[This is a five minute talk I am giving today at a conference gathering opinions and knowledge for the upcoming Norwegian parliamentary report on the humanities.]
Vi trenger humanister som kan se det digitale i historisk kontekst, som kan forstå den digitale estetikken, som kan analysere etiske problemstillinger og utvikle teknologifilosofi.
Det å forstå teknologi handler ikke bare om å kunne bygge den og programmere den. Det å forstå teknologi krever også at vi forstår hvordan teknologi, kultur og samfunn henger sammen og påvirker hverandre.
Vi trenger humanister som forstår teknologien godt nok til at de kan se hva det gjør med oss, og som kan si oss hvordan vi skal styre teknologien for å skape det samfunnet vi ønsker. Vi trenger humanister som forstår det digitale og som deltar i samfunnsdebatten, som underviser i skolene våre, som er med på å fatte beslutninger om teknologiutvikling i alle samfunnsområder.
Om vi ikke forstår teknologien, så kan vi ikke styre den. Da styrer teknologien oss.
Vi trenger humanister som kan analysere og fortolke samtiden vår.
Men humanister i dag må også kunne bruke digitale metoder i forskningen, enten det gjelder å analysere store tekstmengder, bruke kartdata, gjøre visualiseringer, utvikle ordbøker eller bruke datalingvistiske metoder. Innen digital humaniora ligger vi dessverre langt etter resten av verden.
I dag finnes det utmerkede enkeltmiljøer, men de er lite koblet sammen og lite synlige. Infrastrukturprosjekter finnes til dels, men dekker på langt nær hele behovet. Det er ikke det at det ikke finnes etablerte forskere som arbeider med digitale metoder. Tvert imot, vi var tidlig ute i Norge, med NAVFs edb-senter for humanistisk forskning alt på 70-tallet, men miljøet ble utrolig nok nedbygget rundt årtusenskiftet.
Når jeg snakker med de som har vært med lengst, virker mange slitne: de har prøvd og fått nei for mange ganger og orker ikke mer. Men det er absolutt håp: I mars i år arrangeres den første digital humaniora-konferansen i Norge. Den er dratt i gang av en stipendiat, ikke av en etablert forsker.
For å gjøre norske humanister i stand til å bruke digitale metoder på en god måte må vi synliggjøre det som finnes og finne måter å koble kompetansen og prosjektene sammen. Da får vi utnyttet det gode, men altfor spredte arbeidet som gjøres i digital humaniora i Norge.
Det er også behov for mer robust teknisk infrastruktur og særlig teknisk støtte til utvikling og vedlikehold av databaser, språksamlinger, ordbøker, digitale utgaver, arkiver og andre forskningsresultater fra digital humaniora. Humaniora har tradisjonelt vært teoriutviklende og analyserende, og det har ikke vært mye praktisk utviklingsarbeid. Dette er under endring. Klart vi fortsatt skal bevare de tradisjonelle humanistiske metodene, men vi må også finne ut hvordan vi best kan støtte humanister som utvikler teknologi som en metode for å forstå, analysere og endre verden, enten det er gjennom mediedesign, databaseutvikling eller kunstnerisk utviklingsarbeid.
En særlig utfordring er det at eksternfinansierte prosjekter gjerne dekker utviklingsbehov i prosjektperioden, men ikke etterpå. Det finnes ikke midler til teknisk drift i dagens humanistiske fakulteter. Hva skal vi gjøre med alle databasene og arkivene som utvikles og så forsvinner fordi det ikke er penger til å gjøre sikkerhetsoppdateringene og vedlikeholdet som kreves?
Og hvordan skal vi gi teknisk støtte til forskere og studenter som ønsker å bruke digitale metoder, men ikke i utgangspunktet vet hvordan gjøre det? Vi trenger stabil teknisk støtte for å kunne utvikle og vedlikeholde digital humaniora-prosjekter. Vi trenger å utvikle studietilbud som gir masterstudenter et grunnlag for å bruke digitale metoder, og vi trenger et sted forskere som ikke vet hvordan de skal gå fram kan få hjelp. Det fins ikke i dag.
