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

Category: NPS

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.

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

 

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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).

Crowdsourcing Scholarship – more updates from the Networked Scholars book

Posted on May 25th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, NPS, open. 3 comments

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]

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Networked Scholars: Another update

Posted on May 21st, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, NPS, sharing. 3 comments

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:

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Doctoral students’ and academics’ use of social media – research study invitation

Posted on May 11th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, NPS, open, scholarship. 29 comments

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.

Yours,

George & Bonnie

Dr. George Veletsianos
Canada Research Chair and Associate Professor
Royal Roads University

Dr. Bonnie Stewart
Post-Doctoral Fellow
Royal Roads University/University of Prince Edward Island

The couches of strangers, and three perspectives on the relationship between social media and scholarship

Posted on April 28th, by George Veletsianos in my research, networked scholars, NPS. 5 comments

I am editing, revising, and re-writing various parts of my book, Networked Scholars.  Here’s another rough draft, which is a followup from yesterday’s entry : 

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.