Social media and professional identity: Part 2 (blogs & microblogs)

Welcome to Part 2 of my series on using social media to create and develop an online professional identity. Here is the full list of topics that I’m going to cover:

  • Part 1: Introduction to the internet and social media
  • Part 2: Social media, online identity and engagement (blogs and microblogs)
  • Part 3: Academic social networks (Mendeley)
  • Part 4: Academic social networks (ResearchGate)
  • Part 5: Academic social networks (Academia.edu)
  • Part 6: Getting started with social media
  • Part 7: Privacy and sharing: social media policies in healthcare

Social media, online identity and engagement

You probably have a Facebook page that you use to share family pictures and catch up with old friends. You may even use it to connect with a group of like-minded professionals, sharing experiences, resources and challenges in your work. This section will hopefully introduce you to a range of other online, social services that you may find useful. The idea is that you explore these options and play around with establishing a profile in one area or another. In each of the following sections, I’ve tried to explain in general what the service or technology is, and then give a few examples of ways in which I’ve used them in a professional context.

While the main theme of this article is to share ideas for creating and maintaining an online professional presence, bear in mind that it’s not enough to simply “be” online. The main advantage of having an online professional presence is that it allows you to interact and engage with others in your professional field. Twenty years ago, academics could only rely on the (very slow) process of publication and subsequent citation to establish an academic reputation. Now, with the affordances that the web provides, crafting a professional online identity can happen relatively quickly. However, it’s the interaction and engagement through conversation and discussion that builds credibility, rather than just “being there”. This section will discuss two of the main ways that people are engaging with each other; blogs and microblogs.

Blogs

A blog is a personal online space in which entries (called “posts”) are published in reverse chronological order (i.e. newest posts appear first) and is a combination of the words “web” and “log”. WordPress is probably the biggest blogging platform at the moment, although Blogger is another commonly used service. Prior to blogging platforms, it was challenging for individuals to post content online, as it required a knowledge of HTML and basic coding skills. With the advent of blogging tools and free content hosting, it became possible for anyone with an internet connection to post information to the web, essentially allowing anyone to be a publisher. Most modern blogging platforms allow for integration with other online services. For example, sidebar widgets can be used to display your latest tweets (see Microblogging below), your shared images on Flickr or Picasa, your LinkedIn profile, or your most recent conference presentations via Slideshare or Prezi.

I started blogging a few years ago and after a few false starts (a normal part of trying to find your own voice) I created /usr/space, where I continue to blog today. My blog is where I share my experiences of and research into clinical education. In the past, it might have taken many years – sometimes decades – to build up a reputation through publication in international journals. Now, while that aspect of developing an academic reputation is still important, you can begin a conversation with others in your field almost immediately.

A blog is often the place that professionals use to establish a first online presence, which you can think of as a space to develop a digital representation of who you are (or who you would like to be). But, some people seem to think that they should share everything they are, or everything they want the world to think they are. When you first begin blogging try to do the following:

  • Write regularly. Google gives greater relevance to blogs that are updated more frequently.
  • Be yourself and write about what is important to you.
  • Include images or embed videos. Blogs are visual mediums and good use of images help grab readers’ attention.
  • Use links to external content so that your post could be a resource for someone else.
  • Respond to comments left on your blog.
  • Write comments on the blogs of others. Blogging is about engaging in a conversation with others.
  • Use an RSS reader, like Google Reader, to keep up to date with other bloggers in your field.

One of the things that might take some getting used to is the idea of being public. Sharing with the world can be intimidating (“What if I’m not funny / smart / clever / [whatever] enough?”). My advice is to keep your posts authentic. Be honest with yourself and your audience and you’ll find that there are others out there who are experiencing the same challenges that you are, and will respond to your writing. Write for yourself, but be mindful of the fact that others will be reading it.

Here are some of the blogs that I subscribe to. Most of these are about teaching and learning, but there are some by clinical educators as well. Have a look at the last few posts from each of these bloggers, and if it looks like they’re sharing ideas that you might enjoy reading about, subscribe to them. Even better, comment on what they’ve written and share your own ideas. Remember that the whole point of blogging is to engage in a conversation with colleagues who have similar interests, and that the list below is a tiny fraction of the full conversation that is happening.

Microblogs

Microblogging is about sharing content in a very limited format. The most famous example of a microblog is probably Twitter, although Tumblr is another good example. For the purposes of this article, I’ll stick to Twitter, just because it’s what I’m most comfortable with. Twitter allows users to post “tweets” of 140 characters, and was originally designed to be used as an alternative to SMS, hence the 140 character limit. When you first start tweeting you might find yourself trying to decide what to say. It’s OK to begin by watching to see what others are talking about, but know that if you’re not actively sharing, people will be hesitant to follow you.

