Researching professional learning in context

By Eric Addae-Kyeremeh

One of my passions as an educator and leader is to ‘develop others’ and to see people make progress, personally and professionally. Doing this requires building relationships with people and understanding their professional histories as well as their aspirations. Throughout my work, I pay particular attention to the personal- what people want to know; behavioural- what choices people can make about what they want to know; and environmental/contextual factors that facilitate and/or constrain the choices people want to make. These three ingredients for me shape self-development to a large extent in many situations. In this blog post, I reflect on a study I carried out that explored the learning and development of a group of headteachers.

In recent years, headteacher professional knowledge, collaboration and community have become valued elements of professional development due to new evidence on leadership learning and development, and the potential for networking to support this (McCormick, Fox, Carmichael and Proctor, 2010). This speaks well to the Ghanaian Akan Adinkra sign – Ti koro nkɔ agyina meaning, two heads are better than one, therefore connecting to others to seek wise council is highly promoted in Ghanaian communities.

Ghanaian Adinkra symbol – Ti koro nkɔ agyina (English translation: Two heads are better than one)

So, when I set out to study the learning and development practices of 17 headteachers’ for my doctorate, four issues sufficed (i) the types of information and advice headteachers valued most in dispensing their professional duties, (ii) who they go to for wise council for these types of information and advice, (iii) the ‘network’ locations of each of these 17 headteachers within the group and how that impacts on their capacity to mobilise network resources (i.e. information and professional advice) and (iv) their capacity to make informed decisions based on their experience and the collective knowledge of their peers. To address these issues, I needed a methodology and method(s) that offered the opportunity to capture the personal experiences (narratives) and capacity to mobilise what they value as useful information and advice for the professional development (social network structure and measures). This required combining some form of ethnography with social network analysis in a sequential mixed method approach I’ve described as SNA with ethnographic sensibility (Addae-Kyeremeh, 2020). Three types of instruments were used – interviews, observation, and questionnaire.

  But, I agree, this can be a contested approach to learning and development because of concerns about the system being inward looking and  that it risks stifling innovation. Nonetheless, the headteachers were very critical about over reliance on ‘external experts’ unaware of the school context to deliver trainings and workshops and were more open to peer-to-peer learning and sharing. There is also the danger of situations where close associations promote ‘group think’ and therefore empower headteachers to resist external influence (e.g. government policy initiatives), an element of the ‘dark side’ of collaboration in networks.

So, the question I leave with you is what other methodological approach(es) you would have considered in capturing the headteacher learning experiences as well as exploring how they connect and learn from each other? Leave your comments or send me your thoughts –

NB: A fuller discussion of SNA with ethnographic sensibility will be discussed in my next blog post right here so do come back and visit us.

Eric Addae-Kyeremeh is a senior lecturer in educational leadership and management with over 20 years professional experience that involves teaching, training, research, knowledge exchange, and a number of public engagement activities. His research interests are broadly in headteacher/teacher professional learning across cultures and contexts.

Browse Eric Addae-Kyeremeh’s research on Open Research Online.

Twitter: @addaekyeremeh

Taking social media seriously

A few years ago I submitted a paper to a peer reviewed journal in which I quoted a tweet. Written by Dylan William the tweet summarised what I thought an erroneous view of schools and their connection to their communities. The tweet included a hyperlink to a research paper which I read with interest and which did not quite substantiate the comment William (2012) had made. It did however substantiate the argument I put forward in my research paper, namely that educational achievement is not the result of pedagogic prowess or effective implementation of government policy but is linked broadly to wider socio-cultural experiences of race, gender and class. The argument pivoted around whether or not Bernstein (1970) was right about schools being unable to compensate for society.

The reviewers were polite and probably open to persuasion. But they were also uncomfortable with the reference. Despite it being a quote by a UCL professor accompanied by a peer reviewed paper and entirely consistent with the argument with which my submission was engaged, they felt the tweet trivialised the issue.  This was a few years ago, a different time perhaps when Twitter was dismissed as the place where people went to talk about their lunch. Twitter’s been through several iterations since then. In light of our recent pandemic experience, I wonder what twitter and other social media platforms mean in this moment.

For the next few years any student who participates in a viva will be asked a question about the impact of the pandemic on their research. Traditional – that is face-to-face – methods of data collection are no longer an option and won’t be for the foreseeable future. This is an abrupt turn. The most grounded academic hermit will be unable to escape the digital. Who amongst us visits a library archive (in preference to Google scholar)? Who makes shorthand notes using pen and paper when interviewing (in preference to a voice recorder on our mobile phone)? Does anyone write anything unless it’s on a keyboard? What University could survive without email? Going online is no longer an event. It is merely an extension of embodied ways of being.

Netnography, virtual ethnography and digital anthropology, phrases coined some years ago, will by the end of the pandemic, have lost their currency. There are few, if any, research methods and methodologies planned for our face-to-face world that can’t transfer with relative ease to our online world. The two worlds are thoroughly interpenetrated. Our shifts between them seamless. What the pandemic requires is the reshaping of our research practice to fully recognise the online lives research participants lead.  Digital dualism must finally be declared the relic it has been for some time.  Our social life is online.

The challenge for academics is a creative one: can methods and methodologies conceptualised for the old analogue world of in touching distance, face-to-face communication translate without significant loss of meaningful ethnographic detail to our digital world?

Dr Carol Azumah Dennis is Programme Leader for the Doctorate in Education. She has worked in Higher Education for 10 years following a career in Further Education. Azumah has published research about social media in which she conceptualises blogs as prefigurative spaces for dissenting professionals. She is currently working on a project exploring professional and academic knowledge landscapes.


