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  • Academics can easily leave Twitter’s town square, but it will be much harder for their institutions

    The fate of Twitter, both for academics and everyone else, has been a pressing issue in the past weeks. In this post Andy Tattersall argues that whilst individual academics could quite easily leave the platform, the centrality of Twitter to academic institutions makes a wholesale departure unlikely. Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter has ignited much debate about and on the social media platform of choice for academics. Mass sackings and major changes in terms of the Twitter blue tick have led some to predict the demise of the platform, whilst Musk himself promises to bring an end to bots and fake news content. Whether his depleted staff can bring about such major changes only time will tell. Do old platforms die, or just fade away? Whilst it is easy to get swept up in these debates, a longer-term perspective can also be instructive. When Web 2.0 arrived in circa 2004, it promised a new dawn of free tools that allowed academics to engage with ‘the Web’ without knowing html. However, one consequence of this has been the relative ease of becoming locked into these platforms. This period was when the internet commonplace ‘if you are not paying for the product, you are the product’ emerged. Of course, we did pay for the products with our data, but largely as freemium users, and as such we were always going to be limited in deciding the destination of a platform despite our labour and emotional investment. I have seen a few very useful tools widely adopted by the academic community that have entirely ceased to exist. Perhaps the most notable instance was Google Reader, which was a brilliant tool for aggregating new research stories and publications. When Google closed Reader in 2013, not only did it herald dominance of social media platforms, but it also saw an uptick in subscribers to The Old Reader, which gained millions of subscribers in very little time. This happened because there was a ‘like for like’ platform. A similar pattern also occurred when Netvibes benefitted at Pageflakes’ demise. This raises the question, is there such a platform for Academic Twitter and all its users, be they individuals or organisations? I have seen a few very useful tools widely adopted by the academic community that have entirely ceased to exist. Twitter continues to have significant value for academics. Fine examples of this potential, such as the outreach work undertaken by public health experts like Professor Trisha Greenhalgh and Dr Deepti Gurdasani during the COVID-19 pandemic, are easy to find. Yet, anyone who uses Twitter knows it can be better, notably around freedom of non-harmful speech without the threat of intimidation and violence, as could many other social media platforms. In the case of the aforementioned academics as well as many others, they have endured abuse as a result of posting about their research. Reputation management and personal wellbeing are key issues when it comes to sticking your head above the social media parapet and whilst not every discipline or topic faces the same level of scrutiny or abuse, none of it should be acceptable. Image Credit: Adapted from Joshua Hoehne via Unsplash. Research by Bianca Kramer and Jerome Bosman as part of their Innovations in Scholarly Communications project further shows Twitter’s popularity within the academic community. The platform topped the charts for the tool most adopted by academics due to its ease of access, simplicity and its network linking academia and its institutions to the world, whether that be journalists, policymakers or even members of the public. It is unlikely Mastodon, or other alternatives, will reach the breadth of audiences or generate the kind of impact that the likes of Greenhalgh and Gurdasani have experienced, at least in the short term. Can academic institutions leave twitter? For most individuals using Twitter the choice of leaving the platform or changing how they use it is relatively simple. A more mindful approach to social media, splitting out knowledge exchange from academic community building, as advocated by Dr Mark Carrigan in a recent post on this blog is certainly possible. However, for academic institutions, who have often developed extensive and complex audiences, the possibility of jumping ship is less appealing it also presents the prospect of a chasm forming between institutions and individuals. Universities have become better at adopting new social media in recent years, using platforms like TikTok and Instagram to market themselves. Twitter has become a mainstay of university level communications and is used widely for key institutional goals, notably student recruitment (something that might be causing a crisis of confidence for some marketing professionals right now), alerting staff and students to live and upcoming events and news, public engagement, research impact and connecting with local and commercial enterprises. For the time being, I doubt any academic department or university will move away from Twitter, as they have invested much time and effort into building a following. To move and start again, to reconnect with old audiences and build new ones requires collective decisions and action. Moving social media platforms at an institutional level might not require the same kind of effort and financial cost between changing VLE (Virtual Learning Environments) providers, but the consequences for the reputation of the institution could be very much similar if they get it wrong. I suspect what we might see instead of a major switch right now, is a greater use of Instagram, Facebook Pages, Reddit and LinkedIn. how exactly do universities and other institutions assess how platforms are changing and the value of new ones? Is there a point at which one could say confidently Twitter is no longer the same, or a site like Mastodon is the new Twitter? But, how exactly do universities and other institutions assess how platforms are changing and the value of new ones? Is there a point at which one could say confidently Twitter is no longer the same, or a site like Mastodon is the new Twitter? Twitter has always been a collection of communities, and there have always been unsavoury parts of the network that are worth staying clear of. The issue of politicisation is likely a key factor and the extent to which Twitter is now a plaything or experiment for Musk to shape politics, as for instance in his recent tweet, may well determine its value for reaching wider audiences. Afterall, there is not much of an academic presence on Donald Trump’s preferred social media platform, Truth Social. Equally, establishing new social media platforms and engaging with them meaningfully at an organisational level is a significant undertaking. As academic institutions tend to have unequally distributed social media skills and resources, this points towards slower incremental changes. Ultimately, this reliance on free web platforms to disseminate our research highlights two issues. First, that there is no guarantee that we’ll always have access to the platforms we rely on. Second, that whilst blogs, podcasts and video are important for communicating research, a good, open social network to share these outputs (something like Twitter) has become an (almost) inescapable part of academic communication today. This post was originally published on the LSE Imact of Social Sciences Blog via Creative Commons

