1. Introduction

Literature Review 2.1 Engagement and collaboration within academia and the role of online technologies

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2. Literature Review

2.1 Engagement and collaboration within academia and the role of online technologies

In the context of our work, engagement is defined as a two-way communication process among academics, involving interactions and listening, with the goal of generating mutual benefits for all parties involved (NCCPE, 2015). While this form of communication is usually informal and ad hoc, it can lead to a more formal type of interaction, namely a research collaboration. A research collaboration can take various forms depending on the institution, field, sector and country, and is typically measured through multi-author or multi-address papers (Katz and Martin, 1997). Its importance stems from the benefits that it provides to academics, as it is associated with high academic performance and productivity (Abbasi et al., 2014; Ductor, 2014; Rostan and Ceravolo, 2015; Zutshi et al., 2012). A collaboration is usually initiated by the material, knowledge-based or social needs of academics, such as the need for infrastructure, research equipment and personnel (Melin, 2000; Rostan and Ceravolo, 2015). However, early career researchers may also be motivated to initiate interactions with their colleagues by needs for impression management and symbolic inclusion in networks (Pifer and Baker, 2013). PhD students, on the other hand, initiate professional relationships and interactions as they seek support, advice and guidance from more experienced students and academics (Baker and Pifer, 2011).

Although it has been suggested that online technologies facilitate the development of international collaborations, research results are inconclusive about the role of the Internet in the formation of academic networks (Wagner and Leydesdorff, 2005). In the past few years there has been a growing interest in the topic, resulting in a number of studies that mainly examine the use of social media in academia. This may be due to the characteristics that make them popular among academics. For example, Twitter, which enables quick and direct responses even among users that are not connected to each other, has been found to be an important source of support and professional socialisation for early career academics that use channels like #ECRchat to discuss topics relevant to the academic career and create a professional online image (Ferguson and Wheat, 2015). Twitter is also used by academics who want to share resources that contribute to academic discussions in their research field. However, contrary to what one may have expected, it is not used to a great extent for self-promotion (Stewart, 2015). Another study reported use of Twitter is being utilised as a conference backchannel that enables information sharing, building connections, and note-taking (Li and Greenhow, 2015).

Academia.edu has been studied as a case study as well, since it is one of the few purely academic SNS. Academics have reported that the main reasons for using the site are getting in touch with other researchers, disseminating their research results and getting informed about other researchers’ activities. However, their actual use shows that they do not utilise the full capacity of the site to meet their goals, since most of them do not upload any documents and follow fewer than ten academics (Nández and Borrego, 2013). Another study about Mendeley has shown that the motivation to enhance one’s professional profile and to share information about research articles was stronger only for users that joined many groups (Jeng et al., 2015). This may explain the absence of a clear relationship between altmetric (i.e. number of views, downloads and followers/followings on SNS) and bibliometric indicators at author level. According to a recent study, the correlations between them are poor and therefore altmetrics can be used only for evaluating the networking and social skills of researchers rather than being used as a proxy for research evaluation at author level (Ortega, 2015). However, another study that focuses exclusively on ResearchGate has shown that the metrics of this SNS along with other bibliometrics (e.g. impact points, number of citations and downloads etc.) can measure researchers’, institutions’ and countries’ academic performance in a more holistic way (Yu et al., 2016). This is probably an indication that some academic SNS are more popular than the others and therefore they can predict academic performance better than the rest.

Blogs are also popular in academia as they give the opportunity to academics to develop their academic identity online. In some occasions, academic journals actively support the ‘blogging trend’ by providing an online platform to their readers where they can share their research and ideas prior or while publishing to the journal (Matthews-Jones, 2016). Academic engagement also thrives at websites that include Web 2.0 features. More specifically, a recent study has shown that introducing gamification (i.e. “using game mechanisms or elements in non-game contexts for commercial or educational purposes”) into an online platform about research can impact positively the dissemination of academic results and promote engagement not only among academics, but also public engagement (Kuo and Chuang, 2016).

Despite the aforementioned benefits that SNS can offer to academic practice, academics face a number of barriers when they attempt to incorporate them in their daily work routine. Risks such as misinterpretation, misrepresentation, confrontation and intellectual property violation on SNS are evident according to the academics that use them (Ferguson and Wheat, 2015). In online groups that consist of many prominent researchers, the likelihood of an academic becoming active decreases, which may be an indication that academics think that the risk of losing reputation in such online groups is high (Matzat, 2009). Academics also point out the lack of institutional support as far as the use of SNS in concerned (Nández and Borrego, 2013), along with the general feeling that online engagement is illegitimate (Stewart, 2015) or superficial (Ferguson and Wheat, 2015). These different mind-sets regarding the academic use of SNS result in a type of “digital divide” that 'creates a sense of isolation from their peers in the minds of “digital scholars” that have not adopted technology for scholarly work (Costa, 2015). Finally, lack of time and online skills can also be obstacles for academics with regards to using SNS (Donelan, 2015).

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