either way, it is likely that there will be something from this list above that you can use to help you manage your digital workplace that little bit better.

Useful Links


Friday, 5 June 2015

Productivity Hacks for the Digital Academic: Part One

This post was originally published in the Digital Science Guest Blog 

Image CC BY 2.0  Sean MacEntee 
Anyone who works in research will know that it is a complicated business. I’m not just talking about the research alone, as that goes without saying, but the day in - day out bits that all add up. This work is often broken into small chunks that can be a distraction from doing actual research. Meetings, form filling, emails, general administration, data extraction, reviewing, learning new methods, technologies as well as proposal writing, conference presenting and teaching; preparation for the latter two, the list goes on.


So for any academic using digital technologies to help communicate and measure their research, it can feel even more fractured. The more things you deal with, the more fractured your day becomes. That is not to say academics should not leverage the power afforded to them via new technologies, as they should. Whether it be Google Apps or social media, there are tools out there designed to aid researchers communicate and manage their work. By ignoring them, they are potentially missing opportunities, but using them incorrectly they could fracture existing working ecosystems. The Web is here to stay and old academic models of communication, the journal paper, book, conference presentation are starting to look a bit Web 1.0, in a world that stopped using the term Web 2.0 five years ago.


More Tech - More Problems
Technology usually exists to improve a system or solve a problem, but it is often without baggage of some kind. We like to think of technologies impacting in our lives in a wholly positive, painless way. Mobile phones are a great example, how did we manage without them? Yet they are expensive, invasive, complicated and require a lot more attention that the old fashioned house phone that sat at the bottom of your parent’s hallway. Nevertheless there are numerous benefits for such a technology, everything from monitoring people’s health, providing access to geographical, travel and weather information on the go. That’s not to mention access to email and your contacts list via video and phone contact. For academics who, for the majority, are not engaging with the various digital tools available to them at some point may have to consider a change in that tactic. Naturally as the post Google Generation move up through the academic ranks there is likely to be some shift towards a more digitally rich research environment. That is not to say that everyone of a certain age is a natural user of modern web technology, far from it, but they are more likely to be using social media as well as other web tools. Also we have to consider that academic institutions are more liberal with their access to the Web. There are less restrictions on what can be installed and accessed as part of the researcher’s role. So as the world of academic technology, communications, metrics, productivity and otherwise opens up, it creates more opportunities to explore tools. The more tools that get used the more potential for disruption in the academic workflow. Of course it all depends on the actual academic, some don’t need technology to get distracted, others could find that where they were previously sitting, reading and writing for two-three hours at a time; it was less so since the introduction of email, instant messaging and social media.


Harnessing this Technology
The increasing number of technologies, academic or otherwise being used in universities and research centres are there to try and improve existing methods. The existing journal and conference model was looking incredibly dated, and not in the nice attractive way we view old university buildings. Paper publishing with little or no dissemination, pre-web metrics and stand alone pieces of work begin to look very tired when compared to other organisational models. Universities pride themselves on innovation, new ideas and shaping the minds of future experts, scientists and start ups. Technology is all about innovation, but it is also often the bull at a gate that rushes ahead with little consideration for its actions. So trying to manage all of this technology takes some understanding else there is the potential for confusion and misunderstanding in the academic community. The more tools and technology an academic employs the more competent they become but also the more decisions on which technology to focus on; as well as how best to manage them all becomes very important.


The drip, drip, drip of distraction.
So for those academics wanting to dip their toes into the many thousands of tools, websites, APIs, Apps, extensions, plug-ins and workarounds it can be daunting. Often one tool leads to another, one connection opens up another, it can spiral out of control quite easily. For example, one tool alone causes more stress and anxiety above any other, that being email. That constant drip, drip, drip of notifications, updates and messages seeps into our personal space. Bar a stroll in the deep dark woods, it is rare for us to be out of contact these days thanks to our smartphones.


Therefore strategies need to be in place to help researchers as they use technology more, which I am confident they will do. Not because I am some kind of technology fundamentalist who dictates they should. No one should ever make you use a technology unless it can be proven to aid your work or personal life. As with learning technologies, the premise is that a pedagogy is applied to a technology, otherwise it is using the technology for the sake of it. Different tools have different reasons why researchers use it, some may have many. For example Twitter is a great communication and networking tool, but it is also a superb discovery and knowledge engine; it is all down to how you want to apply it.
So the more tools you use the more it will invade your working life, that is if you let it invade your working life. Like some of the other tools mentioned earlier on that fracture a working day, these happened thanks to desire to improve systems, email being one of them. Conferences would not happen to the extent they do without technologies such as trains and planes, so with such as social media and altmetrics we just need to know how to leverage them better.


If you are either struggling to maintain a wealth of technologies, just starting to use them, or thinking about using them as part of your research profile, there are a few tips to help you make better use of your valuable time. These will all be covered in the second part of this blog post.

