Professor & Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology at Royal Roads University

Category: networked scholars

Writing for the public and emergent forms of scholarship

Posted on December 8th, by George Veletsianos in networked scholars, NPS, scholarship. No Comments

Here’s why academics should write for the public

Jonathan Wai, Duke University and David Miller, Northwestern University

There’s been much discussion about the needless complexity of academic writing.

In a widely read article in The Chronicle of Higher Education last year, Steven Pinker, professor of psychology at Harvard and author of several acclaimed books including The Sense of Style, analyzed why academic writing is “turgid, soggy, wooden, bloated, clumsy, obscure, unpleasant to read, and impossible to understand.”

More recently, Jeff Camhi, professor emeritus of biology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, discovered how much academic authors struggle when trying to write for a lay audience. He suggested writing programs should “develop a night course in creative nonfiction writing, specifically for professors.”

We think learning to write creative nonfiction isn’t a bad idea. But we disagree with Camhi’s suggestion that academics need a night course for this. We propose something simpler: academics just need to start writing, getting edited and seeing if the public reads them. Through this process, academics will not only learn to express themselves clearly, but most likely become better scientists as well.

What are the benefits?

Although both of us currently write for the public, we come at this from different perspectives – one of us has written for a few years, and the other started writing only this year.

We don’t think we are amazing writers, but we do think writing for the public has helped us improve. The immediate feedback from editors and the public has helped make our writing clearer.

We’ve learned that if we’re not clear and engaging, then editors and the general public simply won’t read us. And that continues to teach us how to improve the next time we write.

Public writing has also improved both our academic writing skills and scientific thinking abilities.

That’s because the first step in improving academic writing is to learn to reduce the jargon academics use and express concepts clearly. And this has forced us to distill our thinking to its absolute core.

Consequently, not only did the process improve the quality of our writing, but it also brought more clarity to the way we were thinking about our scientific problems.

For example, when we recently started to write an academic review article together, we first considered how we could write a piece for the public later based on the review. This helped us reconfigure the way we synthesized the literature, forcing us to discuss it clearly and logically.

Additionally, because public writing engages both the public and our academic colleagues, we’ve found that public commentary can be a form of “public peer review.” Exciting research ideas for academic papers have developed from our public pieces thanks to crowdsourced feedback.

For example, a Psychology Today magazine article written by one of us (Wai) led to feedback from editors and others on the importance of studying highly educated influential people. This resulted in a series of research papers, discussed subsequently in The Washington Post.

Public engagement brings benefits for an academic career.
Cas, CC BY-SA

Such public engagement can bring in other benefits for an academic career. For instance, one of us (Miller) traveled to Amsterdam last month to give a keynote address at a conference about gender and science.

The conference organizers found him because of the attention he received in popular press about an international study that he had led on gender stereotypes in science. That popular press attention was initiated by the author contacting his university’s press office and working closely with its writers to collaboratively draft a press release.

In both our cases, public engagement opened up opportunities to network with academics and others within and outside our fields. And this happened only because people read the public pieces we had written.

It’s that simple

Writing for the public requires improving one’s skills, just the way it does for writing an academic article or a grant proposal. Yes, there is a “start-up cost” as you learn the ropes. But it isn’t as time-consuming as many academics may think.

In fact, both of us were very cautious when we first started to write for the public. We were even skeptical of its benefits given the perceived time cost. But earlier this year, one of us (Miller) learned how easy this process is.

He learned about a controversial study that he wanted to place in a broader context for the public. So he submitted a 199-word pitch that night to The Conversation, which encourages academics to write for the public. An editor replied the next morning giving advice on how to structure and write the piece for clarity.

The 765-word article took just one day to draft and one day to refine with the editor – lightning fast compared to academic journals. The Atlantic’s Quartz republished the article, which has now reached over 25,000 readers. Consider how most academic articles are read by only a handful of people.

We now believe that public writing is part and parcel of our identities as scholars.

Engage with the public to have social impact

Now that we’ve discussed some of the benefits of public writing and why we think academics should do it, we conclude by addressing one important structural component to the solution.

The president of the University of California, Janet Napolitano, recently argued that more scientists are needed in the public square to communicate the importance of science. We couldn’t agree more.

But what she did not mention is that more scientists are needed in the public square to become clearer and better writers as well. As we said earlier, that clarity can bring other indirect and direct benefits for science and scientists’ careers.

