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The Most Important Tool for Research Collaboration: Dropbox

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How to Use Dropbox for Academic Research Collaboration

Now that the semester is over, there are two major things I like to spend my break doing: research projects and optimizing my classes with mods and improvements (or creating new classes, if needed). So, let’s talk about research!

When it comes to research, there is one piece of software I could not live without: the FREE app Dropbox.

Nothing has more fundamentally changed how I do research than Dropbox. That’s because much of my research is collaborative with great scholars such as Dr. Francis Dalisay and Dr. Masahiro Yamamoto. (Yes, not even Mendeley – Not so long ago I talked about how Mendeley reference manager changed my life when it comes to productivity in research).

The Rundown: Dropbox is free and works with Mac or PC, or mobile devices. You get 2 gig for free (at least, that’s how much you got when I signed up), and can get more free space by completing certain actions like getting a friend to sign up (I now have 4.5 free gigs). There are paid versions.

I was under the impression that just about everyone was using a tool like dropbox when collaborating with others on research, until I heard otherwise from numerous colleagues. Many are still relying on the old fashion approach of: Edit and Email. So I thought I’d take a minute to highlight the crucial benefits of synching software for collaboration on any document.

Edit and Email

Before I started using dropbox, my research collaboration life went something like this: One person would work on a manuscript document. When he/she was done, that person emailed the document to me with some comments on changes made. I’d then take my turn when I could and reply back with an attachment of the document updates. Meanwhile, the other person was waiting on me and if it was a busy time of the semester, that may have been several days or a week. If he had downtown and could work on the document, or had a sudden inspiration, he was unable to for fear that I was making edits to the file he had previously sent me and to try and merge the changes between conflicting documents, his new edits and my edits to the original he’d sent me, would be a big pain. This made for a slow, slow, painful process. And that’s only with two authors. Things get exponentially more complicated with 3 or more authors.

Enter Dropbox

As soon as I discovered Dropbox, a file synching service, I quickly convinced my co-authors to adopt it. Here’s why:

Dropbox or other software like SugarSync enables you to share folders with others (through invite) that automatically sync whenever any file in the folder is changed, added, or removed.

The folders are stored on your computer like a regular folder. You treat them exactly like any other folder, including the ability to have subfolders.

For example, if I’m working on a manuscript titled Manuscript.doc, every time I save the file, everyone else who shares the folder with me is automatically updated to the latest version of the file (if their computer is off, it will sync when it is turned back on). When I’m done working on the file and close it, everyone immediately has the latest version of the file. A coauthor can immediately open the file and begin working on it. When she’s done, I can pick right back up, or a third coauthor can begin working (Note: You cannot work on a file simultaneously or there will be a conflicted copy saved to your folder). This eliminates the “hurry up and wait” nature of Edit and Email and the major headache of different coauthors having different versions of the manuscript, such as trying to merge one person’s edits into the latest version.

To avoid the possibility of multiple people trying to work on the file at the same time (which causes a conflicting file to be created in your folder that you then have to manually go through and be sure any conflicts are resolved), we always send a quick email letting the other co-authors know we are about to start working on a document or that we plan to work on a document at from, say, 1-3pm this afternoon.

If I could – I’d give Dropbox a high-five for helping me greatly increase my productivity as a scholar when it comes to collaborative work!

Additional Benefits of Dropbox:

  1. Add / remove files to your group folder – Because the folder syncs, you can quickly add other documents to the folder such as data, data analysis results, etc. and everyone will have access.
  2. Previous Versions: Previous versions of files are automatically saved to Dropbox. You can access previous versions of a file by logging in at dropbox.com.
  3. Multiple devices: The software also synchs your files between your own computers, smart phone, or tablets. So you always have access to these files whether on your work computer or home computer or mobile. I use this all the time not only for research but for teaching materials. This way, I don’t have to lug my work computer home with me if I want to access or work on any files from my home computer.
  4. Backing up: Because my files are synched to the web on dropbox.com, as well as my other devices, if I were to lose my computer or if it were damaged, I wouldn’t lose my files. I use this as a way to back up important documents (like when i was working on my Dissertation!)
  5. Web Access: Don’t have access to your own computer? You can access all your files on dropbox.com. However, any changes you make to files will need to be manually re-uploaded to dropbox.com when you are done.

