Over two days I was involved in what I’m calling a Think Tank. Great brains from different parts of the world, at different stages in their research, and indeed careers, all in one room discussing what is means to be a Digital Academic in the contemporary environment of higher education. As a part of the events hosted by Professor Deborah Lupton and Dr Inger Mewburn at both Australian National University and University of Canberra we were responding to the notions of the digital scholar. Research undertaken by the Think Tank participants on academics’ use of social or other digital technologies as part of their work was explored from a variety of perspectives.
Martin Weller (2011) has talked about scholarship and how this term is itself a rather old-fashioned term as traditionally it is associated to thinking of scholars as being academics, usually employed by universities. In our current environment, digital scholarship broadens this way of thinking. As in a digital, networked, open world individuals become less defined by an institution where they may be employed and rather can become more defined by the network and online identity they establish. As Jude Fransman (2013) and Goodfellow and Lea (2013) would reiterate, digital practices associated with networked collaboration and co-creation of knowledge and meaning making are central to academic work. Academics thus:
must develop the capability to work productively with digital knowledge, and to participate in digital networks of collaboration and co-creation as digital practices evolve with extraordinary speed. (Goodfellow et al., 2013, p.127)
Therefore, it is possible that a well-respected digital scholar may be someone who has no institutional affiliation. The democratization of the online space opens up scholarship to a wider audience (Weller, 2011).
One of the events involved a presentation by my colleagues and I, Megan McPherson, and Dr Kylie Budge. In a symposium called Academic Work in the Online Era we had the opportunity to share our research on Academics Who Tweet. This was the first airing of any data and a wonderful opportunity to receive feedback and move forward ideas.
Building from our own practice and participation on Twitter professionally, we have been interested in the questions of: Why might academics in higher education use the microblogging site Twitter to communicate and to what end? What ways do we use Twitter to communicate academic identity and how do we understand how others do this work? How does this engagement contribute to our fluid identities as scholars?
Social media is now a significant issue in the university because of the ways it is being used by academics. Thus, academics are using social media in a variety of visible and public ways that may conflict with policies, values and behavioral expectations of the university. In our paper we focused on why academics and scholars think that they use the social media platform of Twitter. We discuss preliminary findings from a small study of academics and scholars (N=34) using Twitter and draw on ethnographic methodologies in order to show that there are many reasons why academics participate professionally in this medium.
The early analysis of the findings show that there were a variety of interconnected reasons that academics used Twitter. Our interviewed participants discussed a range of issues and we have themed some of these as: transforming academia; new identities; networks; changing in enacting scholarly work; communication; ways of use; academic identity; branding; engagement and reflective/reflexive practice; inquiry; and (non) strategic.
As we continue to meander through the data we will continue to share further findings and outcomes.
So why might you engage with Twitter professionally?
Fransman, J. (2013). Researching academic literacy practices around Twitter: Performative methods and their onto-ethical implications. (pp.27-41). In Robin Goodfellow & Mary R. Lea. (Eds.). Literacy in the Digital University: Learning as Social Practice in a Digital World. Research into Higher Education. Routledge.
Goodfellow , R., & Lea, M.R. (Eds.). Literacy in the Digital University: Learning as Social Practice in a Digital World. Research into Higher Education. Routledge.
Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar: How technology is transforming academic practice. Basingstoke: Bloomsbury Academic.