Archive for October, 2008

New image search tutorial from VTS and TASI

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Internet for Image Searching” is a new, free online tutorial to help staff and students in universities and colleges to find digital images for their learning and teaching:

http://www.vts.intute.ac.uk/tutorial/imagesearching/

This tutorial has been created by TASI – the JISC Advisory Service for digital media and the Virtual Training Suite, with funding from the Higher Education Academy/JISC Collaboration Initiative.

The emphasis of the tutorial is on finding copyright cleared images which are available free; facilitating quick, hassle-free access to a vast range of online photographs and other visual resources.

Mindful of the minefield that is copyright law, Sharon Waller from the Higher Education Academy commented on the new tutorial saying:

“This tutorial is an excellent resource for anyone needing to know more about where and how to find images online. The fact that it concentrates on copyright cleared images will make it even more valuable for busy learning and teaching professionals, researchers and students alike. It will also serve to inspire confidence in those needing to use images from the web in their work.”

Professor Sol Picciotto of the Lancaster Law School provided some early feedback:

“Congratulations on this tutorial. It’s really excellent, very well set out, and the information on copyright is presented clearly and accurately. It really fills a gap, and does so extremely well.”

For further information please contact Dave Kilbey (d.kilbey@bristol.ac.uk) of TASI.

Blogging, publishing, institutions and the media

Friday, October 10th, 2008

This is the fourth and final post in a series of blog posts this week taking a closer look at blogging, asking why you may want to blogĀ  and looking at how blogging can interact with other arenas, such as the academic publishing process, institutions and the mainstream media.

An article in the latest THE – By the Blog: academics tread carefully – suggests that there is a reluctance amongst academics to write publicly and take part in the blogosphere – a topic that I’ve touched on before. But it highlights the idea that the intersection of blogging and other arenas may be a barrier to those in the academic community taking the plunge – this is probably worth a little exploration.

The academic publishing process – blogging is very different from the traditional academic process, with no peer review etc., but this brings advantages too – the ability to respond quickly to events, the chance for ideas to evolve and be improved by the wisdom of crowds, plus the freedom to change your mind! While the article is right to point out that there is a chance that research ideas may be stolen if they are shared publicly, it also raises the possibility that being the first to blog a result could lead to getting some credit for it.

Relations with institutions – there isn’t anything inherently dangerous or evil about blogging – it is just a quick and easy web publishing platform – but that does mean academics need to be as careful what they blog about, as they would be on a hand crafted web page or in a publicly archived email list – Derek Morrison’s advice that you “don’t affect the share price” in what you say online, is a fair summation of the limits of academic freedom – or the equivalent of telling students that what they say online could be read by their parents!

The media – let’s say that you are pretty keen on blogging, have been for quite a while and you get the chance to talk about it to someone from the mainstream media and apparently you say:

“Some academics are dipping their toes in the water but many aren’t entirely comfortable with using the medium to voice their opinions.”

Rather than being disappointed that the least positive thing you said about blogging is the one thing that makes it into the article or having a vague feeling that you may well have said those words, but not necessarily in that order – relax in the knowledge that as you are a blogger, you have the chance to express yourself in words of your own choosing, without being edited!

So while there are indeed pros and cons, rights and responsibilities, pluses and minuses to the world of blogging – don’t be afraid of dipping your toes in, the water’s lovely!

The State of the UK Academic Blogosphere

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

This is the third in a series of blog posts this week taking a closer look at blogging, asking why you may want to blog, picking out some of what is happening in the UK blogosphere and looking at how blogging can interact with other arenas, such as the academic publishing process, institutions and the mainstream media.

A couple of weeks ago I took a brief look at the State of the Blogosphere in light of the recent report from Technorati – while it appears that the blogging is in good health overall, can the same be said of academic blogging especially in the UK as opposed to the US?

It’s safe to say that there are fewer blogging UK academics than US academics – after all there are 300 million people in the US and only about 60 million here in the UK. But in the past when I have asked “Where are the UK academic bloggers” – people have always asked for good examples of current practise, so I thought I should try to track some down.

An undoubted favourite here at the Virtual Training Suite is the Crooked Timber blog, which is an international collaboration which covers a range of Social Science subjects, including contributions from Chris Bertram, a Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at the University of Bristol.

This team approach is a good way of sharing the burden of blogging, as unless you build blogging into your normal workflow it can become an extra thing to do. This is perhaps best exemplified by Vox a policy portal set up by the Centre for Economic Policy Research which may not look like a traditional blog, seems to feature pretty highly in all the rankings of economics blogs.

On an institutional level there are innovative communities growing around specific universities, for example the Warwick Blogs service or across the sector as a whole with the JISC Involve service.

But looking at academic blogs as a whole there are fewer from the UK than the US, although there are more sources that may be of interest to the academic community rather than from the academic community themselves.

And perhaps that is something we should just accept as Kirby and Cameron put it, when talking about the Canadian academic blogosphere:

The academic blogosphere is far from uniform, and not necessarily directed toward academic audiences.

