I am editing, revising, and re-writing various parts of my book, Networked Scholars. I still like the name, but I mentioned the other day on Twitter that I should rename the book to “Yes, but…” because of the complexities and intricacies inherent in the use of social media for scholarship (as in “yes scholars network, but privilige permeates networks”). Or because I now know that trying to synthesize research my colleagues and I did over the last 6 years isn’t an easy feat (as in “Yes, I’ll write this book, but I am looking forward to turning my attention to other activities”).
Today I was writing about crowdsourcing and networks as places of knowledge sharing, creation, and dissemination. Here’s a relevant piece:
While Tufecki (2014) convincingly argues that practices may differ from one social media platform to another, and big data analyses focusing on one platform may not transfer to others, one common element in the use of social media for knowledge production and dissemination is the concept of crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing refers to the process of gathering contributions from large groups of individuals in order to solve a common problem or tackle a challenge. Though readers may be familiar with modern crowdsourcing examples that are mediated by technology (e.g., wikipedia as a content crowdsourcing platform), the practice has long existed before the rise of social media. For instance, the design of the Sydney Opera House was crowdsourced. It was based on a 1955 international design competition that received 233 entries. Crowdsourcing content and ideas characterizes social media use, and scholars have capitalized on this practice to gather readings for their syllabi, activities for their courses, resources for their research, and other input – including effort – intended to solve scholarly problems.[Not included in the book: A fun but could-have-held-my-iphone-more-horizontally picture of the lovely Sydney opera house I took a while back]
I am editing, revising, and re-writing various parts of my book, Networked Scholars. I can’t write any more today, so here’s a visual update:
Update (May 13): As a result of your amazing response to this invitation, we are not currently seeking to interview any more people. We are deeply humbled by everyone’s desire to contribute and will be sharing our results in due course. Thank you!
We are inviting PhD students/candidates and academics to participate in a research study that we are conducting entitled “Academics’ use of social media: care and vulnerability.”
While the research community has studied the use of social media for teaching/research, we don’t know much about how social media are used by academics to share the challenges they face, express their vulnerabilities, and experience care online.
If you have disclosed a professional challenge that you have faced on social media (e.g. blogged eponymously or anonymously about: being denied tenure, a dissertation committee conflict, or underemployment or adjunct challenges), we invite you to participate in this study.
If you know of any colleagues who have disclosed such challenges on social media, please feel free to share this call with them.
We believe that these experiences are significant to share and discuss and we would love the opportunity to interview you to learn and write about your experiences.
If you are interested in participating in this study, please visit the following page to read the consent form that provides more details about this project: http://survey.royalroads.ca/index.php?sid=44151
We understand that this topic is very personal and discussing it with us may be difficult. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this study, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We would love to talk to you more about it.
George & Bonnie
Dr. George Veletsianos
Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor
Royal Roads University
Dr. Bonnie Stewart
Royal Roads University/University of Prince Edward Island
The couches of strangers, and three perspectives on the relationship between social media and scholarship
The thought of spending a night on a stranger’s couch many elicit apprehension and concern. The thought of spending time online may elicit many trepidation for scholars. Scholars are worried about the time commitment of such activities when universities may not value them. Scholars may also be concerned about personal-professional boundaries. Both couchsurfing and networked scholarship offer opportunities for growth as well: couchsurfing may allow people from different cultures to get to know one another; networked scholarship might allow scholars from disparate disciplines to meet and collaborate. Alternatively, both activities may have relatively mundane outcomes: sleeping on a stranger’s couch does not necessarily mean that one will have a life-changing experience, in the same way that going online does not mean that one will find a welcoming and supportive scholarly community. And engagement with couchsurfing or networked scholarship may require certain literacies for successful participation.
The practice of networked scholarship isn’t without perils. While advocacy for open, social, and digital scholarship features prominently in the literature (Kimmons, 2014), the reality on the ground is that scholars’ activities on social media are both exceptional and mundane, and their experiences are inspiring and harrowing – but above all, such experiences are neither universal nor pre-determined.
