the future of digital scholarship

Third guest post in a series of three by Dr Graham McElearney, Senior Learning Technologist, Technology Enhanced Learning Team in CiCS

Online digital video and the proliferation of social media are without doubt prompting digital transformations in all aspects of contemporary life. Academia will surely be no different. Producing digital media to convey your research, either to peers or to the public, will allow the form of “long tail” production of otherwise very niche publications, and allow these to become and remain sustainable and viable, in ways that might not be achieved via traditional paper-based publications. Online video can also give research colleagues direct access to visual phenomena, which could be a tremendously powerful way of fostering collaborative research.  So, it won’t just be research dissemination that will be revolutionised here, but the whole way that research is conducted. Research will become truly networked perhaps in the same manner as learning.

Martin Weller (2011) has recently drawn a potential parallel between changes in the music industry, and traditional academic publishing. The digital revolution that has transformed the way that music is purchased, has led to the “track” being the standard unit of music rather than the album. Could this shift in granularity mean that short form publications such as blog articles or videos could become the dominant ways for transmitting ideas, supplanting the dominant position of books? Certainly these new forms of media are becoming as transportable as books, with the explosion of smartphone and tablet usage, which now account for very significant  percentages of current Internet traffic. Weller also cites the huge successes of media such as TED as being the means of driving forward the adoption of innovations across all aspects of life.

There will almost certainly be a profound long term effect that the use of digital media will have on all aspects of how we conduct academic work, encapsulating everything from crowdsourcing data, new ways of working collaboratively, and communicating to colleagues and the wider public alike. For Harvard Professor George Whitesides, commonly cited as one of the most important and influential scientists of our time, the use of video has the capacity to totally transform the type of research we do. According to Whitesides’ video ‘What has been the impact of video on scientific communication?’, research topics have always been constrained in their scope by our ability to communicate their findings. With the power of video we have the capacity to explain and visualise concepts of greater and greater complexity, and this in turn will lead us towards research topics of greater complexity too.

Where to go next and useful tips
Find out more about what the University is doing
Our commitment to public engagement and research communication is evident in a number of resources we provide for our colleagues. We have our fantastic Public Engagement and Impact team, who organise our flagship events such as the Festival of the Mind, the Mobile University, the recent award winning Krebs Fest, and a host of Faculty based festivals over the year. We have the Researcher Professional Development team, who organise events such as the Ignite Academy and champion the creative communication of research through ‘Kroto Research Inspiration’.

Find out more about what is happening nationally
As we have our own Public Engagement team here in Sheffield, so there is also the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement ( This body provide a huge wealth of information, ideas and case studies via their website, and it is definitely worth visiting.

Talk to the experts
The Creative Media Team and Technology Enhanced Learning Team in CiCS are here to help you produce digital media to communicate your work.

Corporate Communications can help you get your message out to a wider audience in many ways:
~ via the University’s official social media channels
~ through subject experts communicating direct with the media
~ marketing and communications teams in all of the Faculties

Develop yourself
Consider getting involved in some of our public engagement activities to do some hands on learning – sometimes these events may be being filmed.

Look at what content you already have – you will almost certainly have had to prepare a presentation on your research recently (or will have to soon).

Develop your skills in planning and producing videos, potentially through a session delivered by the creative media team.

Reach out to your audience
Remember that any videos that you create won’t just watch themselves – you need to “get them out there”, so look at how you might be able to promote them using social media. There are also different video platforms that have different demographics, so you might need to think about publishing to as many of these as you can to maximise your reach – YouTube of course is the de facto, but also native video within Facebook has also become very successful, by virtue of its default auto-play feature. If you want to use Facebook to publish your video you will also have to consider adding captions to it too, as this seems to have become standard practice on this platform.

Consider using special interest groups on platforms such as Reddit to stimulate interest in your work.  When distributing your videos, consider using platforms which allow you to prompt some conversation with your viewers by posting questions, comments etc.

Join it all up
In conclusion, it might make sense to think in terms of creating a “package” of complementary items. You might be able to combine doing an event, releasing a blog post or journal article, along with your video, and all promoted by social media. Or you might be able to embed your video inside an online publication such as The Conversation, as Victoria Williamson has done here.

I hope this series of three articles has provided a useful starting point in convincing you that producing videos as a researcher has much to offer. Whatever starting point you choose, don’t forget to have fun!

(In case you missed them, follow these links for post one and post two).

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