  • Finding your niche in the four styles of research communication

    Let’s get straight to the point. After a decade of experience using digital platforms for research communication, it has become apparent to me that there are four styles of research communication: Academic Departmental Institutional Third Party Whilst for those in the know, this may seem obvious. As I have previously discussed, alongside increased support, funding and demands for research communication, there are inherent inequalities around both knowledge and access to different kinds of research communication. In my work, I see many academics who feel they should be communicating their research, but do not have a clue as to what any such activity should look like. I would argue that for those setting out on their research communication journey, or even those who are more experienced, there is benefit from a better understanding of these styles, the demands they impose, the support available and following this, the niche your research project fits into. Image Credit: Faye Cornish via Unsplash. Academic led research communications Research dissemination at an individual level often starts with social media. This can mean Twitter, but ultimately, it should be the platform that links you to your intended audience. The barriers to entry are low and starting out can often be faltering, something I once likened to ducklings taking to water or baby giraffes. I have also found this immediacy has two results: academics communicating their research without a plan and to an imagined ‘non-specialist’ or ‘public’ audience. Whilst social media like Twitter takes a minute to set up, it can take months and years to master and build a meaningful audience. However, when used well social media can connect you to a wide spectrum of stakeholders (peers, government departments, charities, even potential students). Whilst no academic is an island, it can often feel that way for researchers when trying to find the right support for their research. The greatest benefit of this style is that no one knows your research as well as you do. It also affords the opportunity to develop transferable skills. Knowing where to publish a good research blogpost, or how to produce a podcast are (hopefully) considered useful. Especially, for Masters and PhD students building their career and reputation. It also offers an opportunity for academics to lead and inspire their colleagues in being more creative in their own communications. Whilst no academic is an island, it can often feel that way for researchers when trying to find the right support for their research. Being individually proactive with communications, or as part of a group can be beneficial, but invariably greater success requires support. That success depends on a variety of factors, not least what resources internally are at hand. Departmental led research communications At departmental level you begin to find more interests at play (notably student recruitment). On the upside, embedded departmental communication support should have a good understanding of the academics and subject matter they work directly with. This can help in getting the research shared, but more importantly it allows you to tap into existing relationships with academics in your field and prevents you having to painstakingly build your profile across different media. I work within an academic department and actively try to give colleagues bespoke help or the practical skills to disseminate their research through a variety of media. These include a podcast and webinar series that I started in the Lockdown of 2020, a service that was especially valuable when normal communication channels, such as conferences and invited seminars were shut down. My colleagues work on high impact health research which has a very wide audience. However, it is rare for a department to have this model, where an individual is trusted to plan, create and share outputs. It’s a model I explored on this blog with the idea of the Research Technologist. Naturally, the success of these roles depends on the funds to licence creative packages and the space to pursue new kinds of projects. Institutional led research communications At the top of the pyramid of university comms are central communications and media teams operating at anything between institutional to faculty level. Depending on the organisational structure, much of their capacity may be taken up by student recruitment activities. In terms of central research communications there is also a cost-benefit analysis as to what out of a very large and eclectic set of research outputs they can and can’t support. The relationship between