YouTube is entertaining, but can it be used to promote science?

27 04 2016

In my daily life, I have probably spent too much time watching YouTube videos for fun. But YouTube also helps me in my research work. For example, when I wanted to learn a new statistical method in SPSS, I searched in YouTube and found many teaching materials showing me how to do it with examples. Without YouTube or similar online tools, I probably had to go to my supervisors or colleagues for help. I am glad that more and more academics have supported ‘open science’ and shared research articles, data, methods, tools and teaching materials online with free access. There has been an increasing amount of literature regarding research 2.0 and the use of social media tools such as Twitter, blogs and academic social networking sites in the last few years. However, very little attention has been paid to academics’ use of YouTube and video-sharing services for research purposes.

Established in 2005, YouTube has grown to become the largest and most highly visited online video-sharing service with over 1 billion users, localised in over 70 countries (YouTube 2016). Many academic institutions have adopted YouTube to publish teaching materials, such as lectures and presentation videos (Young 2008). Educational videos on YouTube have been used inside and outside classrooms (Tan and Pearce 2012). As for my own teaching expeirence, I have frequently used YouTube videos in tutorials to help illustrate key points and stimulate discussions, although I have never posted videos on YouTube. YouTube has provided new opportunities for innovative research methods as political scientists could now collect data analysing YouTube videos during a period of certain social movement events.

There are different benefits for active contribution and passive viewing of social media contents. Active distribution of research updates on social media could invite wider participation and timely feedback to improve research work and promote one’s profile. Whilst passive viewers are not free-riders because they provided a valuable service by acting as an audience to help strengthen the rewards that motivate others to participate in more active ways (Antin and Cheshire 2010). YouTube viewers facilitate the viewing record and ranking by voting “like” or “dislike” which could encourage the creators of the videos to improve and produce again (Biel 2009). Additionally, viewers can share and embed the videos on Facebook or their other social media accounts which help publicise the videos to wider audience.

I was interested in knowing whether and to what extent other academics used YouTube videos. For my PhD research, I conducted a survey with UK academics and included the questions about YouTube in the questionnaires. The vast majority of respondents (85%) regarded YouTube videos as “not at all important” or “not very important” as information sources for their research, but almost half of them (48%) reported having watched videos on YouTube in their research work. YouTube videos were proved to be indeed popular for entertainment as 87% of academics reported having watched YouTube videos for leisure purposes. Not surprisingly, only 8% of respondents reported having posted videos on YouTube in their research work and 10% reported having posted videos for leisure purposes. There were notable differences in attitudes and behaviour across academic disciplines and also in terms of academics’ age and experience. Academics in the Humanities and Social Sciences were more likely to watch YouTube in their research work and regard YouTube videos as important as dissemination means than those in the hard sciences. The research impact of Humanities and Social Sciences often requires direct engagement of wider publics to enhance their learning and well-being or to influence policy making which might have motivated individual academic and research centres to start use YouTube for public engagement. The dominant view that the majority of lay public members are not able to understand scientific research outputs can influence academics’ science communication practice (Bucchi 2004). Many Scientists might see it as too difficult to make videos to disseminate research outputs that can be easily understandable to the general public.

I also found that junior and younger academics were more likely to have positive attitudes towards YouTube and more likely to use YouTube for research and for leisure. Age being inversely associated to internet and other new media use is consistent to previous studies. In line to the findings from studies by Shema et al. (2012) and (Procter et al. 2010) that the use of new technology is more easily accepted by men, this study found that men were more likely to post videos on YouTube for leisure than women.

Mobile devices have offered users easy access to watch and share videos. This study found that academic smartphone users were more likely to post videos on YouTube for leisure purposes, but not for research purposes. Educational and research-related videos often require more advanced technology than simple video recording by a smartphone. It would require good technical skills and sufficient time to make good quality videos which could be the obstacles for busy academics. Academics with teaching duties were more likely to share videos in their research work and this could be because they were more comfortable with YouTube and new technology such as podcast having used videos and recording devices in their teaching work. Academics seemed to be influenced by their colleagues’ recommendations to actively create videos on YouTube. This suggests a strong social network influence for a person to adopt new technology. Social media trainings were also important in helping improve academics’ skills and confidence in creating and sharing videos. Institutions would need to develop good training courses if they intend to encourage their staff to be active YouTubers.