Universitetet i Oslo har nettopp utlyst en stilling for en kunsthistoriker som er spesialist i mediekunst og teknologi. Det er første gangen jeg har sett et tradisjonelt humanistisk fag i Norge utlyse en stilling som er eksplisitt skapt for å forstå det digitale.
Det er et problem at digital kompetanse ikke har vært prioritert i de tradisjonelle humaniorafagene. Det ville ikke vært behov for et fag som digital kultur, som jeg er professor i, dersom det digitale ble tatt på alvor i alle humanistiske fag. Men universitetets faginndeling, og kanskje særlig humanioras faginndeling er skapt for å konservere kunnskap. Faggrensene fremmer ikke tverrfaglighet eller nyskaping, og de fungerer ikke nødvendigvis godt i et samfunn som er i endring.
Vi må styrke humanioras evne til å forstå og analysere vår digitale samtid. For om vi ikke forstår hvordan teknologi og kultur henger sammen, så velger vi bort styringsmulighetene våre.
Takk for meg.
Last semester I, and a hundred and fifty other people who teach at my university, heard Dee Fink talk about how to be a better teacher. The thing I remember the best is that he told us that if we improve our teaching just a little, we will enjoy ourselves so much more. I have fun teaching when I’m engaged in it. But if I just do it because I have to, I end up hating my job. So this semester, I plan to have fun by being a better teacher.
Fink had lots of specific good ideas, like helping students find their own motivation for learning, but his advice that I particularly want to focus on is designing integrated courses, meaning courses where the learning outcomes, the learning activities and the assessment work together.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve usually started planning the next semester’s teaching when the emails come from the bookshop asking for a reading list. For the spring semester, book lists are supposed to be sent to the bookshop by 1 November. By 1 December we’re supposed to have a complete reading list up on the web so students can begin to plan.
That means that I generally start planning a course by thinking about what students should be reading. Looking at the syllabi my colleagues around the world write, that seems to be the main focus of most course design.
Really, though, we should be starting with what we want our students to learn. At UiB all our courses have learning outcomes, but reading through the stated learning outcomes for the course I’m teaching, they are much too general. It was really useful thinking through different kinds of learning goals, using one of Fink’s handouts (well, downloads), A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning.
I don’t just want students to learn the content in the readings I give them. I want them to become better self-directed learners. And as this is the last semester before they start writing their MA thesis, it’s especially important that they spend this semester really learning all they need to research and write independently. I realised that one of my main goals for the seminar is to help foster a robust writing community that the students can continue to develop themselves next year.
Fink talked a lot about the broader learning goals we should be thinking about. We don’t just want to educate students who can reel off facts. We want students who work together, who care about the world and each other, who are confident in themselves.
A concept that really appealed to me was that of forward-looking assessement. In two or three years, how and in what kind of situation would you hope that students would make use of what they learned in the course?
We know these students future employers want to hire people who can work together with others, know how to learn, can think independently and critically, can communicate orally and in writing, can use their knowledge in new areas, and can network and build relationships. Knowledge about a specific topic comes after all those things.
How can they learn the things I want them to learn? Not just by reading, that’s for sure. Here are some of Fink’s ideas, with my early notes for the course:
The bread and butter of the approach is figuring out what you want students to learn, how to best help them learn it, and how to assess that they really learnt it. After spending an hour or so on the workbook, I was ready to plan the course as a whole:
We have one major limitation when it comes to assessment that matches the learning activities: it’s very difficult to set up a course that uses continuous or formative assessment. Assessment generally happens at the end, in Norway. In this course, there are two obligatory assignments during the semester, and both must be approved for students to be allowed to submit the final paper. But students’ grade for the course is entirely determined by their grade on that final paper, the semesteroppgave in my notes above. So I can’t do very much with the graded assessments.
However, I can make sure that my assignments support the learning goals. I decided to change the two obligatory assignments from the typical “write a short essay” and instead choose something that would help support my ultimate goal, that students go out and build a better society! So to show that they know something about the history of visual technologies, they will be making infographics. And to show they understand not just the history but also the theory and practice of visual technologies, they will create a pitch for an imagined product that somehow critiques the standard way of seeing through technology.
At this point, I was ready to start outlining the semester, and beginning to slot in readings and assignments. I decided to divide the semester into three sections: history, theory/analysis, and a writing workshop period.
