Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

On Twitter as Scholarship

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I started my day with this awesomely subversive article by Jesse Stommel, in which he storifies tweets over several years, all of them talking about twitter as a form of scholarship. Wow. Using that form, to make that point, and storifying all these gems of tweets… Genius. And fun! Don’t forget fun πŸ™‚ And it highlights the process of scholarship not the product.

I remembered immediately our social media workshop yesterday, and how I wanted to find space to talk about the benefits of twitter for scholarship not just teaching/learning (the focus of the workshop), but I didn’t get a chance (and actually it only occurred to me during the workshop)… So I thought i’d use this space here to spell out some ways Twitter has been a big part of my own scholarship in the past year or so.

Then I stopped for a sec and thought: but others have written about this. Roopika Risam’s love letter to twitter.. Bonnie Stewart’s entire dissertation is about this. So I went to Bonnie’s blog, because I remembered she’d recently published something…

I read this post by Bonnie this morning and this quote resonated so much:

“writing in my own voice gives me joy and not writing in my own voice breaks my spirit”

She’s talking about how it felt to have to write for a journal in the standards traditionally accepted there. So many of us who engage in open, digital scholarly practice feel that way, I think. It’s why I blog, why I like writing for Hybrid Pedagogy. Why I struggled to finish writing my thesis because I had to lose some of my voice in order to do so (I used to get this confusing feedback about how good my writing style is but how I had to make it more academic. I am so glad I managed to not let that process kill my writing voice).

Note: I read Bon’s blogpost, but haven’t read her full article (linked to from the blog – here is the preprint open access version) yet (partly coz Laura Gogia has it in the queue for #tjc15 (live-tweeting as we read articles) but I am sure it has a lot more on how people use Twitter in scholarly ways.

But let me get back to this Twitter as scholarship idea. I want to find ways of expressing this to people who are not on Twitter and don’t get the whole social media thing. I sense this whole openness and sharing thing is a disposition that goes against what institutions instil in some of us, and many people are wary of it. And it’s ok if some people prefer not to be open. I just hope that they will appreciate that our form of scholarship is not less worthy of respect or consideration.

What’s scholarship? I’m not gonna research this, so i just googled “define: scholarship” and, got this:

“academic study or achievement; learning at a high level”

Interesting. For some reason that wasn’t what I was expecting. When I think of scholarship I definitely think about learning, and I guess at a high level; but I also think about research, and I think about interacting with other “intellectuals” (this is a funny term, as if other people who don’t call themselves this or are not academics are less intellectual or something… But what I mean by it is that it’s an intellectual discussion not a social one – though both are important).

So here’s how Twitter influences my scholarship:

1. Learning at the speed of a tweet.
I did not know how I would continue to learn and stay up to date with everything once I finished my dissertation and did not have to read academic articles every day. On Twitter, just a glance at my hashtags (or timeline) gives me a wealth of resources worth looking at. What I love most is when people tweet out a quote from an article, then link to it. The act of finding that quote is scholarship – like finding a good quote to put on a notecard for future research (i have not used notecards since my freshman year at college). It also helps tweet-readers get a glimpse of an article and that quote alone is worth retweeting sometimes. And then the links. All those links. All that exposure πŸ™‚

Tell me how much someone who’s not on social media reads every day. If they read books and articles from particular journals, that’s awesome, but a book is often by one writer and exposes you to just that one view. Important, and I read books too πŸ™‚ but there’s something useful about breadth as well, and twitter gives me that breadth, as do articles that are not peer-reviewed. I can read many more in one day, get exposed, then decide if i want to research it further. Many blogs contain in themselves reviews of scholarly research. And if i have enough judgment to be a peer reviewer of academic articles, then I trust my judgment of the quality of the academic blogs I read. Right?

2. Sharing scholarship
Then there’s the capacity to share scholarship with other people, exchange ideas, whether by sharing blogposts or articles via twitter, or by just having a twitter conversation on something. Some of these can be really awesome. I guess a little like conversations you might have at the faculty lounge or something.

And I think it’s incredible to see articles retweeted. In closed-access journals, you’ll never know how often your article has been read or cited until much later when someone cites it and it gets on the system. With social media, especially Twitter you can see your article retweeted and people can respond to you on Twitter (unless there is space to comment, as in Hybrid Pedagogy or blogs).

You can also have discussions with people on Twitter about any article, even if the author isn’t on Twitter (but also cool to add them in if they are). Some really profound ideas come out of these spontaneous discussions sometimes, and people can look into them and join (ok, sometimes too many people are on the same tweet so u don’t have space left to write anything).

All of his is possible outside Twitter. Sometimes it can be better outside of Twitter’s restrictions of space; Twitter just makes it really easy to share and interact without a huge time investment, and to extend a conversation over a long period of time if people are interested.

3. Twitter chat as scholarly forum
If I do a couple of twitter chats a month, that’s a lot like attending a panel discussion or forum with other educators where we all learn from each other’s ideas and build upon them. How is this not scholarship?

