Awesome reading list on using social media in academia

A few weeks ago I returned to this blog with some reflections on a article about the use of social media by researchers in Denmark. I was disappointed to see that social media and academia in traditional journalist-based media is still portrayed mostly negatively.

In search of positive Danish experiences with using social media in academic work I called out to the Copenhagen Science Communication Facebook group (closed network). Being vacation time I didn’t manage to collect personal experiences with social media (I’ll give that a try later), but I was so fortunate to be made aware of an awesome reading list on using social media for research collaboration and public engagement. The list is complied by the Impact of Social Sciences Blog by LSE.

Some of the items in the reading list I have already touched upon on this blog (e.g. how Melissa Terras boosted the number of downloads of her scientific articles), but there are also some that are new to me and which add new dimensions to the use of social media in science communication.

Social media for sharing passion

A resource that I enjoyed reading is by Tim Hitchcook, a professor of Digital History at the University of Sussex. Tim Hitchcook doesn’t add anything revolutionary new or surprising to the arguments for using social media, but he phrases many of them very well. For example, I like how he describes social media as the perfect tool for researchers to share their passion for what they do:

The best (and most successful) academics are the ones who are so caught up in the importance of their work, so caught up with their simple passion for a subject, that they publicise it with every breadth. Twitter and blogs, and embarrassingly enthusiastic drunken conversations at parties, are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins it.

And he goes on to pin point to two important aspects of using social media. First: Get started on integrating social media into your work from early on and gain by building-up your skills in communication with the public; and second, communicate about the research process itself – not just about the results, findings etc.:

A lot of early career scholars, in particular, worry that exposing their research too early, in too public a manner, will either open them to ridicule, or allow someone else to ‘steal’ their ideas.  But in my experience, the most successful early career humanists have already started building a form of public dialogue in to their academic practise – building an audience for their work, in the process of doing the work itself.

Finally, Tim Hitchcook addresses a concern which many researchers I talk to have about using social media. That it is time-consuming, and basically takes time away from doing other important things. Tim Hitchcook however points out that using social media may almost have the opposite effect:

The most impressive thing about these blogs (and the academic careers that generate them), is that there is no waste – what starts as a blog, ends as an academic output, and an output with a ready-made audience, eager to cite it.

I can only encourage you to read the blog post Twitter and blogs are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins is in its entirety. And also to take a look at Tim Hitchcook’s own blog Historyonics.

 

 

 


A perfect place to pick-up arguments for why scientists should be on social media

An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists‘. I have wanted to mention this article published in PLOS Biology ever since it came out in April 2013, but somehow never got around to it. But as I reread it earlier this week, I was reminded how this article must be mentioned on a blog like mine.

An Introduction to Social Media for Scientists is written by Holly M. Bik and Miriam C. Goldstein from University of California Davis and University of California San Diego and is an excellent place to start for researchers considering trying out social media or for enthusiasts of social media for science communication who are in search of good arguments they can use to persuade others of why they must set up a Twitter account, start blogging or establish some other form of online presence.

Research Benefits and flowcharts

Supported by lots of examples (with links provided to many of them!) the authors list a number of ways in which social media can benefit both the scientist and the scientific work. In short form these are:

  • How online tools can help improve research efficiency;
  • How being visible on social media helps track and improve scientific metrics;
  • How social media enhances professional networking; and
  • How online interactions have the potential to enhance ‘‘broader impacts’’ by improving communication between scientists and the general public.

flowchart

They go on to address different kinds of social media and how they can be used, and provide advice to new users on how to get started. A useful (and fun) feature of the article is a flowchart that can help newcomers find out which media might be most relevant for them to try out and solution to common online communication fears.

Acknowledging the stigma

Throughout the article the authors mention the stigma which is often attached to online activities. They acknowledge how many researchers are skeptical towards the media and regards it as a waste of time and a distraction from true scientific work. In a response to this the authors have set out to address some of the many misconceptions and misinterpretations of what social media can contribute with. And in my opinion it works. One could argue that they don’t spend much energy on the risks or disadvantages of social media for science communication (of which there are of course several), but they are plenty to be found elsewhere.

Need for formal training

Social media among scientists is quickly growing and will eventually become more and more natural for scientists to use (if not sooner than as the younger generation whom have grown up with social media enter the research arena). But until then there is a need to train on researchers and scholars on the potential of social media in academic work. Both to address the many misconception and skepticism but also to avoid researchers use it inefficiently or inappropriately. I could therefore not agree more with the authors:

“Social media and internet-based resources are increasingly ubiquitous. Thus, there is a pressing need for scientific institutions to offer formalized training opportunities for graduate students and tenured faculty alike to learn how to effectively use this new technology”.