That’s all for now! Best of luck to everyone who recently submitted to ICA. Hopefully my papers are accepted and I get to see everyone in Seattle!

Do you use Dropbox or a similar synching service for research? What do you like about it? What tips and advice do you have to share with readers? Which synching service is best?

The Social Media Class Blog Assignment In Review

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It is finals week! We’ve had a good amount of snow here, as Scout can attest, and I’ve been busy catching up on grading. With a few minutes of down time before the next batch of final projects are due, I thought I’d begin reflecting on this past semester.

sciout

Every semester that I’ve taught a Social Media course, I’ve done things a bit differently.

This semester (see syllabus), the major project that ran the length of the semester was a team-run niche blog. I talked about why I chose to do this assignment on a post from before the semester, “What’s Changing? Plans for My Social Media Fall 2013 Class

This proved to be a very involved project that many students found challenging. While there were some grumbles on account of how involved it was, it also provided a great opportunity for hands-on learning. We can talk about a lot of concepts, such as metrics, but to me there is a much greater learning impact when one sets their metric goals, tracks them while seeking to drive traffic to their site, and has an opportunity to reflect on whether they met their goals and why.

I enjoyed this project. There is a lot I liked about it. But there are a few things I wasn’t completely satisfied with. Here are a few general reactions / things I took away:

Tumblr was a bad choice – I wanted my students to use the industry standard Google Analytics to learn metrics. Most job postings discussing metrics, mention GA. I wanted my students to use a free blogging platform. WordPress unfortunately does not enable GA at the free level. So I went with Tumblr. But the Tumblr culture just didn’t fit our project. I think we’d have had more success if we’d used Blogger.

Learning metrics was challenging, and so was teaching it – More and more jobs are requiring interns and employees to understand and know how to track and report web and social metrics. While I’ve long been interested in analytics, and did my GA certification a few years ago, I hadn’t previously taught how to use metrics. I had discussed them, their importance, etc. But never had students actually tracking metrics. I modified a great spreadsheet from a fellow social media educator, Jeremy Floyd, and required students to use it to report, and thus track their metrics from Google Analytics. But, between all the other things we were doing in the class, and teaching students with no prior metrics experience how to interpret Google Analytics, how to choose appropriate metrics, and getting them to report an array of metrics on a consistent basis, It proved overwhelming. I simply made it too complicated. I should have simplified the spreadsheet, and focused on a better understanding of a few important concepts as opposed to spreading it too broad, and thus too thin. I think students would have gotten more out of it. So next time, I’ll simplify the spreadsheet and focus the students attention on a few metrics.

I’m still glad I taught them metrics – A number of students said that, prior to taking my class, they were not aware of metrics, their importance, and how to track and interpret them. And while I think the way I approached it made it difficult, I’m glad the students learned these things. They have basic knowledge of Google Analytics and experience with tracking, interpreting, and reporting metrics. And as I said above, this is an important skill set to be developing in college.

Students are incredibly creative – This isn’t something new I learned. But it was something I again was happily reminded of. Students came up with great blog topics, and created a ton of great posts!

“I got a lot out of the class” – a quote from a student during his final presentation – Call me biased, but I agree with this student and believe students got a lot out of this project, whether their blog was the “success” they hoped it would be or not. Students had to identify and study a specific niche, create a plan for meeting the needs and interest of the niche via a blog including objectives, audience persona, content calendar, and then go out into the community to gather the info they needed to create content, then deliver it throughout content throughout the semester for their audience. Meanwhile, they had to track blog traffic metrics and social media. That’s a lot to ask. For many, this was their first experience executing these concepts. And I’m proud of what they accomplished!

