Westminster Higher Education Forum Seminar: The next steps for delivering open access – implementation, expansion and international trends

On Tuesday I attended the above event in London. It was held at the Royal United Services Institute, which has a very nice library in which we had tea and coffee.


The first speaker was supposed to be Professor Adam Tickell (pronounced Tick-ell, I was disappointed to learn), but, unfortunately, he was unwell, so Dr Michael Jubb (Independent Consultant, Jubb Consulting) spoke in his place (as they are both on the Universities UK Open Access Co-ordination Group). The main points of his talk were as follows:

  • The number of journals that offer an open access option has now increased to “well over” 70% of available titles
  • The embargo periods for journal articles made green open access (by putting the final author version on a repository) continue to increase
  • There is a huge variation in the open access policies of journals according to where the author wishes to deposit their article
  • In 2016, 30% of articles were available via gold open access and 48% were available via green open access. However,  the number of green open access articles includes those placed in contravention of publishers’ policies/copyright on sites such ResearchGate and Academia.edu
  • If counting only those articles deposited in line with journal policies, 54% of articles (green and gold) were open access in 2016. However, the vast majority of those that were not open access could have been made open access.  The global average number of open access articles is 32%.

Increased open access seems to be associated with increased downloads – open access articles are 2-4 times more likely to be downloaded from publishers’ sites, particularly those articles published in hybrid journals. However, we don’t know how the download figures correspond to actual usage of articles, and we also don’t know the demographics of those who are downloading them as there is no data on this.

  • There were 12 million downloads from repositories in the UK in 2016, but this is a paltry figure compared to the c900 million downloads from publishers’ sites!

Costs of open access are rising: the cost of APCs rose five times between 2003 and 2016, and subscription costs have gone up by 20% during the same period. This means that the costs of hybrid journals have risen much sharply than ‘pure’ subscription journals.

In summary, the UK is well on the way to meet the objective of publishing “almost all our scientific output through open access” by the early 2020s. However, there are concerns about costs.

The next speaker was Professor Martin Paul Eve, one of my heroes. He spoke about open access monographs (one of my pet topics!), mainly regarding the potential costs of implementing a mandate for open access monographs for the REF after next (c2028). Much of this was based on his article, which is available on UKSG Insights, and should be read if you’re interested in such things.

Rob Johnson, director of Research Consulting, then gave what turned out to be quite a controversial talk on the role of repositories. He argued that their primary function should not be as a method for making research open access, but that they are good for sharing and preserving research for an institution, especially research outputs that are not journal articles. However, he faced some backlash in the questions from the audience afterwards, with Dr David Prosser, Executive Director of Research Libraries UK, saying that repositories are thought more highly of than Rob indicated, among other comments.

Following this, Michael Jubb spoke again, this time about the barriers to transition to open access. These are:

  • There are too many different open access policies (from funders, institutions, etc), many of which use different terms and terminology to mean the same thing
  • Poor communications means there is a low level of awareness and understanding ‘on the ground’
  • Inefficient workflows

Some suggested solutions:

  • Continued cooperative working between funders, publishers and universities, leading to:
  • better communication
  • harmonisation of policies
  • comprehensive use of standard identifiers (e.g. ORCID)
  • friction-free flows of information in publishing workflows

You can read the Universities UK report on Monitoring the Transition to Open Access on their website.

The next panel spoke about international trends in open access. There were representatives from Elsevier, Taylor and Francis and the Max Planck Digital Library. It was interesting to hear about the differences in models used in the UK and Europe. The UK has much more focus on hybrid journals as the leading open access model, whereas other methods of making research open access, such as offsetting agreements, are used more often in Europe.

After the break, Valerie McCutcheon from the University of Glasgow re-iterated the need for more coordination and collaboration between the organisations involved in open access, and shared some recent developments that may help to make the transition to open access more efficient, such as Wellcome Open Research, the JISC OA Button project and the UK Scholarly Communications Licence.

Clare Redhead, from OASPA (the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association) then spoke about the need for fully open access journals (not gold open access). She also argued that the recently renewed support for the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) needs to be followed through with action, in that the assessment of research and consequent effects on academics’ careers should not be linked with outdated metrics (e.g. journal impact factors). DORA recommends:

‘ – The need to eliminate the use of journal-based metrics, such as Journal Impact Factors, in funding, appointment, and promotion considerations;

– the need to assess research on its own merits rather than on the basis of the journal in which the research is published; and

– the need to capitalize on the opportunities provided by online publication (such as relaxing unnecessary limits on the number of words, figures, and references in articles, and exploring new indicators of significance and impact).’

Bill Hubbard, from JISC, re-iterated much of what had been said earlier in the day about the complexities of policies and practice, and the concern about high costs. He made a good point about societal expectations regarding openness and expecting to get access to things quickly – which is why people go to Sci-Hub to find research papers. He also argued that we (the academy) need to get our “true science” out there [to the public] as rapidly as the “rubbish” (fake news, etc.)  gets out there.

The final speaker was Sir Mark Walport, the first chief executive of the newly-formed UKRI (United Kingdom Resarch and Innovation), the body that brings together all the existing research councils.  The main points of his speech can be read in this article from Research Professional.

