Bringing African research out of the shadows – Part 2
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In her second blog in a series of three (first here) Miriam Conteh-Morgan, Head Librarian, Institute of Public Administration and Management, University of Sierra Leone, shares tips on how researchers can use 2.0 technologies to bring their findings and ideas into global academic conversations

In a previous blog post I discussed some of the reasons to use new technologies to increase the visibility of research. This post will look at some examples.

Building on 2.0 Technologies

For 21st century researchers everywhere, lacking a digital presence or not actively using technologies to communicate their research, enhance their academic profile, or grow their professional networks is akin to the proverbial hiding their light under a bushel. There are now a number of tools and services that make it easier to have and keep academic flares burning. A few of these are listed below.

Academic Search Engines

Google may be the most widely-used search engine for general searching, but using Google Scholar limits a regular Google search to a universe of academic works – articles, monographs, theses, and abstracts. Also in the family is Google Books, a database of digitized versions of public-domain books and snippets of still copyrighted materials.

Another example is Microsoft Academic Search, which allows one to search for authors, publications, organizations, conferences, or journals by discipline. It has visualization tools to help create graphs of paper citations and co-authors, trace academic genealogies, and map researchers and their institutions.

Social Networking for Academic Purposes

Just as networking in the real world could lead to a deal or a job, imagine what the possibilities could be when this is done in a virtual milieu with many thousands, if not millions, of other scholars around the world. In these environments, one can consciously shape a research profile, interact with potential collaborators, join or create new networks, or build a following based on common interests.

One such platform where this happens is Academia.edu. It allows scholars themselves to upload their work (whether simply bibliographic references or the full text). They can then receive email alerts whenever someone searches for them by name or discovers their work through a search engine. From the alerts, they can also gauge their geographic reach because notification includes details of the origin of the search. For the science community, invaluable groups to join include ResearchGate and Nature Network.

In addition, academics can use mainstream networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

If researchers want to share websites that they like, or know which sites peers have favourited, social bookmarking sites are the way to go. Popular ones include Delicious, Connotea, CiteULike, Zotero, BibSonomy, and Diigo. Zotero also serves as a valuable reference management tool, as does Mendeley which is available through Research4Life.

Online Collaboration

So, let’s say one meets a peer on a professional online site and decides s/he would like to work with that person on a project, geography notwithstanding. There are a number of web-based software options, sometimes referred to as “collaboratories,” that support such collaborative work in online spaces. They may provide each scholar with individual workspaces within the project, or allow multiple scholars to work on the same document while keeping track of individual contributions and the change history. Good examples include Wikispaces, Zoho and Google Drive.

More Than Sharing Your Story

Blogs about research, as discussed by Melissa Gregg (2006) (a good aggregator is ResearchBlogging.org), and publishers’ blogs (for example, Sage and Cambridge) are also helpful sites to frequent. Microblogging using popular sites such as Twitter, Plurk or Tumblr, or contributing publications to institutional repositories are all useful activities that amplify visibility. Sharing conference presentation slides on Slideshare or Scribd offer other avenues for sharing research.

How Big Are Your Ripples?

Citation indexes are still the gold standard but they do not adequately capture the buzz around or the immediate impact of researchers or publications. Enter social media. A site such as CitedIn which is discipline-specific allows bioinformatics researchers to discover where their works have been cited. ScienceCard collects all scientific works published by an author and displays their aggregate work-level metrics. Impact Story scans a wider landscape by showing where a work has been cited, viewed, downloaded and tweeted. It tracks artifact-level metrics on a wide range of outlets, beyond traditional publishing into new media.

Although fee-based, Altmetric is a similar tool that also tracks newspapers and government policy papers (certainly useful for researchers in Africa who consult for their governments); it however offers a free web browser tool that gives instant metrics to a recent article. Many publishers have now added the Altmetric tool to their journals.

Does the use of these tools raise the visibility of research? Join our discussion of this question in my next post.

References

Gregg, Melissa. (2006). Feeling ordinary: Blogging as conversational scholarship. Continuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Studies 20 (2), 147–60

A version of this post in Spanish is available on our AuthorAID site

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