Siemens and Matheos (201X) argued that educational institutions reflect the societies which house them: as societies change, so do their educational institutions and the scholarly practices that they support and encourage. As social media and openness become increasingly popular, sharing economies gain hold, and online networks permeate every aspect of life, the scholarly enterprise and the work that educators and researchers do is experiencing social, cultural, and technological tensions to change. However, we should be careful in our attribution of causality. Academics may have always wanted to share more freely, connect in better ways, and social media simply supported that desire.
At the same time, we should be weary of the perspective that technologies are neutral tools that merely respond to the needs of users. Technologies have assumptions and worldviews embedded in their design that shape the experiences and behaviours of their users. The algorithms used by Facebook to deliver tailored timelines and the recommender systems used by Amazon are representative examples of the ways that technologies are influenced by their developers worldviews.
Thus, the relationship between academic practices and technologies is negotiated and complex. It can be seen via three perspectives.
The first perspective suggests that social media (and their design and affordances) shape scholarship and participation. This is the technological deterministic perspective that is often revealed in narratives pertaining to social media having an impact on scholarship. Institutional encouragement to use social media to increase scholarly reach and citations falls under this perspective.
The second suggests that teaching and scholarship (and the structures, rewards, practices of academia) shape how social media are used. This perspective reflects a social shaping of technology approach. This perspective recognizes that networked scholarly practices are shaped by social, cultural, economic, and political factors, rejecting the notion that technologies (and practices) are deterministic.
The third perspective is an extension of the second and anticipate that academics adapt and appropriate social media to fulfill personal and professional desires and values. This perspective holds that, with adequate information and evidence, learners, instructors, and researchers have the agency to accept or reject any particular technology or to find alternative uses for it that will better serve their needs. Such agency is recognized in scholars’ strategic uses of technology in scholarship broadly, and in teaching and research in particular.
These three perspectives are often unstated, but permeate the literature and conversation pertaining to social media use in education and scholarship.
I am editing, revising, and re-writing various parts of my book, Networked Scholars. The current draft of the introduction is as follows:
Introduction: What does couchsurfing have to do with networked scholarship?
It’s 2005. I’m a graduate student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
Though I don’t always enjoy driving, I am particularly fond of road trips and the opportunities they provide for learning about the world. That summer, my girlfriend and I decided to take a road trip from Minnesota to Tennessee following the roads that run parallel to the Mississippi River.
A few months prior to this trip I discovered Couchsurfing.com and this site provided one of my early experiences with modern social media
“Couchsurfing” refers to spending a night or two on the couch of a stranger. The website facilitated interactions between individuals who were interested in hosting others and individuals who were interested in spending nights on someone else’s couch.
Given my mild disdain of driving long distances, we divided our trip in such a way so as to limit daily driving to 4 to 6 hours. We arranged for accommodations driving South toward Tennessee because we wanted to follow the Great River Road, but we decided to return back to Minneapolis via a different route so as to visit more states.
Using couchsurfing.com, we found two individuals who were willing to host us on their couch. One in Diamond City, Arkansas and one in Kansas City, Kansas.
An elderly couple was willing to let us sleep on their couch in Diamond City, Arkansas. We knew nothing about Diamond City, but once we arrived we learned that Diamond City is a small retirement town, seemingly a destination only for those visiting their parents who retire there.
We arrived in Diamond City around 5pm. We stopped at one of the two local diners prior to joining our hosts so as to have an early dinner and pre-empt being a burden to our hosts. Our hosts were welcoming and friendly, and we spend the next few hours in their living room getting to know each other.
In getting to know each other, we learned that our hosts were as unsure as we were of this arrangement. We were the first people who reached out to them for hosting, and, while they were apprehensive at first, they decided to host us, as we seemed to be “just a couple of kids from the Midwest.”
Eventually we made our way to the porch. We continued our conversation, enjoying a beautiful August night, when out of nowhere, 10 or so people joined us there. They brought their chairs and musical instruments. We quickly learned that these were our hosts friends who were preparing a “hootenanny” for us. A hootenanny – an informal gathering involving folk music and dancing- was as foreign to me as I was to them. The spent many hours at the hootenanny. We danced, we learned about life in retirement towns, and discussed the demise of small-town America.
