Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes


Open Access and Social Media: Networking around a scholarly article

(The short version is in the last paragraph if you want to skip to there).

Many places

Many places

Heterotopic communication

In writing about heterotopic communication (see Foucault’s Heterotopia ), the prescient Leah Lievrouw showed that public and private can relate to strategies for engagement behaviours rather than being properties of spaces (Lievrouw 1998 ).  As we communicate apparently within one space, we are simultaneously performing across multiple physical and digital channels and spaces with others who have related but different sets of spaces.  Communicating across spaces around the publication of an open access paper that I co-authored has been a long learning ‘moment’ for me over the last week, and I wanted to capture and share my reflections before I forget them.

OA Publishing and Social Media

I have been thinking about the links between Open Access scholarly publishing and social media for some time, inspired by my privileged involvement in two ventures. The first was Cristina Costa’s PhD entitled Participatory Web in the Context of Academic Research: Landscapes of Change and Conflicts. I learned so much from listening and talking to Cristina as she planned, conducted and wrote up her research. The second venture was my involvement as (then) co-editor in the move of the ALT journal Research in Learning Technology to Open Access publishing (including the entire archive). In the editorial of the first open access issue, we said

By attending to, and even influencing, the emergent practices of our members (as well as authors and other researchers) as ALT introduces innovations, we can continue to exploit the opportunities presented by the openness and web presence of articles in Research in Learning Technology. The read/write web, as represented by blogs and social networking services such as Twitter and Google+, offers the potential to develop conversation and interest around our articles, and thereby promoting their use.

That seems very relevant to my current reflections, since I find my own practices to be emergent, with rapid change having occurred in the last week.

Encouraging engagement via Social Media

On 13 Feb 2015, Jenny Mackness and I had a paper published in Open Praxis  an open access journal. Conscious that we wanted to maximise the impact of the fruits of our labour and that of the participants who supplied such rich data, we considered briefly how best to share it . We shared the (open) link to the paper on Twitter, including the hash tags for rhizo14 and rhizo15. Open Praxis use Twitter to market their activity. They stream their own tweets on their web page, and have some means of picking up occurrence of their links in Twitter that they then helpfully retweet including authors’ handles where they know them. On reflection, it occurs to me that it would be really helpful for connectivity purposes for (willing) authors to include their Twitter handles within the paper, and for a share button to be next to the paper that could include author twitter handles when the link to the paper is shared. I don’t know of any journals do this. I have checked out a few publishers and whilst some enable creation of post that links to paper, the twitter post often exceeds 140 characters and included publisher rather than authors’ handles. These look like devices for marketing rather than scholarly engagement.
We decided to blog the publication of the article at Frances’ blog and later at Jenny’s blog and the comment streams are evidence of rich engagement with the paper. We have used the posts to link to activity on Twitter and elsewhere. For example, the very wonderful Laura Goglia decided, on the spur of the moment, to live tweet her reading of our paper (we recorded this via storify) and she blogged the experience too.
Twitter was a very useful way of sharing and commenting around the paper. One less positive (for me) use of Twitter was a reader who used Direct Messages to quiz me about aspects behind the paper ( 17 messages in less than 30 minutes). I suggested redirection to the blog.
During the live tweet there was a playful suggestion that what the paper needed was a hashtag but perhaps this turns out to be something worth deciding at the start (possibly even including within the article as a keyword). We used Storify to capture the chat around Laura’s live tweet of the blog post.

Rhizo14’s most active space is the semi-permeable Facebook group that has a membership of 320 of whom a small proportion are active.  Typically, longer threads will engage ten or more people but one has a sense of not so much an invisible audience, but rather an unnoticed audience. We had not directly posted our paper to the Facebook group but two threads emerged around a link to the paper. The first was started by a positive comment and fizzled out fairly quickly. The second thread was introduced by a comment raising doubts about the extent of ethical obligation of the leader of a voluntary extra-institutional cMOOC like Rhizo14, and ran on to include some other concerns about the paper. post by Rebecca Hogue that was actually about her planned blogging course but I mistakenly thought was about the rhizo14 cMOOC.  I engaged in both threads, trying to respond to points about the paper as they were made. It was strange – I had been active (less so in recent months) on this Facebook group for over a year but I came to feel that my presence as author (particularly in the second thread) wasn’t helping the discussion that people wanted to have (see my comments on cognitive dissonance). Eventually one participant expressed that they felt that I was categorising them and lecturing them. I was mystified by the first point but reread the thread and could see that my contributions could be seen as having ‘lecture-like’ attributes. I was speaking about collaborative work with Jenny on which I had spent many hours, and unsurprisingly my contributions were in an authoritative register that was probably out of place in the context of this particular Facebook group, for some participants at least.

So what are the outcomes of my reflection?

  • there are positive links between open access and social media
  • open access publishers can and do support the dissemination of articles using social media and this can increase the readership of articles
  • publishers and authors could investigate the possibilities of using social media to create engagement with the article that could more easily include authors themselves (if that is what authors want)
    consider creating a hashtag for an article that can be used to tag it and aggregate discussion around it
  • it can be useful for authors to blog the publication of an article, enabling dialogue and using this as a hub to link to other direct and curated interactions around the article
  • Twitter has many affordances for supporting sharing and commenting around articles but DM was less useful from my point of view
  • in future I would not directly engage with discussion of our work in the Rhizo14 Facebook group as my engagement seemed to be of little use to the group participants or to me
authorscognitive dissonancedisseminationengagementFacebookOpen Accessopen educationpublisherssocial mediaTwitter

francesbell • February 23, 2015

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  1. catherinecronin February 23, 2015 - 10:39 am Reply