The study of YouTube has been written as a paper and will be published as a book chapter as Zhu, Y. (forthcoming) ‘Academics’ active and passive use of YouTube for research and leisure’ in Antonella Esposito (ed.) Research 2.0 and the Impact of Digital Technologies on Scholarly Inquiry. IGI Global.

Antin, J. & Cheshire, C. (2010). Readers are not free-riders: reading as a form of participation on wikipedia. Proceedings of the 2010 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work. ACM.
Biel, J. (2009). Please, subscribe to me! Analysing the structure and dynamics of the YouTube network [Online]. Available: [Accessed 27 April 2016].
Bucchi, M. (2004). Science in Society: An Introduction to Social Studies of Science. London and New York: Routledge.
Procter, R., Williams, R., Stewart, J., Poschen, M., Snee, H., Voss, A. & Asgari-Targhi, M. (2010). Adoption and use of Web 2.0 in scholarly communications. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 368(1926).
Shema, H., Bar-Ilan, J. & Thelwall, M. (2012). Research blogs and the discussion of scholarly information. Plos One, 7(5), e35869.
Tan, E. & Pearce, N. (2012). Open education videos in the classroom: exploring the opportunities and barriers to the use of YouTube in teaching introductory sociology. Research in Learning Technology, 19.
Young, J. R. (2008). YouTube Professors-Scholars as Online Video Stars. Education Digest, 73(9), 14.
YouTube. (2016). Statistics [Online]. Available: [Accessed 12 April 2016].

What early career researchers need to know about open access publishing?

17 06 2015

Oa 80x15 orange

I attended a workshop today about ‘how to get published in academic journals’. The attendees were mostly PhD students. I noticed how little early career researchers know about open access (OA) publishing. There are two types of OA –Gold OA and Green OA.

Gold OA refers to online journal articles which are either totally or to some extent made freely accessible to the public by the publishers. Gold OA can be divided into three categories: Direct OA, Delayed OA and Hybrid OA (Björk et al. 2010). Direct OA refers to journals that are published immediately as open access. Delayed OA journals make articles freely available after a delay of certain embargo period. Hybrid OA gives authors the choice to pay for their articles to be made freely accessible within an otherwise subscription-based journal. Most Gold OA requires author fee which is called Article Processing Charge (APC). Major publishers such as Springer and Elsevier adopted the APC-funded model since 2004 and 2006, respectively. Authors can choose to pay for approximately USD 3,000 to allow their articles to be open access published in an otherwise subscription-based journal.

Green OA refers to the self-archiving of an author’s work. These open access articles are supplied by the authors on a web site that is freely available without publisher mediation. An author may deposit their articles in institutional repositories, subject-based repositories or their own websites.

From April 2013, RCUK’s Open Access policy arranged to pay block grants to universities and other institutions for setting up publication funds for APC if RCUK funded researchers choose to publish in Gold OA journals. However, as many PhD students and early career researchers are not funded by RCUK, Green OA might be the way to go. But which repositories should you choose and which version of articles can you deposit online?

I’ve checked a few journals’ OA policies recently as I was looking into publishing from my PhD work. The SHERPA/RoMEO database is a good place to look into if you are checking for quite a number of journals. The database would tell you whether one specific journal supports Green OA and which version of publication (pre-print, post-print or publisher’s version) you are allowed to self-archive. But they don’t provide very detailed information about whether there is an embargo period. For example, I searched for Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. SHERPA/RoMEO database says that the journal supports self-archiving post-print which is the accepted version after peer review and revision. However, on the journal’s website, it says the self-archiving of accepted version is subject to an embargo period of 24 months for Social Science and Humanities and 12 months for scientific, technical and medical journals.