central communications and the media should at least be established, so research outputs selected for coverage will have a better chance of reaching the right medium and audience for coverage. These teams will often also be points of access to institutional web pages and social media accounts. However, most research is not newsworthy from a national media perspective and many central teams may have just one person representing a whole faculty or department. Adding those together means that only select research outputs will get picked up centrally. That being said, all research is newsworthy. At an institutional level it might feel like only professors might receive notable coverage and support. But, that does not mean they have a monopoly on the most interesting and impactful research. Some of the most newsworthy research is happening at the grassroots level of PhD students and early career researchers. The key is to let the right people in the media team know about it. Third-party led research communications The past decade has seen a significant increase in interest from external partners looking to support research communication. Research funders, publishers, NGOs and even commercial consultancies all have different interests in research communication. Working with external organisations and consultants can be very rewarding, although this is very much dependent with their alignment to your own goals. Research consultancies can also shade into predatory practices, where offers of large audiences, colourful online magazines, podcasts, or social media posts are made in exchange for exorbitant fees. Research communication consultancies are a relatively new phenomenon and represent some of the key challenges in this area. Firstly, this style of communication is dependent on funding, some funders now actively support these activities, although as per usual, it is essential to plan ahead for these activities. Once funded, whilst it might be easy to defer to outside expertise (or sales pitches), it is essential to have an idea of what those activities will look like. If you are disseminating findings to those with hearing difficulties then creating a podcast is not a good idea. Unlike the other styles, you may have to invest time in explaining, sometimes complex outputs to non-experts which will require multiple revisions. Research consultancies can also shade into predatory practices, where offers of large audiences, colourful online magazines, podcasts, or social media posts are made in exchange for exorbitant fees. My colleagues are regularly contacted by various small consultancies or individuals offering such services. Of course, not all are bad, but it goes back to my previous point about academics feeling that they need to be doing something to communicate their research, this reflex can easily translate into noise, rather than good research communication. This is especially true, when there is a pot of research money to dip into. If you are approached by an external consultant, it is important to ask questions, is there a cost? How much? What can they offer? What kind of audience can they guarantee? Are there any hidden extras? Have they worked with any notable academics or organisations before? Much like when thinking about where to publish your research using your networks and the advice of peers can be immensely helpful when looking for a partner, who has the knowledge and expertise to communicate your work effectively. Unifying the four styles These four styles do not exist in isolation, but the more coverage you capture for your research the more likely they come together as one. Until that time comes you need to explore what resources you have to hand and who is best placed to help you. Making your research known to media and communication professionals internally is a good place to start. This needs to be ahead of publication and should be part of your research design. Timing is essential, especially for media work where publication elsewhere can effectively kill interest in the work, as most professionals are juggling multiple demands and they are also unlikely to drop things to focus on promoting your new research paper the day it comes out. Ultimately research communications are a long game. It can take time to build up any kind of visibility, particularly if you are just starting out on your career. The start of that communications journey may invariably mean doing much of this for yourself, but with tenacity and determination the attention will come as will those wishing to amplify your message. Article originally published on the LSE Impact of Social Science Blog Image Credit: Faye Cornish via Unsplash.