The magical world of blogging

I love blogging. It surprises myself, because I really hadn’t predicted that having a blog would be something I’d get hooked on – or even less did I expect all the things it would bring with it. Extensive networks, new opportunities, great connections and new horizons.

Especially the last couple of weeks have shown me the potential of what a blog can do. I have been contacted by people who through my blog have found me and have thought that my perspectives on science communication were worth a direct contact. Thus I have recently had a super interesting discussion over the phone about online collaborative tools with the man behind www.irrationalscientist.com and communication expert at Sanofi-Pasteur, I have met a kindred spirit in science communication, herself a blogger on the topic on www.signsofscience.org and with a passion to connect people interested in science communication and last been contacted by the University in Lund, Sweden asking if I’d be able to do a lecture on Science communication to a class of master students in Public Health. To this comes the people who comment on the blog, send me emails or tweet me.

Every contact has been super interesting and every time I am amazed of what only one year of blogging can lead to. Its is truly amazing.

Recipe for success?

Maybe it is due to my recent very positive experiences that I earlier this week decided to walk out (and I really rarely do this) of a seminar entitled ‘How you get success with your blog’ organized by the Danish Journalist Association. Okay, the key speaker was a beauty blogger, so not exactly the same blogging topic as mine, but nonetheless still a blogger and the seminar was described to be focused on blogs more generally. So what provoked me so much that I in end decided to leave? Well, first of all I must say the blogger’s presentation style gave me red spots. I felt she had an ability to trash everyone that wasn’t her or didn’t do like her – both on blogs or in the general media. Maybe it was her personality and presentation style that made me leave, but at the same time I must admit I disagreed with her on so many issues, issues she presented as the absolute truth about blogs.

The power of the right ones and oneself

My mayor point of disagreement was that the objective of a blog is not always to get as many readers or page viewings as possible. Of course it is motivating to see that people are reading your scribbles but I’d much rather prefer have a few of the right readers rather than masses of people. The beauty blogger was however obsessed with number of page viewings and unique visitors. This is of course of great importance if you’re trying to sell ads (which she was) but the presenter generalized this to the extreme and made it seem like it was the ultimate goal of any blog to have thousands of readers, likes etc. She almost stated hat if you couldn’t get high number of readers you might as well quit blogging. I couldn’t disagree more. Yes, I like that I have readers, and I do get a kick out the days when many have clicked their way through to my blog, but it is not the soul success criteria. To have contacts like the ones mentioned above is to me the real success. As well as all the things I learn as I am writing and sharing my thoughts and views with the world. The power of the blog is in my view not the number of people who read it but that it is the right ones and that you get so tremendously a lot out of writing it (regardless of it ever being read).

I look forward to my continued scribbling on this blog, on further developing the contacts I have made and explore new ones. The world of blogging really is magical!


Cultivating followers on social media when you want to communicate science

How do you explain why social media can be a good thing for researchers to look into? What advantages and what challenges are important to highlight? Next week, I’ll be introducing social media for science communication to the Danish Public Health Sciences Alumni (in Danish). It always helps being quite convinced yourself of what you are talking about, but reading other people’s arguments can also help. Especially, if they are in line with your own experiences.

I was therefore delighted to read a blog post on Nature’s community guest blog, Soapboxscience, by Matt Shipman, a public information officer at North Carolina State University. He writes about using social media (like Twitter and Facebook) and science blogs for taking science to the public.

Building networks takes time

Apart from the simple and convincing argumentation, what I like about the blog post is that Matt Shipman points out the fact that it takes time to build up the necessary network to get the full value of social media. This aspect is not that often acknowledged. My own experience is also that it takes time, and that you need to be patient in the beginning and that it requires some work. Just like you need to be patient when building up networks in real life. As Matt Shipman writes:

“Just because you set up a social media account doesn’t mean that anyone will know about it. You’ll need to take the time to cultivate a following.” 

And how do you do that? Matt Shipman has a few suggestions, which match very well my own experiences.

“You can start by figuring out your desired audience. Who do you want to be following you? Other scientists? Relevant science writers? Potential grad students? […] Once you’ve defined your target audience (or audiences), you can begin reaching out to friends and colleagues who are already online. They can help point people to your Twitter account, Facebook page, etc”

In my experience making searches on e.g. Twitter and looking at who pops up is also a good start for finding out who to follow. And just like looking at the references in a scientific article can give hints on where to find more knowledge, so does it help to look at who key people are following – making chain searchers so to speak.

Getting people to follow you

One thing is finding out who you should follow, getting the relevant people to follow you is also a challenge, and probably a bigger one. Without followers you are missing the whole point of social media. To get full advantage you need to have the relevant people to follow you – and not only that:

“.. if you really want people to pay attention, you need to have something to offer. Content is king, and you need to contribute something to the online conversation. In other words, why should people be listening to you?”