Another thing is that publishers have various restrictions on repositories. For example, I searched for 3 Information Science journals published by Sage, Wiley and Springer. Sage has no embargo period for the accepted version as long as the articles are deposited in the authors’ institutional repositories or authors’ own websites, but not subject repositories (which is limited to 12 months embargo). Wiley allows authors to self-archive accepted version in their personal websites, institutional repositories or not for profit subject-based repositories after the embargo period. Springer allows self-archiving of accepted version in any repository after 12 months embargo period.

In July 2014, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) introduced an open access policy which applies to research outputs accepted for publication after 1 April 2016 in relation to the research assessments after the 2014 REF. In the workshop today, Meredith Carroll from Manchester University Press mentioned that academics often mistakenly thought that their whole article had to be made Gold or Green OA within 3 months after acceptance by a journal in order to comply with the next REF. As many journals have the embargo restriction of at least 12 months before allowing self-archiving accepted version, academics could have the dilemma of whether to self-archive the pre-print (submitted version before peer review) or break the rules. Meredith said that she called people in the HEFCE and they said that academics are supposed to create a record with title, abstract and journal’s name in their institutional repositories, but not required to upload the full articles.

To conclude, if you are to continue your career in academia, institutional repositories are the best choice for Green OA publishing. Open access repositories, such as and ResearchGate, may have been quite popular with some academics to deposit their paper. However, they are NOT institutional repositories and may not be in the ‘welcome’ list of some publishers for Green OA. It was reported that Elsevier sent thousands of takedown requests to users who self-archived their research articles which were published by Elsevier’s journals (Howard 2013).

It seems that you can’t self-archive the publisher’s version of the article anywhere. For your published articles to be freely accessible online, you must pay the USD 3,000 APC! Oh dear!

Björk, B. C. (2012). The hybrid model for open access publication of scholarly articles: A failed experiment? Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 63(8), 1496-1504.
Howard, J. (2013). Posting your latest article? You might have to take it down The Chronicle of Higher Education, 6 December 2013.

Can early career researchers use social media to benefit their career?

12 06 2015

My PhD journal has come to an end as I submitted the revision of my thesis this week. Exciting! I also published my first peer reviewed journal article last week– Use of blogs, Twitter and Facebook by UK PhD students for scholarly communication at Observatorio (OBS*) Journal.

The journal paper described how participants in my study used social media tools to benefit their research work and build up professional profiles. It also discussed challenges and difficulties they may face. Strategies to maximise their practice were also suggested — to link different social media tools together for cross-platform promotion, to create a personal learning network (PLN), and to build a professional online profile. A blog post with more detailed discussion was written for the Higher Education Development Association, University of Oslo– How PhD students use social media to help their research development.

To reflect on my own PhD journey, social media has certainly helped me getting recognised and getting my work out there. I was approached for presenting at academic workshops and conferences because I blogged about the work I had done on open science and social media. I was also contacted by various journalists, consultants, startup companies and universities in the United States to give comments on Chinese social media because they read my blog posts.

I have met PhD students and early career researchers who told me that they started using Twitter because they met me and what I had told them, and more importantly they found Twitter helpful. I hope more early career researchers can use social media to benefit their research development one way or the other. It might not be for everyone. The time and effort that one needs to invest on using a new media tool can be tremendous and overwhelming. Moreover, it might be more comfortable to hide behind a desk and computer screen than being out there presenting ideas and work that are still at a very early stage. As early career researchers, we need that confidence to believe that our work is good enough to let the world see it. How long will it take to turn our research into a journal paper? It might take a few years. If you could build your professional profile through disseminating research ideas on social media, why not do it?

early career researcher

In a conference paper ‘Seeking and sharing research information on social media: A 2013 survey of scholarly communication’, I talked about academics actively contributing research updates on social media and passively gathering information using new media tools. If you don’t have the confidence or don’t feel like sharing your ideas because of various concerns, you could still use social media to search for and gather useful information. For example, more and more universities and colleges are setting up YouTube channels to distribute educational content, such as lecturers and training sessions. Wikipedia, blogs and other websites has been frequently cited in academic articles. Some academics may feel guilty of only taking and not giving. One respondent from my study commented, ‘Oh dear, I benefit but don’t contribute. Oops.’ However, passive audience are not free-riders because their presence are much needed to motivate contributors to keep writing blogs, keep re-tweeting useful information, keep contributing to wikis and so on. Moreover, audience can give feedback and comments to help contributors improve the quality of their work.