All in all, it was a very interesting and informative morning!


Themes and Trends in Library and Information Research: CILIP in Kent Conference, 8th November 2017

This was a really interesting and enjoyable day – great talks, good discussion and lovely people – what more could you ask of a conference?

Hazel Hall was the first speaker, presenting on the topic of “The value of practitioner research, the impact of such research activity (on individual career paths as well as services provision) and current areas of research”. Quite a long title! Hazel has done a lot of research over the years (that might be an understatement), and has also worked with CILIP on research-related projects: LIS DREaM and LISRiLIES, so she was an ideal person to start off the conference.

The next talk was from Claire Sewell, who used to be a cataloguer before she turned to the dark side (like me). Claire currently works for the Office of Scholarly Communication at Cambridge University, training librarians in research support. Her presentation was entitled “Librarians as researchers: methods, lessons and trends”.

There is also a summary of Claire’s presentation on her blog.

Last up before lunch was Alison Hicks, who is a lecturer in the Department of Information Studies at UCL, but has only recently moved back to the UK from the US, and is also a PhD candidate at the Swedish School of Library and Information Science at University of Borås, so she had the added advantage of an international perspective! Unfortunately, I don’t have a link to her presentation, but I can report that it was mainly concerned with librarians’ research into information literacy (can you have too much of  a good thing?) and was both enjoyable and informative. She also recommended an article on information literacy that might be of interest: “Information literacy and literacies of information: a mid-range theory and model”, by A. Lloyd.

Lunch time!

After lunch, the sessions consisted of researchers talking about their research. The first speaker was Rebecca Daniels, formerly of University of the Creative Arts and now working at the V&A. Rebecca’s studied the information needs and behaviours of Fine Art students for her Master’s in Information and Library Management, and discovered some interesting things about how browsing the shelves relates to creativity theory, and lots more.

This was followed by a talk from Steve Dixon-Smith, who currently works at UCA, and has done research with students as co-researchers. The research was focused on the experiences of Black and ethnic minority students at UCA: “Co-researching beyond the category: an exploratory study into BME students”.  Some of the accounts given by students interviewed for the research were pretty shocking – not just in terms of racial but also class distinctions (or perceived distinctions) that can prevent students from seeking help from (e.g.) tutors (and probably library staff as well as we tend to be white and middle-class).

The final presentation of the day was given by Kirsty Wallis, now working at the University of Greenwich, who talked about her experience of visiting The University of Helsinki as part of their International Staff Exchange Week, funded by Erasmus. You can read Kirsty (and Ruth)’s article about what sounds like an excellent adventure in UKSG eNews.


I couldn’t let the mention of Finland (well, Helsinki) go by without a picture of a  Moomin!

Thank you to everyone who organised and participated in the conference.

The Publishing Trap!

As part of the Open Access Week 2017, the Drill Hall Library hosted an event for researchers, based around playing the new game created by Chris Morrison and Jane Secker: The Publishing Trap. This game is designed to help inform researchers about the publishing process – each player or team takes the role of an academic and the game follows their career from finishing their PhD to their..erm…deaths and beyond. You can find out more about the game on the UK Copyright Literacy website. The event was open to researchers from all three universities based at the Medway campus, and there were research support staff from each university on hand to play the game with researchers and answer any tricky questions that might crop up.

Here are some pictures from the event:


Shiny new game!


Deep in thought…


Cakes decorated by Jane

Some of us had played the game before, as a test run, when it was still a prototype, so it was very exciting to see the finished product. It is a really useful and entertaining way of learning, teaching and thinking about the publishing process, so I hope we can use it for researchers at CCCU in the near future.

Other useful links about The Publishing Trap:

“I have 100 reads therefore I am”*: ‘Academic’ social media

This post explores academics’ relationships with ‘academic social media’; specifically with regards to the marketization of HE in the UK, audit culture, gamification, and open access. Academic social media can be defined as social media sites aimed at academic staff working in higher education, particularly in research. These sites encourage their users to share work (mainly in the form of research papers) and connect with other academics and researchers. There are currently two sites dominating the academic social media sector; ResearchGate and Academia.edu. These sites have been criticised for various reasons, but many academics still prefer to use them to disseminate research instead of using their own institution’s repositories. This paper will examine some of these criticisms and look at reasons why researchers choose to use academic social media platforms despite their serious ethical flaws and potentially detrimental effect on open access to research.


The market-driven HE system and academic self-promotion

Over recent years, the HE system in the UK has become more and more market-driven. The language of capitalism and commerce has crept steadily into our everyday speech, thoughts and actions – we have become used to auditing and quantifying our time and our work. Even the phrase ‘research outputs’ has a commercial ring to it.  Added to this is the increasing “casualization of the academic workforce” (Pooley and Duffy), characterised by short-term contracts and a lack of job security for many academics across the sector.

Working in this environment of market-driven values, academic staff have themselves been encouraged to promote themselves as ‘brands’, and think of themselves as branded commodities (Pooley and Duffy). Relating to this, is the idea of the “curated self”, where individuals carefully craft and nurture their online presence, and the “quantified self”, where a person identifies her/himself in terms of measurable inputs and outputs.

