Building a Web

I’ve recently got involved in a very interesting project which is looking at ways in which research is recorded and stored, and how to build the academic profile of the author(s) for the benefit of them and the University in which they studies / researched / work.

All universities keep a repository of published work generated by students, researchers and staff.  On some university web sites, it’s easy to find and relatively easy to search; by author, title, faculty or year of publication.  However, that said there were two universities where I gave up trying to find their repository.  It’s important for Universities to make this work discoverable because of the Research Excellence Framework – the REF.  Very simply, this is a way for universities to be assessed on the quality of their research: the higher the quality, the better their score, the higher their ranking, the more students they can attract, the more funding they get, the easier it is to apply for additional funding…. you get the idea.

As a researcher, I use Google Scholar to find papers and journal articles to read and cite in my own work.  I pay attention to the citation scores – for the over-arching topics (in my case, this would be something addressing a definition of Web Science) – it’s clear that some publications are cited far more often than others, and I would need to include them.  However, not all interesting or relevant papers are cited frequently, or indeed at all.  Not everything that’s published has the references scrutinised for citation counts.  PhD’s, for example, aren’t looked at, and not all journals will see their publications ‘counted’.   I need to be aware of this when I do my own research, and critically review a wide range of sources whether cited or not.

The Web of Science does a similar, but provides more sophisticated ways to search for papers and articles.  It’s basically a much more integrated search engine and subscription service, run by commercial company Clarivate Analytics.  I’ve no reason to doubt that it’s a successful model that’s been helpful to publishers, academic institutions, authors and researchers alike.  And let’s not forget that the sciences are well-funded and can absorb the costs.

The project I am working on is exploring the idea of something similar for ‘the Arts’, by which I mean….. what?  In the absence of a clear definition at this early stage, I’m thinking of it in terms of research into Art and Design (including architecture as ‘conceptual design’) that may (or may not) result in a practical production piece.  I have already alluded to one challenge for building a ‘Web of Arts’: that of finance.  The second challenge arises when the result of research is both a written piece and a piece of work that may be a large sculpture of series of textiles.  Is this data stored, and if so how and where? Do universities only archive degree shows, or other works that make a public impact?  We should also consider curated exhibitions: and exhibition of works of any kind and by any artist(s)/designer(s) could be considered a publication in itself, even if there are no ‘spin-off’ books or articles.  Some scholars and students (and their universities) are very good at keeping their web site profiles up to date with all their work.  Others aren’t.  Of course this applies to science-based academics as well, and it would be an interesting exercise to find a way of evaluating how effective and equitable universities are at keeping scholars, researchers and academics across all faculties ‘promoted’.

My own background, I think, dovetails nicely with this project.  My first degree with the OU was in English Literature and Art History.  I then went on to teach English, and was Head of Media at a large comprehensive school.  I taught Media Studies at KS3, 4 and 5 (‘O’ and ‘A’ level).  I now find myself completing a PhD that draws heavily on computer science (I’ve had to learn to code in Python and use a range of algorithms to clean, process and analyse data).  I’m an enthusiastic supporter of CS for women and girls, but I also have a love of the Arts including film and media, plus advertising and marketing.  So, let me make some statements:

  • the Arts are as important as Science, and we should approach them in terms of their academic integrity by assuming they are equal.

By this I mean that, if the Web of Science is worthy of a subscription service such as that provided by Clarivate Analytics, then so are the Arts.  A Professor of Computer Science should have  the same status (for want of a better word) as a Professor of Film Studies.

  • Practical work produced from work in the Arts is no different from lines of code, or an application, produced from research in CS.

Moving on from here, what the Web of Science has done is make it possible to identify top researchers as well as top papers.  From my own experience, certain names in the CS field occur more often than others, and so a sense of the ‘top names’ begins to develop.  This is something that a WOA might exploit further.  My research focuses on the community of teachers and other educators on Twitter, where may well-known names in the field of educational research regularly post and have participated in the construction of a network of people all connected by Education.  I was fortunate in that someone else from the Edu-community had created a spreadsheet of members of the community, so finding the bloggers I needed for my research was easy; however it would be relatively easy to create something similar to identify key names from the Arts.  People write blogs that have a URL (a web address), their blogs are read by other members of the community who may leave comments that also have a URL, they read the blogs of others that they may include in a list on their own blog home page (a blogroll) or link to in the text of their blogs.  These can be harvested and used to build a network.  If they use Twitter, so much the better as Twitter makes it relatively easy for researchers to access data.  The ‘user profiles’ (or ‘about’ pages for a blog) can help identify the people that should be included in the network.

As well as revealing a network of connected individuals (a web of arts), the content of posts is also potentially interesting.  When I did my first degree, I remember a thick text book that contained extracts or writings by artists and designers, and other things like the Dada Manifesto.   These have been preserved because, of course, they were written and published on paper, even if they were in the form of personal diaries or letters.  In the twenty-first century, it is entirely possible that similar personal writings are now online, existing in the ephemera that is the web.  I have found several blogs written by computer scientists incredibly useful.  I keep my own blog here as a way of recording my thoughts and ideas prior to writing them up more formally.  Curating links to blogs and tweets from the Arts community would surely be of as much interest as formal publications, not least of which because they may also include digital images of recent work.  Other platforms that may host items of interest would include Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram, although the latter two (Instagram is owned by Facebook) can’t be accessed with ease and it is entirely likely that only a record of the URL would be available.

Finally, a recent article in Forbes suggested that searching a database, whether it be Google or a publication-database service such as Pubmed in the conventional way i.e. typing a set of relevant words and clicking on the magnifying-glass icon, might be superseded by an assistant with Artificial Intelligence.   I’m a little sceptical here, mainly because AI still relies on the prompts and clues we give it.  It learns from these, which means we are in danger of ending up in an echo-chamber of our own making.  We must always retain the ability to make ‘left-field’ choices; to pursue the seemingly unrelated paper because it looks interesting; to go beyond the first few pages of our search results; to expand or contract our sets of key words as we see fit.  AI has been shown to be remarkably dumb in some circumstances if we let it make decisions for us.  In short, I’m still not convinced of its ‘intelligence’, artificial or otherwise.

In the next post, I’ll try and give some examples of what a network from Twitter looks like as a graph, and the kind of useful information we can obtain from it.  I’ll do this using a network I already know (Edu-Twitter) and see of I can construct something similar from the Arts.



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