The challenge of recruiting new scholarly tweeters

I have blogged about this topic several times: How do you get other scholars onboard Twitter? Unless they are already there, they can be difficult to convince of the benefits of Twitter. Time constraints; horror stories of misinformation, fake profiles and a channel for spreading evil rumours; and assumptions that Twitter is the essence of annoying Facebook status updates keep popping up as reasons not to join Twitter.

And I’m not alone in experiencing this phenomena. Eva Alisic, a fellow scholarly tweeter, is also struggling with getting her colleagues to join in on Twitter discussions. Inspired by the #hcsmanz chats and #phdchat she has set up a Twitter Journal club on Mental Health Research (#traumaresearch). The challenge is however to get people on board Twitter. In order to make it easy for new Twitters to join, she has made this short video “Twitter for Academics: Instruction video”. It’s tailored to mental health researchers but contains general information as well.

It covers how to:
1. Create a Twitter account
2. Fill out your profile and send your first tweet
3. Find trauma & PTSD experts to follow
4. Use hashtags, with examples specific for research and mental health
5. Join the #traumaresearch journal club via Twitter or Tweet chat

The video is very simple and a good starting point for to-be Twitters, who are ready to face their prejudice of being bombarded with useless information about their friends everyday life, fake profiles and tons of rumours and non-trustworthy information. I hope Eva’s first #traumaresearch journal club, which took place on Friday 23. February went well and that her video has helped new tweeters to join the rest of us 🙂


What’s the point of this “academic twittersphere”?

“I don’t have time to Tweet.” “I’m not interested in what various celebrities are doing.” “I don’t know what I would get from it.”

These are typical responses I encounter when I ask academics if the are on Twitter. And I don’t blame them for their replies. Until you’re into the Twitter world it is difficult to grasp what it is all about and how in the world it can be of any use in professional academic life. For some reason it is just really hard to explain in words. The LSE Twitter Guide called Guide to using Twitter in university research, teaching and impact activities is a great starting point, but explaining what it is useful for is still difficult.

On the LSE Blog Impact of Social Sciences, Mark Carrigan, a third year PhD student in Sociology at the University of Warwick, gives an attempt at explaining the point of Twitter in an “academic twittersphere”. He outlines what academics can get out of the social media service and tries to illustrate that motives for academics to be on Twitter may be no more different from what motivates academics to give presentations at conferences. The reasons to go onto the podium and give a presentation or a talk may be different from person to person:

Twitter is no different. It’s a spot on the internet that’s staked out as yours. What you do with it is up to you. Some people choose to wander over to their podium every now and again, make an announcement and then wander off. Some people give their presentation at the podium and then leave, only returning when they want to give another. Some do their presentation but thrive on the Q&A afterwards. Some might not like the feel of the podium and eschew a formal presentation to go and chat more directly with their audience. Likewise some people just want to listen and ask questions of other speakers. Others would rather ditch the conference and go straight to relaxing at the pub.

Most academic users of Twitter fall into one or more of these categories. Likewise people move between categories. But the interpersonal dimensions of it are fundamentally no different to a conference

Illustrating reasons to use Twitter for academic purposes by passing on the experience from various academics gives a good feel to what Twitter can be all about and why a lot of people end up finding it incredibly useful.

Academics who are not yet on Twitter, but are considering it may find reading Mark Carrigan’s blog post useful. I at least found some good arguments to use next time I enter into a Twitter discussion with a non-tweeter.


Science Online pluses and minuses

How long can a conference continue after it has ended? I don’t know the answer, but I know that Science Online 2012 is definitely not over yet, despite the fact that the last plenary session ended more than two weeks ago. On the Wikipage of the conference the list of blog coverage after the conference just seems to keep growing, and on Twitter #scio12 tweets keeps rolling in. People I didn’t meet at the conference, I am now meeting two weeks later, meaning that I can still add names to the list of “people I met at Science Online”. Quite amazing.

It is great to read other people’s reflections on the conference, their follow-up sharing and their excitement over Science Online 2013, although it is almost one year away (a wikipage for planning Scio13 is already going strong).

