Scholars’ participation and practices online


I am excited to lead the conversation in week 33 of the #change11 MOOC. I am looking forward to share my research with you, to learn from and with you, and to help us gain a better insight of the topic that we are about to examine.


This week, I’d like us to think about scholars’ participation and practices online. In this instance, “scholars” refers to individuals who conduct teaching and research in higher education settings (e.g., instructors, professors, MA/PhD students, etc). We will examine this topic by discussing research that I have conducted on the topic, reflecting on our own practice, and synthesizing information already discussed in the #change11 MOOC. We will explore how academics/scholars co-opt and appropriate technology in their day-to-day professional lives, with specific emphasis on social networking technologies. We will discuss faculty members’ experiences and practices when they adopt online social networks (e.g., Twitter) and online scholarly networks (e.g., for professional purposes, and investigate whether their online participation is (or is not) (re)defining academic work (i.e. teaching and research).


Within the openness movement, we have seen increasing calls for scholars to employ open practices. Such calls are understandable: social technologies such as blogs, social networking sites, and microblogging fora, have the potential to democratize knowledge negotiation and dissemination.

My work tries to make sense of what that potential looks like in practice, or what Selwyn and Grant call "state-of-the-actual" versus "state-of-the-art." For example, to effective participate in social media, and realize the potential for networked learning, we see that individuals may need access to different types of literacies (e.g., see Week 15: Howard Rheingold and Social Media Literacies).

It simply is not enough to embrace the technology and expect any real change, without understanding the embedded values of the technology, the beliefs/needs of scholars, and the organizational systems (e.g., universities) which house them. Framing our topic in the context of design-based research (Week 23: Tom Reeves), one could ask: What are the scholarly problems that social media are attempting to solve? Are they a solution to a specific problem? Or are they a solution seeking to find a problem? Ponder these questions for a second.

If you look back at the link to the Selwyn & Grant paper above, you will notice that it is posted on Grant's profile. Has (and other similar sites) solved the problem of effortlessly sharing our work? Have they solved the problem of ongoing interaction and negotiation around scholarly artifacts? Or perhaps they allow us to harness the knowledge and skills of colleagues interested in the same topics that we are.

There are some great examples of this: When Dave Cormier created a Mendeley Group for Rhizomatic learning, he is attempting to collect "the scant existing publications together into one place;" when Grainne Conole is authoring her book "in the open" (on Cloudwords, her blog, and copies of the document on a shared dropbox folder) she is atempting to gather feedback from others and make her expertise widely available.

So. What are the problems? But, also what are the opportunities?   During this particular week, we will consider whether the rise of online social networking within academic circles is a result of technological or cultural shifts, and investigate the purposes, goals, and pitfalls of networked participation.

My work in this domain has started with a desire to understand faculty member’s digital practices. Martin Weller’s research (Week 3: Digital Scholarship) provides the foundations for this investigation. Within this context, I have studied the relationship between scholarly practice and participatory technologies, and sought to understand (a) what faculty members’ do in online social networks, (b) what their experiences in these networks are like, and (c) what issues and pitfalls we might face when suggesting the use of social media for faculty members’ professional practice.

This is an important topic of study because (a) digital scholarship is gaining increasing interest, and (b) a large percentage of higher education faculty have adopted, are considering the use of, or have rejected social  technologies for professional practice. Importantly, the field is in dire need of empirical data to be in a position to critically evaluate claims with regards to the benefits that social technologies might afford academic practice.

A critical evaluation of academics’ participation in digital spaces matters because an understanding of these reasons will allow us to gain a better sense of how and why online social networks are used in the ways that they are. Whether we recognize it or not, we are part of a complex techno-cultural system that is ever changing in response to both internal and external stimuli, including technological innovations and dominant cultural values. An understanding of the contemporary forces that shape academic work is necessary for enhancing education and scholarship.


List of Readings (all links will take you to a pdf document)

Veletsianos, G. & Kimmons, R. (2012). Networked Participatory Scholarship: Emergent Techno-Cultural Pressures Toward Open and Digital Scholarship in Online Networks. Computers & Education, 58(2), 766-774.

Veletsianos, G. (in press). Higher Education Scholars’ Participation and Practices on Twitter. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning.

Veletsianos, G. & Kimmons, R. (in press). Scholars and Faculty Members Lived Experiences in Online Social Networks. The Internet and Higher Education.


Suggested Activities

Please feel free to complete any one (or all) of the tasks below. Or, create your own activity that will extend your thinking/understanding of the topic.

Task 1: Create a concept map that explains how the topic studied this week relates to and/or contributes to further understanding of the topics studied in preceding weeks.

Task 2: was described as a place where "links go to die." Write a blog entry (or create a video narrative or digital story) that reacts to the following statement: " is a place where academic papers go to die" Do you agree or disagree and why?

Task 3: This Google Spreadsheet is an archive of tweets from the recent AERA conference held at Vancouver (archived by Bodong Chen). Look at this data corpus and think about the activity of researchers tweeting while at a conference. What do the tweets tell us about the conference? About the individuals tweeting? What questions come up that we could study further?

Task 4: Write a 1-paragraph research proposal to examine an issue related to this topic. Alert me to it via Twitter (@veletsianos) and I will give you feedback. You should include: A statement of the research problem, a research question, a method of examination/analysis.



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