So why aren’t more academics writing for the public?

Well, it’s really quite simple. There’s little incentive built into the reward and promotion system, something Steven Pinker noted as well. Perhaps administrators need to include public engagement on equal footing as teaching, advising, publishing, and grant-getting in the tenure review process.

Many academics, including us, now realize that if we want to reach people who might benefit from our research, we have to step out of the ivory tower. We academics need to enter the discussion that the rest of the world engages in every day.

The Conversation

Jonathan Wai, Research Scientist, Duke University and David Miller, Doctoral Student in Psychology, Northwestern University

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

Are professors naive users of social media?

Posted on November 20th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, open, sharing. 1 Comment

The Chronicle of Higher Education published a commentary some time ago that argued that professors are “naive users of social media” and must exercise caution. It’s difficult to argue with the recommendation to exercise caution, when one looks at the list of scholars who found themselves in trouble in the last year: Salaita, Goldrick-Rab, Grundy, and so on.

But, the claim that professors are naive users of social media is unsubstantiated and reveals a limited understanding of the literature on how professors actually use social media and what they think about them. My colleagues and I have been conducting research on networked scholarship and scholars’ use of social media since 2009, and since that time, I can’t recall interviewing a faculty member or reading a study that revealed naiveté regarding social media and the challenges/tensions they introduce. If anything, most academics have an astute understanding of how social media intersect with their professional (and personal) lives and make informed (and tactical) decisions regarding their use of these technologies.

Granted, many find themselves in conundrums as a result of being in collapsed contexts and being exposed to unanticipated audiences, but to argue naiveté is misinformed.

Social Media in Academia: Networked Scholars – reviews

Posted on November 11th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, NPS, scholarship. No Comments

I just received the final covers for my upcoming book, Social Media in Academia: Networked Scholars (see below). More importantly though, some very kind people I admire have read the book and have written some very nice things about it:

“A timely and significant contribution to the field. Many books tend to take either an advocacy stance or dystopian view of technology in scholarship, but Veletsianos manages to take a critical perspective that is both grounded in theory and rooted in practical experience. For any academic interested in the impact of networked technology on teaching or research, this is highly recommended.”

–Martin Weller, Professor of Educational Technology at the Open University, UK

Social Media in Academia is one of those rare books that every new assistant professor and doctoral student should read and take to heart. Establishing one’s public profile through networked scholarship is not a task to be undertaken casually, but one that requires mindfulness and discernment. Veletsianos provides invaluable guidance that all academics, but especially those just starting out, should heed.”

–Thomas C. Reeves, Professor Emeritus of Learning, Design, and Technology at the University of Georgia, USA

 

social_media_Academia_final_cover

 

Networked Scholars, or, Why on earth do academics use social media and why should we care? (workshop)

Posted on October 5th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars. No Comments

Below are slides from a workshop I gave on the use of social media by academics. During the workshop I described how/why academics use social media and online networks for scholarship, and explored the opportunities and tensions that exist in these spaces. Throughout the workshop, I  facilitated small group and large group conversations on this topic based on participant interests. Topic we investigated included social media participation strategies; self-disclosures on social media; capturing and analyzing social media data; ethics of social media research; and social media use for networked learning.

 

Networked scholars – final table of contents

Posted on August 12th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, NPS, open, scholarship. No Comments

I’ve received the publisher queries on my book yesterday, and the table of contents has been finalized as below.

I’ve opted for a few first-person narratives, interviews, and descriptions of the habits of academics who use social media in their day-to-day life. One gap in the literature that is becoming increasingly problematic is that researchers are focusing on social media use for scholarship – when social media are intertwined in scholars’ lives in complicated ways. One example is the use of social media for activism and raising awareness (e.g., targeting casualization). A second example is the use of social media to connect with friends and family in social media spaces where colleagues and supervisors are present and figuring out how to navigate the personal-professional tensions that arise as a result of the collapsing contexts.

