This week, a tweet from Jim Groom led me to Sue Fernsebner’s blog on digital scholarship and got me thinking. What exactly is digital scholarship? I hadn’t yet started reading this week’s articles. Once I did, they pushed me to ask the question even harder. And no, I don’t have any answers – just more questions. Continue reading
As I began reading this week’s material on building Personal Learning Networks (PLN), I realized that I was using PLNs all along and what happened this week in my research serves as a great example of how PLNs work.
PLN and teaching
Academics have always had their own PLNs. Both in our teaching and in our research, we identify experts in our field and in fields that are new to us. That is how we keep learning. Although our graduate school training focuses on developing our research skills, most of us received little formal training on the work we do everyday: teach. Therefore, developing a PLN to teach ourselves how to be better teachers is an act of necessity.
PLNs have helped me develop my teaching skills constantly. Ever since I started teaching, I have relied on colleagues down the hall-way, in other buildings and in other universities to learn how to teach. Like most others, I have attended workshops, e-mailed colleagues asking for resources and shared ideas about addressing specific challenges in teaching. I have often discussed the challenges of and shared ideas about teaching area studies courses (courses that focus on particular geographical regions) with colleagues in my department as well as those in History and other departments. Second, as new tools have appeared, I have reached out to others to ask how to use them in a course. Jeff McClurken of History directed me to the ProfHacker blogs to learn what others are doing to incorporate blogs in the class-room. Third, my students are one of the most important part of my PLN – it is really thanks to them and their interest that I finally decided to develop a course on gender and development. And my lack of formal training in gender is being mitigated by colleagues on campus, feminist scholars I have corresponded with through social media and at academic conferences.
PLN and research
Anyone who has spent any time doing research knows how important learning networks are. It is perhaps more important, even indispensable, if that research relies on fieldwork, interviews, ethnography and such methods. These learning networks, on which researchers have always relied, are now made more effective and efficient by electronic communication and social media. Last summer, when I went to Brasilia, I relied on my PLN to generate ten research interviews in two days!
This past week, my PLN again worked over-time for me and I didn’t even know that I had one. Rather, I knew that I rely on amazing people to get my research done but I didn’t know that collectively, those people had a name by which I could identify them.
Last Sunday, Manon Ress of Knowledge Ecology International, (also mother of UMW alumna Theophe Love) posted on Facebook that the United States Trade Representative’s office was about to make an announcement relating to US industry’s complaints about India. India-US relations – an area that interests me for both professional and personal reasons – has been drifting for some time. It had hit rock-bottom in December 2013 over the US government’s treatment of an Indian deputy consul in New York. An action by the USTR at this juncture did not bode well for this budding ten-year old friendship. Subsequently, Ms. Ress posted again about a hearing at the US International Trade Commission that was going to focus on India’s trade, investment and intellectual property policies. This was clearly something I needed to pay attention to. This USITC hearing was open to anyone who wanted to attend but it was on Wednesday – a teaching day for me. Through e-mail contact with Ms. Ress, I was able to meet some of the hearing participants on Wednesday evening. Soon afterwards, Knowledge Ecology International, a DC-based NGO that works on access to medicine and knowledge, posted many of the hearings on youtube. Now, I could listen to most the submissions and some of the discussions and commissioners’ questions even though I was unable to attend the hearings.
At the Wednesday evening meeting, it became apparent that the submissions would be more compelling if there was better data on the number of insured in India and the kind of insurance coverage they enjoyed. I subsequently contacted some friends in India by e-mail to figure out how I could lay hands on that data. I also e-mailed some former research contacts.
Meanwhile, I have been finding out more about India’s patent laws and its implications for access to medicines by subscribing to the twitter handles of KEI, Doctors Without Borders, Public Citizen and others who made submissions at the USITC hearings. I know that some of this data-gathering will find its way into my scholarship in the near future. And, I will continue to blog about some of it as well.
How do I convince my students to build their own PLNs? This is something I need to think through. I think I am going to start by telling them how it worked for me last week!
One of the first tweets I received after I signed up for my brand-new twitter account @SurupaG was one from the Public Diplomacy division of India’s Ministry of External Affairs. Very helpfully, it told me “How
#India’s foreign policy documents are being put in the public domain” and offered me a link to the project. I was in instant nerd heaven! Not only did that get me excited about the research and teaching potential of twitter but I could not wait to see what documents I could lay my hands on.
Excitement soon turned into disappointment when I looked at the list of documents that had been catalogued. It was clear that while the documentation project was a commendable effort on part of a couple of dozen retired bureaucrats, the papers that were being made available are from the 1930s and since my research is on current foreign policy – and not on diplomatic history – these documents would be of limited use to me.
This introduction to twitter left me with two valuable take-aways. First, an immediate recognition of how I could use twitter for teaching and scholarship. Even after this initial disappointment, I soon signed up to follow twitter handles that provided news about the BRICS, about the WTO and about US-India relations – three areas in which I conduct research. With some help from colleagues, I was able to figure out how I could use tweet-deck to organize the tweets I want to save and use later. I could have subscribed to some of these feeds on Facebook, which has been my social media of choice for the last five years. But it is easy to see that in Facebook, some of these tweets will get lost in between foodie posts and travel pictures, both of which I wouldn’t want to lose. So, from now on, I have resolved that Facebook will be for social life and Twitter will be for work. A number of my friends and colleagues who don’t have twitter accounts will continue to post their scholarly work on Facebook and I know I can find them there. But whenever and wherever I can, I will separate these two worlds.
The other take-away had to do with the India documents I found out about and that won’t be of use to me. Thus far, the catalogue is a 800+ page pdf file, that is likely to be of limited use to anybody. But that is a digital history project somebody will need to start digging into. And the least I can do is to plug some ideas, make some connections and get others started. Not immediately but sometime soon. First, I have to post a tweet of my own.