In terms of academic social media, platforms such as Academic.edu and ResearchGate intensify the idea of self-promotion as a good, precisely because of/through the fact that they are (among other things) social media tools: Like other forms of social media, they employ interactive feedback, dashboard analytics, and user-generated content (in this case, scholarship) (Pooley and Duffy). As with Facebook, platforms such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate “start to exemplify normative, idealized behaviour” (Adema) – the “everyone” factor (the idea that “everyone” is on Facebook). Self-promotion in this way is [considered] normal and if you don’t do it your career, and by extension you, will suffer. Added to this, not creating one’s own online self incurs the risk of losing control of this self (Barbour & Marshall (2012) in Hammarfelt et al.).

Some argue that use of academic social media is a means by which academics can take (back) some control over their scholarship and even their standing in academic circles. These platforms offer services the give the user a “sense of autonomy and empowerment” (Hammarfelt et al.). For example, self-tracking could be seen as a means of taking control, making academics’ contributions visible on their own terms or to contest alternative auditing.



Image by Emille Ogez (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Academics and their work as commodities

Focusing on Academia.edu, AKA “Facebook for academics” this company utilises users’ content and labour under the guise of “sharing” (Pooley and Duffy).  Not only this, but, as with mainstream social networks, the people who use the site may soon become its products. Its founder, Richard Price, has said that he plans to charge “for-profit companies for access to data and insights on which research and researchers are gaining traction” (Cutler, 2013 and Shema, 2012 in Pooley and Duffy). The financial model of companies such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate relies on their ability to exploit the data generated by their users. At the moment, the companies are concerned with exploiting the content that their add to their sites, but Adema believes that we can “see a move here from exploiting our content to exploiting the relationships around this content”. Furthermore, it is likely that in the future platforms such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate will sell our own data back to us so that we can use it in our own work.

Mirowski (2013) has argued that Facebook “teaches its users to become ‘entrepreneurs of themselves’” and trains us in “market-like transactions to advance many of our professional and personal aims” (Hammarfelt et al.). This commodification of academic selves links back to neoliberal ideas about marketization, as described above.


Quantification/audit culture/metrics

Hammarfelt et al. propose the idea of the “quantified academic self” (2016). This is a narrowing of the concept of the quantified self, which was first proposed by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly and refers to “an effort to increase self-knowledge through tracking devices” (Lupton 2013). The quantified academic self focuses on achievement, reputation and influence in terms of professional accomplishment (Hammarfelt et al.). This feeds into, and is in turn encouraged by the all-pervading quantification inherent on sites such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate. According to Pooley and Duffy, this quantification is the main way in which Academia.edu differs from mainstream social media sites.

This idea fits into the now ubiquitous audit culture of UK HE, where all outputs, even research must be quantified as “measurable deliverables” (Pooley and Duffy), which in turn fits into neoliberal ideas about free markets and free trade. Hence we now have the concepts of researchers as entrepreneurs, publications as products (outputs) and academia as a global marketplace (Hammarfelt et al.). Looking at the wider context, it can be seen that, from the mid-20th century onwards, there has been a tendency for people in secularized societies to replace religious motivations with goal setting and meaning making through “sports, art, science and other challenging endeavours”: Sloterdijk’s ‘doctrine of upward propagation’ (2014, in Hammarfelt et al.).

The ResearchGate Score purports to “[take] all of your research and [turn] it into a source of reputation”. Hammarfelt et al. see this as a “magical manoeuvre”: it is magical in the sense that the points are seen as valuable even though there worth is actually unknown, and also in the sense that it is very hard to see or understand how the score is calculated. Most people like quantification (whether they admit it or not) because it provides easy answers, or at least easy data they can use to compare themselves with other people. Added to this, numbers, once gained, are self-reinforcing. For example, the more contacts you have the more valuable you become, because more people think you are popular and want to link to you (van Dijck 2013 in Pooley and Duffy). It is really just a different version of playground popularity and again, this follows the general trend of self-quantification in society (Hammarfelt et al.). As Adema says, “we feel an urgent need to quantify ourselves”.



Related to the idea of quantification is the concept of gamification, “the practice of applying game features, including aesthetics, in non-game contexts”. Most social media sites, including those for academics, include game features such as point scoring, reaching new levels of attainment, and claiming of new territories (Hammarfelt et al.). Gamification can be an effective way to influence people’s behaviour due to the positive feedback aspect, but Hammarfelt et al. argue that it comes at a price: total surveillance. Gamification, like quantification, is also just another way of “bureaucratising everyday life” using IT infrastructures. We are always ‘on’, always connected, measuring, auditing ourselves, analysing scores, imputing data. We are feeding the machine and integrating ourselves more and more into the system – we are the bureaucracy.

On the other hand, some, such as Dragona (2014) have argued that gaming features can help create meaning in everyday life: people have needs and like goals so games can be used to help people develop in a positive way. They could even be seen as a “rational and uncomplicated alternative to a highly complex world” (Hammarfelt et al.), relating back to the idea of academics using social media platforms to attempt to take back some control over their environments.