I outlined each class, including hands-on activities as well as readings and reflective writing to do before each class and assignments to do after each class.
We only have ten sessions, three hours each, so I had to drop some of the practical activities I wanted to do, like building camera obscuras, but we will get to do things like visiting the Maritime Museum (which is right next door actually) and having a demonstration of how to use a sextant.
Canvas also allows you to explicitly connect learning outcomes to assignments, so I did this, to help both me and the students remember why we are doing what we do.I’ll give them points according to this matrix so students can have an idea of how they’re doing, although the points won’t count towards the final grade.
I wrote out the readings for each class as assignments too, which may well turn out to be overkill, but it will mean that each week, students will get reminders to complete their readings and reflection notes by a particular time. Here is an example.
Feel free to look around the course website – everything except student discussions and their work is open to the public, and CC-licenced, so you can reuse it if it’s useful. If you click the “TYPE” tab on the assignments you’ll see them all nicely sorted, and the modules page shows an overview of the whole semester.
I may have gone a little overboard on planning this semester. I certainly don’t usually have this level of detail, and maybe it won’t work well to have such detailed assignments for graduate students. If so, we can always tweak it. But it has been very satisfying to think about designing this course by starting with the learning goals, and building from there, and I’m looking forwards to this semester so much more than I tend to look forwards to teaching.
Of course, it does take time. And Canvas keeps perfect track of how much time I spend. Nearly 16 hours, just in Canvas. See the time there, second from the bottom?
I spent 2 hours before that, with the workbook. I’m sure I’ve spent more time than that thinking about it and reading and looking for books and so on, but probably not a lot more. And I spent about 90 minutes writing this blog post, which I’m hoping will help me next time I design a course and have forgotten how excited I was about this one. I’m fortunate enough to have chosen the topic for the semester, and it’s a topic I’m passionate about and reading and writing about anyway, so it’s fine to be spending time on it. The preloaded time use might be more difficult to manage if it were a big course where I was less knowledgeable about the topic.
And although I’m really not sure I like being able to see how much time everyone, including me, spends in Canvas on the course webpages, it’s interesting that the students have already started spending time on it as well. The first class isn’t until January 21, so they’re early – which is great, because they have a reading assignment due for that first class.
How do you plan your courses? Have you found any good techniques? Do you have any suggestions?
I’m really excited about the course I’m teaching this semester. DIKULT303: Digital Media Aesthetics is a graduate seminar with a topic that changes from year to year, and this year it will be about machine vision, my current obsession, and a topic I think is going to be immensely important over the next decades. The key question is: What happens to our understanding of the world when we no longer primarily rely on human perception but use machines and algorithms to sense our surroundings? We’ll be reading theory, learning about the history of visual technologies, and exploring digital art, literature, apps and games that engage with the question of machine vision.
UiB is switching to a self-hosted Canvas installation as an LMS, and I’ve been enjoying figuring out good ways to use it to craft a course design where learning activities, learning outcomes and assessment are well integrated. So if you’re curious, you can look at the syllabus or the modules to see how the course is structured. This lets you see the individual assignments, readings and lecture topics.
DIKULT303 is an MA level course primarily for students of Digital Culture at UiB, but also welcoming exchange students and MA- or PhD-level students from other programs at UiB. If you are interested in taking the course, sign up at Studentweb if you are a Digital Culture MA program, or email firstname.lastname@example.org if you are in a different program.
But you may be wondering what I even mean by machine vision? Here is a short introduction to the course topic.
We will begin the semester by learning about the history of visual technologies. We will visit the Maritime Museum to learn how vikings navigated by the stars and the sun even when they couldn’t see them, and how to use a sextant. We will learn about perspective in painting, camera obscuras, kaleidoscopes and early photography. We will discuss Rodin’s objection to the speed of the camera, and learn about the development of both photography and computers were to a great extent driven by a desire to identify each member of the population. We will discuss whether Google Street View or satellite images of the world change the way we see our surroundings. We’ll try out VR using Google Cardboard, and will discuss the theories of the New Aesthetic, reading work by Virilio, Uricchio, and others.
