Friday, March 30, 2012

Putting the W in the DIK

Another day, another hashtag
I've spent so long hanging around with incredibly generous and talented people like Martin Hawksey and Tony Hirst over the last couple of years that I'm in some danger of starting to forget how mere mortals react to their wizardry.

This week I've been at the Society of General Microbiology Spring conference in Dublin, a meeting I've been going to most years for the last 30 years (gulp). This year there was a serious uptake of social media (well, Twitter) for the first time. Although the sort of analysis I've just run is now routine for some of us, it's easy to forget how confusing the data surge is to the average person who is only just now tuning in to where our data-driven society is heading.

That's why it's important to explain as well as to visualize, to try to put the W in the DIK.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

We're all in this together - or are we?

Multi author blogs - the future? A tweet from Patrick Dunleavy pointed me at this post by Mark Carrigan about Multi-Author Blogging at Warwick, which argues that "Increasingly, popular and successful blogs are taking on a new form: the multi-author blog."

My feeling is that this rather overstates the case. While it is true that we are seeing the rise of a number of high profile team blogs, for me, the true wealth of the blogosphere still resides in the lone author (usually but nort invariably an academic), often freeing themselves from the burden of their direct responsibilities, writing about their interests, passions and knowledge.

And while it's true that it's easy for lone authors to fall off the blogging wagon, they still produce more insight than agenda-grinding tag teams. Let's have lots of blogging diversity, and let a thousand flowers bloom. I know who my money's on for the next intellectual leap forward.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A vision of the future

A new paper published in arXiv points the way towards the future of academic publishing.
"In growing numbers, scholars are integrating social media tools like blogs, Twitter, and Mendeley into their professional communications. The online, public nature of these tools exposes and reifies scholarly processes once hidden and ephemeral. Metrics based on this activities could inform broader, faster measures of impact, complementing traditional citation metrics. This study explores the properties of these social media-based metrics or "altmetrics," sampling 24,331 articles published by the Public Library of Science. We find that that different indicators vary greatly in activity. Around 5% of sampled articles are cited in Wikipedia, while close to 80% have been included in at least one Mendeley library. There is, however, an encouraging diversity; a quarter of articles have nonzero data from five or more different sources. Correlation and factor analysis suggest citation and altmetrics indicators track related but distinct impacts, with neither able to describe the complete picture of scholarly use alone. There are moderate correlations between Mendeley and Web of Science citation, but many altmetric indicators seem to measure impact mostly orthogonal to citation. Articles cluster in ways that suggest five different impact “flavors,” capturing impacts of different types on different audiences; for instance, some articles may be heavily read and saved by scholars but seldom cited. Together, these findings encourage more research into altmetrics as complements to traditional citation measures."

Altmetrics in the wild: Using social media to explore scholarly impact. arXiv:1203.4745v1 [cs.DL] 20 Mar 2012

Quite a lot of future to think about in this new article:
  • altmetrics
  • citation factor
  • invisible college
  • impact clusters

And on the other hand: Impact factor: outdated artefact or stepping-stone to journal certification? (2011) Scientometrics , pp. 1-28, doi:10.1007/s11192-011-0561-0 via arXiv

Thursday, March 22, 2012


grok (v): to understand thoroughly and intuitively
I'm big on grokking, so yesterday when my PLN threw up instaGrok I was interested.

I threw a couple of tests at it:
and the results were - mixed. It's a catchy name but these random collections of links in no way fit my internal map of "grok". Needs a lot of input from the crowd. Question is, can it achieve terminal velocity in a crowded space?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Twitter as an Imagined Community

life is asymmetric. "The notion of "community" has often been caught between concrete social relationships and imagined sets of people perceived to be similar. The rise of the Internet has refocused our attention on this ongoing tension. The Internet has enabled people who know each other to use social media, from e-mail to Facebook, to interact without meeting physically. Into this mix came Twitter, an asymmetric microblogging service: If you follow me, I do not have to follow you. This means that connections on Twitter depend less on in-person contact, as many users have more followers than they know. Yet there is a possibility that Twitter can form the basis of interlinked personal communities - and even of a sense of community. This analysis of one person’s Twitter network shows that it is the basis for a real community, even though Twitter was not designed to support the development of online communities. Studying Twitter is useful for understanding how people use new communication technologies to form new social connections and maintain existing ones."

Imagining Twitter as an Imagined Community. (2011) American Behavioral Scientist, 55(10) 1294-1318, doi:10.1177/0002764211409378

Comment: Not an earth shattering paper, but it makes the point that, schooled in the notion of symmetric "friend" relationships by Facebook, most people have not grokked the asymmetric nature of current social networks such as Twitter and Google+, and hence they struggle with them.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Writing for the web

Everyone thinks they know how to write for the web, but since so few people actually measure effectiveness - who knows if they do?

