Created in 2014, WeShareScience is an online platform for researchers to post videos showcasing their latest work. We spoke to site creator Ryan Watkins, Professor of Educational Leadership at George Washington University, to find out more about the site and what he’s aiming to achieve.
Could you tell us a bit about your site? How did it get started and what are you aiming to achieve?
Like many ideas, WeShareScience emerged out of frustration and curiosity. As a professor of educational technology, much of my work cuts across many fields and disciplines. For years, each month I would read research journals in education, psychology, sociology, personnel management, business, and other disciplines. The growing volume of research in each these areas was however making it increasingly difficult to find the research that I could apply to in my work. And yet, in most other parts of my life, social media platforms were making it easier find and share information.
In 2013 I got increasingly curious about new ways for sharing research. At the time, Pinterest was a rapidly growing platform that had found a unique way to capture its users’ attention, and YouTube was pushing all of us to reimagine the role of video in our lives. While observing these trends I started to play around with ideas for how these trends could support the sharing of scientific research — and that curiosity brought about the first iterations of WeShareScience. The site is conceptually a mash-up of Pinterest, YouTube, and TedTalks, applied to the traditional notion of a science fair (or a poster session at a conference).
The aim of WeShareScience is to offer an unique platform where anyone can share their scientific research; making it more accessible to other researchers and the public.
What content can people find on the site?
Videos about research! These videos offer a new option that can complement peer-reviewed research articles and increase the availability of research amongst new audiences. Through this format, researchers and their research tend to be more practically accessible — after all, there is something personal about hearing and seeing the researcher; whereas traditional journal articles written in the third person, intentionally trying to remove this connection between the reader and the researcher.
Why do you think it’s so important to communicate research in this way?
Video is a very engaging medium and with new technologies it is quickly becoming how we share ideas. In 2015, for example, YouTube announced that it had 8 billion video views each day; in more 39 countries, and in over 54 languages. Science can’t ignore this change in how people choose to learn, share, and archive their experiences. There remains an important role for peer-reviewed research journal articles, but that is no longer the only tool that researchers should be using to share their science.
You’ve already added the Altmetric badges to your site, which is great to see! Why were you keen to have that information visible there?
For the first two years, WeShareScience was primarily a destination site. That is to say, it was a culdesac site where people came to watch videos about research, and then maybe leave comments or share a link to the video with colleagues — but there was no where to go.
As I developed the technical parts of the site this was a sufficient scope, but in order to grow the site to its potential I found that WeShareScience really had to be hub that links visitors to other places where they can learn more. If people find the research in the video to be of interest or value, then WeShareScience has to be the starting place rather than the end destination. Altmetric badges are the ideal tool for quickly and easily guiding visitors to more information that can be found on a variety of other platform (including Facebook, Twitter, Mendeley, etc.).
Have you noticed anything particularly interesting or that you weren’t expecting to see in the Altmetric data? What are you using it for at the moment?
At this point I have integrated the badges into several aspects of site’s design. When visitors share their video abstracts on WeShareScience they have the option to provide more information; including the DOI number of published resources, the URL for an open or closed access journal, or links to the researcher’s website. WeShareScience then uses this information to add an Altmetric badge just below the video.
What advice would you give to academics who want to communicate their research more broadly but aren’t sure where to start?
To begin, I would suggest that they reflect on what they are hoping to achieve through their research and their career as a researcher. For many researchers, expanding the audience for their work is not necessary in order to make the substantial contributions they are looking to make. For other researchers, the small readership of peer-reviewed journals in their discipline may be a barrier to the influence that their research can have on the work of other researchers, researchers in other countries, policy makers, or others.
For this second group, they should have specific goals and audiences in mind as they develop a communications plan for their research. Articles, conference presentations, invited talks, webinars, video abstracts, and social media should all be considered and integrated into a plan that achieves their goals. As researchers implement their communications plan, they must then remain aware of (and work to guard against) the often slippery slope of trying to gain attention for their research. Maintaining their role as a scientific expert is essential to their creditability, but in an era where dramatic headlines that capture “eyes” and “clicks” dominate, we must all make conscious efforts to be rigorous and trustworthy as we accurately communicate about our research.
Any top tips for creating videos in particular?
Many of the most popular video abstracts on WeShareScience are those that use the video as a tool for helping viewers connect with the researcher (and thereby the research). Some contributors still elect to record their voice while showing PowerPoint slides, but the videos that catch attention and often effectively communicate about the research are those that show the researcher engaged in their research. On video, the passion of the researcher comes through much clearer than in written articles. If you are a botanist, go out and record pictures of you in environment which you study. If you are a chemist, let the viewers see you working in the chemistry lab.
Video allows you to make a connection with the viewer, and it gives the viewer the opportunity to take a glimpse into the world of your science — use that to your advantage and then point them towards places where they can learn more.
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