This is an example of a video showing us something that we cannot see without technology. It’s actually not a recording, but an animation based on scientific studies of the brain, first published at Art of the Cell, a medical animation company, but since reposted many places and often with the following text: “This is what happiness really looks like: Molecules of the protein myosin drag a ball of endorphins along an active filament into the inner part of the brain’s parietal cortex, which produces feelings of happiness.”
Part of the reason this image appeals to us is the anthropomorphic strut of that myosin – and the words that go with this image. “This is what happiness really looks like.” What do we mean by that? What it really looks like?
Consider the first photographs of an unborn child, popularised in the 1960s by Lennart Nilsson’s still popular book, A Child is Born. The photo below is a slightly updated version of one published in Life Magazine in April 1965 (This issue was digitized by Google Books so you can look at the cover here, and scroll through to page 54 for the whole story). To me, the child looks like a traveler in space, the specks like stars against the black of space. I immediate thought of the photos of the Earth, thinking they were taken about the same time, but of course, the iconic Blue Marble photo of Earth wasn’t taken until 1972.
Is this what an unborn child, or the Earth, really look like?
Leafing (well, scrolling digitally) through the issue of Life where Lennart Nilsson’s photos were published, I notice the spherical shape is repeated. First, on the page immediately after the section on the in-utero photographs, there is an ad for a car, where a fisheye view of what can be seen from the back seat of the car is shown, bright blue on a black background.
Then on page 83, which is a full page ad for Hughes and Comsat, showing a new satellite that will enable live trans-Atlantic telecasts and phonecalls. A globe is shown in the ad. Not a photograph of the Earth itself, because no photograph of the whole Earth yet existed. There seems to be a desire, though, for photographs of spheres floating in space.
The spherical image in the Ford ad was clearly taken with a fisheye lens (Links to an external site.). Fisheye lenses weren’t mass-produced for photography until the early 1960s – so just before this issue of Life was published. Nilsson used fisheye and wide-angle lenses both for his photography inside the body and for other photographs. And he even presented images actually taken outside of the body – like that of a foetus taken from the womb of a woman who was killed in a traffic accident – as though they were taken with wide-angle lenses.
Read more about this:
Jülich, Solveig. 2015. Lennart Nilsson’s Fish-Eyes: A Photographic and Cultural History of Views from Below, Konsthistorisk tidskrift/Journal of Art History (Links to an external site.), 84:2, 75-92, DOI: 10.1080/00233609.2015.1031695
(You will have to either be on the UiB network or use a VPN to access the article.)
Over the last year or so I’ve moved from reading mainstream news articles about media addiction to reading science fiction: I want to see how we imagine our relationship to technology. One of the biggest surprises, for me, was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953), the classic about a society where books are illegal and television keeps people docile. Of course I had read it before, but a long time ago, well before I really knew about the internet. Rereading it today left me feeling very differently about the book than I had thought I would. Bradbury doesn’t want a world full of writers and creators and independent thinkers. He wants a world of readers.
Beware, there are spoilers in this post. But then, you probably read the book already, didn’t you? A long time ago?
The story, you’ll remember, is about Guy Montag, a fireman in a future where houses are fireproof and the only fires are lit by firemen in order to burn books. But what really interests me, as I reread the book, is the ways in which books and television are portrayed.
Television has evolved into a 3D immersive experience, where the viewer is given a role to play in the story. Mildred, Montag’s wife, has screens covering three of the four walls of their living room, and wants a fourth screen: “why, it’d be just like this room wasn’t ours at all, but all kinds of exotic people’s rooms.” The way Bradbury describes this immersive VR does not leave Mildred a lot of agency, as a player in the holodeck would have. It’s more like the Flicksync tests in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, where the player has to mimic a character’s lines perfectly in order to pass the test. Mildred’s lines are not very complex, though:
“What’s on this afternoon?” he asked tiredly.
