A researcherʼs guide to social media

Last Thursday, I took part in a SkillsCamp at the School of Museum Studies. The SkillsCamp was called A researcher’s guide to social media and cultural heritage.

The day-long workshop brought together supervisors, PhD students and researchers interested in how social media (this was given a very broad definition) impacts upon research on cultural heritage.

Following an extremely useful – and illuminating – mapping exercise in the morning, the rest of the day was divided into three main areas: the researcher’s online profile; the Internet and especially the Web as data resource; and finally the methodological frameworks and ethical considerations of ‘researching on the Internet’. Fictitious case studies were use to highlight issues in each area.

The workshop was funded by the Collections Trust, and eight 10,000 word units produced as part of this collaborative project (the universities of Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow were also involved) will be available as fully repurposable OERs from their site early in 2011. These units, which cover topics such as Finding and using digital images and Using your mobile phone as a research tool, also contain teacher plans and notes.

Because the workshop brought together researchers of all ages and with a wide range of experiences (and attitudes), I found the sessions invaluable, even though I was attending as a representative of a research unit rather than as a  researcher. It was clear that the workshop brought to light issues that are prevalent throughout research in higher education.

I intend – with the help of my colleagues – to adapt this SkillsCamp as a Media Zoo offering, to sit alongside the Zoo’s traditional technology workshops and  Ale’s Carpe Diem. In addition to the projects housed in the Zoo (which are focused on new technologies and pedagogies), Beyond Distance also contains the experience of my research colleagues operating within this online environment.

But I don’t see this solely as participants coming the the Zoo to learn new skills from Beyond Distance staff. What really made last Thursday’s workshop useful was that everyone bought something along to the discussion, with debates ranging from the ethics of whether one should carry out an online participant observation study in forums (i.e. starting new threads, etc.) without revealing the motives for participating, to the importance of maintaining a good online research profile for future employment purposes.

Regardless of the discipline, the same questions are being asked, and a workshop such as this is ideal for those still uncertain about the value of the online research environment.

Simon Kear

Keeper of the Media Zoo

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