The last important point is that social media can help connect us lone researchers, build up our social capital and improve our sense of belongings. Social media is ‘social’, after all. You can’t have a drink together in the pub if you are in two difference cities or even countries, but you can message each other easily through Twitter, or simply join the conversation of #phdchat and other hashtag communities out there in your area.

So the answer to the title question is that yes, early career researchers can use social media to benefit their career. Researchers at any career stage can adopt Twitter,, Research.Gate, Linked.In, blogs and other tools out there for various reasons and to various degrees in their research work. You may be active participating or passive viewing, as long as you find the time and it benefits you!

Popular UK Universities’ #Weibo Content Analysis

17 07 2014

Here is an article I wrote last year which I looked at popular Weibo accounts of UK universities. It will be interesting to see how these universities are doing and who else are popular now. My university, University of Manchester, didn’t have an official Weibo account to represent the university as a whole, although the Business school has their own Weibo account. Recently, the Career Service also started a Weibo account, but it’s in English. I hope to do some more research on this topic and welcome for collaboration proposal!

Tagcloud CW RM en

Popular UK Universities’ Weibo Content Analysis
By Yimei Zhu 17 Feb 2013

Ranked by the amount of followers, the top 6 UK universities’ Sina Weibo (the most popular Chinese microblogging site) accounts were analysed. I looked at the contents on each university’s home page. The top 6 universities are Huddersfield, University of Central Lancashire, Kingston, Sheffield, Westminster and Bristol. I compared their followers and posts numbers with those in August when I first collected the data. Sheffield’s followers increased the fastest by 2300 from 6333 (at August 2012) to 8932 (at 17 Feb 2013). Their posts also increased from 1263 (at August 2012) to 2000 (at 17 Feb 2013). Westminster’s posts increased the fastest by 3300 from 535 to 3830 compared with August 2012, although their followers only increased by 820 from 6097 to 6918. This is probably because many of their posts are repeated ones and their posts are more about releasing news rather than interacting with students.

In general, common characteristics of these 6 popular universities’ Weibo sites are—have a nice design profile, verified account, news release about the universities, pictures of university logo, buildings, students, events in the universities and in the cities and famous researchers or aluminise of the universities. Most of them post information about their courses, the ranking of their universities by other authorities and many with a web link to the original articles, interview opportunities for students by university representatives who are going to visit China, job and internship opportunities.

A few of them have a video posted at the top of their home page. Huddersfield posted an introduction of their new innovation centre. The best one is by Kingston Uni which includes the introduction of the campus and students activities with interviews of Chinese students telling about their lives in Kingston. See Huddersfield and Westminster mostly post original source. The others reply and repost more often. It is common to include a web link in a post when disseminating information. Most of them use mainly Chinese language and occasionally English. Most of them repost and reply to related information posted by agencies and other organisation, such as study abroad information, alumni activities in China, graduation pictures, fire alarm situation in campus and all kinds of pictures of students.
As I follow all these 6 universities with my own weibo account, my impression is that Sheffield, Bristol and Westminster are the most active ones in the last few months from whom I’ve received many tweets on a daily base. Sheffield, which gained 2300 followers in 6 months, seem to be actively interact with students and keep it down-to-earth. They have many posts and reposts showing activities in campus and students lives, such as speed-dating event. For example, on the home page of Sheffield, it shows pictures of Sheffield in snow, university logo, students eating dinner together in university halls, building in campus (see the first 2 pictures below). The 3rd picture shows the comments and replies of a post of job consultation fair. When students asked for location and whether registration is needed, the microblogger replied in detail. It gave the sense to other student readers that Sheffield Weibo owner care about them and would communicate with them if they try. Another strategy is to ask question to their fans. For example, they posted a picture and asked ‘who knows where this is?’ (See the last picture) Many students replied. It fostered interaction—not only Sheffield official account interacting with fans, but also fans interacting with each other as they see there is a relaxing down-to-earth environment when people talk freely.

