Self definition in an age of options

I have been reading an Educational Researcher article titled “Web 2.0 and classroom research: What path should we take now” (vol. 38, 246-259). The article is too wide ranging for me to summarize here.

The section that is the focus for this comment is titled “Cultivating academic lives online and social scholarship”. This section is more focused on educators and how web 2.0 options have the potential to change the way we do our work. The section begins with a description of a faculty member requesting that a student review the faculty member’s Delicious site in preparation for the student’s scheduled meeting with the faculty member. I guess the idea was that the student might learn a lot about the faculty member’s priorities and background by reviewing what the faculty member had been reviewing. I must admit, I can’t see myself making such a request. The authors used this introductory anecdote to transition into the notion of social scholarship. The concept suggests that scholars might broaden their scholarship which traditionally has focused on the generation of “scholarly publications” to include additional information about what they are doing and why they are doing it. Social bookmarking was the web 2.0 tool used as an example of the beginning of such a process. So scholars might “open up” their work, at least to other scholars outside their inner circle, by allowing others a peek into what sources they are reading. The example given was CiteULike. In investigating this service, I was surprised to learn that I already had an account. There was little there, but I did have an account.

I have noted on several occasions that the bloggers I read are not researchers and the researchers I follow do not seem to blog. I wonder if the same is true of social bookmarking. Perhaps Delicious and Diigo appeal to one category of user and CiteULike to another. I review a great amount of online material but I have yet to become disciplined enough to create a system for organizing my notes or citations that is worth much to me or anyone else. Perhaps my blogs serves this function. I tend to take notes within my blogs and I then search the blogs when attempting to remember something in the future.

Actually, my personal “system” is not very social. I download pdfs of the articles I read into a PDF organization system called YEP. Even when I own the journal it ends up being more convenient to download the pdf of articles through the library system at UND. I then use a tool called Skim that allows me to highlight and take notes “on top” of the pages of the pdf. Between YEP which allows me to create collections of pdfs around topics I am working on and also tag individual PDFs and Skim which allows me to take notes, I have created a workable system. The danger with my approach is that these tools may go away leaving me with a giant folders of PDFs. Every time I see something like CiteULike I can see how it might be quite useful but with the investment I have in my present “system” it is difficult to move to something different. I guess this is why “standards” would be helpful and why CiteULike can import and export using standards I  barely recognize (e.g., BibTeX). I am guessing professionals, i.e., librarians, understand these things.

My latest exploration in following online content involves a “rss reader” called Fever. Fever appealed to me because it attempts to aggregate posts in a way that identifies “hot topics” (Fever – get it). The idea is that I would be certain to note trending topics. I also liked the opportunity to run the software on my own server. I am hoping enough folks showed an interest in the first effort that the programmer will continue to improve the product. Anyway, this brings me back to the idea of social scholarship. Fever offers a feed of the content “saved” by individual using the software. So, if anyone cares, here is my Fever feed –

I wonder if we define ourselves by the tools we use. The social web has yet to solve the challenge of cross-tool exploration.

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