Academic social media and open access

It is notable that Academa.edu and ResearchGate in particular makes an effort to advertise themselves as a place where academics can upload their papers. Academia.edu’s front page states:

Join 54,226,674 Academics

Academia is the easiest way to share papers with millions of people across the world for free. A study recently published in PLOS ONE found that papers uploaded to Academia receive a 69% boost in citations over 5 years.

Open access is not specifically mentioned by name, but the idea is there – sharing papers for free. There is even reference to an academic study, which does mention the phrase ‘open access’. However, legally and ethically uploading papers to Academia.edu or ResearchGate is not the same as putting them on a genuinely open access repository. (As an aside, it should be pointed out that the study mentioned on Academia.edu’s front page was carried out by, among other people, Richard Price, CEO of Academia.edu.)

From a legal and ethical point of view, many of the articles posted on Academia.edu and ResearchGate are not compliant with copyright law or journal publishers’ open access policies and permissions. These sites place the onus for copyright compliance on their users (see the AE copyright statement). As Pooley and Duffy point out “[these sites] are peer-to-peer PDF-sharing repositories, akin to Napster circa 1994 […] Academia.edu is like Sci-Hub, but with venture backing (and a carefully-written, liability-dodging “Copyright Policy””.  Open access (or a version of it) is part of a business model made to “serve the need for further commercialization of knowledge and research” (Adema).

Apart from anything else, putting one’s research papers on to an academic social media site does not meet the conditions for the HEFCE mandate regarding open access or funder policy.  Academic social media sites may seem to be advocates of open access, but it is ‘open access’ on their terms. They are not repositories, and offer no guarantee of indefinite, continued access to the research papers they hold. As Fitzpatrick says, at some point “[Academia.edu] will be required to turn a profit, or it will be sold for parts, or it will shut down.” The ‘free’ access could cease without warning, either by the site itself, or because of litigation from publishers (Pooley and Duffy).

Academia.edu has a parasitical relationship to the public education system, in that these academics are labouring for it for free to help build its privately-owned for-profit platform by providing the aggregated input, data and attention value. We can thus see that posting on Academia.edu is not ethically and politically equivalent to making research available using an institutional open access repository at all.

Gary Hall

Just as pertinent are the potential negative effects sites such as Academia.edu and ResearchGate could have on true open access. Hall warns that the open access movement is “in danger of being outflanked, if not rendered irrelevant” by Academia.edu. From personal experience, it is disheartening to note that academics are more likely to upload their papers to Academic.edu or ResearchGate than they are to deposit them in the institutional repository. Perhaps this proves Hall’s hypothesis that, for many researchers, “the priority may not be so much making their work openly available free of charge […] as building their careers and reputations in an individualistic, self-promoting, self-quantifying, self-marketing fashion.”



Such self-promotion is understandable in today’s current climate of the marketization of higher education (see above), but surely we as academics should resist this trend as much as possible? If academics are really interested in academic freedom, disseminating research, and access to knowledge for all then they/we are not going to help matters by playing into the hands of people motivated by money rather than the public good. (Even if Price et al. really believe they are doing good, their venture capitalist funders are only looking for return on their investment: that is what they exist for). The scholarly communications ecosystem is already dominated by big corporations that control our publishing industry. The open access movement was founded as an alternative to this, but, in using commercial social media sites to share research, we risk trading “one set of revenue-hungry companies for another.” (Pooley and Duffy)

So what are the alternatives? In terms of sharing research and making it genuine open access, permitted versions of papers should be uploaded to academics’ institutional repositories. The burden for a change in attitudes towards repositories when compared with social media sites does not rest solely on academic staff: software developers working on repositories need to at least try to recreate the look and feel, especially the intuitive ease of use, of social media sites if they are going to win over researchers and ensure that genuine open access does not get side-lined by (often illegal) paper sharing on academic social media. Also, advocates of open access working in HE (myself included) need to ensure that researchers are aware of all its benefits – not just in terms of funder compliance, but wider societal advantages – and try to make using repository software as easy as possible. There are also not-for-profit disciplinary repositories that can be used – many, if not all, of these can be accessed via OpenDOAR (Directory of Open Access Repositories).

In terms of the ‘social’ aspect of academic social media, scholarly societies may be one way to meet this need. For example, the MLA’s office for scholarly communication has set up Humanities Commons, as an alternative academic social network.

Whether or not researchers continue to use academic social networks, it is important that they are aware of the financial rationales and ethical standpoints of the companies that created them, so at least they can make informed choices about where they are putting their research and investing their energies and time. It is particularly important that academics are aware of the potential implications for genuine open access, and for the privacy of their own data. As Adema says “to give up privacy for access is not a form of ‘open access’ I can endorse.”


*Hammarfelt et al.



Adema, J. (2017) Academia.edu and self-branding, Open Reflections. Available at: https://openreflections.wordpress.com/2017/05/09/academia-edu-and-self-branding/. Accessed 16th August 2017.

Fitzpatrick, K. (2015) Academia, not edu, Planned Obsolescence. Available at: http://www.plannedobsolescence.net/academia-not-edu/. Accessed 16th August 2017.

Geltner, G. (2015) Upon leaving Academia.edu, Mittelalter. Available at: http://mittelalter.hypotheses.org/7123. Accessed 16th August 2017.