  • Wikipedia is open to all, the research underpinning it should be too.

    There has (too) long been a debate as to Wikipedia’s relationship with academia and whether the former is a credible platform for sharing and citing research. Much of that discussion has been around how it is used by students. Whilst certain academics have had a tendency to turn their nose up at the popular encyclopaedia, not seeing it as a credible source of knowledge. Yet, for many it is simply the first stop for authoritative information and as such it offers an opportunity for the research community to share their work with a huge, global audience. This happens when their research is cited as part of a Wikipedia entry, as the encyclopaedia is built upon evidence, not anecdotes. One of the first news features on Wikipedia in Nature in 2011 suggested that editing the platform could be an influential way of improving a researcher’s visibility and communicating their work to the academic community. Bringing that forward a decade and we can see this go much further, as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Wikimedia Foundation collaborated to expand the public’s access to the latest and most reliable information about COVID-19. Image Credit: Everett Bartels via Unsplash. At the White Rose universities of Sheffield, Leeds and York, we looked at how much of our research is cited by Wikipedia and more importantly, how much of that is available via Open Access. In an age where more research is being published open access, it can be very easy to assume that every link to a research paper in the world’s most accessible encyclopedia is also freely accessible. Sadly much current and historical research is still behind a publisher’s paywall. This of course undermines one of Wikipedia’s three principal core content policies of ‘verifiability’ with the other two being ‘neutral point of view’, and ‘not original research’, meaning that it does not publish original thought. If a piece of evidence is behind a paywall it becomes harder for someone to verify it for themselves, even though it might have been through a peer review process. It is also incoherent and ironic, like research papers on the topic of open access that are themselves behind a publisher paywall. If a piece of evidence is behind a paywall it becomes harder for someone to verify it for themselves, even though it might have been through a peer review process To deal with the issue of articles cited in both journal websites and repositories, Wikipedia introduced the option for dual references to be added to a Wikipedia citation, meaning that the repository version of a research paper can be included alongside one that might still be behind a subscription wall. Some institutions, such as Leeds have hosted their own Wikipedia Editathons to address a variety of issues, such as de-colonisation of Wikipedia which heavily favours white, male content, in addition to linking to open access materials. Wikipedia does promote the use of the OABOT tool that facilitates making links to the OA versions of publications. As part of our research we obtained data from to explore how much research across the three universities had been cited by Wikipedia. The data showed there were 6454 Wikipedia citations across the three institutions (Sheffield 2523, Leeds 2406, York 1525). We used an Unpaywall API to check the DOIs of all articles appearing in the sample to explore which of these articles were open access via the Gold publishing model and through our institutional repository available under the ‘Green’ route. The two tools we employed to explore this data, Unpaywall and, are largely automated, whereas research that is cited in Wikipedia is created manually. To validate our sample we carried out a manual, random check of 100 Wikipedia citations from each of the three institutional datasets to check for accuracy and confirm that each paper was attributed to that institution correctly. We also checked that the open access status given by Unpaywall was correct. The oldest publication that was available open access and cited in a Wikipedia entry was from 1910, whilst the oldest paywalled research article was published in 1922. The fact there is a paywalled journal article from 100 years ago is rather depressing in itself. It is noteworthy that publication data that is tracked in appears to go back to as far as 1666. We also looked at which disciplines received the most citations and found Biological Sciences and Medical and Health Sciences had by far the highest number of citations for each institution. Several disciplines returned similar results across the institutions, whilst others did much better than their fellow White Rose universities. Physical Sciences research at University of Sheffield received considerably more Wikipedia citations than Leeds or York. The University of Leeds Earth Sciences and Chemical Sciences research received much higher numbers of citations than the other two. York led the way in History and Archaeology compared to Sheffield and Leeds. Our sample indicated that around half of all academic citations on the platform are paywalled. This is a major flaw in the Wikipedia model. All three institutions performed similarly well in terms of open access coverage in Wikipedia. York did best with 56% of their references openly available compared to Sheffield with 54% and Leeds with 52%. Even though that highlights a majority of open links, it also shows there is still some way to go for a truly open resource. The data from also highlighted editing patterns with multiple Wikipedia entries edited by the same accounts. Sadly we do not know the source of these editors, but can only assume they are either academics or professionals working in that particular field or possibly citizen scientists with a keen interest in current research. Our study reveals there is still much work to be done in opening up research citations on Wikipedia. Differences in coverage across disciplines also likely reflect wider issues around the availability of open access. However, Wikipedia’s ethos of verifiability should extend to the accessibility of academic references. Our sample indicated that around half of all academic citations on the platform are paywalled. This is a major flaw in the Wikipedia model. Openly available published research helps support the development of Wikipedia. This in turn assists Wikipedia’s ultimate goal of access to transparent and evidence-based knowledge. It would also lower barriers to access research, which ultimately is good for academics and society. We appreciate that not everything is open for the rest of society and it might be some time before that happens. But, given Wikipedia’s global influence and stated mission, the research that underpins each entry should be as open and accessible as possible. To take full advantage of this it requires a greater understanding amongst academics and Wikipedians as to the importance of citing open access works over those behind a paywall. Image Credit: Everett Bartels via Unsplash. This post draws on the authors’ co-authored paper: Tattersall A, Sheppard N, Blake T, O’Neill K and Carroll C, Exploring open access coverage of Wikipedia-cited research across the White Rose Universities, published in Insights. Originally posted on the LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog

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  • Services | Andy Tattersall