Bristol’s fans also increased fast by 800 in 6 months as they actively interact with students. For example, they congratulated a particular student’s graduation by replying to her post.
Another feature is the message board which Kingston, Bristol and Sheffield have on their profile. Kingston and Bristol have the message board at the end of their home profile, While on Sheffield’s home profile, you have to click on ‘message board’ on the left side to enter the page. On Bristol’s page, they commented on almost every message, thus they have got a lot of questions from students on the message board. Kinston only got 3 messages.

In conclusion, based on my observation of these popular universities’ weibo sites, good contents to post are pictures of campus buildings, student activities, events, researchers of the universities, webpage of relevant news, food on campus. It may be necessary to post news-release type of contents like the official University Twitter account. But those contents shouldn’t be too much, as it will create distance for followers when those contents are not relevant to Chinese students, especially the potential students. Videos of student activities and views of city are good ideas. It needs to be fun and engaging as some videos such as introducing the building can be quite dull and boring. The language should be mainly Chinese and occasionally English. The most important contents are reposts and replies to students, organisation, agencies and other useful sources. This can be done by following those key accounts (popular Chinese news paper, personnel, alumini, CSSA and a list of existing students and staff whose location on Weibo is set as this university) as well as searching key terms on weibo to find useful and interesting information to repost.

Presentation slides for #ECSM2014 Seeking and sharing resesarch information on #Socialmedia

10 07 2014

I’m finally in beautiful Brighton atteding the Europen Conference on Social Media 10-11 July 2014. Here is the presentation slides.

Presentation slides for newcastle #oer14 conference ‘Building communities of open practice’ Newcastle 28-29 April 2014

29 04 2014

Here is a presentation at Open Educational Resources 2014 conference at Newcastle 28-29 April 2014. I welcome comments!

Seeking and sharing research information on #socialmedia: #ECSM2014 conference abstract

25 04 2014

I’m going to Brighton in July for the European Conference on Social Media ECSM 2014. I wrote a paper discussing a small part of the survey I conducted in 2013. The full paper should be published with the conference proceeding. Here is the accepted abstract.

Brighton Pier, England - Feb 2009

Introduction: For academics, the methods of seeking information and sharing research work have been broadened dramatically since the development of internet and Web 2.0. Apart from online journals, academics may gather research information from various online services, such as wikis and Twitter. Social media tools have also provided novel distribution channels for research outputs. Rather than waiting for the long process of publishing in peer-reviewed journals, academics may share ongoing research on research blogs and other social media platforms.

Methods: An internet survey was conducted with 1829 researchers from 12 Russell Group universities. Comparing to the data sourced from the HESA, our sample of UK academics was broadly representative of the UK academic population as defined by our primary demographic variables of gender, discipline area and age.

Findings: The vast majority of respondents never used Twitter (84%), blogs (84%) or social networking sites (81%) to publish ongoing research updates or contributed to public wikis (84%). In total 30% of respondents had experience in sharing ongoing research updates on social media to some extent. Only 16% of respondents reported having used Twitter and 20% reported having used social networking sites to gather research information. However, 60% of respondents reported having read research blogs and 77% reported having read public wikis. Compared to the findings of a similar study, the percentage of academics who reported using Twitter in their research work increased from 10% in 2009 to 21% in 2013.

• Respondents in Social Sciences and Humanities were more likely to gather research information as well as post ongoing research updates online than those in Sciences disciplines. However, respondents in Natural Sciences were more likely to read a public wiki as well as contribute to a public wiki in their research work than those in Medical Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities.
• Older respondents were more likely to be non-adopters of social media services for both seeking and sharing research information.
• Women seemed to be slightly more likely to adopt Twitter to post ongoing research updates and the gender difference was only significant for junior researchers and respondents in Natural Sciences disciplines.
• Men appeared to be more likely to contribute to a public wiki in their research work and this gender difference was only significant for early to mid career researchers and respondents in Medical Sciences, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences.

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