Things 18, 19, and 20

 

This week’s Things were all already familar to me, and all would be usful tools for organising collaboration with academics outside the immediate vicinity. Thing 18 covered webinars and hangouts; Thing 19 covered online scheduling using Doodle, and Thing 20 considered file sharing, using Google Drive and Dropbox.

I have never used any of these in an academic context, but Doodle is an invaluable tool, and I have used it for work, for coordinating Students’ Union committee meetings, and even for pinning down large groups of very busy friends at the best possible time for everybody.

I have also delivered webinars as part of my work within the Student Recruitment team in the past, presenting to and chatting with prospective students and applicants around the world. The ability to connect with deliver quite complex presentations and information through webinar platforms would be very useful in collaborating with other researchers in far flung places. Hangouts might be a useful way for keeping up to date with a supervisor on sabbatical abroad, enabling the sharing of notes, work, and ideas in real time.

I use Drop Box to back up some of my personal files, and used the collaborative functions of Google Drive to great effect in my time with the Students’ Union newspaper. It is easy to track changes and leave comments for colleagues, and while I prefer the to use the version of Microsoft Word online provided with my university Live Mail account for collaborating with direct colleagues, the fact that Google Drive offers access for free makes it practical for collaborating with anyone, no matter their budget or their institutional provisions.

Things 14, 15, 16, and 17

 

For the Week 8 blog post, I want to consider the topic of altmetrics, the measurement of academic impact through means other than traditional books and articles.

This is a concept I had never before encountered, but in a world where academics are increasingly being encouraged to devote their time to creating and disseminating their work in a variety of different media, it makes a good deal of sense to attempt to take this into account while measuring the impact of their work.

When academics produced only books and scholarly articles, bibliometric data was all that was needed. However, other outputs are becoming increasingly important for academics to distribute their research and concepts beyond the academy. We are all encouraged to use Twitter, to blog, and to create apps and podcasts. Using these techniques for disseminating research can help us to reach non traditional audiences, but often there is some resistance to change: podcasts and blogs do not currently count in metrics such as the REF assessment, and academics can be reluctant to put their time and resources into such activities if they will not be taken into account for this. Efforts to quantify such non traditional methods of research dissemination could lead to their being taken into account in research assessments such as these. I think this can only be a good thing, because if   more academics are encouraged to make use of these new methods of research dissemination, it will lead to research being presented in more exciting and innovative ways, which will encourage wider engagement with research by the public, rather than just those within the academy.

 

Things 12 and 13

The Things for the Week 7 blog post covered a number of different digital tools to use while disseminating research.

Thing 12 outlined a number of different resources for the creation and dissemination of videos and screen casts. I have used a number of these tools before for work, and am confident I would be able to create videos to present my research if I so chose. As with many of the other sharing tools discussed so far, this will be one to come back to once I am further along with my research and at a point where I am keen to share my findings.

Thing 13 covered the use of Prezi, to create innovative presentations to accompany talks, and presentation sharing tools, to disseminate research online. I am sceptical about Prezi: I have used it before for Students’ Union presentations. The online platform makes it useful for  creating a publicly accessible presentation which can later be delivered by a variety of people, but its overall look and feel is a little too complicated for my tastes. I tend to have a ‘less is more’ philosophy when it comes to accompanying presentations for talks, and am sceptical about whether the time taken to create a well thought out Prezi is really worth it.

I came across this piece in 2014, in which Rebecca Schuman argues that awful Powerpoints will be the death of public speaking and academia). She quite rightly despairs at the too common practice of simply reading word for word from a powerpoint presentation, and her diatribe against overly wordy, over complicated presentations led me to take away one piece of advice:

“Your slideshow by itself should be incomprehensible.”