As many of the Science Online related blog posts already portray, it is easy to become a fan of this little big unconference. Even though this was my first experience with the original Science Online conference (I attended Science Online London 2011), I felt so very welcome and almost automatically as member of a group or family I didn’t know I was a part of until I joined them there live, in Raleigh, NC.

The hundreds of interesting topics which came up during Scio12 could fill hundreds of blog posts, but here I’d just like to share two things that I really like about the conference, and articulate two of the weaknesses which I encountered.

Science Online 2012 pluses (two reasons why Science Online is great!)

  • It is full with passionate people. People who have a passion for communicating science, whether they are scientists, journalists, editors, communication officers etc. Beginners, longtime experts – they are all there with a passion which they are willing to share!
  • Titles are not important. On the name tag what is important is communicated (a great example of science communication to the point!). And this it not what your title is, which institution you represent, or where in the world you are from. Your first name is central (because this is by which you should approach other people). Second comes your last name, so that you actually have a fair chance of finding people  later on; and third of course their Twitter name, so that you can contact them! Especially the non-existence of titles and affiliations makes you feel equal with your fellow conference participants. No worries in approaching someone who then might turn out to be your favorite blogger or head of communication in the coolest organization.

Science Online minuses (A little bit of critique)

  • The conference brings together enthusiasts of science and communication. Most of them are either already good communicators or are thriving to become so. This provides a basis for valuable sharing of experiences and ideas, but not in all cases does it create a forum for fruitful for discussions. The eternal ‘battle’ of the ‘mean journalist’ and the non-communicating scientist often ended up dominating the discussions. And without the presence of either the bad journalist or the narrow-minded scientist, the discussion could at times end up a bit cliché and useless (or ‘in a rabbit hole’ as one of the people I follow on Twitter wrote). This was a shame for some of the discussions. I (perhaps naively) expected that at a Science Online conference focus would be more forward-looking and centered around how the social web might improve this journalist/scientist relationship. If the other discussion is wanted it might be better to bring in some bad journalists and some scientists who prefer staying hidden away in their lab or behind their desk and have them participate in the discussion.
  • What is science? To my knowledge there is no rule to how broadly science at Science Online should be defined. And that is how it should be. However, despite having met participants at the conference who do research in language, risk and other less ‘fact-based’ science, many of the discussions I participated in tended to centre around science which can be done in a lab, can be boiled down to numbers or relates to  theoretical science like physics and math. These are often difficult topics to communicate, so they deserve all the attention on the communication side that they can get. However, it would sometimes have been nice to have a more articulated discussion about how to communicate the much less fact-based science. I come from the area of public health. An area where there a lots of facts, but even more theories and unknowns. Ethical concerns, moral values, personal opinion, theoretical stand points all matters and makes communication of research in for example the wellbeing of asylum children, the best approaches to prevent stress from causing disease, behavior change’s role in preventing obesity etc. extremely difficult. It would be great if the challenges of communicating less ‘fact-based’ research could be discussed also at Science Online. Or at least that it is made clear that science is a broad thing and that the discussions may become blurry when they are all put under the one hat of “science”.

I guess my two ‘minuses’ could actually be converted into a suggestion for future sessions at Science Online 2013. For example the “Health/Medicine track” is still empty. Maybe this was a occation to make sure that the less medicine-oriented side of public health is also represented at Science Online. Will let the thought boil a little bit in my head..


Lots of Twitter communication about science communication

Before the year of 2011 came to an end, I did a few posts about science communication and the challenge of communicating science communication. This was inspired by various talks I had had with friends, colleagues and the planning of a masters course in Public Health Science Communication.

And as one of the first things in 2012, the #hcsmanz weekly Twitter discussion group on Health Care and Social Media in Australia and New Zealand decided to base their first chat of the year on some of my reflections. Unfortunately, I was on a plane when the discussion took place, so I couldn’t participate myself. But luckily transcripts are made of these discussions and thus also for this one!

Since I couldn’t join the discussion, I thought I’d share some highlights from it here. First of all, it was great to experience that something I put out there in cyber space triggered others to start discussing. And people whom I would have been unlikely to discuss this with otherwise. It is a great example of how sharing thoughts and views in the process can be beneficial to the bigger project/research study!

