Digital Scholarship Practices: Fellowship post #4

This is post #4 of my StellarNet Fellowship (see posts 1, 2, and 3). The purpose is to examine practices undertaken by academics and educators in networked publics. These practices fall under the general heading of “digital scholarship” and these individuals have been called “digital scholars” or “open scholars.”

I am preparing to leave Cyprus, and this is  my final fellowship entry. In this short entry, I’d like to discuss the spaces in which digital scholarship is becoming visible and what this visibility means for expertise and impressions. On the one hand, we have seen an increase in specialized technology tools targeting scholars. For instance, here is my profile and my mendeley profile. On the other hand, we have seen general purpose tools that have been appropriated by academics and used in ways that further their teaching and research. Examples include such spaces as Facebook and Twitter (e.g., #PhDchat), but also YouTube, personal blogs, and iTunes. Some examples of open activities taking place in these spaces include:

  • – Book and manuscript authoring in public (while sharing ongoing drafts). This includes both individuals who have earned their PhDs, but also individuals who are working on their PhDs and are using online spaces to reflect and network on PhD-related topics.
  • – Debates on issues pertaining to theory and research
  • – Crowdsourcing videos, thoughts, solutions to problems
  • – Sharing clips from classroom teaching

These activities contrast to academic notions of expertise. While experts are sometimes perceived to be those individuals who “have the answers,” the experts that I have been following are willing to share drafts of their work in public and work through the issues that they are studying with the help of others. The trails that they leave on the web show may show how their thinking and work developed and improved over time; yet, individuals who are not immersed in this culture have often asked me: “How would others perceive me and my work, if they just happen to see my blog entry from June 2010 and nothing else, when in June 2010 I was just starting work in this area?”  That is a valid concern; and perhaps one that may be felt more by those who are just beginning their career or those who do not have a wide and persistent following. In the world of the open web, it’s not just our activities that matter, but also how our activities are perceived by others. To this extent, the scholars that I’ve been following have not only been sharing content, but they are also seeking to manage the impressions of others. Furthermore, activities aimed at impression management are undertaken not just on content that the individual posts, but also on content that others post. For example, in the words of a participant from a related project, “it’s my facebook wall, and if you write something I don’t like, I’m going to delete it.” It’s becoming increasingly clear I think, that participation in these communities (a) assists academics in improving their work (e.g., by receiving feedback on drafts), (b) enables them to become part of various academic subcultures, and (c) is used by academics as a way to further their career and their position. One may question why item C matters. Reasons for sharing matter because an understanding of these reasons will allow us to gain a better sense of how and why online social networks are used in the ways that they are. Such an understanding aligns with recent calls for educational technology research to investigate the social, political, cultural and economic factors that influence technology use and non-use (e.g., see Selwyn, 2010).

That is all for now, but if you are interested stay tuned. I’ll be sharing a longer draft of this work soon. In the meantime, if you have questions, please feel free to post them!


Selwyn, N. (2010). Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1), 65-73.


Ethics of Doing Research in Online Networks: Fellowship post #3


Online social networks in scholarly work


  1. Hi George,

    thanks for sharing this. I am really looking forward from reading more from your research. I have just dealt with a similar topic for my MRes dissertation, that is a small interview project.
    I think you are right when highlighting the relevance of motivation in the uptake of social networks by researchers.

    First of all, because often their ‘communication space’ is already saturated by existing (analog and digital) channels of communication and they need a good reason to utilize additional tools/environments. For instance, in my small study almost all the interviewees use Skype because it perfectly fits their existing practices and is not disrupting with respect to communicative habits.

    Secondly, because researchers rely on disciplinary conventions and inherent modes of knowledge production and distribution when using technology: some scholars in certain fields may take much more advantage than others from engaging in a ‘networked’ discourse, since this practice can be even assumed as an integral part of the ‘discovery’ dimension of their scholarship.

    Thirdly, because there is a personal inclination towards an exploratory approach of technologies that we cannot ignore: I find it useful the distinction of attitude between ‘residents’ and visitors’ made by David White.

    Fourthly, as you writes, because social networks can be “used by academics as a way to further their career and their position”. I believe this is a key issue to motivate researchers: thinking of social networking activity as an effective form of curation of research impact. Institutions could play a role in this.

    For sure, shifting the attention towards doctoral researchers opens up new perspectives, but this is another story, as shown by the succesful example of #phdchat

    Have a good vacation,

  2. Thanks for your thoughts and comments, Antonella. The residents and visitors spectrum is helpful, so long as there’s an understanding that pitfalls exist in both scenarios. For instance, within the resident strand/spectrum, social stratification and exclusion are areas that deem further investigation (see for others). Looking forward to seeing more of your work in the future!

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