Social Media in Academia: Networked Scholars

Section

Title

Chapter 1

Introduction

Chapter 2

Networked Scholarship

Chapter 3

Anna: A Social Media Advocate

Chapter 4

Knowledge Creation and Dissemination

Chapter 5

Realities of Day-to-Day Social Media Use

Chapter 6

Networks of Tension and Conflict

Chapter 7

Nicholas: A Visitor

Chapter 8

Networks of Inequity

Chapter 9

Networks of Disclosure

Chapter 10

Fragmented Networks

Chapter 11

Scholarly Networks / Scholars in Networks

Chapter 12

Conclusion

References

References

Index

Index

University curricula should include the teaching of Networked Scholarship

Posted on July 21st, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, NPS, scholarship, sharing. 1 Comment

This year’s AERA call for proposals focuses on public scholarship. But how do faculty members and scholars come to learn how to use social media and be “public scholars” in the networked world that they inhabit?

Given recent events surrounding professor’s use of social media (e.g., Salaita, Sara Goldrick-Rab, Kansas Board of Regents “improper use of social media” policy, the list goes on), it seems to me that we need to create curricula to help future scholars make sense of networked societies and networked cultures.

The need for such curricula is pressing because (a) scholars/professors face significant tensions when they are online and (b) many of the practices and innovations inherent to networked scholarship appear to question traditional elements of scholarly practice and institutional norms (e.g., questioning peer-review, publishing work-in-progress, accessing literature through crowdsourcing).

In other words, universities need to grapple with networked scholarship, as well as with the changing nature of scholarship, on a curricular level. Universities need to address  networked scholarship on a policy level too (e.g., clarifying ex ante, and not ex post facto whether social media participation is scholarship), but that’s a blog post for the future.

Networked scholarship curricula will need to balance a focus on tools and issues. The teaching of tools could instill future scholars with the abilities to use networked technologies productively. For instance, networked scholars might employ the services of text-mining techniques (e.g., Google Alerts) to track mentions of their name, areas of research, or publications such that they can keep track of and participate in discussions mentioning their work. Many trends, including the publication of journals in digital form, the pervasive use of institutional profiles, and the use of social media services for personal reasons combine to make it highly likely that scholars are already searchable and findable online. Thus online presence is assumed to exist regardless of whether a scholar has taken any steps in cultivating such a presence, and the teaching of tools to manage one’s presence may be necessary. The teaching of issues pertaining to networked scholarship is also significant. Scholars would benefit from making sense of issues such as networked societies, context collapse, alternative metrics, homophily, filter bubble, open access publishing, digital literacies, and community-engaged scholarship. For instance, doctoral preparation curricula might problematize the fact that while Twitter might allow researchers to follow one another and discuss topics of interest, such discussions may go unchallenged, if scholars are only followed by those who have similar educational training and beliefs to them.

Further,  scholars will benefit greatly from gaining a well-rounded understanding of networks that does not privilege a technodeterministic perspective, but rather accounts for a sociocultural understanding of networks that positions them as places where knowledge is produced and disseminated, tensions and conflict are rampant, inequities exists, disclosures often occur, and identity is fragmented. University curricula might also prepare scholars to work in an increasingly uncertain world: What challenges will scholars face at their institutions or in the broader culture as they enact networked practices?

networked-scholarship-meme

“It will be fun, they said” meme – applied to Networked Scholarship

 The concept of “sharing” is a persistent finding in my research, and it might be a topic worth exploring in university curricula. The individuals who are embracing sharing practices are finding value in doing so, and often advocate that others should share too. It is not unusual for example to encounter quotes such as “good things happen to those who share,” or “sharing is caring,” or “education is sharing.” These quotes illustrate and exemplify the values of the networked scholarship subculture. While faculty members have historically shared their work with each other (e.g., through letters, telephone calls, and conference presentations), and open access publishing is gaining increasing acceptance, educators and researchers are increasingly sharing their scholarship online in open spaces. Wiley and Green (2012, pp. 82) even argue that “[e]ducation is, first and foremost, an enterprise of sharing. In fact, sharing is the sole means by which education is effected.” However, education, both K-12 to higher education, has generally lacked a culture of sharing. Barab, Makinster, Moore, and Cunningham (2001) note that “change efforts [in K-12] have often been unsuccessful due in large part to the lack of a culture of sharing among teachers (Chism, 1985).” A core value of this subculture seems to be that sharing should be treated as a scholarly practice. As such, future scholars may benefit from an examination and critique of this practice to understand both its implications as well as its ideologies. Significantly, doctoral preparation curricula may need to grapple with how “sharing” interfaces with “open practice” and what the implications of various means of sharing are for scholars and the academy. For example, posting copyrighted scholarship on academia.edu may constitute a form of sharing, but this is not the same as “openness.”Academia.edu provides a distribution mechanism in the form of a social network, but does little to foster and promote open licensing and creative commons policies with respect to scholarship.

