A gentle wander across the social media uplands, led by Tristram Hooley (University of Derby), co-author of Social media – a guide for researchers, published by the Research Information Network. The slides he used are available from his blog. I’ve indicated bits I’ve pinched from his slides by putting them in “italic”.
‘Becoming a digital researcher’. That’s a tricky concept to start with: is it about using digital tools in research or about using social media to represent our research selves? We were asked to think about our “personal learning environment”; the places where we get information and how we use it.
Using Google to track down a piece of information or find contact details for an interesting person you heard at a conference, riffling through the electronic library catalogue to find a book, belonging to an email list like psci-comm … these are digital routes to information that are a familiar part of the finding-things-out landscape. But is Google (for example) a route to information or a source of information? Am I splitting hairs – is it a distinction without a difference?
Where do Web 2.0 social media like Twitter fit? Its messages can be vapid nonsense but they can also be great for listening to people who’s opinion you care about, finding out what’s going on, even collaborating, via hashtags. Where researchers are separated geographically, temporally or even just through sheer busy-ness, these are ways to keep projects and people together. Is twitter more of a professional tool than, say, Facebook? Where do tools for sharing citations, references, document production and so on fit?
The production of ideas is becoming more personal. Although still somewhat under the control of publishers, there are personal routes through now – open access journals, university repositories, even blogs. “All research processes are social and communicative, reliant on networks – writing, seminars, teaching, papers, conferences, reading.” In all sorts of ways, we stand – as Newton almost said – on each other’s shoulders.
There were the inevitable questions about intellectual property. What if we write about something on a blog, then someone snitches our ideas and uses them? (I’ll write some more about intellectual property later, having just got back from a lunchtime seminar about it which was deeply enervating.) As someone said, you use the same rules as you do offline: only let out into public what you’re willing to let out. Social media are now part of the “creation of knowledge: questioning via twitter; testing out ideas via a blog post”. Blogs are part of reflective practice – as you can see! They’re also ways to collaborate – commentary on blog posts (such as the Polymath Blog), collaborative creation using Google Docs and so on. And researchers – especially early-career ones – can’t be sniffy about using social media to increase our public profile and work ourselves up the Google search list: “People like to employ people they know about”.
(We were encouraged to use twitter throughout the day (#druwe). And, I am guilt-free about keeping up with email, reading blog posts and like-mannered stuff during the session. If you can’t use email on a course about being a digital researcher, when can you! We were also asked to create a blog post in ten minutes, which I found to be a horrible experience. Not yet good enough at writing to be comfortable producing something raw and unfashioned. I did extrude a post but I’ve since taken it down.)
So hmm … what do I wish we’d talked about that we didn’t? Most obvious gap for me was the idea of developing a social media strategy for projects. Given my research area and interest in science communication in general, I would think that, wouldn’t I? But almost every publicly-funded project has a public engagement component; indeed, almost every project wants to be known and talked about – it’s part of keeping the process going. Novel, effective and targeted use of social media must have a part to play in that.