Schuman encourages presenters to think about the actual process of imparting information to people: forging a connection with the audience, telling a story, and taking the effort to make the topic interesting through their style of presenting.  Ever since reading this piece, I have tried to keep my powerpoints as incomprehensible as possible: generally, they do not make sense without the accompanying talk. Consequently, I’m not sure any of my Powerpoints would be particularly useful to anyone else if I were to share them online. Perhaps the deliberate cultivation of presentations specifically for online sharing, as Schuman has done in her Slate piece, might be one way of still making use of these media for disseminating research.

Things 9, 10, and 11

The Sixth week’s suggested blog post covered a range of differnt online resources for researchers.

Thing 9 covered Wikipedia, approaching it as both a useful resource for finding basic information and further references, and as a platform for academics to disseminate their research and share their writing online. We were encouraged to investigate our own areas of research, and to consider how we might be able to add our expertise. I investigated the page on pregnancy testing, and the information on premodern pregnancy diagnosis was certainly lacking. This is an area I could certainly contribute to, and I do think it is important for academics to engage with creating content for Wikipedia: this website is so frequently the first port of call when people want to find things out, for students, academics, and the general public. Consequently it is important that the information available is factually accurate. There should be a place for academics in accomplishing this, and I hope to see more schemes for doing so – like the editathons mentioned in the linked Guardian article, and also in the creation of more formal jobs and positions, such as the recent job advert seeking a Wikimedian in Residence for the Wellcome Library.

Thing 10 covered a range of different ways for making educational resources available online. These included podcasts, powerpoint presentations, and online courses which might be useful for researchers. I already follow some interesting podcasts, including BBC History Extra, but the most useful resource for my own research interests has been the Backdoor Broadcasting Company. This company records and webcasts conferences and seminars, and makes them available online. Consequently, I have been able to access academic discussions around my topic of interest which occurred before I even started my research on this topic, such as the ‘Medical Prognosis in the Middle Ages’ colloquium. This was organised by my PhD supervisor back in 2012, before I had even taken an interest in the topic. Thanks to Backdoor Broadcasting, I have been able to access recordings from the event, and listen to these in my own time.

Thing 10 also discussed the potential utility of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). I have personally completed one of these, which was organised by Stamford University, and offered an introduction to palaeography and the study of medieval manuscripts. Skills courses such as this one can be useful to researchers, but additionally these MOOCs can provide an outlet for reaching and engaging members of the wider public, outside of the academy. These courses prevent the opportunity for interested members of the public to gain an in depth introduction to a fairly specialised body of knowledge, and this can be a valuable way of disseminating research beyond traditional audiences in a meaningful way.

Finally, Thing 11 considered referencing software, to facilitate the management of bibliographical references. I have tried two of these – RefWorks, and Zotero – but I generally prefer to manage my own references in one large Excel spreadsheet. I have found my own ability to reference more than sufficient, and after a short attempt at using these resources, I just tend to forget about them!

Things 7 and 8

I have ended up taking a bit of a break from completing this course to schedule, as I worked to complete a number of deadlines towards the end of last term. However, I am getting back to working through the tasks required, and today I have been getting to grips with Things 7 and 8.

These Things cover online networking tools: Thing 7 discussed LinkedIn, and Thing 8 encompassed both Academia.edu and ResearchGate.net.

I already had profiles on both Academia.edu and ResearchGate.net, set up as I sought to access papers and publications posted there by other academics. I have very little information about myself and my own research on either of these platforms, but I think that as my project develops, as I produce more conference papers and publications, and as I begin to seek academic contacts beyond my immediate networks, these might prove more useful in future. For now I think my usage will be largely restricted to accessing the works of others.

As for LinkedIn, creating a profile is something I have been meaning to do for a while, but probably wouldn’t have done had I not been prompted by this course. I am as yet unconviced that it will be useful for academic matters. However, as I maintain a part time job alongside my studies, I think it will be useful to be able to present an up to date CV of all my non academic work experience online. Additionally, there is always the possibility that I may come to pursue a career outside the immediate world of academia, and consequently it might be useful to cultivate professional connections with this in mind.