Hall, G. (2015) Does Academia.edu mean that Open Access is becoming irrelevant? Media Gifts. Available at: http://www.garyhall.info/journal/2015/10/18/does-academiaedu-mean-open-access-is-becoming-irrelevant.html. Accessed 16th August 2017.

Hammarfelt, B, de Rijcke, S.D & Rushforth, A.D. (2016). Quantified academic selves: the gamification of research through social networking services, Information Research, 21(2), paper SM1. Retrieved from http://InformationR.net/ir/21-2/SM1.html (Archived by WebCite& reg; at http://www.webcitation.org/6hn1Kv5yY). Accessed 16th August 2017.

Ingram, M. (2015) Scientists win when they are social with their work, study shows, Fortune.com. Available at: http://fortune.com/2015/05/08/scientists-social-study/. Accessed 16th August 2017.

Kraker, P., Jordan, K., Lex, E. (2015) The ResearchGate Score: a good example of a bad metric, Impact of Social Sciences. Available at: https://www.socialsciencespace.com/2015/12/researchgate-score-good-example-of-a-bad-metric/. Accessed 16th August 2017.

Pooley, B. E. and Duffy, J. D. (2017) “Facebook for Academics”: The Convergence of Self-Branding and Social Media Logic on Academia.edu, Social Media + Society, Vol. 3, issue 1. Available at: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/2056305117696523. Accessed 16th August 2017.




Isabel and Katharine (Myers-Briggs)


I’ve done the ‘Myers-Briggs test’ (AKA the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) three times this year (2017). The first time I came out as INFJ-Turbulent (I wrote about this on my other blog).


Turbulence (Broadstairs)

The next time, we did the test as part of a team development afternoon, and I came out as ISTJ, which was…odd…as I’ve never been ‘S’ (Sensing or Observant, depending on who you ask) before.


Sensing (or Observant) (Anna, 6.5 months)

My colleagues and I weren’t totally convinced, so I took the test again at home and came out as INTJ, which was more likely, but still different to the first test!


Thinking, Judging (also Sensing and Observing) (Willow, our old neighbours’ cat, 2012)

I wonder if the ‘S’ happened because the test I took that time was another version from the other two (actual Myers-Briggs rather than 16 Personalities). Anyhow, perhaps all this just goes to show that you can’t really put people in boxes – although the MBTI is not about doing this; it is more an indicator of tendencies or preferences rather than trying to say that a person is X or Y type and always behaves in such and such ways.

I found the development afternoon interesting, and useful in some ways, although I found it quite difficult to deal with the fact that I didn’t really agree with my test results. I felt like I had done the test wrong, which I realise is irrational, as there is no right or wrong with MBTI. I am a bit odd in that I do tend to categorise things/people and put them in boxes (not always literally), which I know is wrong, but it’s just the way my mind works! I think everyone does this to a certain extent; we just like to think we don’t!


Influence Workout

I recently attended the Influence Workout, run by Guy Michaels of Opposite Leg. It was an interesting and tiring day! I think it probably does count as a workout – there wasn’t much ‘sitting down and listening’ time – there was lots of talking and discussion and practising influencing people we’d never met before, which was good because this seems to be what a lot of my job involves at the moment!

It will probably come as no surprise to learn that “truly” listening is the most powerful tool we have when it comes to influencing others. But it’s so hard, isn’t it? I find it very difficult not to spend all the time I should be listening trying to think of the next thing I want to say (or trying not to say it). Also, we did an exercise where we our partner for the task would talk to us about something and we had to keep interrupting them and talking about ourselves in relation to what they were talking about. You know, that thing when you’re talking to someone about you dog with a massive tail (Retriever) and they say “oh yes, I’ve got a Schnauzer and she has massive eyebrows” (or whatever). I do this all the time. I started doing it because I thought it conveyed empathy, but now I think it might just be annoying. Alas.

We did an interesting exercise during which we had to rate our level of influence (a) at home and (b) at work on a scale of one to ten. A lot of people scored themselves more highly for influence at home than at work. I don’t think there was anyone who scored themselves more highly for influence at work; some people weighted both equally. The reason for this exercise was to illustrate the idea of influence being borne out of relationships – we are (unsurprisingly) more likely to be able to influence people we have some sort of prior relationship with; we know how they ‘tick’ and how they are likely to react to things, what their communication preferences are, how they like do get things done, and so on.

Related to this, is the idea of using different styles of communication according to the ‘type’ of person you’re attempting to influence. As we know, there are lots of different ways of categorising people according to personality type (which affects their communication style) (Myers-Briggs, etc.), but for this sessions we used the  following matrix:

OL - Influence Workout A17

We had to decide the personality type we thought we were most like (can you guess what mine is?) and then we went into groups and had to pretend to be the type we were least like. We then had to try to influence the other groups/types of people to agree with us on various ridiculous statements, such as “you shouldn’t go to work if you don’t want to go” and “smoking is good for you”. It was quite tricky! We also looked at the idea of balancing the appeal when speaking to groups, as of course these will probably include people of various different ‘types’ (and mixtures of type).