A recent post on RWW (Best Practices For Writing For Online Readers [sic - crappy title!] ) offers some interesting models for testing. The first interesting idea is Dale's Cone of Experience:

Dale's Cone of Experience

This model stresses involving readers in engaging activities rather than simply reading words on screen. Thus blog posts accompanied by memorable images should theoretically be more memorable than text only posts, and building a culture where readers engage in commenting through the use of prompts and open questions in posts should drive deeper understanding than reading alone.

The second interesting idea is the 3-2-1 formula - for every 1000 words you write online, use:
  • Three subheadings
  • Two links
  • One image
This strikes me as a catchy mantra and I'd like to see some evidence supporting this, but nevertheless, there are ideas worth exploring in this article.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Making science real: photo-sharing in biology and chemistry "In this paper, we examine students’ reflections about the value of two photosharing activities that were implemented in undergraduate Biology and Chemistry subjects. Both activities aimed, broadly, to provide support for authentic and meaningful learning experiences in undergraduate science. Although the activities were similar - both required students to capture and share images as part of an independent inquiry activity - students in the Biology case study were more positive, overall, than the Chemistry students in their evaluation of the activity. In this paper, we examine the findings from the two case studies in parallel to provide insight into our understanding of meaningful learning in undergraduate science. The results suggest that, for meaningful learning to occur, the learning activity needs to be well aligned with students’ individual learning goals and with the objectives and characteristics of the course. In the two case studies examined in this paper, this alignment was successful for the Biology case study but less successful in the Chemistry case study."

Making science real: photo-sharing in biology and chemistry. Research In Learning Technology 20, 2 (2012)

Comment: This article is a good example of how the pedagogic framework a technology is integrated into (or not) trumps the technology itself. We are seeing an example of that now with the use of Google+. To be accepted by students, any technology must be an integral part of a course and not an obvious bolt-on.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Platform agnostic

Is it a secret? At a meeting this morning I was involved in a discussion about setting up an online presence to:
  • Enable online discussions between meetings
  • Publicize the work of the group
  • Solicit opinion from a wider community
The question is, how?

My position is that I don't care how we do this as long as:
  • It's either part of my current workflow (meaning, essentially, Google+), or:
  • I get in stream activity notification, preferably via RSS (or as a last desperate resort, email)
Which gives us a choice of?
  • WordPress/Blogger (no in house blog platform available)
  • Twitter (not suitable/used by all?)
  • Google+ (not used by many at present) - Google Groups better?
  • or?
What platform should we go for?

The Role of the Lecturer as Tutor: Doing What Effective Tutors Do in a Large Lecture Class

"In this paper, we share insights into what is known about what effective tutors do and do not do, and we present specific approaches for adapting effective tutoring strategies and applying them to large biology lecture classes"

  • What is effective tutoring? Seven key characteristics
  • Transferring effective tutoring to a large lecture situation

- if you're a good teacher, you're probably already doing this ... and if you're not? Old dogs, new tricks?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Scientific Publishing: Is Social Media Worth It?

Today I'm in Oxford at the OUP Journals meeting. I'll be wearing my Annals of Botany Internet Consulting Editor hat (the peaked one with the scrambled egg on it), and I'll be saying something along these lines:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

From Research to Policy: Academic Impacts on Goverment #LSEImpact

What happened at the #LSEImpact meeting yesterday? Yesterday I was at the #LSEImpact meeting From Research to Policy: Academic Impacts on Government. I'll be writing more about this later, but in the meantime, here's a short Storify account of some of the discussions:

A little bit of evil from Storify

Naughty Storify!

Now, I like Storify, and I like Society of Biology, but signing me up for subscriptions I haven't asked for and notifying me retrospectively rather than making a suggestion for me to act on is evil. Naughty Storify!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Collaboration in social networks

Nashogram The very notion of social network implies that linked individuals interact repeatedly with each other. This notion allows them not only to learn successful strategies and adapt to them, but also to condition their own behavior on the behavior of others, in a strategic forward looking manner. Game theory of repeated games shows that these circumstances are conducive to the emergence of collaboration in simple games of two players. We investigate the extension of this concept to the case where players are engaged in a local contribution game and show that rationality and credibility of threats identify a class of Nash equilibria - that we call "collaborative equilibria" - that have a precise interpretation in terms of subgraphs of the social network. For large network games, the number of such equilibria is exponentially large in the number of players. When incentives to defect are small, equilibria are supported by local structures whereas when incentives exceed a threshold they acquire a nonlocal nature, which requires a “critical mass” of more than a given fraction of the players to collaborate. Therefore, when incentives are high, an individual deviation typically causes the collapse of collaboration across the whole system. At the same time, higher incentives to defect typically support equilibria with a higher density of collaborators. The resulting picture conforms with several results in sociology and in the experimental literature on game theory, such as the prevalence of collaboration in denser groups and in the structural hubs of sparse networks.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Via Sarah Horrigan:
"A few days ago, I had an interesting discussion over on Google+ ... with A.J. Cann - which we both wanted to share publicly but resharing would lose the conversation we'd had... so... here it is. He'd commented on a blog post I'd made and in return I'd asked him what he would rename virtual learning environments if he could and the exchange went as follows:"


