As new digital and social technologies become ubiquitous in society, there is often a certain amount of negotiation or hesitation as we adjust to these texts, tools, and spaces. Despite the transformative possibilities associated with the inclusion of the Internet and other communication technologies (ICTs), relatively little is known about the regular use of these technologies in our daily lives. For researchers in particular, understanding how best to leverage these digital and web literacies in our work is central to our collective future.
As researchers try to identify best practices to embed these digital literacies into their workflow, there are significant challenges that exist as we try to utilize these technologies and practices. There is also the challenge that using these tools in research, promoting work on social networks, and actively maintaining a social presence online becomes a representation of an individual’s identity. In a field where credibility and validity are valued elements, researchers must be concerned with the ways in which they conduct themselves as professionals in online and hybrid educational spaces.
In addition to the challenges that are associated with our identity as a researcher in online and digital spaces, there is also the issue of utilizing varied digital texts and tools that are always changing. Researchers have little or no guidance in how to embed these new and digital literacies into their work process and product. As tools change, there is a need to stay abreast of new tools and opportunities to enhance productivity and work process. Within this discussion of new tools and social platforms, there is also the challenge of time expended learning and adopting these new tools. With the cost of time, there is the challenge of maintaining a system where data and materials are protected and secure at all times.
Despite these challenges, I believe there are significant benefits that can exist when using social networks and online communities for research purposes and dissemination. I can suggest that working as a digitally agile researcher has been beneficial for my professional career and research agenda. Please be advised that this is a sample size of one. Your results may differ.
In the remainder of this post, I will detail three reasons why I believe you should work as a digitally agile researcher. In subsequent posts I will document how to make this happen. These posts document my thinking as I prepare my submission for The Digitally Agile Researcher guide.
Share your ideas and research
One of the reasons that you should become a digitally agile researcher is that this provides opportunities to disseminate and share pre-published and published research. Sharing data, findings, and observations during the research process allows outsiders to serve as an informal advisory board and provide critical feedback. In truth, as soon as you share materials openly online, the billions of users of the web do not instantly turn their eyes to your work and data. It will take time to build and audience and a following. You will develop an audience as you continue to share. If you share over the life of the research project or your career, members of your learning network will be able to review the arc of work you’ve shared online.
Another benefit of sharing your research openly online is that you’re providing mentoring for future researchers. The future researchers of the globe are busy reading, writing, and participating in online, social spaces. Many cannot breach the paywalls and institutions that gate off the knowledge and habits that identify what it takes to be a researcher. Research usually takes years to be written, submitted, reviewed and published. These published piece usually live behind paywalls that most interested individuals will ignore. The education and scaffolding needed to build a researcher are usually shrouded within the halls and walls of academic institutions. Learners and prospective researchers may not be able to attend these programs due to their role, position, and location on the planet. By placing your research and ideas openly online, you are helping guide and mentor other scholars by detailing the knowledge, skills, and dispositions it takes to act as a researcher. Furthermore, you’re providing guidance and support for other researchers that are also considering these possibilities to work and act as a digitally agile researcher.
Develop a professional learning network
As a digitally agile researcher, you will build a process of thinking, working, and sharing your thoughts and ideas openly online. In this you will develop a group of critical friends, a professional learning network that will help think through data, find themes, and identify threats to your research. This learning network of critical friends may be from your local institution, or they may be from your field but located globally. Your professional learning network may be currently working in the field, or they may have a passing interest in the focus of your examination. All voices provide a sounding board for your work and ideas.
One of the benefits that I have experienced in openly sharing my work and data online is that it helps spread the materials through multiple sets of eyes and perspectives during the process. The internet is a self-cleaning oven. If there is good content online, your audience will find it. If there is incorrect, or erroneous information, digital citizens will help you root it out and clean it up. Your professional learning network can help proofread, fact-check, and identify bias in materials shared. I have had global colleagues help review drafts of chapters and articles. In fact, this post was collaboratively drafted with help from colleagues in my network. This in turn helps as your materials work their way from new research and ideas, to tested and validated materials ready for publication in other sources.
Build your digital identity
One of the last reasons why I believe you should work openly as a digitally agile researcher is that it helps build your digital identity. As citizens in a global, interconnected world, we need to create and curate our traditional and digital identities. Very little guidance on how to do this successfully is provided for learners, let alone researchers during their formal training. Researchers are trained how to read, write, and think during their work processes. By moving some of this work process and product to a website that you control, you are providing valuable proof and evidence of your brand as a researcher and scholar.
As you think, work, and share openly online, you create an archive of your thinking over time. You can show growth and document decisions made during the research process. This trail of breadcrumbs helps not only others review your work and thinking over time, but it also helps you review and refine your own research process. You have the opportunity to look back over your work and identify secondary or tertiary questions or analysis that can be studied. By sharing and archiving this openly online, you may open up opportunities to collaborate with colleagues in and out of your field.
Become a digitally agile researcher
As I’ve indicated at the start of this post, researchers need to think, work, and share openly online. There are challenges, but also great opportunities that exist as we utilize these digital texts and tools in our work process and product. This provides opportunities to share your research and ideas with a professional learning network while building your digital identity.
The reasons identified above for working as a digitally agile researcher are from my own experiences. Your own experience may differ. It should also be noted that this is a decision that I made in my own process and as a result modified my habits and identity. These are decisions that I made. Because I believe this work impacts and modifies your identity, you need to make decisions about if and how you’ll walk down this path.
If needed, I am available to help guide you in this process. Subscribe to my newsletter to get tips, tricks, and insight as you pursue your own path as a digitally agile researcher.
Also published on Medium.