Our hosts generosity and hospitality stayed with me. These individuals were not only willing to make themselves vulnerable and share their house with us for the night, but they also went out of their way to organize a hootenanny and share this aspect of their life with us. The next morning, a group of our hosts’ friends prepared breakfast, and we left for our next couchsurfing destination: Kansas City, Kansas.
Dave, our gracious Kansas City host, invited his friends to have dinner and drinks with us, gave us a tour of Kansas City, and offered us his bed instead of the couch: He had painted his living room the night before and the smell of paint was still lingering. “Guests don’t need to be exposed to toxic fumes” he argued.
When I share these two stories with others, I often face puzzling looks and questions regarding my sanity. “What if your host was an axe murderer?” someone asked me once. “And you really don’t know these people?” is another question I am asked often. While the idea of sleeping at a stranger’s couch may not be appealing to everyone, and may sound a bit too trusting, all my limbs are still intact.
But more importantly, these stories demonstrate the power and potential of networks and openness. Supported by the Web as a social platform that allows individuals to consume, produce, remix, and contribute content without the need for specialized technical know-how, networks and openness question scholars’ foundational activities and assumption. This is one of the main ideas underpinning this book.
Social media have become part of the fabric of contemporary societies and our educational systems. Worldwide experiences with social media suggest that these technologies are actively transforming various aspects of common culture in both intentional and unexpected ways. For instance, as news agencies adopt social media to engage audiences and increase revenues, they are simultaneously reporting on instances where the use of social networking sites has led to harm. Social media have also penetrated the higher education sector, and have influenced not only the ways students connect with each other, but also the ways scholarship is organized, delivered, enacted, and experienced (Weller, 2011). Recent reports note that YouTube and Facebook are popular sites for academics with “over 90% of [2,000 faculty surveyed were] using social media in courses they’re teaching or for their professional careers outside of the classroom” (Moran, Seaman, Tinti-Kane, 2011). Open practices in a variety of educational and scholarly settings have also gained wide interest and attention in recent years (Wiley, 2006; Wiley & Hilton, 2009). Proponents of openness claim that open practices may “broaden access to education and knowledge, reduce costs, enhance the impact and reach of scholarship and education, and foster the development of more equitable, effective, efficient, and transparent scholarly and educational processes” (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012).
This book differs from other books focusing on social media in education and digital scholarship in a number of significant ways.
First, this is not a how-to book. You will find no advice in this book about how to use social media to share your research, engage students, or increase your citations.
Second, this book does not advocate for networked scholarship. My goal is to understand and problematize the concept of networked scholarship and its implications.
This book focuses upon scholars’ experiences and activities online because the ways that social media are used and experienced by academics are not well understood and the evidence describing the experiences of scholars engaged in scholarly practices online is both limited and fragmented.
A number of high-profile news items illustrate the tensions and diverse opinions that exist around this topic, as well as the strong emotions attached to professors’ online participation:
- “If you’re a professor in Kansas, better stay off the Internet,” proclaims the byline on a December 2013 magazine article, following the Kansas Board of Regents decision to adopt guidelines regarding “improper use of social media” that followed a professor’s Twitter update.
- Elsevier is cracking down on professors who share their research online in violation of the copyright agreements that they signed, and professors are striking back, promoting boycotts of Elsevier’s academic journals.
- While some university administrators, like the President of the University of British Columbia might “despise” social media and consider Twitter to be “one of the worst things” created in his lifetime, some academics have found community and solidarity in social media spaces.
Although the statistics regarding scholar participation on social media are worthwhile to examine, the stories behind the statistics are much more interesting and meaningful. Even in the cases where news articles present stories regarding academics’ social media participation, these fall short of the intricate tensions that arise in networked practice. For example, in addition to promoting boycotts of Elsevier numerous academics are refusing to review for publishers who do not provide open access to their work, and, more interestingly, are using networked technologies to share copyrighted materials with each other. And even though social networking sites are disparaged by some, academics have used these places to develop legitimate online learning communities, launch research projects, and share intimate details of their lives (e.g., their struggles with debilitating diseases) – converting places like Twitter into networks of care and bonding. Alternatively, even though social media allow widespread access, issues like power and influence may mediate participation, calling into doubt the democratizing potential of these technologies.