Social media like Facebook and Twitter are good for drawing attention to things, and communicate short messages but not always for more extensive communication:

“Social media platforms can be very limiting. For example, can you define genotype and phenotype in 140 characters or less?

“If you want to use social media to communicate effectively, you need to drive readers somewhere.”

‘Somewhere’ could be an already published article, a new report or an event, but it could also be a blog. Matt Shipman goes on to write about the blog and how it is useful for science communication. I won’t repeat that but encourage potential new science bloggers to read the blog post.

Lots of advice on how to get followers

Searching Google for tips on how to get followers on for example Twitter, lots and lots of websites pops up. For new comers to social media and science, Matt Shipman’s blog post on Nature’s community guest blog, Soapboxscience is a good starting point on why the combination of social media, blogs and science communication is not such a bad idea, but also that it requires some work.


Crowdsourcing examples of how social media can benefit downloads and citations of peer-reviewed articles

How do you persuade good old fashion researchers that social media has something to offer them too? You know, the kind who prefers having their papers published in the Lancet, British Medical Journal and Nature. The ones who like giving key-note speeches at prestigious conferences or at least an oral presentation of an abstract. And who frowns or looks completely lost when you suggest that the get a Twitter profile.

This is a challenge. But a blog post by Melissa Terras from the Department of Information Studies, University College London made me think, that using a medium these traditional oriented researchers respect, as a tool, could be a way forward. Melissa Terras’ blog post describes how starting to do small blog posts of the stories behind the research published in 26 published articles, and tweet them afterwards, increased the number of downloads of the articles substantially. In the blog posts she wrote about all the stuff that doesn’t make it into the published paper, but then of course linking and referring to the papers too and there by drawing attention to them.

It’s really interesting to read her story of how some blogging and tweeting made her articles much more downloaded than her colleagues (which said nothing of the quality of her colleagues work but more of their efforts to spread the word of their research). The blogging/tweeting strategy really seemed to work!

The reason why the experience of Melissa Terras could be a good case story to use in convincing other researchers that social media is not totally irrelevant is:

  1. It doesn’t criticise traditional research communication platforms such as peer-reviewed journals
  2. It shows that traditional media and social media can work together and benefit each other (by being a marketing place but also a place to say all things you couldn’t include in the published paper)
  3. It focuses on how you can spread your research to more people, which must be the aim of any scientist: to have others read, learn from and use your findings!
  4. It uses numbers and graphs – researchers like that!
  5. It uses comparisons and control groups (her colleagues and time)
  6. Its written by a researcher herself

A call for for more examples

One ‘downside’ to the case of Melissa Terras could be that her research field is electronic communication and digital humanities. One can almost assume that many of the people in her field are first-movers when it comes to using social media, and therefore blogging and tweeting is effective because her audience is there waiting at the other end of the line. It would be great to find more examples like the one of Melissa Terras, but from non-communication oriented research. Do you know of some? I would love to make a list which could be used in different academic fields to persuade colleagues that there is something in social media for them too. If nothing else its a way to boost the visibility of their published articles, but hopefully it could also help open their eyes to all the other upsides of social media in science communication.

Please do share your examples!

I’d just like to end off with Melissa Terras’ own conclusion, where she again speaks to the scientist using the scientists own language of: If (x) then (y + z = w) :

“So that would be my conclusion, really. If you want people to find and read your research, build up a digital presence in your discipline, and use it to promote your work when you have something interesting to share. It’s pretty darn obvious, really:

If (social media interaction is often) then (Open access + social media = increased downloads).”


Students minding the science gap in public health

I have previously written about the use of blogs by students and researchers at schools of public health (I called them Schools of Public Health 2.0). One example was School of Public Health at the University of British Colombia.

This week, I came across another school of Public Health Sciences that is actively using blogging in communicating with the world, and in giving students communication skills.

For ten weeks between January and April 2012, ten Masters of Public Health students from the University of Michigan (UM), have taken on a blogging challenge. On the website Mind the Science Gap they are posting weekly articles about various public health related news, research studies etc. The aim is for the students to learn how to translate complex science into something a broad audience can understand and appreciate. The objective of this whole blogging exercise is an ambitious one:

“to help ensure that UM School of Public Health graduates are some of the best communicators around when it comes to translating scientific evidence into something that others understand, and can act on.”

As part of the initiative, readers of the blog have been encouraged to write comments, both on the content and the form. So-called mentors from all backgrounds have signed up to comment on a weekly basis (you can still sign up here). With the comments the aim is for the students to improve their communication skills though the ten weeks.

