Friday, 24 April 2015

Hello from a new Information Specialist


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

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

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

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

Thursday, 23 April 2015

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

This article was originally published in The Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

Good for some, not necessarily for all

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

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

Too much choice

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

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

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

Monday, 20 April 2015

Research Hacks at LILAC 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Who, What, Where, When, Why: Using the 5 Ws to communicate your research

Image used under CC-BY 2.0 Steven Depolo

This article was originally written by Andy Tattersall for the LSE Impact Blog. 

A lay summary can be a useful approach to breaking down barriers and making research accessible. A good summary focuses on the important aspects of the research, but distilling this information is not always easy. A helpful starting point for identifying the key elements of a research story can be the 5 Ws. Andy Tattersall finds this approach might not work for every piece of research, but it has the potential to allow researchers to explore key themes and retain control of what they say and how they say it.
In a previous incarnation I used to be a journalist, a sports journalist, but a journalist nonetheless. Whilst I was studying for my journalism degree at The University of Sheffield I learned valuable skills that now aid me in helping researchers and students communicate their research. One of these skills was the Five Ws: the Who, What, Where, When and Why. This background is probably the reason why I have been a keen advocate of open research and the development of scholarly communication using the Web, social media and Altmetrics for some time. So thinking back to my training some two decades ago made me think about the 5 Ws and how they can be applied to help researchers communicate what they do.
The problem for many academics is translating their research into lay and executive summaries, which is becoming increasingly more important when we think about impact. Many do not know where to start, and despite their research making absolute sense to them, it still can be hard to break down their work into simple messages. One possible solution is to ask a colleague or someone from the marketing and media department to interview you. It is surprising when asked a few simple questions how a piece of complex work can be broken down into easily digestible chunks. There have been many occasions when I have seen a colleague wax lyrical about their work in a way that is so far removed from the journal papers they produce it seems such a shame not to capture it. It is important to note here that this idea and that of the 5 Ws does not have to result in dumbing your work down. The Daily Mail and The Conversation both report research findings to their readers, but how they do it can be very different.
Applying the 5 Ws to your research might not work for every piece of research, but it is a useful idea worth exploring. It does have the potential to help translate research to a wide audience without much effort and allows the researcher to retain the control of what they say and how they say it, unlike some traditional media reporting.
Where,_When,_Who,_What,_Why,_How^_-_NARA_-_534144So here’s how it works. It is such a simple idea that it requires very little explanation.
Who: Who has conducted this research, who will benefit from it and who has funded it?
What: What has happened with this research? What was done to complete it, what processes were involved, what methods and what was the results and conclusion?
Where: Where did this research take place, at which organisation/s and geographical location?
When: When did this take place, when did the project start and when did it finish?
Why: Why did this research happen? Why was there a need for it?
Occasionally some journalists will apply a ‘How’ question, although this can often be covered by some of the previous questions.
There are various ways that this information can be captured to streamline the process. Firstly a Google Form can be used to complete the various fields, a smartphone or tablet can be used to record an interview with the project lead and the answers can be uploaded to such as AudioBoom and embedded into a website to accompany the research. For those wanting to explore further, video can be employed to capture the interview. It is important to remember that these options do not have to be perfect first time and can be refined until the researcher is happy with the answers.
Another rule I learned, especially as a sports journalist for The Press Association, and especially when covering football matches, was that often the end of the story can become the start of the report. For example live coverage of a 90 minute football match is often chunked up into various blocks of time. At the end of the game these blocks can be pieced together to make a full match report, with the last part of the report (such as the final result) making up for the first paragraph.
A published paper has an abstract as a way for fellow researchers and students to quickly glance at whether the paper is useful for them. But an abstract is a very short, concise report of the research paper. A lay summary can expand on that and take the important information such as results and make them more prominent. It can be done by applying the 5 Ws and putting the answers in the right order so we find out what happened at the end; who was involved, why it happened, when and where. The good thing about lay summaries or similar style communications such as blog posts and web articles is that they can get easier with practice. Once a few tips and tricks are applied it allows a researcher to imagine how their work reads to a wider audience. Yet with any of these tools and technologies for scholarly communication it still needs the academic to decide whether they want to reach that audience.
Featured Image: question marks by gillian maniscalco (Flickr, CC BY-SA)