She didn’t look up from her script again. “Well, this is a play comes on the wall-to-wall circuit in ten minutes. They mailed me my part this morning. I sent in some box-tops. They write the script with one part missing. It’s a new idea. The home-maker, that’s me, is the missing part. When it comes time for the missing lines, they all look at me out of the three walls and I say the lines. Here, for instance, the man says, ‘What do you think of this whole idea, Helen?’ and he looks at me sitting here, centre stage, see? And I say, I say–” She paused and ran her finger under a line in the script. “‘I think that’s fine!’ And then they go on with the play until he says, ‘Do you agree to that, Helen?’ and I say, ‘I sure do!’ Isn’t that fun, Guy?” (pages 27-28)
Mildred loves her shows, and listens to them even at night. This scene very strongly emphasises the way Montag sees her as a corpse when she is immersed in her media. In this scene, he comes home late at night and imagines how he will see his wife in bed, listening to her stories.
He opened the bedroom door.It was like coming into the cold marbled room of a mausoleum after the moon had set. Complete darkness, not a hint of the silver world outside, the windows tightly shut, the chamber a tomb-world where no sound from the great city could penetrate. The room was not empty.(..)Without turning on the light he imagined how this room would look. His wife stretched on the bed, uncovered and cold, like body displayed on the lid of a tomb, her eyes fixed to the ceiling by invisible threads of steel, immovable. And in her ears the little Seashells, the thimble radios tamped tight, and an electronic ocean of sound, of music and talk and music and talk coming in, coming in on the shore of her unsleeping mind. The room was indeed empty. Every night the waves came in and bore her off on their great tides of sound, floating her, wide-eyed, toward morning. There had been no night in the last two years that Mildred had not swum that sea, had not gladly gone down in it for the third time.The room was cold but nonetheless he felt he could not breathe. He did not wish to open the curtains and open the french windows, for he did not want the moon to come into the room. (pages 19-20)
He has still not turned the light on, thought. This is all his imagination. When he finally lights his lighter (not wanting outside light from the windows) he realises she is barely breathing and has taken a whole bottle of sleeping pills. The next morning she remembers nothing of the suicide attempt.
In this world, people stopped reading books before they were banned. Bradbury, in the voice of the chief fireman Beatty, blames it on the invention of photography and then radio and television and a world that wanted everything faster: “Books cut shorter. Condensations. Digests. Tabloids. Everything boils down to the gag, the snap ending.” (61) In a lengthy lecture to Montag, while Montag lies in bed, attempting to hide contraband books under his pillow, Beatty describes Buzzfeed and clickbait:
He follows up with condemning minorities:
The problem isn’t really the loss of books. It’s the trivialization of the world. Faber, the retired English professor Montag befriends, tells him:
“It’s not books you need, it’s some of the things that were once in books. The same things could be in the “parlour families” today. The same infinite detail and awareness could be projected through the radios and televisors, but are not. No, no, it’s not books at all you’re looking for! Take it where you can find it, in old phonograph records, old motion pictures, and in old friends; look for it in nature and look for it in yourself. Books were only one type of receptacle where we stored a lot of things we were afraid we might forget.” (page 90)
One of the reasons that books are good for us, Faber the English professor explains, is that they are not immersive. At least not in the same way as television or VR are:
You can shut them [books], say “Hold on a moment.” You play God to it. But who has ever torn himself from the claw that encloses you when you drop a seed in a TV parlour? It grows you any shape it wishes! It is an environment as real as the world. It becomes and is truth. Books can be beaten down with reason. (92)
And yet at the end of Fahrenheit 451, when Montag has escaped his relentless pursuers who chase him on live television, making every viewer his would-be-attacker, he finds a band of men who live outside the city, in nature, and who have made it their task to memorise every book. They are not shown discussing books. They are certainly not shown writing books, or creating stories. No, they simply memorise books. And once a book is memorised, these men burn it:
“We’re book-burners, too. We read the books and burnt them, afraid they’d be found. Micro-filming didn’t pay off; we were always traveling, we didn’t want to bury the film and come back later. Always the chance of discovery. Better to keep it in the old heads, where no one can see it or suspect it.” (159)
The books they memorized are old classics: Plato’s Republic, the Book of Ecclesiastes, Byron, Machiavelli, Aristophanes, Gulliver’s Travels, the Magna Carta. These readers have no more agency than Mildred reciting her script to the parlour walls:
The most important single thing we had to pound into ourselves was that we were not important, we mustn’t be pedants; we were not to feel superior to anyone else in the world. We’re nothing more than dust-jackets for books, of no significance otherwise. (160)
Mildred and her television-loving friends aren’t portrayed as feeling superior. On the contrary, they are social beings – although they do seem less interested in the specifics of the plots they watch than in the close relationship they have with the characters on their screens. When Mildred tells Montag she went to Helen’s last night, he answers uncomprehendingly:
“Couldn’t you get the shows in your own parlour?”