I think one of the most useful things I learned on the day was the idea of a “competence and character” list. The idea is to make a list of your abilities and good character traits – why people should be influenced by you – and then you can refer back to it during times of self-doubt, or just to remind yourself of what you actually know.

We also talked about assumptions – as someone not so famous used to say “assume makes an ass (donkey) out of  you and me”.


don’t make assumptions, because you’ll probably end up looking (or at least feeling) stupid.

I  should point out that I take issue with donkeys being made equivalent with ‘stupid’, but it was a good opportunity for another picture of cute animals. Anyway, you have been warned. I’m always assuming things, and judging people – it’s not a good trait.

Things not to make assumptions about when trying to influence people:

  • levels of knowledge or understanding
  • readiness to communicate about a subject
  • attitude to the subject

Another aspect of influencing is “communicating congruently”, which sounds posh, but actually just means using open body language.  During the part of the workshop we did some physical exercises to change our postures using aspects of the Alexander Technique, which was a lot like exercises we did the next evening at choir rehearsal! I found the techniques really helpful in both contexts: it is really a matter of standing up straight (or your airways are straight, in the case of singing, particularly) [- this made a massive difference at last night’s choir practice – I could easily reach high notes I previously struggled with] and imagining a string on top of your head pulling your head up but tucking your chin in a little bit, so you don’t look too aggressive (!). Also, place your feet about a shoulders’ width apart and relax your shoulders (I always find that hard). It sounds obvious and simple,  because it is, but most of the time we (I) stand really badly in a kind of slumpy position. I have scoliosis, which doesn’t help, but I do (even more so) need to make more effort to stand better, especially when singing and presenting.

The final exercise of the day was to discuss with our partner about a situation where we need to influence someone (or a group of people) and then present about this to the group (if we wanted to), explaining how we would use the techniques we learned during the workshop. We used this slide as a memory aid:

OL - Influence Workout A17a

I volunteered to talk about my ‘influencing situation’, which was basically to try to influence academic staff to engage with Open Access and the repository (actually only one of many situations where I need to influence people, but it was the easiest to talk about!). Talking about this had an side-benefit in that a member of staff attending the workshop learned more about the repository and where to get help using it!

I struggled with quite a lot of the workout/shop because I was distracted and feeling self-conscious – I don’t really know why. I think perhaps I felt like I needed to impress (influence?!) some of the people attending the workshop, because now I’m working ‘out there’ in the university more visibly I need to build up a good reputation…but of course feeling self-conscious doesn’t usually lead to a better performance! However, I did feel better once I’d talked about my ‘influence situation’ at the end because (I suppose) I was back in my weird presenting dis/comfort zone…and people seemed to like it, which always helps.

Solution-focussed conversations: a workshop

Yesterday, I attended an internal development workshop led by Carole Pemberton. A big part of my new role involves meeting and having conversations with people. Sometimes this is just to get to know them and find out what they do and what sorts of research-related things are going on in the faculty/school, but sometimes (quite often) we talk to try and find out how I can help them. Even if the conversation doesn’t start out as a ‘problem-solving’ conversation it can often turn into one, particularly once people start talking about things they don’t like, or would like to change (which happens quite a lot!). I think I’m probably an introvert (no kidding),  so this aspect of my work can be challenging and sometimes scary.


Image by Joe Wolf via Flickr (CC-BY-ND 2.0)

However, on the whole, it’s very interesting and I’m enjoying it. It’s nice to get out and about on campus and meet new people and feel like I’m becoming more involved and at home in the wider university, if only in small ways for now.

My role is to support people with research/scholarly communications so I need to be solutions-focussed in my conversations with them. There’s always a danger of a lot of complaining about things but not much being done to sort them out – in general, higher education institutions tend to be great at talking about problems but not very good at actually solving them. I learned yesterday that this is because we (HE staff) tend to be content (information)-focussed – we like information and asking questions and gathering more information because it makes us feel clever [idea that knowledge=power?] – because we are clever (apparently).


And of course it’s often easier to talk about problems than it is to deal with them – information gathering during a conversation is really just another form of procrastination! [Another interesting things I learned yesterday was that people who are grandiose and talk down to people they consider to be ‘beneath’ them are doing this out of anxiety – their place in the (possibly perceived) hierarchy is their safe space.]

So what is a solutions-focussed conversation? Mainly, it comes down to good listening and asking the right questions. These should be ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ questions, but, interestingly, not ‘why’. Again as ‘clever’ people, we like to know why, but knowing why something is happening/has happened doesn’t actually help to find a solution to the problem. In a solutions-focussed conversation it’s not about exploring feelings about the problem, but finding a solution to it. This was quite difficult for me get to grips with, because I’m used to counselling conversations, where people are always asking ‘how does this make you feel’ (which I hate, btw). [Another interesting point, if you want to find out how someone who doesn’t like talking about their feelings feels about something you should ask them what they think about it instead].

Questions should only be asked to help the other person’s thinking not to feed your curiosity

Here are some examples of good questions to use in solutions-focussed conversations:

  • What is important to you in your work right now?
  • How often does this problem happen?
  • What have you done to improve things?
  • What is the biggest obstacle you are facing?
  • What’s the worst that could happen?
  • So what?
  • What would be the most useful thing you/we could do?
  • Who else can help?
  • How have you solved problems like this before?
  • What are you going to do about it in the next week?