… but that may be something that could change in the future, although Web 2.0 and blog evangelists should take note that currently most workplace Internet use is rudimentary and there is a danger that people who like technology, will just carry on talking to other people who like technology, about how great technology is – the blogosphere needs to be more than just an echo chamber.

On Friday more on how blogging can interact with other arenas, such as the academic publishing process, institutions and the mainstream media.

Why blog – part two

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

This is the second in a series of blog posts this week taking a closer look at blogging, asking why you may want to blog, picking out some of what is happening in the UK blogosphere and looking at how blogging can interact with other arenas, such as the academic publishing process, institutions and the mainstream media.

Yesterday, I started on the topic of why you may want to blog and said that I’d outline a few more reasons why you may want to blog today.

Teaching and learning – blogs can be used to support courses, in a way that is easier to use and more accessible than your institutional VLE – some academics have written up their experiences of doing just that, while others are just getting on and using them – supplementing blogging with online polls assessing lectures, podcasts, Twitter updates and links to related resources.

Main Stream Media (MSM) – sadly, I have met too many academics who are great at what they do, but refuse point-blank to get involved with newspapers, TV or radio as they fear or have experience of their work being distorted or mis-represented. Blogs can enable you to represent your work as you would wish and give you the opportunity to sidestep the MSM by expressing yourself in your own words.

Telling a story – most academic work has an interesting story behind it – a process story about the ins-and-outs of research life or the human consequences of what has been found out or how it can effect everyday life – to take some examples from my own University. If we want a better informed citizenry, then perhaps we should engage with them more, as after all we are spending “their” money most of the time – why wait until the research is over and summed up in press release, tell the story as it unfolds, via a blog.

Helping evolve ideas – a key part of interacting in the blogosphere are the comments that you get from readers – some blogs attract comments that are as good as the blog posts! Call it the wisdom of crowds, crowdsourcing or just recognising that there are plenty of smart people out there you’ve never met, blogging is a great way to learn from your readers by asking questions and trying out your ideas in public.

Build a reputation – the rise of blogging has produced a shift towards a world where commentary is content, to the point where particular blogs may become required reading for those wishing to keep up-to-date in certain subjects. For academics this means that you can build a brand and use it to market your latest book.

So that’s a few ideas as to why you may want to blog and I’m sure that you will have more suggestions on why blogging may be of interest to you – if you are particularly keen to find out more, try the Guide to Using Blogs in Economics which may have some tips that are also applicable to your subject.

Tomorrow, a few thoughts on the State of the UK Academic Blogosphere.

Why blog – part 1

Monday, October 6th, 2008

This is the first in a series of blog posts this week taking a closer look at blogging, asking why you may want to blog, picking out some of what is happening in the UK blogosphere and looking at how blogging can interact with other arenas, such as the academic publishing process, institutions and the mainstream media – first up, a two parter on why you may want to blog.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to give my top three reasons why someone may want to blog – I must confess that I was not on top form and being more used to writing things down than saying them out loud off the top of my head, I meandered around giving one and half reasons in a not very compelling manner.

I went away and thought about it and came up with at least 10 reasons, so I’ve split them into two blog posts and deliberately not put them in any sort of order of importance / preference, as I would imagine that different people will have very different attitudes and motivations when it comes to blogs and blogging.

Learning styles – are you a reflective learner? Then blogging as a learning activity, may suit the way you choose to learn or indeed teach. A couple of years ago at the ALT-C conference, I recall a session from Julie Hughes on the effect of blogging in terms of the development of critically reflective practitioners within a community of practice – which really made me think about how blogging may suit some types of learner.

The Invisible College – is one of my favourite phrases about blogging and was coined by the Berkeley economist (and blogger) Brad DeLong. It’s the idea that by being a blogging academic, you’ll be better at what you do by writing publicly and engaging with fellow experts in the field. It’s kind of like a year long academic conference where you can pick the brains of the academy and make yourself smarter.

Dissemination – research funders are looking for impact when they issue research grants and with competition for cash as intense as ever, a proposal from someone a funder knows will get out there, may give you an edge. I recall the ESRC Heroes of Dissemination paper from the “pre-blog” world and would suggest that blogs and the Internet may form an important part of a modern day dissemination strategy.

Writing skills – whether it is writing for publication or writing for different audiences, writing is at the end of the day a skill – and one which you always benefit from practising. Time spent blogging will encourage the little and often side of your writing and perhaps open your eyes to the different nuances of language in the academic world as opposed to the “real world”, if you are brave enough to blog in public.

The virtual notebook – the Internet and the rise of online information means that there’s plenty of information to go around – perhaps too much. But separating the wheat from the chaff is itself an important skill and this use of critical thinking is something that you are probably doing every day – why not write it down, share it publicly and use a blog as a virtual notebook of what you encounter online.

But that is probably enough for now – more suggestions on why blogging may be of interest to you, will come tomorrow – or if you are particularly keen, try the Guide to Using Blogs in Economics which may have some tips that are also applicable to your subject.