In terms of how these networks compare to Facebook when it comes to academic networking, I think they all present very different opportunities. Facebook provides a place to create informal networks of academics, but by creating alternative forums for the discussion of issues and the formal presentation of a professional profile, Academia.edu, ResearchGate.net and LinkedIn all have an advantage over Facebook. It is good to be able to draw a line between the personal and the professional, and to be able to use these tools to present yourself formally to contacts who you might not want to haveaccess to your personal social network profiles.

Things 4, 5 and 6

This weeks task asks us to consider our personal presence online. My personal online brand is something that I have always been conscious of: during secondary school we were encouraged to Google ourselves occasionally, and to bear in mind the sorts of content we posted online under our real names. A sense of caution and wariness about the shape of  my online footprint was instilled in me from an early age, and I think this has set me in good stead to be mindful about the importance of curating a professional online presence. I still have a casual Google of myself from time to time to see what is out there, and I’m aware of the benefits of being visible and easy to find online.

As a consequence, my public online presence is quite respectable. Having an unusual name means I show up on the front page of Google, and my connections to Royal Holloway definitely dominate – a student profile from my undergraduate days, my former students’ union connections, and my work on the Magna Carta Runnymed Explored app created by the college. My research profiles on the RHUL and TECHNE websites also appear, and I suppose I could improve my online presence by properly filling out my research profile on the Royal Holloway website, supplying a summary of my research and other activities.

**

Twitter was another thing we were asked to consider this week. I have had an account on the site since 2008, but have only sent out 43 tweets in that time… As a medium of communication it has never really appealed to me, but I have never been able to really pin point exactly why. I keep meaning to use Twitter more, but when I’m at a conference or a seminar when it might be appropriate to tweet, I just forget to… I suppose it’s a useful way of building connections, promote events, and maintaining academic networks across geographical boundaries – midway through writing this sentence, I decided to write my first tweet since last June. Here’s to using twitter more frequently…

Finally, image sharing online: I occasionally share images of the manuscripts I’m working on on Instagram, but like Facebook I see this as more of a personal than a professional pursuit. Perhaps a more focused and targeted Instagram account might be worth creating, to collect and present a visual record of my research activities. I’m not entirely sure who would be the potential audience for such a pursuit, but definitely one to bear in mind for the future!

Thing 1

My name is Zosia Edwards, and I’m studying for a PhD in the History department at Royal Holloway University of London. I’m working on a study of later medieval methods of pregnancy diagnosis, using  medical texts and other manuscript sources which offered methods for discerning whether a woman was pregnant, and for predicting the sex of her unborn child.

I’ve set up this blog for my first ‘Thing’ as part of the ’23 Things for Research Programme’ run by the Researcher Development Programme at the University of Surrey, and I’ll be using it throughout the course of this programme to complete the ‘Things’ set…

The prompt for this particular ‘Thing’ is as follows:

“For your first 23 Things blog post, we’d like you to write a short piece about your experiences with social media and what you hope to get out of the 23 Things for Research programme. If you’re new to social media, do you have any ideas about how it might help or affect your work? If you’re using it already, what do you use? What are you hoping to explore?”

I suppose I would self identify as a digital native: I am part of the generation brought up with constant access to the internet. Consequently, I have had extensive experience with a wide variety of social media platforms over the years. Starting with the  early social networking site ‘Hi5’ in around 2005, I have worked my way through many generations of social media platforms. Piczo, Bebo, MySpace, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, you name it and I’ve probably tried it.

Today I regularly use Facebook and Instagram, and I have a severely underused Twitter account. I use these mainly for personal things, but I am keen to learn more about the possibilities of using social media and blogging platforms for professional academic networking, and promoting my research interests. Honestly I have to say that I’m a little sceptical about the value of using social media in this way, but perhaps this course will be able to persuade me to the contrary…