    I offer a variety of bespoke training courses to suit your group or organisation's best needs. My training style is informal, engaging and interactive. Experience has taught me that learners are at their most receptive if they are in a relaxed and comfortable environment. I enjoy passing on knowledge and tools to ensure attendees take away as much practical skills as they can. ​ "My workshops are focused around empowering researchers and their professional support staff to help themselves and be much less reliant on others to deliver their message. Who can benefit from my workshops Library and information professionals within an academic environment Academics from early career researchers to those more established in their career Postgraduate Research Students Postgraduate Taught Students Professional staff involved in supporting academics in the area of scholarly communications and digital academia ​ Typical learning objectives Greater understanding of social media, how it can be effectively used within academia Use of creative, low cost, digital technologies to enhance self-directed eye catching research communications Development of a suit of tools and skills to help deliver effective, impactful research communication campaigns Understanding of how research communications fit within the new Open Research setting Below are examples of workshops I am able to deliver An introduction to scholarly communications and social media in the digital age. Using creative tools to enhance your research communications Build your own workshop I am able to offer training on any of the below if you wanted to build your own one day workshop. Twitter Blogging Altmetrics Social media Infographics Podcasting Reputation Management Scholarly communications Video and animation creation I also offer workshops on beating digital disruption and writing productivity and have extensive experience in facilitating online and face to face writing retreats. The feedback from these sessions is always very positive. The 'build your own workshop' is just like making your own takeaway pizza. I provide a base and the essential sauces (introduction to how academia is changing in a digital world), you chose the toppings. You can also suggest specific areas you may want to cover more deeply. ​ ​ Get in Touch

  • Scholarly Communications | Andytattersall

    How we carry out and communicate research is changing beyond recognition. Much of this change is driven by the web through social media, blogging, podcasting, video and other visual abstracts. The research world is also changing from the impact of Covid-19 to political change and Fake News. The focus, whether that be the media, stakeholders or the general public on academic outputs has never been greater. All of this has an incredible impact on research, whether you work in the arts and humanities or within pure science. Thankfully there is a myriad of tools and technologies available to undertake, communicate and evaluate research and create attention and potential pathways to impact. The growing number of communication platforms can be very overwhelming for academics and professional support staff. Not everyone has time to learn how to use them properly, never mind understand their opportunities and threats. I can very much help with that. ​ The Digital Academic We often hear that students are not prepared for this new digital world , but what about academics and those who support them? On the surface tools like Twitter might seem simple, but it depends on your audience and how you use it. Academics and students can fall foul of social media and traditional media when problems could be avoided with guidance and support. Ultimately communicating your research should be an opportunity, not a threat or barrier. Not every tool works for everyone, there is no ‘one size fits all’ and my workshops are tailored to the needs of the participants and their ability. This is where I can help ​ Who can benefit from my training ​ Academics and departments who want to discover how best to disseminate and evaluate their findings across multiple platforms and networks and increase the impact of their research, as well as support their REF and impact statements. Library, information and other research support professionals who support academics in scholarly communications and research evaluation. PhD candidates and Masters level students to communicate their research findings and gain early attention for their work. About me I have several years of experience supporting and training academics, students, research support staff, library and information professionals. I have hands on practical skills in social media, research blogging, infographics, podcasts, video, animation creation and altmetrics among other areas. I can help you communicate your research and work better with the media and have a Honours Degree in Journalism and worked as a sub editor for The Press Association before undertaking a Masters degree in Information Management. These qualifications and well over a decade of innovation within academia have afforded me a wealth of expertise in the area of digital academia. You can read more about me and my work here. ​ Get in Touch

  • About Andy | Andy Tattersall

    @Andy_Tattersall I am an information professional by trade and have delivered teaching and training within academia, healthcare and the information and library field for nearly two decades. I particularly teach, write and give talks on research communications, digital academia, information literacy, social media, altmetrics, technology, open research, web and information science. In my day job I am an Information Specialist at The School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) at the University of Sheffield. I received a Teaching Senate Award from The University of Sheffield’ for pioneering work on the first Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) at Sheffield. I am a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and in 2017 I was named one of Jisc’s Top 10 Social Media Superstars in Higher Educatio n. I am a member of the UKSG Education and Events Subcommittee and resided on the Library and Information Association Multi Media and Information Technology Committee for over a decade (and held position of Chair for two years). I regularly write on the topic of technology and research communications, mostly for the popular LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog , The Conversation and I edited a book on Altmetrics for Facet Publishing. which is aimed at researchers and librarians. I have also contributed to professional information and knowledge management website Jinfo. Get in Touch Follow © 2022 Andy Tattersall

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