“Blogging is a lot more work than I thought it was going to be” – quote from a few students during their final blog presentations – This relates directly to the above. I’m glad students got the opportunity to realize this as a first-person experience. Because many of our students will go on to create content, lots of it – whether for blogs, social, or other means. And there is no better learning experience than to be responsible for planning, creating, and sustaining an entirely novel content plan – its like building a mini brand. If you can do it here, you will be able to do it for the company that hires you! When we don’t have first person experience with something, I think we often underestimate what all goes into it. Students were able to see how much planning and continuous effort went into creating and sustaining engaging social content.

With all these things said, it is my hope that all of the students feel a sense of accomplishment for what they did, and truly understand what all they learned. This was not the only assignment in the class by any means. Much else was asked of them. And I’m sure they’re relieved for the class to be done. I hope they all realize what they learned and accomplished.

As I often find myself doing, the niche blog wasn’t one assignment, but a series of related assignments. In the upcoming post, I’ll explain each assignment, and how the assignments built on one another.

In the meantime, here are their blogs!

BeYOUtiful – a live positively blog for young people. Lots of great advice and motivation!

The Beastern Panhandle – A great Going Out guide to our rural Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.

LevelUp – An RPG video game fan blog, with lots of great analysis on the RPG game genre.

The Triple Play – College students talking sports, music, and movies!

The Reenactor – A blog for people in the reenacting community, focusing on men’s fashion from the early to mid 20th century.

The Starving Student – a video blog following one college student’s goal to start eating healthy while facing the poor food choices all around him.

DoItYourself Natural Products – A do it yourself personal care website, based on frugal, environmentally friendly personal care.

Baking It Simple – simple recipes for college students and young professionals on a budget.

What are some assignments and projects you taught in your social media classes this semester? I’d love to hear. I’m always looking for new ideas to try out!

Hope the end of your semester is not too stressful! – Cheers, Matt

Follow up research to “Did Social Media Really Matter?” Published!

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Hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving!

Exciting News! This week’s post is a quick announcement those interested in research on social media and civic and political participation!

My latest publication with my colleague, former fellow WSU graduate student, and good friend Masahiro Yamomoto is now available for “early view” online. As you know, I research new and social media and civics / politics.

Published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, the article “More harm than good? Online media use and political disaffection among college students in the 2008 election” is a follow up to our 2010 publication “Did social media really matter? College students’ use of online media and political decision making in the 2008 election.”

“Where Did Social Media really Matter?” asked whether social media and online expression on social media sites were related to positive political outcomes, namely political self-efficacy and situational political involvement, “More Harm Than Good?” asks whether these media are related to political disaffection. Specifically, we looked at political cynicism, apathy, and skepticism.

While cynicism – lack of confidence or trust in the political system, and apathy – indifference or lack of interest in politics, are both negative, skepticism isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Skepticism falls short of rejecting politics or the process of politics, but it is characterized by a disbelief and thus a need to gather more information about what one learns in the media about political issues, candidates, etc.

So what did we find?  Attention to social media was related to cynicism and apathy, and related negatively with skepticism. However, there was a positive relationship between online expression and skepticism.

In short, as our previous research suggests, paying attention to political content on social media may not have played as positive a role for young adults in the 2008 election as some have suggested. The story, of course, is not the same for online expression – so why is that?

We must of course consider all the limitations of the study. And keep in mind that this is 1 study and 1 sample. Please read the study to learn more about these concepts, related research, the sampling design, limitations, and other important considerations.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this paper was presented at AEJMC 2012.

All my blog posts on social media research.

Cheers!

-Matt

photo CC Tom Lohdan

Why Do Academics Blog? Mysteries of 21st century academia!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for details.

Hope everyone is enjoying their Thanksgiving break!