The #hcsmanz discussion was structured around five elements, which I in my blog post had highlighted as important to communicate in a course on science communication. They were converted into the four questions/statements below:

  1. Communication should be considered as an integrated element in the research process.
  2. Communication can be beneficial to the research process.
  3. Who should researchers be communicating with and what channels can utilised?
  4. What is the secret sauce of communication that generates feedback/reaction?

These four questions (refered to as T1, T2, T3, T4 in the chat) generated a lot of interesting tweeting, not just from people in Aus/NZ but also participants from Canada and the Netherlands. Some of the interesting things that were brought forward I’ll try to summarize below supported by 23 tweets (out of hundreds) – I should probably also have used the cool tool Storify for this, but that will be next time 🙂

  • Communication is an integrated part of research, but requires that researchers are trained and the necessary support is available – both to give guidance but also to support the prioritization of spending time and effort in communication activities.

  • Communication also of non-news material is important.

  • Social media provides new opportunities for science communication, but is not yet well-regarded and knowledge is still limited among many researchers.

  • Science communication is beneficial to the research process – if you communicate with the right ones and in the appropriate way depending on who they are. The importance of making feedback easy and quick is not to be underestimated.

  • One thing is to communicate and the best ways to do that, but to communicate so that you engage your audience is an additional challenge. A keyword is to provide efficient feedback opportunities for the reader and the researcher. Social media such as Twitter and blogs provides forums for this (but does not solve the engagement challenge all together).

I could have highlighted lots of other tweets, and would as said have loved to participate in this, I hope however to join next time and continue to share thoughts and reflections with the rest of you. And big thanks to Kishan Kariippanon (@yhpo) for taking up this topic!


Still communicating about how to communicate science communication

Even though I have been blogging for almost half a year, I can still be amazed by the experience of other people reading my posts, reblogging them, commenting and retweeting them and contacting me directly to express their thoughts. I must admit that it gives me a kick every time. It is not a snow avalanche, but it is enough to increase my motivation and very often it is interesting comments that gives rise to further reflections that again feeds new posts.

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about the challenge of communicating science communication. This particular post has resulted in a few comments on Twitter that I thought I’d just share with you:

And questions:

I have had a great discussion by Gmail-chat with a friend from university about the challenges of communicating research and turning research into practice. And about the lack of acknowledgement of communication activities, if it has to do with anything other than  the publishing of articles in peer-reviewed journals. Parallel to the Gmail-chat I had live in-person discussion with another friend also from university, who had a present challenge of how to communicate the results from an infectious disease epidemiological study to staff at health clinics. Very inspiring discussion – for both of us!

All in all really inspirering. I look forward to more of this and hope that everyone who has inputs, views, reflections etc, that I should integrate into a course on Public Health Science Communication will not hold back.

All the best wishes for the new year to everyone and see you in 2012!


The challenge of communicating science communication

How do you communicate the relevance of science communication to a fellow public health person? Can I make a convincing argument for why things such as Twitter can be a useful tool in the communication of research?

In the days leading up to Christmas, I was challenged by these exact questions, when I after dinner had an interesting discussion with a good friend and skillful researcher in public health sciences. I am not sure that I gave the best arguments for science communication or for why Twitter could be useful for his research, but it made me reflect on where the scepticism, which many researcher have towards communication of research, comes from.

Based on my own experience, both as a public health expert and in talking with friends and public health colleagues, it is my feeling that most of us, through our university studies have indirectly been taught that communication is something that comes at the end of a research project. It is to a large extend perceived as a separate element that is added as the final phase of a very often long process. It sort of becomes a sometimes troublesome appendix which can be prioritized  – if time and money permits and if the communication department will take much of the responsibility on their shoulders (although they are worried that the communication department will simplify every thing too much and they’d therefore almost rather that they didn’t communicate it at all).

Another source to the scepticism against the communication element of research, is that communication is often considered in its more narrow form, meaning that it only covers communication to the general public. It is very much one-way based and it is about making simple messages which, seen from the researcher’s perspective are oversimplifications.

My basis for the above is purely my own experiences and conversations with different researchers in various fields. However, it is my impression that I’m not alone in suggesting that the issues above mentioned are two important barriers for researchers enthusiasm for science communication.