“Sure, but it’s nice visiting.” (57)
Mildred and Montag try reading together, but they struggle to understand the words. They were unlucky enough to get Gulliver’s Travels, and as Montag reads about the war over which end of the egg is the end one should break, Mildred complains, “What does it mean? It doesn’t mean anything!” She is very consistently given the role of the uneducated person.
Mildred kicked at a book. “Books aren’t people. You read and I look around, but there isn’t anybody.”
“Now,” said Mildred. “my ‘family’ is people. They tell me things; I laugh, they laugh! And the colours!” (80)
Although Mildred is portrayed as believing in her fake relationships with the characters on the screens of her parlour (her “family”), she is also the only person in the book who appears to have genuine friendships. Montag is not shown as having a single friend, although he meets educational characters and forms brief, intense relationships with them through the course of the book. Mildred and her girlfriends get together regularly, it seems, and usually to watch shows together. I don’t think Bradbury really liked women. The only women in Fahrenheit 451 are ridiculed and pitied.
He was eating a light supper at nine in the evening when the front door cried out in the hall and Mildred ran from the parlour like a native feeling an eruption of Vesuvius. Mrs Phelps and Mrs Bowles came through the front door and vanished into the volcano’s mouth with martinis in their hands. Montag stopped eating. They were like a monstrous crystal chandelier tinkling in a thousand chimes, he saw their Cheshire Cat smiles burning through the walls of the house, and now they were screaming at each other above the din.
These women are both ridiculous and, in a negative manner, connected to nature. They are noisy, they run, they feel, they burn, they scream. Towards the end of the book nature is seen as positive and Mildred and the city are seen in opposition to it, but here, nature is emotional, trivial, uneducated.
Montag asks where the women’s husbands are. One is at war: “the Army called Pete yesterday. He’ll be back next week. The army said so. Quick war. Forty-eight hours they said, and everyone home.” (102) Montag proceeds to ask about their children. One is astounded that anyone would have children, the other says it’s easy enough with Caesarians and school:
“I plunk the children in school nine days out of ten. I put up with them when they come home three days a month; it’s not bad at all. You heave them into the ‘parlour’ and turn the switch. It’s like washing clothes; stuff laundry in and slam the lid.” Mrs Bowles tittered. “They’d just as soon kick as kiss me. Thank God, I can kick back!”
The women showed their tongues, laughing. (104)
It’s an ugly world, devoid of marital or parental love or care. Montag himself can’t even remember when he met his wife Mildred, not until the end, after the city is destroyed. But these women are friends. They seem to care for each other. I don’t think Bradbury really intended that, but the women’s friendship is pretty clear. No care for husbands or children, but they care for each other.
Montag flees the city after killing his own boss, and escapes to the forest outside, where he finds a group of men, sitting round a campfire, each man able to recite a book that he has memorized. Here again we see a single-sex group of friends strangely dissociated from any family. There are no parents, spouses or children here. (I suppose the aunts and uncles and the “family” on the screens are supposed to supplant real families – but how does that fit with these family-less men who despise screens? For them, books seem to have the same purpose.)
A bomb explodes, obliterating the entire city, but Montag is safe outside it. He imagines Mildred’s last seconds before her death. (So often she is seen through his thoughts rather than speaking herself.) He sees in his mind the moment when the screens around her go blank and she sees her own face in them, her own face that she has presumably been avoiding all these years:
Montag, falling flat, going down, saw or felt, or imagined he saw or felt the walls go dark in Millie’s face, heard her screaming, because in the millionth part of time left, she saw her own face reflected there, in a mirror instead of a crystal ball, and it was such a wildly empty face, all by itself in the room, touching nothing, starved and eating of itself, that at last she recognized it as her own and looked quickly up at the ceiling as it and the entire structure of the hotel blasted down upon her (..) (167)
We don’t see ourselves, this book argues. We use our screens to avoid love and to avoid looking at our own faces to understand ourselves.
