In a previous post I mentioned that I’ve been developing an online thesis environment for a special topics unit as part of my Masters. I’ve now finally got something up and running, which you can see here:
Currently it’s very early days and there’s not a lot in the way of content yet. At the moment it’s running a fairly standard WordPress multisite install, but will hopefully become a bit more exciting as I fiddle with themes/plugins/hacks etc etc. If you’ve got a few minutes, some feedback in the comments here would be appreciated. What would you want to see if you were engaging in someone’s research online?
When I applied for my Masters degree, I indicated in my proposal that I intended to submit a non-traditional thesis in an online environment. Because the MEd (Hons) program requires four coursework units, this semester I’m undertaking a special topics unit to allow me to design & develop such a thesis interface and justify it to the powers that be (for ‘justify’ read ‘write and publish paper’). Having just put together my annotated bibliography on ETDs for this (here if you’re interested, although it’s not what I would call riveting reading), it has come to my attention that I have a fairly cowboy attitude towards scholarship. A slight disrespect for systems that have stood unquestioned for far too long. My thoughts are as follows:
- Traditional referencing systems are more or less bollocks. I realise some people are prepared to die on a hill regarding the placement of commas, but I really think someone needs to be asking what is actually relevant these days. A full citation with publishing details was relevant when searches were done via card catalogues and books lived in libraries. Now? It’s maybe useful if you can’t Google Scholar it, but that’s it. And in an online text? Worse than irrelevant. One hyperlink and the source is instantly available to the user.
- I do not understand academia’s obsession with permanence and archiving. If you cite a source and that source becomes unavailable (i.e. out of date), that should define your work, not be a cause for mass panic. Knowledge is transient and my feeling is scholarship should reflect this, not exist in spite of it.
- Books and journals are nice. However, to assume they are the only places in which valid forms of scholarship reside is ridiculous. The commercial definition of ‘publication’ has blown right out in the last 10-odd years, but this isn’t reflected in the academic definition. The most useful academic knowledge for me is blogged, tweeted, amplify’d and bookmarked all day, every day. Not published in a locked-down journal 9 to 12 months after being written. Walled gardens etc etc.
- I do not understand why, somewhere along the way, ‘scholarship’, ‘rigour’ and ‘fun’ became mutually exclusive. Is there any reason why research can’t be presented in engaging ways? The purpose of research should be to disseminate, not alienate, yet the heavy-handed, excessively dry language in which most research is presented alienates all but the most scholarly audiences.
The question is now – do cowboy views have a place in the academic ball game?
Yesterday I was asked to review a paper for a colloquium. The paper was describing (fairly outdated) ways that researchers can collate and archive web artefacts (blog posts and so on). The paper itself is neither here nor there, but the subject matter had some interesting repercussions on my still-new-to-research brain. When I read the paper, my first thought was ‘But this is what I do every day, only more efficiently’, and my second thought was ‘Am I missing a boat here?’. It had previously not occurred to me that practices that I simply thought were part of an efficient workflow, others were writing up as research. It took a bit of unpacking on Twitter (thanks @djplaner and @s_palm) to fully get my head around. Turns out most of what I do is potential research – Twitter networking, reflective blogging, training design, iPadding, Diigo/Instapaper/RSS/Mendeley research workflow etc etc. These were all things I just considered ‘getting on with it’, and ‘research’ was something in-depth, planned and conceptual that happened seperately. Not so, apparently.
It raises two questions for me. The first is – this might be how the research game goes, but is it really legitimate? Has it evolved this way simply because the pressure to publish is so great? Can anything now be considered research if you’re clever about writing it up?
The second is – how do I reconcile this idea as a researcher? Time on papers on things I consider run of the mill is time spent away from my intended research trajectory. Yet in the current research environment, papers talk and only blogging about things means that a lot of people who could potentially benefit from research on good practice may never read it, because blogs aren’t on their radar. Although, there’s probably a research niche on the fact that often the most valuable information isn’t contained in journal articles, too…
Would love your thoughts on this. Is the system right? Is it broken? Do I need to jump on the train?
I’ll admit this presentation was posted here accidentally. I had vodpodded it to use as a potential resource in a workshop, but didn’t realise I had auto-publish set up from Vodpod. However, rather than deleting it, I thought I’d use it as encouragement to actually write a post.
Professional blogging is something I struggle with time- and inspiration-wise. Research blogging even more so. I am very guilty of not following my own advice. Must do better.
What interests me about research blogging is that it’s changing what academic writing looks like. Once upon a time, published research meant a book, chapter or journal article. That was it. Every time you wanted to publish your research you had to submit to the powers that be and wait for approval. Not so now. Anyone can publish their research at any point, in any form, in a blog. The rate, scope and quality of research information available to us has skyrocketed. There is a vibrant and dynamic community of self-published researchers to be accessed online.
My question is – when will research methodology catch up? Why am I still asked to search locked-down, tired databases for journal content? Why do some look at a list of blog posts and Slideshare links in a bibliography and scoff? What qualifies ‘paper’ literature as legit?
For years, academia relied solely on books, and eventually journals. A referencing system (or multiple variations thereof) grew up around this, and for years it was fine. And then there was the internet. It has become very apparent to me of late that traditional scholarly methods of referencing are in dire need of an overhaul to accommodate new technologies – and I’m not just talking about working out how to reference a podcast in the Harvard system.
I’ve recently been exploring Twitter and Facebook in the Flipboard app on my iPad, and the interface has got me thinking. Imagine reading a paper or thesis where the in-text references and quotes are all hyperlinked. Imagine being able to pull the referenced media up in a pop-up and immediately access and make commentary on it. Imagine immediately being able to see a source in context. Imagine being able to reference an ephemeral source, like a tweet or hashtag stream, or embed widgets and media directly into a document.
The problem with scholarly referencing as it stands is that it is linear, stand-alone and limited. Currently we are still lucky if the bibliography includes hyperlinks to web articles that are actually clickable. When people need to reference a new type of media, somebody creates a way to reference it in the traditional way and thinks no more of it. And yet, the web has been interconnected, interactive and layered for years now. The technology to create a more dynamic and relevant style of referencing is easily available – why not begin to use it?