A recent article published in Studies in Higher Education asks: Why do academics blog?

Hmm. I guess it seemed obvious. Why does anyone blog? Fame, fortune…? Then I got thinking. Yeah, why do academics blog?

Of course, as an academic and a blogger, I had to read the article. It is titled: “Why do Academics Blog? An Analysis of Audiences, Purposes, and Challenges.

Articles such as Why Academics Should Blog by McGuire at Huffington Post, say that people should blog for a number of reasons as “the point of academia is to expand knowledge,” and the hard to accept but admittedly true: “because some of your ideas are dumb.”

Of course, there are other reasons too, like promoting your ideas and that your blog is part of / and builds your reputation. The authors of the research article wonder if this is in fact true – why do academics blog? By investigating 100 academic blogs  via content analysis , the authors produce an interesting look inside the real reasons why academics blog.

This got me thinking about why I blog.

Why do I blog?

When I created this blog, I spent lots of time working on who I was writing for, and how I wanted to name my blog. I attempted to articulate that in my “About this blog” page. I’ll summarize:

Social media education is a new and emerging field. I want to be a part of that conversation.

To expand:

I teach social media. I have a vested interest in growing with the field. To be great at my job, I need to grow, change, adapt. I need to constantly learn. So, I want to learn and reflect on what I learn.  But I believe I can also help the field grow. I want to share my knowledge.  Maybe by talking about my experience, I can help other educators, or get people thinking about social media education. And too, I want to meet others with similar interests and goals.

How has a Blog has been helpful to me?

Oh, this list could go on and on. So here are a quick few:

  • I’ve met great professors who are great people – before I blogged, I was on Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. And I’d connected with some folks. It wasn’t until I began blogging that I really began having meaningful conversations with other academics. As I shared my knowledge, experience, and areas of interests, an amazing thing happened! Other people have learned about me, who I am, and what I have to say and what I am hoping to learn. Doesn’t that make it easier to connect and build relationships?
  • I’ve been asked to participate in events – from research to Google+ Hangouts, new opportunities to grow, learn, and enhance in the field have been presented to me by awesome people I never would have met (see item above).
  • It has given me a chance to reflect – I’m the sort of person who learns by talking things through or teaching them to others. 
  • It has helped me grow my other social media – I believe that when people see you have a blog, they see that you are participating in the social media conversation at a deeper level, and thus are more likely to follow and engage you on sites like Twitter. I’m not sure if the blog signifies a level of credibility, or that they anticipate gaining more from you because you have a blog. But, I have certainly been much more interactive with folks on social media. And if # of followers on Twitter is important to you – those metrics have grown significantly!
  • It has given me a chance to help others – and I love to help others! I’ve seen a lot of folks looking over my syllabi and assignments, and it makes me feel great that something I have done may inspire them in what they teach!
  • My own place to share my research – I first created a professional website when I was in grad school using Sharepoint. I then moved to WordPress, but the page was static. Having a blog is so much more dynamic, but I still use by blog to post my CV, research, and so forth. I’m always excited when I see people looking over my research or searching my research on Google and finding my site.

I hope you enjoy the research article!

Why do you blog? How has blogging opened opportunities for you? Are you thinking about blogging but haven’t started?

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

– Cheers!
Matt

photo – creative commons, opensourceway

Born to Blog author talks social media challenges, opportunities, and more!

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I always learn so much from our guest speakers! This week we were very fortunate to have the author of our class text, Born to Blog, Mark Schaefer (@markwschaefer) Skype with our class.


If you aren’t familiar with Mark, he is a very well-known name in the social media field, author of the popular Grow blog, a sought after consultant, and the author of Born to Blog (a book I’ve reviewed on this site and which inspired me to start this blog), and another great book I’ve read Tao of Twitter. I haven’t read his 2nd book, Return on Influence, but I hope to soon.

Here are some highlights from his presentation to this semester’s Comm 322 Social Media class.