I used Couchsurfing.com once more when I was living in the UK in 2009. I was going to spend a few days in Faro, Portugal and had sent the following note to my potential host:
I am writing in the hopes that you will be interested in hosting me on your couch for 2 nights. I can see from your profile that it’s your birthday on May 2nd, and I would completely understand if you have something else planned.
A little bit about me: I live in the UK and moved here to teach at the University of Manchester. I lived in the United States (Minneapolis) for 8 years, but I am originally from Cyprus. I speak Greek and English and love to explore and travel, learn about different cultures, photography, music, beer, and good company. I am very friendly and considerate and am looking forward to visiting Portugal for the first time!
Please look at my profile and if there’s anything that you would like to know, please feel free to ask!
Within a few hours, Eric responded and noted that he had birthday plans and I should join. Specifically, he and his friends were having a party on an island off the coast of Faro and I should join them. The party was starting on the 1st and ending on the 3rd and long as I didn’t mind “sleeping on the floor or even on the beach” Eric was happy to host me.
Next… tying it all together.
In my spare time (that’s a joke), I am writing a book about faculty members’ experiences and practices online. The focus is social media and online social networks, and the book draws on our research on networked participatory scholarship. I was really excited yesterday to see the Chronicle of Higher Education publish a story largely focusing on the tensions surrounding social media use in academia (chapter 3 in my book). And a couple of weeks ago, Kristen Esheleman wrote about the value of networked research for digital learning at Inside Higher Ed.
More exciting though,. today, I received four covers to choose from, and I thought I’d share them here. I have a favorite, but I’d love your input, too! Which one (1, 2, 3, or 4) would you choose? Why?
I joined Audrey Watters, Philipp Schmidt, Stephen Downes, and Jeremy Friedberg in Toronto last week, to give a talk at Digital Learning Reimagined, an event hosted and organized by Ryerson University’s Chang School. I presented some of our latest research, and tried to highlight research findings and big ideas in 15 minutes. Below are my slides and a draft of my talk.
Welcome everyone! It’s a pleasure and an honor to be here. Even though I’m the person giving this talk, I’d like to acknowledge my collaborators. A lot of the work that I am going to present is collaborative and it wouldn’t have been possible without such amazing colleagues. These are: Royce Kimmons from the University of Idaho, Amy Collier and Emily Schneider from Stanford University, and Peter Shepherdson from the University of Zurich. The Canada Research Chairs program, the National Science Foundation and Royal Roads University have funded this work.
I want to start my talk by telling a story.
This castle that you see here is one of the most recognizable parts of Royal Roads University (RRU). But, don’t let the castle fool you. RRU was created in 1985. It’s purpose was to serve the needs of a changing society by serving working professionals through graduate digital education and multidisciplinary degrees. It has grown since 1985. It has matured, developed a social learning model that is now infused in all courses, developed new areas of focus, forged global partnerships, and continues to explore how to improve what it does through pedagogical and technological approaches.
Why am I sharing this short story about RRU?
Because this story, minus the specific details, is a common story. It’s also a Ryerson story, a story that is played out at the University of Southern New Hampshire, a story that Open Universities around that world have gone through. It is a story that repeats itself over and over for years and years.
What is the essence of the story?
It is often assumed that universities have been static, unchanging since the dawn of time. The short story I shared illustrates that universities are, and have always been, part of the society that houses them, and as societies change, universities change to reflect those societies. The economic, sociocultural, and technological pressures that universities are facing are sizable, and for better or for worse, usually for both, there’s a continuous re-imagination of education throughout time. Throughout time. Universities have always been changing.
As universities are changing and exploring different ways to offer education, faculty, researchers, and administrators engage in a number of practices that I like to describe as emerging. Emerging practices & emerging technologies are those that are not necessarily new, not yet fully researched, but appear promising.
