Three Stages to Become a Digitally Agile Researcher
As I’ve written and shared this work, I’m often asked about the steps necessary for researchers in these spaces. I previously wrote about three reasons why you should become a digitally agile researcher. I also wrote about the need for academics to act as public, social scholars.
Much of the feedback that I’ve received about my posts about becoming a digitally agile researcher centers focuses on exactly how to make this happen. I detail these steps in my chapter on Leveraging social networks and communities as a digitally agile researcher in The Digitally Agile Researcher. This post will synthesize these details a bit. Please review (and comment on) the Google Doc for more granular advice. You can also contact me with questions/comments/feedback.
A twenty-first-century educational system requires the effective and authentic use of the technologies that permeate society to prepare students for the future. In this context, researchers have little or no guidance on how to embed these new and digital literacies into their work process and product in open spaces. To prepare for and understand this future, researchers need opportunities not only to read but also write the ‘web’. Despite the transformative possibilities associated with the inclusion of the internet and other communication technologies (ICTs) in instruction, relatively little is known about the regular use of these technologies in our daily lives. For researchers in particular, understanding how best to leverage these digital and web literacies in our work is central to our collective future.
I believe researchers need the knowledge, skills, and strategies that will help you act as a scholar and researcher in open, online spaces. This includes utilizing social network communities for research. You need to adopt self-organizing, cross-functional work processes to adaptively plan, continuously improve, and be flexible to change. I’ll discuss these elements in the context of my own work, and a more collaborative project with other digitally agile researchers.
To develop the digitally agile approaches described here, you need to follow these steps on your own. My advice is first to develop your own personal ‘cyber-infrastructure’ (Campbell, 2009) and then allow others to join in the process through a collaborative project. Once you have the essential framework in place, you will attract attention and provide opportunities for others to join in, or follow the model that you have developed. In order to leverage and negotiate digital spaces, there are three stages that you will need to follow as you engage in open scholarship:
- Create and curate your digital identity
- Digitize your workflow
- Build an online learning and research hub
Create and curate your digital identity
The first step in this process is the need to create and curate your digital identity. Researchers spend a great deal of time preparing and polishing their identity in the ‘real world’. We have a vision of who we are as individuals and ensure that our grooming habits, clothes, personas, and colleagues all mirror this vision. Most of the time, we pride ourselves on being organized and presenting ourselves in a positive light. Much of this veneer of professionalism and organization is not carried through to our digital identity.
Researchers may have a webpage on the school or organization website that shares personal and/or professional information. In addition, we may have social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, Google+) that are maintained or orphaned. These social networks typically contain the most up-to-date information about our works but they are infrequently connected to the website with our professional affiliations. There usually is little or no consistency in design or identity across these spaces. Finally, the identity presented across these spaces is usually inconsistent with the identity we present face-to-face. This is problematic given the fact that usually individuals search for information about us online before we meet face-to-face. You have to wonder what version of the ‘truth’ people are learning about you before you meet for the first time.
Follow this post for more granular advice on how to do this.
Digitize your workflow and processes
The second step in this process is to modify your workflow. Many of us have been indoctrinated into thinking that we have ‘our office’ and ‘our computer‘ and that work only happens in these spaces as we create, manipulate, and save files on these machines. The problem is when you work from multiple locations, or when the computer crashes, your work is usually lost on that one computer. In a distributed, networked society, you need to be able to work from multiple places, and easily gain or provide access to all materials. This allows you to work from multiple locations and use multiple tools as you teach, present, or research. Your work and scholarship becomes ubiquitous as it follows you and is available when you need it.
To do this, you should develop a workflow that is device agnostic and allows for ubiquitous access to data. Being device agnostic means that you can utilize any tool or platform at your disposal. This includes working on computers (Mac, PC, Linux), tablets (Android, iOS, Windows), or mobile devices (Android, iOS, Windows). Due to the influx of new technologies, you need to be adaptable and able to use any and all devices for research and scholarship. Having ubiquitous access to materials means that your work and materials are saved digitally and cloud-based. Having a cloud-based system to store and save all of your content creates opportunities to easily share with colleagues openly online. One of the challenges with this system is that you have to identify a work process that will maximize the instances that you are connected to the internet. You can create and revise your materials offline, but this requires an understanding and planning for these instances. There are many services that will allow you to build this system (Google Drive, DropBox, Windows Office, OwnCloud).
This post (although old) has the best documentation of my workflow. I will soon have an update to this post that focuses on my writing process.
Build a hub for your digital identity
The final step in this process is the need to build and establish an online learning hub. As you create and curate your online brand, your identity will be spread across numerous spaces online. Many of these online social networks act as silos and only privilege their content. As an example, Google, Twitter, and Facebook frequently change the access to your data that they provide to each other. The end result is that your great work on your Facebook or Twitter profile might not be accessible when someone ‘Googles’ you.
You should also consider what happens when you meet someone for the first time, or they happen to come across some part of your digital identity. How much are they learning about you if they only read some of your recent tweets? Is that an adequate or complete picture of you? If you build and maintain one space on the internet, you can archive and/or share materials using your own website. This allows colleagues and friends the opportunity to look back through the digital breadcrumbs that you have left online to get a more complete picture of you.
I’ve written quite a bit recently about developing a domain of one’s own, and using WordPress. As you begin this stage of the process, I would first review the link I shared earlier about developing your digital identity, and then this post about your personal cyberinfrastructure.
As you engage in this process, please recognize that it is process that we’re focusing on in this work. I don’t want you to do more, I want you to work differently. When I work with colleagues and students, there is sometimes a belief that “I don’t have time for that.” The stages listed above will take time, but I believe that they are necessary to act as a social scholar now and in the future.
Remember, the complete version of this post is available in this document. Please feel free to use, share, remix.
If needed, I am available to help guide you in this process. You should also subscribe to my newsletter to continue your thinking about these skills and habits.
Originally published at W. Ian O’Byrne.