I have the last couple of days been working on a description for a short course on Public Health Science Communication, which most likely will be offered to students of Public Health Science at University of Copenhagen in the fall semester of 2012. My pre-Christmas conversations have been useful for this work. What was it that didn’t work in my argument? Did we talk past each other? Could awareness of the role of science communication earlier on in our public health training have made a difference? All these questions and more are buzzing around in my head.

Some of the things I feel will be important to communicate in a course on public health science communication are:

  1. Communication should be considered as an integrated element in the research process
  2. Communication can be beneficial to the research process.
  3. Communication is broader than explaining your research to a general public, but also involves communicating with fellow researchers, researches in the periphery of our area of our research and from completely different fields (actually public health has an advantage here, because we are by definition interdisciplinary and used to working with people with very different educational backgrounds)
  4. Communication is not equal to dissemination. Communication is two-way based – a with contributions and response from both sender and receiver.
  5. The person best equipped to know what is of relevance to communicate and to whom is the researcher him/herself.

I’m sure I’ll think of lots of other messages and luckily there is still plenty of time to prepare. All inputs of things to cover in a course on public health science communication are more than welcome, suggestions on good background reading material etc. likewise.


Can you do a lecture at university level in 25 tweets?

Last week the existence of a virtual university with its address on Twitter came to my knowledge. Svenska Twitteruniversitetet or The Swedish Twitter University as it is also named. The idea of a Twitter university was born in the mind of Marcus Nilsson (@ozonist) sort of in a random moment (read more about it here).

The concept is pretty simple. An invited speaker, that be a scientist, an academic etc. gives a lecture divided into 25 tweets (each of a maximum length on 140 characters). Each tweet must be broken naturally and thus be able to stand alone. Using the built-in Twitter limitation such as the length of a tweet is meant to stimulate creativity and challenge the tweeters to formulate their ideas as effectively and interestingly as possible. In addition to the 25 tweets, the speaker responds to questions from the followers – at least for one hour – with their responses not counting to the 25 tweets.

This week, on 13th December, a lecture on “How Apps, Smartphones, and Tablets Will Revolutionize Healthcare” was given by Jim Walker, Director Emerging Trends – Cadient Group and founder of AnywhereHealth.com. The lecture was the seventh from the Twitter university and the first to take up a health related topic. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to follow the lecture live, but the transcript is available on the Twitter University Website.

The transcript includes the 25 tweets and questions and responses from the followers. It is very much divided up into a presentation section (the 25 tweets) and after that an invitation to discuss. As far as I can see, there was not much discussion in this particular lecture, and many of the followers expressed disappointment in the session. I must admit that I tend to agree with the critic. The lecture was mostly a listing of a different apps (some of them definitely very cool) that are related to health care and health monitoring. There were some, but very few, reflections on how these apps will revolutionize health care and how it will play together with the exiting health care system, but no reference to experiences, literature or the like that could document this. A few weaknesses of health apps, such as new equity problems due to differences in access to smartphones and lack of IT skills and the risk of technology leading patients to forget listening to their own bodies, where brought up, but again without documentation or much more reflection.

I am not certain whether the problem with the lecture was due to this specific presentation or just an illustration of the fact that doing a lecture through 25 tweets is a big challenge. My best Twitter comparison is the #hcsm chats (chats/discussions on Health Care and Social Media), which I have actually found more rewarding. The questions and debate back and forth just seem to take better advantage of the Twitter model. Transporting a traditional (monologue) lecture to Twitter definitely requires a much more interactively thought out structure to the 25 tweets.

This Twitter university is still new however, and I find it a fun idea that could perhaps be useful. I look forward to following it and to see if the lectures will develop as the invited speakers become more acquainted with the media.


Sharing a small Twitter moment

A login on Twitter is one of my morning routines – you never know if a tweet may influence the agenda of your day and today I thought I’d share a small Twitter moment with you. This morning I came across a tweet that triggered my Health Information System past and former WHO/Health Metrics Network employer status. The tweet was the below:

In his tweet, Matthew Greenall, an advisor on AIDS & sexual health programmes in low-income countries, links to an article published in the Rwanda paper The New Times. The article, authored by Dr Agnes Binagwaho, Rwandan Minister of Health directs a well argued critic against the up-to-dateness of WHO country specific health data.

