Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How to measure connected success (for academics)

A week or so ago I had read Terry Anderson's blog post asking the question on whether it is worth it for aspiring academics to blog (and tweet, and generally be visible on the interwebs). It's an interesting post and I encourage everyone to read it and post their opinions on twitter, here, on Terry's post. I'd love to know what other newer academics think about this.

I am new, but not new, to academia.  I've been working in academia now for 17 years (man...when did the time go by!!!), but only in the past few years where I've had an article or two published and have taught a course or two do I consider myself a part-time academic. I've been blogging since around 1998 (more like monthly "updates" than blogging - but the general concept I think carries) and I've been writing on this blog, for academic purposes, since 2008.  Is it worth it? Excluding a few curve-balls that came my way, and some hot-waters I found myself into once or twice over my online social presence I would say that having an online social presence is definitely important for the aspiring academic (and the academic that's already an academic!)

Just like Terry wrote in his post, I'll write a little about my university where I am an administrator and adjunct instructor from time to time. The full time tenure faculty, just like Athabasca University, divide their work into three areas:  Teaching, Research, and Service (TRS).

The Teaching load for our tenure-track (TT) faculty is 4 courses per year: 2 in the fall, and 2 in the spring.  Summers are completely optional and some faculty teach in the summer and some do not. Our faculty teach online, on-campus, or both.  It really depends balancing the needs of the learners, the needs of the department, and the expertise of our faculty. Also, from an admin perspective, it's also a matter of human resources!  A 4-4 course-load isn't that much different from what Terry has at AU but then again we don't have doctoral candidates to mentor (at least not yet!)

Research is a little more at our college.  Being in a college where we have a variety of disciplines this means that there is wide berth with the amount of research that our faculty produce each year.  I think there is a complicated calculus taking into account articles, books, conferences, and book chapters, but at the end of the day I would estimate that 4 articles, conference presentations, and/or book chapters is probably the median of what is expected.  Keep this number in mind.

Finally, as far as Service goes, we have our standing committees in the department which all count as service, we have service to professional organizations and journals (editing and peer reviewing for instance) and we have student advising.  I would say that service is probably the biggest element in our department (at least for some faculty) because there are a lot of things that need to happen in the background in order to successfully run a department.

That said, I would expect the TRS ratio to be 33/33/33 (in an ideal world), but it seems to me that the ration is more like 40/20/40.  So where does that leave blogging, tweeting, online access, and how to account for it?  For me blogging would fall under scholarship (a broader term than Research).  As academics we do read a lot, and we engage a lot with peers and with the materials we read.  Part of that engagement is visible on our twitter streams, our G+ pages, and on our blogs.  This accounts for a though process that gets us "noticed" in some sense. 

I think being an open academic is important and I think there is a parallel here to Open (book) Publishing.   Last August I was up in Edmonton for my initiation into the Ed.D program at Athabasca.  Mohammad Ally, of mobile learning fame at AU, was telling us about publishing open access. While people did purchase his books via AU press (good reads, if you are interested in mobile learning), many more people got access to them as open books.  Both he and AU got good press from this.  Similarly, I think that (a) publishing in open access venues (or at least making pre-pub versions of your articles available through your site) and (b) discussing what you published does have positive benefits for many people involved.  The institution gets some notoriety which is, I think, proportional to the personality of the academic blogger. The blogger gets notoriety (for whatever that is worth), and more importantly the public gets access to these academic thinkers.  The medium of blogging can be used to communicate not only with fellow academics, but also to communicate findings and ideas with past students, current students, future students, and the public in general.  Making research accessible, not just in terms of open access, but in terms of more approachable language compared to that found in academic articles, is important.

Now, how do you measure your online presence?  Do you measure it in terms of blog posts?  In terms of tweets? re-tweets?  Something else?  My klout score for example is in the 60s (for whatever that is worth), but that includes both academic-related posts on here and on twitter, and posts like "what? more snow? BRING IT!" on facebook that seem to get a lot of likes on there and have little to do with academics.  Do you measure Google Scholar scores?  Thus far I've got 200 citations, an i10-index of 5, and an h-index of 6. But what does that really mean?  The odd thing is that I've looked up some former professors (people who just started on the tenure stream as I was completing my first master's degree) and they have similar i- and h- scores on google scholar. So, individuals with more years experience than I (and a lead on getting stuff published) are getting cited less?  Seems like an odd thing to me.  My ResearchGate score is really low (0.76) but I haven't bothered to really do much work on there.  Does this mean that I can partly game the scoring system by engaging with the platform more?  What about Quora?

It may seem to complicated to deal with this online reputation system, but I think it's worth pursuing.  Not because online presence is for everyone, but because the current system also doesn't make a ton of sense.  For example, in our annual faculty reviews at my institution, the online system where you input all of your productivity for the year simply enumerates how many journal articles, book chapters, books, conference proceedings you published, how many, and which, committees your were on, which courses you taught and if there were pedagogical innovations (another heavy term that needs deconstructing), and so on.  Some departments may take this as a simple list, add up the numbers in each column, and give a final score.  Other departments may go the qualitative ePortfolio route and ask their faculty to provide a narrative for each item.  Other departments may do something else.  At the end of the day the current system is inconsistent and that needs to be addressed.

That said, one must have an initial plan to evaluate a scholar's online contributions so here is my modest proposal for review and comment:

Metrics for blogs
  • How many academic blog posts did you post last academic year? Let's say that the minimum is 300 words (call it the 801-Fahy rule for lit reviews)
  • How many people visited your blog overall? (google analytics)
  • How many people visited your academic posts? (google analytics)
  • How many people left you comments and/or started discussions on your blog?
  • How many track-backs did you get?
Metrics for Twitter
  • How many of your posts were re-tweeted
  • How many of your posts were favorited
Metrics for Facebook
  • How many academic posts did you post?
  • How many of your posts were liked?
  • How many people commented and engaged with you on there?
General Information probably not measured yet:
  • How many alumni remain actively engaged with your department and college because of your online activities? (alumni relations I am looking at you!)
  • How many students applied to your program before of your online activities (something to measure in entrance essays?)

Lastly - going back to that number of research publications each year, what I asked you to put into the parking lot a few paragraphs up.  Personally, for single-author publications I am probably good for 1, or maybe 2, publications per year.  Perhaps working full time, and not being a faculty member, means that I don't have as much time to devote to this.  If academic publications were dual- or multi-author ones I could probably do the 4 a year that seems to be the average.  That said, I think this is another important reason be a public academic.  While your research contributions may not be there pound-for-pound, being a public academic means that you keep discussing important matters while research is in progress.  A great example of this is Katy Jordan and her MOOC completion rate project.  I think she's published work now, but for the longest time we go important news and initial findings (or thoughts via her blog! I think this has tremendous value.


Your thoughts?
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