Not Listening by LadyJillybean via Flickr (CC-BY-ND 2.0)

What is good listening? Well, things like good (appropriate) eye contact, making supporting noises/actions so the person knows you’re listening (must be genuine!), repeating information back to make sure you’ve understood it, and also:

  • Using the other person’s language (e.g. if they say it’s a nightmare, say it’s a nightmare, not that it’s bad)
  • Remove distractions
  • Look involved
  • Slow down so you can pay proper attention
  • Be aware of the other person’s changing emotions during the conversation – when do they become more animated/excited/sad/bored
  • Removing yourself – i.e. not thinking about yourself and what you’re going to say next

Good listening is getting yourself out of the way

At the end of the conversation, you should have some sort of plan of how to tackle the problem. You don’t need to have a plan to totally solve it, but you should have at least the first step in mind. As with many things (e.g. cake) it is easier to tackle problems in small stages.


Cake by Josh Lowesohn via Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

For example, you might not be able go straight in to having a conversation with someone you don’t like, but you might be able to go in and say hello or even just try to think about them in a more positive light. One (more) thing I found useful (although thankfully it doesn’t really apply to me) was the idea that if you really can’t get on with someone in any other way you can still agree on some common ground, even if it’s very general (e.g. you want to make things better for students).

As well as the actual conversation part of solution-focussed conversations, we talked about ‘peripheral’ but essential and very relevant things like ‘presence’. It sounds airy-fairy, but how you present yourself in terms of your physical presence can have a big effect on people’s attitudes towards you – and also on how you perceive yourself. Think of peacocks. We discussed this TED talk by Amy Cuddy:

It may not be as scientific as she claims, but we tried it in the workshop and just the fact that it makes you stand up straighter and therefore breathe more easily must be of some benefit, I would have thought. Perhaps it’s just psychosomatic, but I’m not sure that matters if it works for people.

In summary, solution-focussed conversations follow the coaching cycle:

  1. Defining the topic/goal
  2. Listening, asking the right questions, finding options
  3. Agreeing actions (must be willing to actually do them), even very small things.

A symbolic picture of an acorn by knitsteel via Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Copyright is hard: the CILIP Copyright Conference 2017

Yes, it’s official, read all about it, etc.; copyright is hard. Like we didn’t know! But it seems to be one of those things people secretly know but dare not admit, especially not at a copyright conference…until now! I think this was my favourite moment of the conference: when Ronan Deazley said these words. And then lots of people said them! And I realised I was not alone, which was good in one way, and then not so good in others, because I thought everyone else knew what they were doing! It’s OK, they actually do – knowing something is difficult is not the same as not knowing how to deal with it.

My other favourite moments of the conference were during Jane Secker and Chris Morrison’s presentation when (1) we wrote down how copyright makes us feel on a paper aeroplane and flew them across the room (or not, in my case) (2) we had to admit to copyright crimes. I had only committed one (of the ones they asked about). I’d better not tell you what it was.


The conference mid-confession of copyright crimes

Even apart from these revelations, the conference was much more interesting than I expected it to be. I didn’t understand absolutely everything, but I understood more than I expected to, and learned a lot.

The programme and presentations from the conference are available on the CILIP website.

Does my data look good in this?

…was the title of a conference/workshop on research data management in the creative arts I attended yesterday. We started off with this:


It was one of several “Curious Items” placed on the tables around the room. Our task was to think of a title for the item, describe it, say what it was made from, decide why the object was created (its context) and decide on the purpose of the object (what we can learn from it). We decided to call our object “Mind Mattress”… The purpose of this exercise was to get us to recognise (if we hadn’t already) the difficulty of assigning specific and accurate information to arts and humanities ‘objects’ – unlike in science, we are not dealing in facts, but in ideas, emotions, concepts, and other ambiguous, unquantifiable things. This was followed by a presentation by Leigh Garrett, Director of the Centre for Digital Scholarship, Library and Student Services at the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) on “Stuff and data: an introduction to research data management in the creative arts”, during which we had to answer questions:

  • What is research data in the creative arts?
  • Why do we want to manage research data in the creative arts?
  • What do we need to consider?

Answers to these questions (and more) can be found at in Leigh et al’s article on ARIADNE.  I will add links to the presentations from the day once they are sent out.

Next, we heard from Amanda Couch, a lecturer and artist from UCA. She works with food, in particular offal. She shared various aspects of her research (and her research data) – a case study. I found her comparison of Instagram  to a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ (or Wunderkammer) very interesting, as well as the use of Instagram as a way of capturing research data (as someone who is dyslexic and dyspraxic Amanda has found this visual/’wordless’ way of data collection very useful as a way of making a record of her practice).


Part of my Wunderkammer (Instagram)

We then moved on to look at “Arts data management in the real world”; two case studies of the use of arts research data. The first was Glasgow School of Art – Dr Robyne Calvert and Nicola Siminson talked about their experiences of implementing research data management and how research data became essential to the rebuilding of the Mackintosh Building following the devastating fire in 2014.

