Are universities turning into giant newsrooms?

Traditionally the way governments and funding bodies evaluate research has been left wanting. Usually “research impact” and a scholar’s reach has been measured in a few ways, usually through narrow citations counts or through peer review.Are universities turning into giant newsrooms

Article level metrics (altmetrics) are becoming the new currency to measure research impact. They measure reach through article views, downloads, traditional media or mentions in social media.

The past five years has seen a bunch of altmetric and social media websites that help measure individual research performance. Increasingly, social media is triggering further collaboration and changing how we produce knowledge, providing another space for practicing scholarship.

A recent study on the connection between Twitter and academia shows social media speeds up interdisciplinary research to create “new connections with other scientists, which can lead to the development of new collaborations and scientific outputs… [and] promote the popularisation of scientific findings.”

A new model for publishing

Many academics agree the current model is outdated, favours journal publishers, and needs updating. The San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) recommends greater use of altmetrics to “encourage a shift toward assessment based on the scientific content of an article rather than publication metrics of the journal in which it was published”.

Dr. Jackie Wolstenholme, Research Service Librarian at James Cook University, found:

Individual researchers can use the internet to promote their own work … [as] we’re moving from promotion at the level of the journal to article level. So where you publish will become less important.

The message is simple; “publish early, publish often”. Being published early is key to success, future promotions, and funding opportunities.

Critics argue that altmetrics are open to robot tweeting – false hits and data distortion – while it plays on fears around funding and jobs, and social capital – are we who we say we are in the virtual world?

Both ways, social media with altmetrics aid the sense of speed, while adding to the blurring of boundaries between journalists, educators, and academics.

With networks and data becoming key units of measurement by universities, NGOs, governmental departments, and institutions, websites that record hits, clicks and likes will become more prominent.

Beyond the lecture hall

Universities find metrics useful to know who they are reaching, what kind of articles are having an impact, what sort of topics are getting them talked about.

The university is not alone in measuring by social media and altmetrics. Government funding bodies, institutions, and public policy makers are increasingly making big decisions based on data.

According to Jackie Wolstenholme, writing in a conference paper for the Journalism Educators Association of Australia, data and altmetric is the currency of how research is measured as the world we are living in now there’s a much faster turnaround.