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Developing skills for the digital age

Universities should make social media and digital technologies a central part of research training, the organiser of a London event has suggested.

Tristram Hooley, head of the international centre for guidance studies at the University of Derby, argues that researchers need to capitalise on the potential of the internet to conduct and promote their work in an increasingly digital world.

With this in mind, Hooley worked with research careers organisation Vitae and the British Library to put together the latest Digital Researcher conference, which took place on 20 February in London. The annual event seeks to inform researchers about the online tools available to them at every stage of the research process.

Hooley believes that these sorts of skills will become increasingly important in the coming years and that more needs to be done to give researchers the opportunity to learn them. “These areas are often covered as an optional extra in study programmes. But if universities are in the business of training researchers, this needs to be made more of a core competency,” he told Research Fortnight.

Training could include: use of RSS feeds and associated synthesising software, such as iGoogle, for filtering information; tools such as Google Docs for collaborating remotely; and software such as Mendeley to manage and share research papers. Social media technologies such as Twitter can be used to develop online networks that allow researchers to gather information from one another.

According to the initial results of an online survey conducted by the Joint Information Systems Committee and Vitae completed in January, only a minority of researchers currently use social media and web technologies as part of their work.

“Social media and digital literacy are core skills for researchers,” Hooley says. “There are lots of tools out there in the digital domain that are very useful for researchers but that aren’t very widely used.”

At the conference, the day was split into four workshops, each focusing on the use of social media and digital technologies at a different stage of the research cycle: identifying knowledge; creating knowledge; quality assurance; and disseminating knowledge.

Attendees heard that they should make the most of online information sources but take care to check their quality. Publishing on the web is also a useful way to get feedback on research, such as through Twitter or by allowing others to comment on blog posts. The disseminating knowledge section, meanwhile, looked at issues around publishing research outputs on the web, such as complying with the requirements of funders.