The next case study was about engaging arts researchers with EPrints research repositories, presented by Stephanie Meece (UAL) and Amy Robinson (UCA). They talked about the Kultur project; the aim of which was

to create a transferable and sustainable institutional repository model for research output in the creative and applied arts…

This meant making quite a few changes to the standard EPrints ‘look and feel’ to make it more ‘arts friendly’. For example there is a much improved and increased use of images on the sites created for UCA and UAL; language has been changed to better reflect that used in the creative arts; there are different item types and sub-types available as options when adding items to the repository. We have (relatively) quite a lot of engagement with creative arts staff/researchers, and I wonder whether there are some simple customisations we could make to our repository in order to make it friendlier and easier to use for these folk (and others).

After lunch (yum), Daniela Duca from JISC spoke about current developments in research data management at JISC. She left us with two questions:(1) What should a next-generation research environment look like? (2) What skills do people need to prepare for research practice now and in the future? Perhaps topics for a future LRS Seminar?

We then had a “repository rodeo”. No horses or bulls were present, alas (or perhaps just as well). Instead, there were short presentations from Figshare, Arkivum and Artivity – all of which you can have a look at online instead of me fruitlessly writing about what was said.

We then split into groups again to think about the future of research data in the creative arts. I was in the group looking at service development. Only one person on the table was actually currently doing anything with research data management in their institution, and this was not specifically for creative arts research data. It was very interesting to hear about what they are planning/doing and one question that came out of our discussion was is it really a good thing to have a[n institutional] research data repository? which sounds like a weird question to ask in the context, but is actually a good point. There are plenty of places where people can put their research data that are not actually institutional research data repositories (e.g. subject or funder respositories), so do we really need to have our own research data repository? The answer is probably, ‘it depends’!

Finally, we looked again at our “Curious Items” and found out what they actually were. The name of our object was really “Breathair Hollow”, a “breathable polyester cushion substitute for urethene foam that uses a hollow yarn to reduce weight”. So there we are.

Flipping the classroom

Last week the LRS team plus guests attended a workshop on “The Flipped Classroom”, led by Lynne and Alyson from Learning and Teaching Enhancement. In true ‘flipped classroom’ style, we had to do some work outside of the classroom before the workshop itself – most of which was  watching videos, one of which I will share here (sorry I don’t have links for the others – they’re on BlackBoard). This one was particularly useful for me as I had no idea what flipping the classroom entailed – it actually wasn’t as radical as I had expected! Also, there are penguins (and a walrus):

After I’d watched the first video I had a few questions/statements written down:

  • Learning styles? The other week I attended a presentation during which it was said (by the presenter) that the whole idea of learning styles was being questioned…Anyway…
  • What if the students don’t read/watch the materials in advance of the class?
  • What is students don’t have access to the internet outside of the university environment?
  • I don’t want to participate or be active.
  • I don’t like group or collaborative work.

A few of my questions/concerns had been allayed by the time I’d finished watching the other videos and reading the materials on BlackBoard – I particularly liked the ‘scrambled classroom’ idea; a combination of flipped elements and short ‘lectures’.

In the workshop, we started off by doing a pop quiz about the materials we were supposed to have looked at, using the Socrative app, a free online voting system which we had all downloaded. This was quite a fun way to do things and of course also a good way of testing whether or not we had all prepared for the workshop!

Lynne and Alyson both gave a good overview of what flipping the classroom can mean in practice, and talked about the advantages and disadvantages of teaching in this way. The advantages are:

  • Students can learn at their own pace
  • Students with learning disabilities can revisit the materials
  • Devoting class time to the application of concepts may give instructors a better opportunity to detect errors in students’ thinking and spend time with individual students
  • Students can work collaboratively
  • Technological innovation allows distribution of resources (avoids, e.g. not enough copies of books)

Disadvantages/concerns are:

  • There is a limited amount of scholarly research on the effectiveness of the flipped classroom method
  • It requires careful preparation and time
  • Students need access to technology outside university
  • Will students engage with the flipped classroom method?
  • Putting more content into the curriculum means more work for tutors
  • Does it work for all students?
  • The flipped classroom method has had poor evaluation from students

In the second half of the workshop we looked at how we could use the flipped classroom method in our own teaching. I found the idea of doing this quite challenging because I mainly teach researchers and academic staff and I was worried they would find it patronising, and wouldn’t want to engage with the pre-class activities because they wouldn’t have time (or would say they didn’t have time). It’s often difficult enough to get academic staff to turn up to a booked session, never mind asking them to do work for it ahead of time as well. But perhaps I’m doing them a disservice…

Anyway, we got into two groups and each group made a plan of how they would carry out a flipped classroom session. This was our plan for a session teaching academic staff about our institutional repository:


As you can see, we talked about the division between the flipped part (tasks to do outside the classroom before the session) and the ‘teaching’ (face to face classroom-based stuff). I think, for academic staff, it’s important not to give people too much to do outside the classroom because they probably won’t do it and it may put some them off attending the session altogether. Also, the

so what?

is really important. No one wants to go to something or do something they feel will be waste of time, so  we need to make sure that students (and staff) know the benefits of taking part for them, personally as well as generally.