Some of the things that you may want to share include your own experiences of “being” whatever it is that you are. Share the challenges you face in your professional context, or the things you see in the people around you. Tell your followers about a particular insight that just came to you, or a link to a really useful / interesting / engaging / thoughtful / inspiring online resource. Take a photo of something beautiful and share it with everyone. The whole point of being on Twitter is to engage in a public space, so be careful with what you tweet. A future employer might end up reading it.

There are several desktop and mobile Twitter clients that extend the functionality of the standard web-based experience (e.g. being able to send and receive tweets from multiple accounts), and you should play around with a few until you find one that you like. Some of the more popular clients include Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Echofon and the default Twitter client for most smartphones.

Conventions that you should be familiar with when using Twitter:

  • Stream – The feed of tweets that come from the people you follow.
  • Follow – When you “follow” someone, it means that their tweets show up in your stream. You should follow people who are interesting to you, otherwise your stream very quickly becomes polluted with content that has little value for you.
  • RT – “Retweeting” is when you see a post from someone you follow and share it with everyone who follows you.
  • DM – “Direct messages” are a bit like email. They’re private and can only be sent between people who follow each other.
  • @replies – When someone addresses you or mentions you in public. Everyone can see what’s been said and you get a notification that you’ve been mentioned. The message usually begins with “@yourusername”
  • # (hashtags) – Adding a hashtag allows others to perform a search on that word or phrase, which can be really useful during conferences. In addition, you can follow ongoing conversations like #phdchat, a collection of PhD researchers who share their experiences, stories, resources and tips for staying sane.

You can sign up for a Twitter account here, and here are a few users who I think are interesting to follow, just to get you started: @thesiswhisperer, @mashable, @courosa, @danariely, @opencontent, @pgsimoes, @presentationzen, @drtonybates, @sapinker, @coolcatteacher, @giustini, @bryanalexander, @amcunningham, @cameronneylon, @francesbell, @nlafferty, @gsiemens, @sebschmoller, @downes, @jamesclay, @ryantracey, @rachaellowe

The next part of the series on using social media to develop an online professional identity will review Mendeley, one of my favourite applications on the desktop, iPad, phone and web.

Disseminating research results

I attended a short seminar a few months ago that reviewed the academic publication process. At the time I thought it was reasonably informative and useful. Now, after having spent a bit more time thinking about the nature of formal, academic publication, I wonder if there isn’t a better, more efficient way to distribute new knowledge? The seminar seemed to revolve around an aging notion of what it means to be a credible researcher / author, with the main contention being that you must publish in accredited journals and that no other form of knowledge dissemination is as credible.

Over the past few months however, my own ideas of what constitutes a reasonable contribution to the body of knowledge have shifted from that older model to one in which a more informal method plays a central role. Is it really necessary to publish in “acceptable” journals to be taken seriously, or can one use other forms of publication, for example blogs? I’m not sure yet. Can you generate new (or modified) ideas and put them out there to be judged by your peers? Will the good content / ideas rise and evolve (through user input), while bad ones get relegated to the pile of fossils that didn’t quite make it? I think they will and yet, in order for me to be taken seriously as an academic (at least for now), I’m encouraged to avoid alternative forms of distributing academic content.

Anyway, those were a few thoughts that went through my head while I re-read my notes. We began by looking at the differences between a conference presentation and journal publication:

Conference presentation:

  • “Soft” review – one person reads your abstract to decide if you can present
  • No referee feedback – the abstract is either accepted or it’s not, there’s no suggestions to improve
  • No quality control – who decides if the study was well conducted?
  • Therefore presentations have little value for an academic
  • Note: only invited keynote speakers have real academic relevance, as they’re recognised as leaders in the field

Journal article:

  • Strict refereeing (one or several) means that the survey must contribute to the body of knowledge, can be extended / strengthened through feedback and is seen to be based on evidence through appropriate references
  • Only accepted after attention has been paid to reviewers comments
  • There is strict quality control

It was advised that only works in progress be presented at conferences, and that if the study is complete, results should rather be written up as an article.

In terms of selecting a journal, consider which publications cover your area, and give preference to international journals or those approved by the university. Review the authors guidelines for publication in that journal and follow them strictly.

As far as choosing authors, they must be involved in the academic content of the article. In other words, research assistants, data capturers, field workers, etc. should not be given authorship. Authors should be listed in terms of the greatest contribution.