Finding the article very interesting I emailed it to a group of former WHO/HMN colleagues (none of them are on Twitter so I couldn’t tweet it to them). In sending it, I did not really reflect on the possibility that those of my colleagues still within WHO could do anything about it. I just felt like sharing it with them. One of my former colleagues, who is actually involved in health statistics from WHO, read it and responded back quickly thanking me for pointing it out, and said that she had forwarded it up the system to the people who actually are responsible for the World Health statistics and Global Health Observatory. She hoped that a dialogue could be started. I assume she primarily refered to a dialogue with Rwanda, but most definitely also a dialogue within WHO on the measures the organisation has to make sure their data evidence is up to date (which seems to be complicated by WHO itself).

I hope, however, that the dialogue could also be on WHO communication strategies and presence on social media, for example to role of Twitter in communicating and keeping up to date on current trends and affairs – not just through one official WHO account, but  also through personal or much more issue specific WHO areas.

The article by the Rwandan Minister of Health was published in what I assume to be a rather low-impact media channel (how many of you knew of Rwandan The New Times?). All though the story could be picked up by other media and passed on, I am not sure how quickly the story would reach WHO. Of course the WHO country office in Rwanda could pick up on the article and pass it on, but I would be surprised if they have not already been contacted by the Rwandan Minister of Health in relation to the outdated WHO data. It seems however in this particular case that the story travelled the fastest through Twitter, and through Twitter came to the knowledge of the right people and not just WHO communication officers (I wonder if it did?).

Although I find the critic of WHO’s data interesting it is not so much the specific story that interests me. Whether or not this particular critic will result in changes, dialogue or changed communication priorities, it was for me once again an interesting and educational Twitter experience. It was great to see how something I picked up on Twitter was passed on and landed in hands of the people who needs to know the content of the article. There really is something to that Twitter invention….


Can live-tweeted surgery be of public health interest?

Live-tweeted surgery, or twurgery as it has been named, is spreading. As written previously on this blog a number of surgeries have already invited Twitter into the operating room, for example by Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center who live-tweeted from a brain surgeryRex Healthcare in Raleigh, North Carolina have now joined the club by live-tweeting a hysterectomy.

Having followed a surgery live through Twitter myself, I admit that it is for some reason fascinating. I have previously watched surgeries on video and even attended some in person and yet there is some different about following it on Twitter. Apart from the fascinating element I do however struggle a little bit with the value of these twurgeries. Do they have any role to play seen from a public health perspective? Or is marketing and branding of a particular hospital or a specific technic the overriding ground for the twittering hospitals?

The main rational behind the Twitter event at Rex Healthcare was, according to their eMarketing manager, Jason Papagan to “showcase the leading edge medical procedures we have here.” [see full quote here].

Other hospitals have brought social media into the operation room for similar reasons, however most of them (including Rex Healthcare) also highlight that the objective is to serve as educational aid, informing medical students and patients about modern surgery.

For Aura Health Care, who tweeted from an awake temporal lobectomy, the objective was, apart from demonstrating their advanced brain surgery skills also to illustrate to patients suffering from epilepsy that surgical treatment is an option and to defuse the procedure a little bit. If awake temporal lobectomy is an appropriate but underused treatment against epilepsy and if an event like a live-tweeted operation can help open the eyes of patients and their relatives to the procedure, then I guess on could argue for a public health interest in the bringing social media all the way into the surgical theater. If this be the case, then I guess it would also be of interest to publicly funded hospitals to tweet or for patient organisations to advocate for this means of communication. According to my knowledge, this is yet to occur.

It would be interesting to hear other people’s thought on this issue. Whom benefits from live-tweeted surgeries? Can it be considered a means of science communication? Is there a public health component to them? The questions are many. Think my head will need to struggle with this one for a little bit longer.

 

First steps taken by online-public-health-discussion-facilitator-legs

My online-public-health-discussion-facilitator-legs have now taken their first steps – and I survived it and would even call it succesful. It is definitely not a discussion that will stand out in history, but it was useful for me and I believe a good introduction of the potential of using social media at seminars, to the people who were exposed to it.

