content management system

A social media dashboard for researchers – taming the digital anarchy for nerds

A social media dashboard for researchers – taming the digital anarchy for nerds

Is anyone else overwhelmed by updating their many webpages, blogs, streams etc?

Jason Priem described the shift from a paper-native academia to a web-native academia, in an excellent article last year in Nature, a shift well beyond the traditional peer-reviewed journal to more diverse outlets of information, interaction and discussion. I am part of the first generation of researchers who are excited to use social media but we need more and better tools to make social media work even better for ourselves and others. Something like HootSuite for Prof 2.0!

I love Hootsuite, a dashboard for managing various social media profiles  (twitter, facebook etc.) in one handy place, across multiple platforms (phone, computer, tablets etc.). It looks something like this…

hootesuiteWe need something similar to manage the various facets of academic life. Just to give you some idea, these are all the pages and sites I try to maintain: personal research webpage, this Water Underground blog, twitter, LinkedIn profile, Google scholar, ResearchGate, ResearcherID, Vimeo, Groundwater footprint. I am happy to do this but it can be overwhelming in the midst of the other pulls of academic life – and I don’t even use facebook!

Ideally, this new platform would be a simple, user-friendly, open-source dashboard that would integrate various social media outlets academics use, plus be a simple place to update citations. A great and relatively simple first step would be a single place to update reference lists, which are a crucial part of how academics are evaluated so it is useful to keep them updated. Currently, my references are listed on Google Scholar, ResearchGate, ResearcherID, as well as a couple university webpages. It would be great to be able to export citations (already in standard formats like EndNote or BibTeX) and have these citations populate and update all my reference lists. I know Google Scholar already does this automatically (and usually correctly) but it would be great for consistency across outlets.

It would be great to link all kinds of altmetrics with this simple, social professor dashboard. Altmetrics are alternative metrics to the widely-used journal impact factor and personal citation indices like the h-index. An aggregate metric is calculated from how much as article, person, event (or blog post – subtle hint!) is viewed, discussed, saved, cited or recommended. As Priem writes, altmetrics will “draw new maps of scholarly contribution, unprecedented in subtlety, texture and detail.” And I find this to be already true – I often follow meandering altmetrics paths from a scientific article to news articles or discussions about the scientific article, and then I use this to enrich blog posts or tweets.

I flit across the web throughout my day and week – this dashboard would help me stay grounded and organized on the web. When I publish a new article, I would automatically update it in the various the places listing my citations, then write a quick tweet about it, check for news articles about it etc. Or I may see a comment on LinkedIn about a scientific article that could be useful for a paper I am writing. The comment in one column of the dashboard would be linked to the article, and the PDF posted on ResearchGate may be in another column of the dashboard. I take the PDF, export the citation to my library and pop it into the paper I am working on, in a series of smooth, integrated steps.

This HootSuite for Prof 2.0 could be a simple tool to enable the shift from a paper-native academia to a web-native academia by leveraging and extending information, interaction and discussion.

Originally published in University Affairs Careers Cafe.

Co-teaching a blended class across universities: why? and why not?

Co-teaching a blended class across universities: why? and why not?

This term I am co-teaching a graduate class in advanced groundwater hydrology with Grant Ferguson (University of Saskatchewan) and Steve Loheide (University of Wisconsin – Madison). In co-developing and co-delivering this course we have learned a lot – I’ll start here with our initial motivations and write later about our pedagogic decisions, software tools and reflections after the course. It is mostly win-win for students and professors, but I’ll describe some of the disadvantages below.


Teaching in an active learning classroom. Photo by Owen Chapman, courtesy of Faculty of Engineering, McGill University

Instead of being a MOOC, the course is a SPOC – a small, private, online classroom. Students and professors simultaneously meet in real classrooms at each university and connect as a video conference. Students collaborate on projects across universities and each professor leads instruction for part of the term and participates in all classes. We use a variety of software tools for blended learning including polling (socrative), content management (wikispaces), and video conferencing (microsoft lync).

Students are exposed to topics, tools and skills they would never learn in a regular classroom. Probably most importantly, students learn about varied topics that would not normally be covered at their university. One idea that has worked well is focusing on cutting-edge research ideas and techniques including research ugly babies that are not often discussed in the literature. They learn to collaborate internationally using virtual tools. And they develop an international professional network spanning multiple universities.

A  number of students have said ‘wow, it’s like three courses in one!’ and as instructors we have noticed there is not lull in the middle or end of term where students and/or instructors are tired of the course, tired of each other, or just tired. Instead it is just on to the next topic and instructor.

Many of the same advantages are true for the instructors: we learn new ideas from the other instructors, we collaborate internationally in co-developing and co-teaching this course and we expand and enrich our professional network. And we share the teaching load.
You can probably guess the two main disadvantages: the software tools are not perfect and interaction between real classrooms can be stilted. Both are true and we were very honest and clear about this with students from the start:


Almost every class there has been a minor glitch with the audio or video but it’s always been minor problem with a reasonable solution – with the myriad of ways to connect today there are many plan B options.


Connecting with other classrooms using video conferencing. Photo by Owen Chapman, courtesy of Faculty of Engineering, McGill University

During our weekly class time, interaction between individual students in different real classrooms is difficult. During class time, most of the interactions are between students and the lead instructor or between students in the same real classroom during an active learning activity. But outside of class time, students interact via discussion on the content management system and collaborate on projects using skype, google chat etc.

So far, co-teaching a blended graduate class across universities has been a win-win for students and professors – I’d be happy to hear about other SPOC classes.

Re-posted on Inside Higher Ed blog.