Online learning and openness are example of emerging practices.
Online learning has a long history. But it also has a new history, with the development of multimedia platforms, media that can be embedded across platforms, syndication technologies that enable learners to use their own platforms for learning and so on. So, even though some of the problems that online learners are facing in contenmporary situations are not new (eg dropout), learners abilities’ to congregate in online communities is expanded through newer technologies and that poses different sorts of challenges and opportunities.
Another emerging practice is openness. Openness refers to liberal policies for the use, re-use, adaptation, and redistribution of content. Openness is also a value: It refers to adopting an ethos of transparency with regards to access to information. And this ethos ranges from academics publishing their work in open formats, to teaching open courses, to creating open textbooks. And it doesn’t stop at individual academics or institutions. In 2014 the Premiers of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan signed a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate creation, sharing, and use of Open Educational Resources. In the same year, SSHRC, NSERC, and CIHR have drafted a tri-agency open access policy to improve access to and dissemination of research results (NSERC, 2014);
There is a growing interest in and exploration of online learning and openness, practices which are still emerging. Next, I will share four recent results from our research into these practices that I believe are interesting to consider because they reveal the tensions that exist when dealing with emerging topics.
First, research into online learning is becoming more interdisciplinary
Interdisciplinary research into online learning means that individuals from a diverse range of disciplines, not just education, are interested in making sense of online learning. It is hoped that more research into online learning and more research from multidisciplinary groups will help us learn more about online learning and about learning in general.
We have evidence to show that research into online learning is becoming more interdisciplinary. I won’t bore you with the statistics, but we measure diversity in published research using a nifty measure and found that the period 2013-2014 can be described as more interdisciplinary than the period 2008-2012.
This is a positive trend, but before I explain its significance, let me explain to you how I view technology.
My perspective on online learning centers around the idea that technology is socially shaped . That means that technology always embeds its developers’ worldviews, beliefs, and assumptions into its design and the activities it supports and encourages.
What does this mean for interdisciplinarity? This means that we have both an opportunity and a challenge.
Our opportunity: to use our respective expertise to improve education.
Our challenge: to actually do interdisciplinary thinking and to go into the study and design of future educational systems with an open mind and the realization that our own personal experiences of education may not be generalizable. A lot of educational technology is produced by people of privilege and to develop educational technology that matters and makes societal difference, we need diversity in thinking and experience.
Our second finding refers to the increasing desire to collect, mine, and analyze data trails to make inferences about human behavior and learning. This practice is often referred to as learning analytics and educational data mining. This practice is a reflection of a larger societal trend toward big data analytics. The idea is that by looking at what people do online one can understand how to improve education.
A couple of things that researchers discovered for example are:
Data trails. Nearly everything that learners do online is tracked. Can we understand learners and improve learning by analyzing their data trails?
While these approaches can help us explain what people do, they often don’t tell us why they do they things they do nor how they actually experience online education.
My colleagues and I are interviewing MOOC students to learn about their experiences in MOOCs.
I am now going to tell you about our third result. We find that learners schedule their learning, use of resources, and participation to fit their daily life. This is in stark contrast to the idea of undergraduate education situated at a university and happening at particular time periods.
One retired individual in Panama that we interviewed works on his class early in the morning every day. Why does he do that? He does that because at that time his daughter is asleep. She is homeschooled and once she wakes up she needs access to the 1 computer that they have in the household to do her own schoolwork. In this case a lack of resources necessitates this scheduling.
One individual that we interviewed moved from the UK to the USA to be with her partner. She is currently waiting for her work permit, driver’s license, and so on, and she was enrolled in multiple MOOCs at the same time. She would work on her courses on Monday because she just “wanted them out of the way,” and so she would work on these courses straight throughout the day.
The fourth and final finding that I have for you today, is that MOOC platforms to date have not offered learners the ability to keep notes, so that particular activity, by virtue of being unsupported by the platform goes undetected when researchers only look at data trails.
