Will Twitter, blogs and wikis change scholarly communication?

At the Conference on Science and the Internet (#cosci12) academics from different disciplines discussed changing practices in research and higher education.

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Big data: chances and challenges for internet researchers

Not only scholars' use of Twitter and blogs is being studied: internet users' activities are generally becoming the subject of research in disciplines such as sociology, media and communication studies, information science and computer science. Social media and other tools offer insights to communication behavior and network structures. The challenge here is to handle 'big data' - enormous amounts of datasets. This poses various challenges including:

  • Access rights and data availability. Mostly, data access is limited by the respective companies; researchers cannot fully rely on data quality and permanent accessibility.
  • Methodological standards. There still is a lack of shared methodologies for analyzing social media data.
  • Ethical questions. Research ethics in dealing with user data on the social web are hardly discussed.
  • Big data vs. big picture. Currently, big data is mainly used in single case studies - which are not yet interlinked to get a broader picture of the entire state of research.

Informal learning environments

Informal learning environments are of growing importance both for higher education and in general. Social media and mobile devices can be used to create such learning environments. The iPad plays a growing role in didactics, especially as there is a shift from learning as consumption to learning to be creative. But wikis and social networking platforms like Facebook are also applied, e.g. for peer-reflective learning. 

There are lots of challenges for those teachers willing to use social media or other informal settings for learning and teaching. Many who tried reported that students are only interested in passing their grades and do not like the extra effort imposed to them by participating in novel learning settings. Wikis are frequently applied in learning environments wit good results. But opening up students' wikis to the public also often leads to reduced participation. On the other hand, case studies showed that students were more active during classes when the teacher posted learning material in blogs and other open web spaces. Another challenge of using online environments for teaching is due to insufficient knowledge about copyrights. Furthermore, teachers frequently have to deal with plagiarism. 

Additional information

The studies mentioned in this conference review and additional topics that were discussed  at #cosci12 will be published in the conference proceedings by the end of 2012: online as open access proceedings, plus print: Tokar, A., et al. (Eds.) (in press). Science and the Internet. Düsseldorf: Düsseldorf University Press.

Videos of the three keynote talks will be online.

Dr Katrin Weller is information scientist working at the Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Germany. She has been involved in different research projects on social media and their role in e-learning, knowledge sharing and collaborative knowledge management. You can follow her activities on Twitter @kwelle.

Photo courtesy of Karola Riegler Photography via Flickr.

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