Using Twitter in scholarly networks

I continue my journey to find meaningful results about open online learning. This research is new: Bonnie Stewart defended her thesis  “Scholarship in Abundance: Influence, Engagement, and Attention in Scholarly Networks” yesterday in UPEI Canada and I followed it via YouTube. I’ll write this post not to assess her research but to ask myself questions. How do I understand the meaning of her work? What can I learn about it?

I’ve never liked preaching about abundance, because in my mind it has always been the situation. Libraries have more content than human beings ever could follow. We have new tools nowadays as Twitter and that’s why Abundance is used in the title. Twitter brings new possibilities and challenges, so I can ‘accept’ the title. Bonnie has used ethnographic method  with 13 participants, who were twitter residents for at least 2 years, and had varied institutional affiliations and roles in 8 different countries. There was ethnographic participant observation, 24 h reflections, blog posts, profile reflections and interviews. She was interested in the following questions:

  • what counts as academic influence within open networked circles?
  • how does scholarly engagement in networks align with institutional scholarship?
  • how do attention and visibility operate on Twitter, and how do they shape participants’ experiences of care and risk within networks?

The participants were voluntary because they had to be ready for participatory work: invitations to expand, clarify, or reframe their answers. This is the only way to work in a research like this if you want to get deeper insight. I believe that the participants are a good sample of different scholarly Twitter users although it is not a statistically random one. More I am more concerned about the time period, because everything changes so quickly. The results are history already when they are written down.

The first article dealt with influence and defined it as capacity to contribute (slide 8). The basic concepts are scale of visibility + common interests+ shared ties and these are connected to capacity to contribute to the ongoing conversation.  Institutional affiliation doesn’t matter except for Oxford. (Here I disagree: I found David White to be a charming man and not only Oxford guy when I met him at an Elluminate session in 2009). Matter-ing matters is a funny way to illustrate the situation and I believe that I can follow the idea, and I agree with that.

The second article is most difficult to follow for me because the concept scholarship has so many meanings. Networked practices = Scholarship.
Scholarship of discovery/ integration/ application/ teaching (Boyer 1990 – nice to see an old source). And then Scholarship of abundance: a researcher wants to share his article so it could live its own life. Abundance is connected to openness here.

The third paper deals with changes. The new work habits give rise to (new?) personal emotional experiences

  • attention + visibility => vulnerability,
  • commodification + institutional indictments of deviance + re-inscription of societal biases (I can follow only partly)
  • attention + visibility => care

The participants came from very different backgrounds, not only universities. (My first thought was that university workers have always been vulnerable, the work is connected to their intelligence and it is not easy).

Bonnie describes her overall findings: networks operate in distinct pattern of connection, curation and collaboration. Generally said, so it must be so.
Networked scholarly practices enable and demand scholar’s individual rather than institutional cultivation of influence, visibility, and audiences. Yes, they do. Digital networks offer participants a sense of being someone who can contribute, and contributions open new doors. The intersection of high networks status with lower or unclear institutional status creates identity dissonance. This must be true as well, I can imagine.

What happens in the future then? One way is that networks become institutionalized and consequences of public speech become amplified etc. Twitter is used in tactical ways for helping one’s career building. I don’t know how separate from each other are traditional university habits and open social habits or is there much overlapping already. All that is said to be new is not new at all.

If you are interested in these themes please read Bon’s blog, in which he tells about the research process and results.

Here comes the slideshare of Bonnie Stewart:

One thought on “Using Twitter in scholarly networks

  1. Like you Heli, I am fascinated by Bonnie Stewart ‘s work – I think it makes a great contribution and I am delighted she got her PhD this week.
    Two points struck me from your post. First, that the voluntary, individual scholarly social media participation might become institutionalised by measurement. And secondly, that networked participation operates in complex ways -that we need to understand better. Thank you Bon and Heli.

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