* This is an edited exceprt from my book, Networked Scholars (due out in January, 2016).

Networked Scholarship and Reddit

Posted on July 13th, by George Veletsianos in networked scholars. No Comments

Two points.

One. An article in Inside Higher Ed last week noted that for some academics, Reddit is becoming a “credible platform to discuss academic interests with people whom they otherwise would not have had a chance to debate.”

Owens (2014) provides more history into this phenomenon and describes in more detail into how “ Reddit created the world’s largest dialogue between scientists and the general public.” The argument goes something like this: Social media (like Reddit) allow scholars to network with diverse audiences – a valued activity, considering that knowledge generated in universities can have significant benefits for society.

Reddit is a popular content aggregator. Various communities within the site are called subreddits. One subreddit is called IAmA, which stands for “I am A.” In this community, users post “Ask Me Anything” or “Ask me Almost/Absolutely Anything” threads, inviting others to ask questions of them. This community is one of the most popular on the site, and it features more than 8 million subscribers. “Ask me Anything” threads appear in other subreddits as well (e.g., in the Science subreddit).

A number of scholars have  initiated threads and have sought to share their knowledge with this community. Such scholars included Tina Seelig (a professor of innovation and creativity at Stanford), Steven D. Munger (a researcher of tastes and odours at the University of Florida), Peggy Mason (a Professor of Neurobiology at the University of Chicago who studies empathy in rats), David Kimhy (a professor of psychiatry at the University of Columbia who discussed the results of his latest research study), and Mae Jemison (former NASA astronaut who discussed the teaching and learning of science).

Two. It’s not all rosy.

Reddit’s creators impose little restrictions and take a hands-off approach to user-contributed content. Thus, while Reddit features some shining examples of networked scholarship and knowledge exchange, it has often – and rightly so – been critiqued for being a festering ground for communities promoting misogyny, racism, and homophobia.

We need critical accounts of networked scholarship – because even though Reddit, any “Reddit” allows people to come together and network, the technology is not as democratizing as anticipated.

A parallel, even shadow, scholarly system

Posted on June 24th, by George Veletsianos in networked scholars. 1 Comment

This just in: My book, Networked Scholars, is (mostly) complete. It’s out of my hands – as much as book that hasn’t yet been printed is out of anyone’s hands –  and I am happy that I have had the experience of writing it.

One of the conclusions/implications of the book that I believe deserves more conversation is the fact that a parallel, even “shadow,” scholarly environment is arising – this is the environment in which networked scholarship is operating. It behooves scholars and institutions to make better sense of it.  Shadow educational systems are not new – the private tutoring industry in Cyprus is a prime example of how such systems operate. However, “shadow” or parallel systems take many forms. Siemens argued that a shadow education system has arisen, one in which individuals use the Internet to learn without the support of educational institutions. He argues that this has occurred as a result of institutions of learning having failed to recognize the demand for the unique needs of complex contemporary societies. While this argument focuses on learners, a similar situation is occurring in terms of scholarly practice: The shadow education system that Siemens sees arising encompasses a scholarly environment that runs parallel to the traditional one. This environment, facilitated and encouraged by online social networks, serves scholarly functions and features and supports the development, sharing, negotiation, and evaluation of knowledge. It also functions as an environment where scholars do scholarly things that have little to do with knowledge creation. In this parallel environment, scholars have,

  • supported peers and students regardless of hierarchy and institutional affiliation;
  • provided advice and care in time of need;
  • commented on peers’ in-progress manuscripts;
  • delivered guest lectures or have taught open courses, and
  • created and shared videos and other media summarizing their scholarship.

Many of these activities have occurred with little or no institutional support and in many instances with little or no institutional oversight.

This is not to say that the emerging parallel scholarly environment is always effective and fair. Many of the power relations and inequities that exist in the traditional scholarly environment are reproduced in networks. For instance, replacing citation/journal metrics with social media metrics does little to resist reductionist agendas.

This parallel environment also appears to encompass (some) alternative signals of influence, prestige, and impact: Follower counts. Presence. But, as Stewart notes, recognizable signals – such as Oxford  – are still powerful.

Will this environment replace the traditional one? It’s doubtful, but scholarly environments evolve with the cultures that house them, and as such, I expect that both the traditional environment and this parallel one will converge.