4. Meet the scholarly collaborator
I had this experience pre – and post Twitter. Inviting people to write in a book I am editing. Without twitter, the best I got were responses to emails saying “thanks but no thanks” or “you can republish one of my existing things”. With Twitter (and it might be related to the kind of people on twitter, not twitter itself) I get cooperation on all kinds of things, from writing for my book, to writing for edcontexts, to joining a MOOC, to coming to Cairo, to co-authoring an article (seriously, there are people I met on Twitter and the same day we started co-authoring an article, or making plans for them to visit Egypt.

5. Conference Engagement
I cannot imagine a conference without a twitter back channel now. It helps me focus what is interesting about a talk (or what is annoying) and engage with other participants, even if I am only attending virtually. It allows me to share with others not at the conference some of the highlights. I think it makes conferences so much more. And it helps people keep connections much better than exchanging business cards. Doesn’t it?

6. A space for younger or less known scholars
Both Bonnie and Roopika allude to this – Twitter offers visibility to some scholars who otherwise are less known. I don’t actually know how long it would take a fresh PhD grad to become “known” in their field, given how long it takes to get anything published (outside of some online-only publications). But I know Twitter helped me a tremendous amount. Of course it’s not just Twitter, it’s what Twitter helps me promote and the people it helps me interact with.

7. It is not all roses
Roopika talked about the Salatia incident, and her conclusion based on one of the responses to it:

peer-reviewed scholarship is protected by academic freedom; your tweets are not.

Which reminded me of one of Jesse’s tweets about whether Twitter scholarship should be considered as part of academics’ scholarship or service. Someone responded that it could turn ugly if it becomes one more way of measuring our performance, and Jesse agreed. So i am thinking of it as a form of public service. Not something I want to compare to my peer-reviewed stuff (though i’ve yet to convince my boss that hybridped is peer-reviewed, no matter how often I say it) but something I do publicly as an academic that is my choice to do or to leave. Because it is totally ok that others don’t want to do it. But when I think of how much I benefit from it, and how much I hope i am benefiting others as we learn together, how much it has contributed to my learning and taken my thinking to a much higher level… It’s sad that no one cares about this, or recognizes it. It does not make it less, because the learning happens within me and I pass it on to others around me at work and in class. But still…

===============
Note for Alan Levine, because he’s right in his comment on yesterday’s blogpost – it’s not Twitter that does this, it’s how we use Twitter πŸ™‚ and I also believe the kind of people who use Twitter (many of them open educators), that helps make this possible.

6 Comments

  1. Great post.

    I agree. We need to document what we do as creative scholarly activity. I wrote 270 pages of text on Twitter last year. 268 were probably related to my goals as a scholar and 14 or so were probably good. Yet we do not get credit for this.

    I know that numbers do not capture engagement but this is what I tried to do as a digital scholar: http://jgregorymcverry.com/about-me-2/ I then tried to tell my story in a more narrative format.

    I think we have to explore new ways to describe digital scholarship and at the same time advocate and support alt.pub channels.

    What can we do?
    -Try starting an alt.pub interest group in whatever groups you belong to.
    – Commit to publishing only in open-access journals (a step I admittedly have not committed to).
    -Tell our stories.

    The last is something you do so well and I aspire to.

    • Hey Greg- thanks for this; if you have ideas of how to recognize digital scholarship, i think submitting to the hybridped CfP is a great place to get them widely read (to an admittedly sympathetic audience, but those would be your alt.pub community i guess… They are mine)

      I committed to publishing, reviewing and editing to open access only unless:
      A. It would be closed now but open soon (e.g. EML, where i can republish within 3 months openly; they also pay authors, so the money goes somewhere meaningful, not to publishers only)
      B. for advocacy, sometimes you need to publish radical views in less radical places (often closed) which means they may be closed access (but also admittedly more difficult to get published in!)
      C. For someone else’s needs: if i am co-authoring w someone who needs to publish in a certain place for their tenure or whatever, i am willing to put their needs above my ideals.

      So basically, i maintain most of my work in places that align to my values and consider my work in other spaces as a kind of advocacy and a way to stay in touch with views different from my own and engage them. That’s actually partly the subject of the blogpost i wrote this morning. I am about to follow up on your link above…

    • Oh i just followed your link and saw that infographic-like representation of your digital scholarship. That’s really inspiring! I need to do something similar… Although I still don’t know that I’d want to count my tweets and stuff… But yeah, maybe blogposts and views, comments, etc. Thinking about this more deeply now… Thanks so much for sharing that!

  2. Maha,

    Not sure if you saw this but due to the inspiration of #Youshow15 and my general disdain for the promotion and tenure policies at my university (reviewers can’t use computers) I decided to hack the annual review file:

    I made a transgenre remix and did my review file like it was a magazine. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4bnEbX-nqloUkVEYmRmVWh3MXc/view?usp=sharing

    Has some ideas on documenting digital scholarship you can steal.

  3. And it is C (in your list) that keeps from going open access only. I know it is a little cowardice to say I will do open only after tenure but the big journals just carry so much capital for young scholars it is hard to advise junior scholars (especially those who enjoy food and shelter) to stay away.

  4. Pingback: Week 2 Reading Response

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