As I blogged about last week, I was asked by the Danish Alumni for Candidates in Public Health (FKFSV) to facilitate an attempt to do some online discussion at their annual meeting [in Danish].

The meeting was live-streamed and people outside the meeting room could therefore participate in the discussion via Facebook and Twitter (using #fkfsv).

I thought I’d share my experiences and reflections on the whole online event and my facilitation thoughts in bullets. So here we go:

Introducing social media to the Danish Public Health community

  • The meeting confirmed what I already expected: that the Danish Public Health Community is not well acquainted with using social media for professional purposes and therefore the number of actively participating online participants was very limited (in addition to me as facilitator 6 people took part).
  • Facebook is the main social media platform for the Danes. Twitter is still unexplored and thus very few have an account, and those who do hardly uses it. The discussion on Twitter was therefore very limited – which was a shame. Facebook was more active, despite the fact that it is not optimal for live discussion. Both because the discussion easily becomes fragmented (taking place as comments to different statuses etc.) and because it allows people to just type away resulting in very long questions. The 140 characters from Twitter is definitely not something people are used to.
  • Posing questions to the experts and politicians through Twitter and Facebook was very effectual. Making a point out the fact that the question came from someone following the discussion from outside the meeting room (at some point even questions from Berlin) was good. Both in terms of making people aware of what social media can be used for but also in interacting with the online participants and making them feel as part of the seminar.
  • Although the actual online discussion was very limited and perhaps could not even be characterised as a discussion but rather a channel for posing questions to the speakers and the political panel, I believe we made a good splash for social media. People participating in the meeting itself expressed that they found it ‘cool’ and useful. There were even people signing up for a Twitter account during the conference!

Facilitation requires participation

  • Having the discussion take place on two platforms is, as I expected, not optimal. However, in a situation where not that many people are present online and the objective primarily is to interact with the live seminar, it was essential to have both Facebook and Twitter going. The linkage between the two when using # on Facebook updates was helpful (although it doesn’t apply to comments on Facebook statuses). We could probably easily have had only Facebook going, but I found it important to introduce Twitter as a useful and appropriate alternative.
  • I had prior to the seminar decided that my role was to facilitate and not do live-tweeting of the discussion. This choice was based on two factors. 1) I thought it  was better not to both report of what was happening and be a facilitator; and 2) the meeting was being live-streamed so most people would be able to get the “full” content of the meeting, making live-tweeting a bit redundant. After the meeting I still think this was the right choice, especially if the discussion had been more lively. Live-tweeting is great, but should be assigned to someone other than the facilitator or just happen impulsively from the participants.
  • I didn’t participate much myself (mostly because there was not really a discussion going on), but it was clear to me, that it was important to have a clear distinction between Nina-the-facilitator and the public-health-Nina. This meant that using different accounts for the two identities was important.
  • The seminar took place on a Friday afternoon/evening . Starting at 4pm and ending around 8pm is perhaps not the best conditions for an active online discussion. It was clear that the most participation was between 4 and 5.30 after which it almost died out. Understandably I would say, so no critic there. Just a lessons learned that timing of the event if you want an active online environment too is important. It could be fun trying to establish some online event during working hours and see how that goes.
  • Introducing the possibility of sharing links via Twitter and Facebook was good. In this particular case it didn’t contribute much to the discussion, but as facilitator it was nice to be able guide and qualify the discussion by introducing that element of using social media for online discussions.

Conclusion

All in all I think it went well. The most important thing was for me to introduce social media as an element in seminars such as the annual meeting and hopefully also beyond the meeting room. It was my sense that some of the people who had never considered social media as something relevant for their work (and there are many of these if you ask me) were shown in a good way that social media may have a role to play. It is a small beginning and tiny first step, but perhaps people will be just a little bit more alert to it next time they come across cases of social media used as a tool in relation to practicing, discussing or researching public health. For me personally, it was fun trying to foster some communication, and especially keeping attention to how you make what happens in the meeting room and online come together. I look forward to trying it again sometime – hopefully with a few more active people online. My online-public-health-discussion-facilitator-legs can definitely take more steps before they are stable.