In terms of addressing reviewers comments:

  • Remember that comments are not personal and that they’re there to strengthen your paper
  • Re-read the comments when you remember that they’re not personal (they won’t seem nearly as bad)
  • Address every point the reviewer made, bearing in mind that once addressed, you’re done with them. They can’t add new comments when it’s sent back.

And finally, ownership of the copyright must be transferred to the journal. From then on, you may only use your own paper for personal use.

Some links on blogging in academia:

Open research

I’ve been thinking about the concept of open research since listening to Jon Udell’s interview with Jean-Claude Bradley on his open notebook science project.  The idea is similar to the open approach to writing software in that the process is transparent and open to scrutiny by anyone.  This could have important implications for the soundness of the methodology behind the research, the distribution of results and the potential for massive collaboration on research projects.

Open research makes use of social tools like wikis (wikiresearch), blogs, Google Docs and social networks of like-minded individuals, that allow for collaboration, rapid publication and increased access to information for anyone with an internet connection.  There is also the suggestion that openness in research could lead to more innovation by stimulating ideas that allow others to make contributions to the body of knowledge that may not have been the original intent of the researcher.

However, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of conducting research in an open environment, that is subject to scrutiny by everyone and largely against the culture of secrecy in scientific research.  There are definitely issues with the process and one example of how conflict could arise is by publishing primary data openly.  This has the obvious benefit in that anyone could take that information and use it in ways not intended by the researcher, taking data that may have never seen the light of day and creating new knowledge.  The downside is that someone else could beat you to the finish line by publishing your results and negating your work.

There are other approaches that aren’t as “open” as publishing everything concerned with the project.  For example, you could choose to publish only your methodology or ideas around where the project is headed and request input around that, or raw data could be summarised before publishing online.  Other, similar fields are also becoming more mainstream, like open peer review, in which the peer review process of publication is made public, and open notebook science.

What will the world be like when all knowledge is freely available?

SAAHE conference 2009

I’ve noticed that I’m getting a few hits from search engines with people searching for “SAAHE”, so I can only assume that with the conference coming up in a few months time, interest is on the rise.  The SAAHE conference is an annual meeting of the South African Association of Health Educationalists in Cape Town (I always thought “Educators” would be better, but who am I to judge).

I’m busy putting together an abstract for a presentation that I’d like to give at the conference, but can’t decide what I want to talk about.  In the physiotherapy department at my university, we’re using blogs for reflective practice in the ethics module that I teach, wikis for collaborative group assignments in applied physiotherapy, Google Docs for collaborative authoring and peer review both within the physiotherapy department and in the faculty journal, Twitter and Google Docs with undergraduate research groups and finally, a comparison of the use of social media in education among South African and American undergraduate physiotherapy students.

With all of that on the table, it’s difficult to choose a favourite.  Maybe “An overview of the use of social media for education in a South African physiotherapy department”?  That way I get to talk about them all 🙂

Here’s a link to the conference site:
http://www.saahe.org.za/

Zotero

I first mentioned Zotero a while ago but didn’t go into very much detail in that post.  Since then, I’ve been experimenting with it a bit and am really starting to enjoy it.  It’s a Firefox extension that facilitates the research process by streamlining the collection of information accessed through the browser.  With more and more academic content becoming available online through open access journals, it’s an innovative method of aggregating and managing content for research.

Zotero has a decent set of content management features that really do a good job of making it easy to work with the information you save.  I won’t go into the specifics here because the quick start guide makes it really clear.  As well as the content management features, it’s also very good at recognising semantic content on the web and giving you options to import that content into it’s database.  For example, if you’re browsing PubMed, Zotero is able to import citation information and then to export it in many different formatting styles, including APA.

I actually don’t use Zotero for any academic content at the moment.  What I find it really useful for is annotating and working through ideas I come across in blogs.  I find that I can clarify my own thoughts around educational technology, using Zotero as a scrapbook to develop those ideas.  Which brings me to my only problem with Zotero.  I only use it for blogs right now because it’s only really useful for content you access through the browser, which is a major limitation for me.  While it’s true that most of my literature is accessed through the browser initially, I still keep local copies that I prefer to work with.

Although I think the application is great in it’s current form, I’m really hoping that the developers expand it’s scope.  Maybe make it a standalone tool that I can use to manage all my articles, no matter if they’re on- or offline and no matter what format they’re in.  I also need more space within the app because sometimes it can feel crowded (especially the right hand panel), and making it standalone will free up a lot of real estate by taking it out of the browser.  Note: you can run Zotero in a full tab, but I like to be able to read the blog while making notes.

Those things aside, this is a great browser extension that I’d definitely recommend checking out.

Screenshot of Zotero
Screenshot of Zotero