Unsurprisingly, learners keep notes. A number of students that we talked to described that they keep notes on paper, frequently keeping a notebook for particular courses and returning to them during exams or during times that they needed them. Learners of course also keep notes in digital format. Usually in word documents, but again documents are dedicated to particular courses, but sometimes they are dedicated to particular topics across courses.
To give you an example, of how we believe this activity could be supported in the future and how we believe innovations can contribute to learning, we recommend designers support this practice by pedagogical innovations such as scaffolding notetaking, but also by technological innovations, by developing online systems for notetaking. What is important here is that such systems should support learning by being interoperable, by allow learners full and unrestricted access to their notes, supporting them to be able to import & export their notes between platforms. Such a design is in line with emerging ideas in the field which call for learners to own their data.
Thank you for being a great audience. I am really excited to hear the speakers that follow me, as I am sure you are!
A visualization of my talk, created by Giulia Forsythe
I am writing a book focused on experiences and practices surrounding scholars’ online participation, and I don’t think I’ve blogged about it yet, though I’ve mentioned it multiple times. Let’s call this “the inaugural blog post concerning the Networked Scholars book.” The book will be published by Routledge. It’s due in mid-March.
Diagram of a social network. Image in the public domain.
I plan on blogging about the book as I am writing it. I want to share this work (and I have negotiated with the publisher to post 50% of the final product here), and I want to blog about it in order to think out loud about the book and to help improve it. Networked Scholars (the book, not the MOOC) summarizes the existing research on the use of social media and online networks by academics. In the book, I examine scholars’ practices and experiences with social media and online social networks. While the book synthesizes all existing research, the investigation is largely qualitative and ethnographic.
The book is currently divided in 8 chapters. Each chapter describes online social networks from a different angle:
Chapter 1: Introduction. Introduces the reader to networked participatory scholarship (social media, online networks, openness, networked practice). Introduces significant concepts appearing throughout the book: (a) deterministic perspective (social media shape scholarship), (b) social shaping perspective (technologies are shaped by social, cultural, economic, and political factors, and academics have the agency to accept or reject any particular technology or to find alternative uses for it that will better serve their needs), (c) context collapse, (d) “social media as instrument to achieve valued scholarly outcomes” narrative (e.g., more citations), and (e) “social media as gathering places” narrative (e.g., finding community).
Chapter 2: Networks of knowledge creation and dissemination. In this chapter, I describe how scholars are using online networks to engage in knowledge creation and dissemination. I describe how academics use particular technologies and practices to do and share research and present examples of academics doing research online, reaching new understandings, and supporting communities in creating knowledge. Case studies illuminate this chapter.
Chapter 3: Networks of tension and conflict. The main argument in this chapter is that even though the hope for positive outcomes has led many academics and educational institutions to advocate the adoption of social media, online social networks, and various open practices, scholars’ online participation appears to be rife with tensions, dilemmas, and conundrums. I describe a number of challenges that academics face when they online, and discuss how these shape participation.
Chapter 4: Networks of care and vulnerability. As contemporary narratives pertaining to impact, productivity, automation, efficiency, algorithms, follower counts, citation counts, impact factors, branding, and so on infuse academic lives, it’s easy to fall into the trap of viewing technologies merely as instruments that are used toward the achievement of particular professional outcomes. In this chapter, I discuss how social media & online networks function as places where (some) academics make themselves vulnerable and where they express and experience care.
Chapter 6: Fragmented Networks. In this chapter, I will explain that scholars’ identity online potentially consists of a constellation of identity fragments. What scholars reveal online about themselves is mediated by a variety of issues including professional concerns, collapsed contexts, imagined and invisible audiences, and identity work. This chapter will argue that what we see happening in social networks and media represents fragments of life.
Chapter 7: Transparent Networks. Here, I expand on openness and transparency and discuss how transparency relates to teaching, research, and scholarship. I discuss transparency in teaching and student-instructor interaction (e.g., instructor and teacher participation in open courses), transparency in the publishing process (e.g., The Paper Rejection Repository) and transparency in other areas of scholarship and participation (e.g., The Adjunct Project).
Chapter 8: Future Directions. Synthesis and suggestions for future research.