“Come on now, we’re going to go build a mirror-factory first and put out nothing but mirrors for the next year and take a long look in them,” one of the men in the forest tells Montag (171). Bradbury did not foresee selfies.
Rereading Fahrenheit 451 makes me skeptical of books. Don’t get me wrong, I love books. But the way that books are portrayed in Fahrenheit 451 is not alluring. They are massive works of incomprehensible nonsense that must be memorized and treated with great respect. They are not something to be argued with, to be written, to be dogeared and torn and scribbled in.
Old books memorized by old men in the woods won’t save the world described in Fahrenheit 451. What would save that world is people talking together, reading, watching, playing, but most importantly, creating. Sharing. Being.
When I saw that almost a third of researchers at my university were on ResearchGate and I’d barely heard of it I decided to create a profile. I’m not sure that was a good idea.
Here are the stats for our university’s use of social media specifically for researchers, gathered by Susanne Mikki in her analysis of publication in 2014:
Sorry about the acronyms. The network sites are down along the left: Academia.edu, Google Scholar, ORCID, ResearchGate and Researcher ID. The faculties at UiB are along the top: HUM=humanities, JUR=law, MN=sciences, MO=medicine, PS=psychology, SV=social sciences.
As you can see, Academia.edu is popular in the humanities and somewhat popular in the social sciences but not so popular among other faculties. Social scientists are fairly likely to have a Google Scholar profile. And everyone except the lawyers is quite likely to have a Research Gate profile. Well, if you’re the sort of person who bothers with that kind of profile at all.
I quite like Academia.edu. Last time I logged on, it told me that 46 of the people I followed had all bookmarked a paper and would I like to see that paper? Sure, I clicked through and found a handbook chapter on autoethnography that I spent a happy half-hour reading. See, that’s useful. The interface is relatively simple and you can add lots of different kinds of information about your publications. Today it suggests another paper that’s popular among people I follow:
Really that’s the most useful aspect of Academia.edu for me. Oh, and the fact that lots of people seem to not have worked out how to post copies of their papers to their own websites or to their institutional repository, but are perfectly happy to upload it to Academia.edu. Strange, but certainly there are quite a few publications you can find there but not easily in other ways.
I’m on Google Scholar, of course. I love getting email alerts when somebody cites one of my publications. Quite often I find interesting research in that way. But mostly I use Google Scholar to find other peoples’ research by searching for it. You don’t need a scholar profile to do that.
I’ve not tried Researcher ID (do I really need an ID number?) or ORCID (another “persistent digital identifier that distinguishes you from every other researcher” – I’ve never actually felt the need for that) but I did sign up for ResearchGate this week. Why on earth did they choose that name, I wonder. I thought people only added -gate to a word to indicate a political scandal was going on.
On the face of it ResearchGate seems very similar to Academia.edu – you create a profile, follow others and it encourages you to upload full texts of your publications. It seems more focused on very traditional publications, though. It wants a PDF, not a URL, so for publications that are in open access web journals you have to upload a PDF of the webpage instead of simply providing a link, as I’ve done for my paper in ebr about visualising networks of electronic literature based on citations of creative works of electronic literature in dissertations in the field. Ridiculous. It automatically extracts citations and references but imperfectly, and with no way to correct the errors, for instance if you noticed that it thinks a review of Espen Aarseth’s book Cybertext actually is the book. It couldn’t figure out the references in my visualising paper. And it only counts citations from articles that are in its database. It asks you to upload datasets, and I did upload my gephi files for the visualising e-lit paper, but can’t see how you would get to the dataset from the paper. What annoys me most is the lack of URLs – ResearchGate really seems to want to be a closed garden, locking all the research in the world into its system and not providing links elsewhere.
The statistics it provides support this closed atmosphere. You get a ResearchGate score based not on your research in general, but on how other people on ResearchGate interact with your research. And this is “A new way to measure scientific reputation.” Sure, when I see there’s a score I kind of want to win the points, you know, but this is a very specific score. It really doesn’t tell you much about a researcher’s actual impact on their field, I think it mostly tells you whether they’re active on ResearchGate. I don’t actually have a score yet since I’m a newbie. Are you on any of these networks? Are they worth it? How are they useful to you?