and the rest...

A.J. Cann

Friday, March 09, 2012


In David Weinberger's book Too Big To Know there is a discussion of the DIKW hierarchy:
The famous DIKW pyramid
The origin of this model is murky, but it resurfaces many times, for example, in the form of Bloom's Taxonomy.

The goal of Data is Information, the goal of Information is Knowledge, of Knowledge, Wisdom. Become wise and win a prize. What is the gatekeeper for each stage of the hierarchy? Curation.

Weinberger make the point that Knowledge is Information that is not only true but in which belief is justified. We may, or may not, have "Information overload", we certainly don't have Knowledge overload. Filtering works with Information, but is disruptive to Knowledge. Wisdom - well that seems like too difficult a puzzle to crack.

Now, if all this is getting a bit philosophical, well that's probably the only way to survive ten weeks of teaching first year students statistics. My statistics module has two goals: To get students to realize that statistics is about transforming Data into Information, and to realize that transforming Information into Knowledge requires experience and understanding.

Most of my day is spent curating stuff. When I'm researching, I curate Data to transform it into Information. When I teach, I'd like to think I'm curating Information which students transform into Knowledge. But I still haven't figured out what Wisdom has to do with education.

A.J. Cann

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Too Big To Know

Too Big To Know I finally got my hands on David Weinberger's new book Too Big To Know and read it over the weekend.

In Too Big To Know Weinberger continues the thesis of Everything is Miscellaneous that digital information is fundamentally different from what went before. In the Prologue he argues that:
"Transform the medium by which we develop, preserve, and communicate knowledge, and we transform knowledge." 
The new extension to the thesis in this book is that
"Knowledge is now a property of the network".

Weinberger gives a good account of exactly the same objections being raised against paper historically as are currently raised against the Internet. There are also many anecdotes about "experts", the bane of our professional existence. The chapter on the Expertise of Clouds shows how the exuberance and enthusiasm of a large Facebook group of thousands can win out over a circle of self-appointed experts.

This book had a difficult gestation. I know this because I followed Weinberger's live blog of the writing process. To an extent, this shows in the book. By taking on such a large topic, it could be suggested that the results is a bit of a mishmash, but perhaps more accurately, the title is not quite for this volume? Which is not to say that I don't recommend reading it, because I do. The exposition on long form thought/writing versus Nicholas Carr is a particularly good read, as is the checklist of "to dos" in the final chapter:
  1. Open up access (open access)
  2. Provide the hooks for intelligence (metadata)
  3. Link everything (required to be a good Internet citizen)
  4. Leave no institutional knowledge behind (paywalls suck)
  5. Teach everyone (online everyone is a teacher)

I can't say that reading this book was as big a wake-up call to me as reading Everything Is Miscellaneous was (I can remember with great clarity exactly where I was when I read that book, one of those formative experiences), but to a large extent that's because Weinberger had already switched the lightbulb on. You still need to read this book.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

altmetrics lite

The ever reliable Martin Hawksey has another classic blog post this morning, What do you get when you combine Twitter and Google Analytics in Google Spreadsheets with a bit of Google Apps Script?

Nice work. I had not realized that Twitter search resolves all shortened links to the original URL, so for yesterday's blog post, I get:


However, since Google+ has gone all hockeystick on me, I'm far more interested in that site these days. Searching for the post url there gives me:


and I can save the search on Google+ to tune into referrer traffic there in real time, thanking referrers and commenting or clarifying as need be. Nice tip :-)


 SoTI: Twitter | Google+
 MicrobiologyBytes: Twitter | Google+
 AoB: Twitter | Google+

Tuesday, March 06, 2012 I'm not entirely sure what is all about. It appears to be an open access repository with a facility for open peer review. It's not clear to me who is behind the site, or would it will be able to establish a critical mass for sustainability in an increasingly crowded space.

Your thoughts?

