I do a lot of research. Not only is my day job Researcher/Analyst at JISC infoNet but when I go home I’m researching and writing as part of my doctoral thesis. Quantity and quality are different measures, but I’d hope that I’m at least half-decent at something I spend a fair amount of my life doing.
Being a researcher before the internet must have been a very difficult occupation. Much less access to information but, I suppose, on the other hand, it must have been a much more ’embodied’ existence than spending hours mediated by several different kinds of screens. Without a focus it’s very easy to become confused very quickly and be like a dog chasing after shiny cars.
My focus at the moment, as shown by dougbelshaw.com/research is upon:
- Open Educational Resources
- Mobile Learning
- Digital Literacy
I use several tools to stay up-to-date in these areas and to discover new resources. Here’s five of the best:
Twitter + Storify
This goes without saying: Twitter is my social dashboard and an absolute treasure trove of useful information. The important thing is that it’s a network (of networks) of people who have expertise, influence and opinion.
Recently I’ve started using Storify to, for want of a better phrase, ‘curate tweets’ about stuff I’m researching. Here’s an example for iPad mindmapping apps. Asking a question, getting replies, curating them and re-sharing helps everybody.
This feels like, in a phrase Ewan McIntosh used five years ago, giving away some kryptonite as LinkedIn Signal is truly amazing for researching specific terms. It’s based on your LinkedIn connections, which I’m careful to keep based on people I’ve met. It shows your relation to that person but also the most discussed links about that search term.
Try it. You’ll love it.
Amplify is for ‘clipping’ content from websites and adding your comments to it. You can find my most recent clippings in the sidebar of this blog. The power of Amplify, however, is twofold: (i) the people you follow who often post things you wouldn’t come across, and (ii) the search functionality.
The ever-innovative Futurelab have recently announced EventEye, a paid-for version of EducationEye for (unsurprisingly!) events. EducationEye is a service that pulls in posts from blogs (including this one) and arranges them in a visually pleasing and useful way.
Again, there’s a search function available but it’s also handy for serendipitous dipping in and out of in order to keep up with the zeitgeist.
I use Quora about once per week. It’s a social question-and-answer site where people can vote answers up and down and summarise answers once there’s plenty of responses. It can work very well and there’s an extremely diverse mix of people on there. It’s certainly worth ‘tracking’ questions to see what kinds of responses they get and from whom.
So there we are! Five recommendations of tools that help me be a better researcher. What have I missed?
Image CC BY-NC-SA Stuck in Customs
I had a fascinating Skype conversation with Amber Thomas, a JISC Programme Director. She mentioned the concept of liminality in reference to the ‘trajectory of ambiguities’ idea I’ve been writing about in my journal article. It struck me afterward that I need to firm things up a bit given that I seem to exist in somewhat of a liminal digital world.
So here’s what you’ll find me doing where in 2011:
I’ll be writing, as usual, at dougbelshaw.com/blog about user outcomes (including: education, technology, productivity, leadership, design). I’ll be posting around 1-2 times per week and won’t be writing the ‘Things I Learned This Week’ series. It’s a shame, but it’s too much of a time-suck to justify.
I’m going to be using dajbelshaw.amplify.com to clip things of interest I come across online, adding my thoughts as I go. These will be auto-tweeted and saved to delicious.com/dajbelshaw.
I’ve cut back drastically on the number of people I’m following on Twitter (@dajbelshaw). It might be just me, but the signal/noise ratio seemed to decline sharply in 2010. I’ll be autoposting things from here and Amplify and using it for mainly work purposes.
I thought I deleted my Facebook (http://facebook.com/dajbelshaw) account in mid-2008, but it turned out I simply deactivated it. It’s now re-activated and I’ve gone about removing almost all of my ‘friends’, cutting back sharply to just my immediate family and close contacts. If you’re not one of those, I’m afraid I’ll be ignoring your connection request. Sorry.
As Facebook is the most popular social network and because pretty much all my close contacts are on it, I need to know how to use it effectively. Facebook’s also a great way to organise events and get groups started (without necessarily having a direct connection to people). More on that later, although you can (and should) ‘Like’ this blog there already.
My policy with LinkedIn (http://uk.linkedin.com/in/dajbelshaw) is simple: I need to know who you are, have dealt with you in a professional sense, and met you in person to connect with you. I’ll only waive the latter condition if you’re somebody I know really well online. It’s a professional, not a social, network.
I’m still experimenting with Quora (http://quora.com/Doug-Belshaw). Coming back to the notion of liminality, it’s a great example of what happens when boundaries are broken down as a result of new ways to connect to people. I really like the way it’s structured and it marries Yahoo! Answers with Digg and wiki-like functionality. We’ll see how it goes. I’ll connect with anyone on there. :-p
I’ve got more to discuss in terms of how I’m organizing things – especially related to academic stuff. This post covers just what others will see.
For the past three weeks I’ve been on Black Ops, a better term than ‘digital hiatus’ to describe my being digitally incommunicado. It’s felt like longer, to be honest. I managed to stay off Twitter completely – the occasional, accidental, and hastily-deleted autopost from Amplify notwithstanding.
Email was a different story: although I had a ‘Black Ops’ autoresponder on my Gmail account, I had to use email for some of the following activities.
Here’s a list of what I’ve been up to:
- Collated and published Best of Belshaw 2010 (freely downloadable or available for purchase in physical form at cost price)
- Waited patiently for Hannah to give birth to our second child. She was due on the 28th December 2010, but still no sign. It’s the reason I’m not at the Learning Without Frontiers Conference today/tomorrow.
- Bought a fair bit of new technological kit and sold older stuff on eBay.
- Took my son, Ben, to the beach (to burn off excess sugar) almost every day.
- Experimented with Quora and Licorizer, re-joined Facebook, and unfollowed 90% of people I was following on Twitter.
- Lost all my iPhone contacts on Boxing Day whilst unjailbreaking my iPhone so I could upgrade to iOS 4.2.1 (text me your phone number if I had it before!)
- Kicked off a stealth project with Andy Stewart which will culminate in a manifesto and small events this year, building (hopefully!) to a large event in 2015.
- Wrote my first-ever journal article (it’s entitled Seven Types of Ambiguity and Digital Literacy)
- Engaged in some consultancy which I may develop a bit more in 2011. I’ve come up with a Hierarchy of Understanding which I’m going to work on (and may even turn into a journal article) before sharing.
- Played a whole lot on my Playstation 3, especially Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (the Vietnam expansion pack came out on my 30th birthday!)
More on the above over the next week or so. I may be sporadic given I’m both getting back into my digital routine and having to deal with the imminent arrival of a new baby. :-p