I have read a few of the blog post and also commented and my impression is so far very good. Both because the blog posts are interesting and well written, but also reading the many comments to each of the blogs is great. There are good tips from experienced science bloggers that others than the ten students can learn from. And then I do in general appreciate the ambitious tone of the blog initiative: ensuring that UM School of Public Health graduates are some of the best at translating scientific evidence into something that others understand, and can act on. Imagine if they are succesful in this. Not only will that be an advantage for the work places that will later on recruit these ten students, it could potentially put pressure on other schools of public health to make sure that their students are even better – and are they succesful in that imagine all the benefit that could be achieved to public health! Okay, maybe this is a little naive – but one can always hope…

A blogging school

In addition to Mind the Science Gap, the MU School of Public Health also has a student blog where students blog about life as students of Public Health, and a long list of blogs from several SPH faculty, alums, and student groups. For example: Rackham Graduate School blogs, run by two Ph.D. students, a Risk Science Center blog, a Public Health Library blog, a UM SPH Epidemiology Student Organization blog, the blog 2020 Science about emerging science and technology and many more (see the complete list here).


Dear students: In this class you will have to have your mobiles turned ON

Do term papers have to be written with pen and paper? No, luckily not anymore. Is it necessary to hand in a printed version of your exam paper? No, universities (at least in Denmark) now let you submit online. Would most people use programmes like Word etc for writing their assignments? Probably yes. But how about putting it all online? And making it public. By using a blog format?

The idea seems very relevant in a course on Public Health Science Communication, which will also cover how social media can play a role in communicating science. At least the idea is very inviting to me. And several universities have already tried out the concept. For example the University of British Colombia used student blogging for their course on Social Media in Health and Medicine.

Since I myself have no experience with using blogs in teaching situations, I was happy to learn that Science Online 2012 had several sessions relating to using the blog as a tool in lecturing. Unfortunately, I only managed to make it to one of the four sessions that circled around the topic. Blogging in the Undergraduate Classroom. As with other sessions at #scio12 there was no ‘fixed’ agenda or presentation, but more an informal sharing of experiences, ideas and questions, led by two moderators (Jason Goldman and John Hawks), who both have used blogs in their teaching.

I have tried to but together a small Storify of the tweets from the session. A link to the Storify is here and at the end of this post. I’m not sure that I managed to capture all tweets, so apologies to those who feel their tweets have been overlooked).

In summary some of my main take-home-messages were:

Advantages

  • The goal of having the students blog is to teach them to communicate themselves – it is as simple as that!
  • Blogging can also be a tool for teaching students how to read papers! By asking them to blog about the papers they read it teaches them not just about writing but also about reading papers and commenting on them.
  • Students are much more aware of their audience (their peers and others who had access) and therefore work harder at their writing. (As someone commented: Their mothers might be reading along!)
  • Using blogs, Twitter etc in the classroom makes you the teacher where it’s OK use mobile devices during class – you’re the cool teacher and may create a new classroom culture, which in return can be inspiring/motivating for the students.

Challenges

  • Consider the privacy issue carefully. Should the blogs be public or restricted? Should the students blog under their own name etc.
  • One of the risks of introducing blogs is that you may end up spending all your time training to use platform, become technical support. Take this into consideration and choose your platform carefully
  • In grading it is important to be sensitive to the students technical skills, internet access, time frame for assignment etc.
  • The blog may invite to more informal, loose behavior. Make sure to make deadlines for “handing in” assignments – and stick to them.

Suggestions for how to use the blog

  • Forming student blogging teams can be an advantage. Eg. in teams of three where on student posts a blog, one person edits it and, one person comments on the final product. It can also be a way of involving the more shy students and give them room to express themselves
  • Let the students choose a topic of interest to blog about. They write much better if it is something they have an interest in and care about. Highlight that If they wouldn’t want to read it no one else would!
  • Blogs can be used to assign readings and students may be required to post and comment
  • Start out with a scaffolding the process, eg. Reading & commenting, later on write blogposts
  • Wiki-entries is a good alternative to blogs.

Other experiences

Doing a Google search of using blogs in the classroom, reveals that there are lots of experiences to learn from and also tools made available. (as with any Google search it can be a little chaotic to find out what is useful and what is not). One thing that looks useful that I just came across is something called Edublogs.org, which is an educational blogging services. Will have to explore that some more. There seems to be many ideas and services. And should any of you have experiences, lessons learned etc. you’d like to share they’ll be more than welcome!

Before I end I thought I’d also just share this SketchNote that, one of the participants in the #scio12 bloggin session (Lali DeRosier) did the below SketchNote:

Link to the Storify (Collection of tweets from the Session Blogging in the Classroom)

[View the story “Blogging in the classroom” on Storify]

Update 6. February 2012: Andrea Novicki, from Duke Center for Instructional Technology wrote his conclusions from the session here – very useful overview