How the game is played


An efficient and effective system for interactive student feedback using Google+ to enhance an institutional virtual learning environment was published in the Leicester Research Archive on 7th February, and in 22 days was accessed 1,175 times. This is a very gratifying outcome of my first experiment with open peer review. To put that number in context, the average number of views for a PloS ONE article is 900 per year (but since the distribution of accesses will be skewed by a few very high values, we really need to know the median, which will be lower than the mean).

Given that we know:
  1. Articles in lower-ranked journals have a greater increase rate of citations if they are freely accessible, and:
  2. Heavily tweeted articles are eleven times more likely to be highly cited than less tweeted articles, then:
this is how the game is played. As I wrote recently, we are all publishers now. That means taking on all the roles that publishers formerly fulfilled, including not only publication, but also marketing. I'd love to know what the numbers are for my papers in Bioscience Education and Research in Learning Technology, but that data is not available to me. If I want value added to my papers, I need to add it myself.

A.J. Cann

Monday, March 05, 2012

Dashboard Delights

I'm on a long term quest to find workable media dashboards to make sense of the Interwebz and I've seen some interesting stuff over the last few days.

On Friday I had a top secret high level meeting about Project Llama. Oh OK then, I had coffee with Gareth and he showed me the prototype author dashboard for the LRA. It looks good - but you'll have to wait a bit longer to get your hands on it :-)

Then on Friday night Fergus sent me a heads up about Bottlenose:

I'm impressed, Bottlenose is pretty good, although the new visual paradigm takes a bit of getting used to. It's also another destination to visit, rather than being integrated with the sites it abstracts, which could be a disadvantage - at present, it only covers Twitter and Facebook. Google+ integration is planned, at which point Bottlenose might really take off.

Self-selection and the citation advantage of open access articles

"This research seeks to examine the relationship between the open access availability of journal articles in anthropology and their citation conditions. The paper applies a statistical logistic regression model to explore this relationship, and compares two groups of articles, those published in high-ranked journals and those in low-ranked journals based on journal impact factor, to examine the likelihood that open access status is correlated to scholarly impact. The results reveal that open access articles in general receive more citations. Moreover, this research finds that articles in high-ranked journals do not have a higher open access rate, and articles in lower-ranked journals have a greater increase rate of citations if they are freely accessible. The findings are contrary to the existing theory that a higher citation rate of open access articles is caused by authors posting their best articles online. It is hoped that the research discoveries can help electronic publishers and digital project managers to adjust their strategies in open access advocacy."

Sunday, March 04, 2012

OMG he's banging on about Google+ again

Google+ I just ticked over 3000 followers on Google+, which has now become my most important social network, outstripping the value of Twitter by some distance. As I said previously, I'm not boasting about this, just making the point that you get out of a tool what you put into it. Not that all tools are equal. My Google+ network didn't happen by accident, it is the result of the time and effort I have spent curating my personal, tailor-made Google+ community, just as I did previously with the now defunct Friendfeed.

Google+ is the most important social tool to appear for years, but as with Twitter initially, most people don't get that yet. Just take a look at what we've done with AoB blog over the last 12 months:

AoB Blog
Get the picture? It's hockeystick time at Google+.

A.J. Cann

Friday, March 02, 2012

Putting twitter to the test: outcomes for student collaboration, engagement and success

Concept map "Herein, we present data from two studies of Twitter usage in different post-secondary courses with the goal of analyzing the relationships surrounding student engagement and collaboration as they intersect learning outcomes. Study 1 was conducted with 125 students taking a first-year seminar course, half of who were required to use Twitter while the other half used Ning. Study 2 was conducted with 135 students taking a large lecture general education course where Twitter participation was voluntary. Faculty in Study 1 engaged with students on Twitter in activities based on an a priori theoretical model, while faculty in Study 2 only engaged students sporadically on the platform. Qualitative analyses of tweets and quantitative outcomes show that faculty participation on the platform, integration of Twitter into the course based on a theoretically driven pedagogical model and requiring students to use Twitter are essential components of improved outcomes."

Reynol Junco, C. Michael Elavsky, Greg Heiberger. (2012) Putting twitter to the test: Assessing outcomes for student collaboration, engagement and success BJET 01 March 2012 doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8535.2012.01284.x

Rey Junco's latest. Well worth a read, and encouraging that the conclusions about pedagogical integration of social tools match the model we are using for Google+ here. I've got to work on the "faculty participation" though...

Thursday, March 01, 2012

For one week only! Innovative learning!

Only a week? I don't have any knowledge of Edinburgh University's recent "Innovative Learning Week", but I do have big reservations about the concept.

"‘Normal’ teaching will be suspended for this week"
 For me this is sending completely the wrong message.

I do have knowledge of "reading weeks" at other universities, and I am unimpressed. Every week is innovative learning/reading week.