Challenges and Opportunities in Social Media – Mark said that a major challenge today is information density. Today, we have so much information that people are reaching information paralysis. How do companies adapt and thrive in this space, with so much competing for our attention? Though not specifically about information density, the article “How the physics of social media could kill your marketing strategy” offers what I believe is a good look at the general issue.

Why do some businesses succeed on social media and others fail? Mark said it really boils down to corporate culture. Questions that come to mind after hearing Mark discuss this topic are: Does the company understand and embrace the social space? Are they agile and responsive? Do they want to adapt?

What Metrics Matter?: Since I’ve been seeking to teach my students basics of Google Analytics, the importance of, and how to track metrics, I ask guest bloggers what metrics matter to them. When asked what the key metrics he tracks are, Mark said there was one that matters: returning visitors. Are they coming back? If people come back, eventually they’ll bring their friends. Traffic doesn’t create business benefits. Returning visitors do.

We’re All Students – the media landscape shifts so rapidly, it is difficult to be an expert. We all are students. And we should strive to keep learning and adapting. As a professor, I loved hearing this reminder. I am always looking to learn, change, grow, and adapt and it is great to hear someone with as much experience as Mark talking about the importance of being a lifelong learner!

Tips and Advice for Students

The Power of Blogging for Students – Mark echoed another class guest, Nate Bagley, when he encouraged students to blog, build an audience, and create meaningful content. He said that it was a valuable tool to show potential employers that you can build and sustain an audience. He said that often times he finds students or grad students are not blogging, and was glad to see students in our class were blogging as a semester long project. I was, of course, very happy to hear this. 🙂 So students, if you’re reading this, keep blogging!

Know Stats – Mark said education in stats is important. Increasingly, data and numbers are driving online business. You don’t have to be an expert, but you need to be able to ask questions and the ability to think critically, and choose the statistical analysis needed to answer those questions. While many students were probably grumpy to hear this, I agree completely. Stats and research methods are more important than ever.

It is not often that students get to speak directly with the author of a class text, and it meant a lot to me for students to get this wonderful opportunity. So thank you so much to Mark for being so generous with his time and knowledge!

-Cheers!

Matt

How to Manage Social Media for a Higher Education Institution: Guest Speaker

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I love having guests come and talk to my class. Last week, Comm 322 Social Media had another special guest – Leigh-Anne Lawrence from Hagerstown Community College (HCC).

Leigh-Anne is the Social Media and Public Information Specialist in the Public Information & Government Relations Office at HCC. Among her many responsibilities, she is in charge of all the social media for HCC- namely, their Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

A few cool highlights from Leigh-Anne’s presentation:

Leigh-Anne has helped build a university-wide social media policy to ensure communication consistency and reduce confusion among the public – For anyone thinking about creating a social media policy, particularly for higher ed, check out HCC’s guidelines. HCC’s policy will do more than just help govern what is appropriate and how entities should communicate on social media.  At many universities, social media is decentralized leading to communication inconsistency. There are too many accounts (many of which become ghost towns). This leaves students confused as to which accounts to follow and how to get important updates. Leigh-Anne takes a proactive role in preventing this problem by seeking to consolidate the voice of HCC on social media. This helps make things simple for HCC followers. She does this in part by reaching out to people who have created social media accounts at HCC and seeking to route their messages through the main account. Leigh-Anne told us that sometimes units within the university will create an account but the folks behind it may not be too certain as to what they want to communicate or how best to go about using the social media service. One thing she’ll do is monitor how active these HCC-related accounts are. For example, if, say, the dining services starts its own Twitter account and doesn’t use it very often, Leigh-Anne may ask dining services if they wouldn’t mind handing over to her the burden of getting dining services’ content out to the HCC community. Whenever the dining services wants to get a message out, they can send it to Leigh-Anne. She’ll post it on HCC Twitter and Facebook. That takes the pressure of having to maintain the account off dining services and helps meet Leigh-Anne’s mission.