    Fascinating reflection here, Frances. As I noted in my comment on your previous post, I admire the approach you and Jenny have taken regarding this research — including the way you’ve engaged actively and openly in several spaces since its publication. Your reflection on the merits of various spaces — e.g. Facebook, Twitter, blog — is very interesting. Do you think your change in positionality from participant(/researcher) to researcher(/participant) affected the discussions in Facebook? This is of great interest to me as a researcher of open practices in higher education — I’ve been thinking of my position as both: insider and outsider.
    In that vein, last week I read quite a bit of Paul Ransome’s (2013) ‘Ethics and Values in Social Research’. One section on reporting findings caused me to think quite a bit about my own positionality, particularly the way others may construct my identity. This particular passage really resonates in light of your post:
    “The moment a social researcher declares their results is a moment of trust between researcher and audience… To the extent that social research explores topics that are inherently unstable, and embedded within wider political and ideological debates, social researchers have to be especially skilled in managing the value content of their work. The temptation to lapse into a preferred value position at the very moment that audience interest is most intense, and levels of trust are at their highest, is a temptation that can only be resisted if researchers are honest with themselves about their own values and ideals.” (p. 170)
    From my standpoint (and I was not a participant in Rhizo14) you and Jenny both model great honesty about your positions, values and ideals — enabling many of us to learn from you. Thank you once again.

  2. francesbell February 23, 2015 - 2:27 pm Reply

    Thanks for this great comment Catherine. You and others are walking alongside Jenny and me as we reflect and grow. In fact, this post was provoked by lots of things and I haven’t even discussed some of the issues with Jenny yet – and as she says we aren’t joined at the hip:) You asked – Do you think your change in positionality from participant(/researcher) to researcher(/participant) affected the discussions in Facebook? I honestly don’t know the answer to that – to some extent the die was already cast in that I had positioned myself as ‘critical’ from early on. My communication philosophy online is along the lines of listen, respect others, be prepared to admit mistakes and be open to fresh starts. All I know is that for my own personal care and for my perception of others’ need for care I had to come out – for now at least. It isn’t about the people, I would try to engage constructively with anyone who wanted to explore and challenge our ideas -after all they are still very much in development. How lucky we are as authors to have such engagement.
    That is such a lovely quote – I will be following that up. Quite a gift in the month that I have revisited Leah Lievrouw too. It’s not just from our research into the Rhizo14 data that I have learned in the last twelve months. As you know Catherine, I have been blogging my way through some of the conflict and horrors that happen to people who are seen to have raised their head above the Internet parapet. So whilst that might seem to be in any way similar to the misunderstandings that occur in friendlier spaces, it’s nagging away at me that there are some connections- somehow. So I care that people are hounded off the Internet but I also care that opportunities for improving the inclusivity of spaces and activities for those who can learn in any way mediated by the Internet will not be lost because of intentional or unintentional silencing. I have more to say on this but my ideas need to simmer a bit as I hear what others have to say.
    Regarding the spaces (Twitter, Facebook, etc. ) I wouldn’t really want to rate them by the actual technology service – I am sure it is also about the human association and traversing of these networks and communities (a sometimes troubled term IMHO).
    I have a feeling our paths are going to cross more in future and that’s a good feeling Catherine, as I have much to learn from you.

    • catherinecronin February 23, 2015 - 3:29 pm Reply

      Thanks, Frances 🙂 I look forward to continued conversations like these — with one another and with others. I’m also exploring that network/community knot and, like you, feel it’s essential to look at issues of power and silencing.
      Re: my question about FB/Twitter/blogs — I probably wasn’t very clear in my comment. I hadn’t meant to attribute differences to those tools per se, just to the people participating in each of those conversation spaces, and thus the conversations happening in each. Thanks for your thoughts on this, anyway. Onward… 🙂

  3. francesbell February 24, 2015 - 7:26 am Reply

    Thanks Catherine. I think that it’s likely that neither of us can be clear about human interaction across these spaces as both practice and understanding are highly emergent and that’s what makes being and researching in them so compelling. I am thinking about”The temptation to lapse into a preferred value position” from your first comment – we presented our understandings in the paper as partial and provisional, and I think it’s worth reminding myself of that as I see some of the reactions. My scholarly journey ( as reader, teacher, researcher, writer) over the last twenty years has had a recurring theme of trying to make sense of social and technical in complex and different contexts. I was already trying to do that in the context of (organisational) information systems and wham bam, along came the Internet. I smile to myself as I think about the theories that I and others have turned to in our struggles to make some sense, and there are some recurring themes – avoiding reductionism, emergence, webs and networks of interaction, power, ethics, agency of people and things, learning, etc. It’s no wonder our heads are spinning:) I will see you in this space and others:)

  4. Ethical obligations of instructors in free courses? #rhizo14 #rhizo15 | Rebecca J. Hogue
  5. Rebecca February 25, 2015 - 7:21 pm Reply

    I blogged a reply, so you should have seen a ping back to my post, but wanted to make sure it is also posted here – as it related directly to this post –

    • francesbell February 26, 2015 - 10:00 am Reply

      Thanks Rebecca. As you can see, I have edited the post and linked to your blog post. Please let me know if there are still any problems with it. This has been the post that keeps on giving for me. You sharing your reflections on the same Facebook thread was yet another learning opportunity for me. Thanks for doing that and I am glad that you think that your blogging course will benefit from discussions with me and others. For me, this incident does link to our paper in that misunderstandings are inevitable in online discussion and being able to speak up is the first step in resolving misunderstandings. So thank you for speaking up.

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