Monday, 1 June 2015

10 Chrome extensions to help manage references, notes, citations and capture information.

This is an article I originally wrote and published in the LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog - republished under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License 
Not everyone uses Google Chrome as their browser of choice, some can’t install it, others can’t get on with it and there are probably a few who still do not realise it exists. Whilst Chrome has a wealth of good reasons why you should use it, from syncing your accounts across devices to its search functionality; there are other reasons why you should consider Chrome. These are called extensions which you can install to improve your web experience even more. There are a growing number of useful extensions for the digital academic, of which I have picked 10 of the best below. I’ve also given the Chrome Store average review and how many copies of each extension has been installed, as a broad indicator of popularity and uptake.
chromeImage credit: Stephen Shankland Flickr CC BY-SA
Readability is a tool I’ve promoted on countless occasions thanks to ability to turn complicated, image and link-heavy web pages into simple, clean PDF type documents. By clicking this extension whilst viewing a webpage you can read the article free of distraction or save it later to read offline on your computer or tablet.
Chrome Web Store Rating 4 /5 – 583k users
readabilityImage credit: Gustavo da Cunha Pimenta Flickr CC BY-SA
Evernote is a bit of a Swiss Army Knife of an extension. Not only does it do something very similar to Readability and clean up web pages for later viewing but it also captures the web page in full with its Web Clipper tool. You can also take screenshots, save articles and bookmark pages to your Evernote scrapbook.
Chrome Web Store Rating 3 /5 76k users
If you are making a presentation, poster or writing something that requires a URL it’s important to make those links as easy to copy and access as possible. Very often presentations link to external artefacts, or give copyright attributions that have a URL so long and complicated that only the most eagle-eyed will be able to write it down before the presentation moves on. The Bit.ly button turns the long URL into something much more digestible, as well as make it useful for anyone Tweeting the link and wanting to save on character space.
Chrome Web Store Rating 4 /5 343k users
bitlyImage credit: Tony Hirst Flickr CC BY
Taking screenshots can be a laborious task and often resulted in hitting the ‘Print Screen’ button followed by cropping the outer content in Paint (when you could find it), PowerPoint or some other tool. Nimbus Screenshot is one of many similar tools that allows capture and crop all directly from the browser. Cropped content can be edited and annotated before being saved locally to your computer.
Chrome Web Store Rating 41/2 / 5 – 257k users
An interesting and inventive extension to say the least. Lazy Scholar gives users a snapshot of metrics relating to a piece of research. It can be hit and miss at times but is worth trying out to see what data it retrieves. By clicking on the extension in sites such as Pubmed the Lazy Scholar toolbar pops up giving information on Scholar Cites, Web of Science score, Altmetric score, Journal Impact Factor, as well as contact email and whether there have been any comments on the paper.
Chrome Web Store Rating 4 /5 – 7k users
lazy scholarImage credit: Lazy Scholar
This works with Google Scholar and turns search results into easy copy and paste references using the main styles of APA, MLA and Chicago. The extension also allows you to track down PDFs of the paper and export results in a variety of formats that can be used in reference management packages.
Chrome Web Store Rating 4 ½ / 5 – 334k users
Image credit: Google Scholar Button
This is an extension for Twitter that mirrors your Twitter experience and allows you to follow your timelines, compose Tweets, share, delete and favourite them. It automatically creates short URLs within the extension and acts as a notifier for new Tweets.
Chrome Web Store Rating 4.5/5 – 280k users
Unlike the other extensions in this list, PaperPile isn’t free but comes with a 30 day free trial so at least you can decide whether it is useful. PaperPile is a reference management tool for researchers and students who rely on Google Apps to carry out their research. One of the flaws in the Google education model has been the lack of a good, solid reference management tool. Tools like Mendeley, Zotero and Endnote are quite comprehensive and rightly so as accurate and thorough referencing in academia is important. So whether this extension can match these established tools, only time will tell. Nevertheless it is worth investigation for Chrome based researchers.
Chrome Web Store Rating 5/5 – 2k users
Another citation tool to investigate alongside the excellent EasyBib and RefMe ones that are also worth looking at. Cite This For Me can create references in APA, Chicago, Harvard and MLA formats and provides a pop-up box containing the appropriately formatted reference for  books, newspapers, journals and more. I tried it with a BBC football story and it worked fine, allowing me to switch between citation styles. It gives the option of adding to your Cite This For Me bibliography or exporting to a piece of research.
Chrome Web Store Rating 4 ½ / 5 – 85k users
citation neededImage credit: XKCD (Wikimedia)
After a while you might start to notice whilst having multiple Chrome tabs open that your computer struggles with performance. Obviously having multiple tabs open is going to use valuable computing resources. Having lots of extensions running can also be at the detriment of your computing experience. Therefore it becomes increasingly important to have an extension to manage your extensions, especially when you accrue so many, some of which you may have stopped using.
Chrome Web Store Rating 4 ½ / 5 – users 90k