Note: You can see her white paper highlighting her research on social media usage at community colleges.

Always On – Leigh-Anne told us how social media workers must be “always on.” There are no days where one can truly log off – workers must keep an eye on social media whether it is the weekend or a vacation day.

Social Media and School Closings – A quick anecdote for those who, like me, loved it when school was closed as a child and wait, wait, waited by the TV watching the ticker of schools that were closed and hoping to see their school’s name on the list. Today, people not only call into the school to complain when the school is or isn’t closed, they take to social media. Leigh-Anne told us she gets up at 4am when there is a storm, awaits the word on whether the school is closed, and spends the rest of her morning until she reports to work fielding questions and responding to complaints, including through social media. She may also find herself spending several hours continuing to answer questions after she gets to work.

Introverts can work in PR – I love this! Leigh-Anne explained that you don’t have to be outgoing to thrive in the field. Introverts thrive “behind the scenes” where their great writing, web, photography, organizational, and numerous other skills are highly valued.

Leigh-Anne was kind enough to share her slides, which I’ve embedded from her SlideShare account below.

Thanks again to Leigh-Anne for sharing her experience and her expertise with us! You can find her @writenowsoical or her website.

More on Google and News Releases; New Google Tools; The Death of iGoogle

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It has been a very busy few weeks here. Good news: It is Friday and time for another web roundup! And I will be turning in my mid-term tenure review portfolio today! wahoo!Scout on the stairs

Great articles from around the web:

Recently, the great blog SpinSucks posted an article reminding practitioners about the recent changes from Google that can have a negative impact on your news release. Here are their tips on how to avoid a Google penalty! I wrote about this several weeks ago if you care to learn more about the WHY behind these needed changes to news release writing online.

Wendy’s Hilarious and Clever Social Media Campaign – Here’s a great article about the latest from Wendy’s – a series of nonsensical soap opera style videos with real user tweets as the script. Absolutely clever. Absolutely hilarious. Check them out!

And, since I like to talk about cool tools for both in the classroom and for productivity for professors, here is a great list of 14 Google tools you may not know existed. While I knew a many of them, I found some cool new tools from this list, some of which are useful in the classroom – like Google’s NGram viewer that would be great for infographics! Btw, I’ve got a few more productivity post tips in the works.

How Social Media Killed iGoogle – Do you remember the customizable landing page? I do. I never got into it. This post helps me understand why – information gathering via social media, including incidental exposure, has killed the personalized portal.

Lastly, happy to see, though I suppose you already knew this 😉 – more professors are using social media in the classroom to teach.

How would you use iPads in the classroom?

Recently, another faculty member and I secured funding to get 10 iPads for our department (6 minis and 4 retinas). While we have some great plans on what we’d like to do with the iPads, I’d love any ideas and suggestions you have on how we can maximize our use of the iPads for learning. What creative ideas and suggestions do you have for using iPads in the classroom? If you’re using iPads in your classes, how are you using them? What has your experience been like? Please share your comments below, via Twitter, or G+. Thanks so much!

Scout update!

Lastly, a quick update for the Scout fans! Scout is growing up so very quickly! I have lost count of how many weeks old she is now, but she’s 27 pounds (she was 14 when we first brought her to the vet a few weeks after we got her).

We’ve spent a lot of time training her (I highly recommend The Power of Positive Dog Training) and taking her to a “puppy kindergarten” class. She recently passed her first puppy class, and we are hoping to enroll her in the next stage. She has been a joy and I have learned a lot – it has been a growing and learning experience for me!  A few weeks ago, we traveled to Pittsburg for a work function for Kelin. During that time, Scout got a chance to visit the breeder where she came from. She got to see her mother and sister. You can follow Scout on Instagram! Scout was confused by  her first Halloween, barking at the children! But she soon settled in. Thanksgiving will be fun!

A Social Media Education Blog by Matthew J. Kushin, Ph.D.