Impact of sustainability thinking on research and practice in education

This research conversation explores the impact of sustainability as a global driver in education on two practitioner researchers’ practice and how our current studies have impacted and informed our thinking about sustainability in education. Our areas of research and practice apply to Physical Education (PE) and Music curricula. Sustainability in education was introduced during our studies on the Open Learn badged course Looking globally: the future of education and EE830 Educating the next generation module on the Learning and Teaching pathway of the OU MA/MEd degree. Reflexive thinking by blogging is encouraged and developed throughout the module. This collectively crafted blog post builds on individual blog posts offering more detail about the development of our thinking (see links below).


The vision: Education for sustainable development (ESD) looks to equip learners with the skills and competencies required to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Alongside environmental issues, ESD seeks to address matters such as social justice and human rights issues, as reflected in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, to bring about a sustainable future for all.

Through exploring writers such as Heppell (2020), Wade (2020) and Warwick (2016), thoughts on how ESD can be incorporated into school curricula and ethos were developed (UNESCO, 2017i). Prior to the course, students like ourselves were considering sustainable issues as an area to be introduced into schools through eco-councils, recycling projects and outdoor learning activities. Studying ESD has transformed our view into seeing the necessity of placing aspects of ESD into curriculum, pedagogy and assessment to positively impact on communities in the way needed to bring about a sustainable future (UNESCO, 2017ii). The effectiveness placing ESD at the heart of education to meet the outcomes of the UN Sustainable Development Goals can already be seen in the Canadian provinces (CMEC, 2012).

In practice: Examples of the integration of sustainability issues into arts curricula have begun to appear over recent years but music education is lagging behind in this area (Østergaard, 2019). An example of exploration into music’s potential to contribute in this area can be seen in Jonathan’s blog post Integrating Education for Sustainable Development into Music Education. There are clear parallels between the teaching, learning and assessment styles common in good music teaching to those seen suitable in ESD. Music is ideally placed to support community links (locally and globally) and the development of key skills such as creativity, teamwork and communication.

ESD has a strong presence in the Australian and Canadian PE curricula, however a lack of diversity within the PE curriculum in England is holding ESD back. James’ blog post Implementing Education for Sustainable Development in Physical Education in England explores this issue.

Have you come across other examples of ESD being integrated into the PE or arts curricula in the UK or further afield? If so, the authors would love to hear about them.

Jonathan Harris                                                                             James Mansell

@hjonathan83                                                                              @JMA_PE

Jonathan and James are students on the EE830 Educating the next generation module of the OU Masters in Education course.  


Telling a research story

When I was part way through my doctoral thesis, I wrote a blog post (which, by the way, is a good procrastination technique when the literature review proves tricky). I’d been inspired by Howard Goodall’s exhortation to ‘make the story from the data’ and committed myself to writing a thesis that told a compelling story.

The writing group on which my thesis focused (and in which I was an active participant) gradually revealed the powerful effect of one small group of academics making time together to write and the compelling story was there for the taking. We, its characters told our individual tales of shifting academic identities, we acknowledged the complex emotions that accompanied our writing efforts and we lamented the institutional challenges that often seemed to hamper our progress. And as these tales unfolded, so they intertwined and we began, together, to recognise the significance of the group in our writing lives.

The group had an important story to tell, but at the point of analysis, the volume of data was not insignificant. Creative tasks generated images, poetry, short narratives. Recorded conversations were transcribed. Our writing goals and reflections on progress were captured on planning sheets. We exchanged emails between sessions. My field notes incorporated ‘interpretive asides’. But these data also presented a more significant problem: how to faithfully tell the story in the final thesis.

I began a fairly standard thematic analysis with the data from the first two writing group sessions. I highlighted transcript excerpts, assigned initial codes and grouped these into possible themes. It felt like a straight, logical path leading safely to a standard findings and analysis chapter. But then I paused to acknowledge a growing unease: the process was stripping the data of its context. Somewhere in the midst of these disparate chunks of disconnected text, I had lost the voices of the participants that were crucial in understanding the group’s significance.

And so, perhaps rather late in the day (and as my supervisors calmly held their nerve), I returned to the data and started afresh, embarking on a narrative analysis that preserved interactions in their entirety, rather than in fragments. These were interspersed with other types of data, simultaneously weaving together the story of the writing group and exploring its significance. It felt more authentic as I ‘made the story’ and preserved the integrity of the data. Chapter 4 of my thesis told the individual stories of three of the writing group participants, followed by a fourth story of the group as whole.  There are those, my examiners amongst them, who preferred the more conventional ‘discussion’ chapter that followed, but Chapter 4 remains the one of which I am most proud.

The doctorate is in the bag at last. But the data analysis experience raised a question I’m still reflecting on: what’s the right balance between reporting our research findings and telling a compelling story for our readers?

Claire Saunders is a Staff Tutor and director of Praxis, the Centre for Scholarship and Innovation in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies at The Open University. Her doctoral thesis was entitled, ‘Building a community of learners in a university: An ethnographic study’ and investigated the role of a writing group in developing the academic writing practices of lecturers in a teaching-led university. Her ongoing research interests relate to the academic writing practices of both lecturers and students.

Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

Rapid Research Response: collective sensemaking around experiences and challenges of harnessing education research opportunities during a global pandemic

As the world undergoes unprecedented transformation, international development projects in low-income countries have been confronted by the challenge of swiftly adjusting to remote delivery. The initial assumption was that this change would be short term; however, the ongoing pandemic has shone a light on the challenges faced in delivering education projects in contexts with limited connectivity and access to smart devices.  Many of the academic teams leading these projects are also researchers and this leads to the additional challenge of harnessing research opportunities during a time of change and uncertainty. This blog draws together some key learnings from four blogs published by CREET colleagues at the OU.

The Zambian Education and School Training project (ZEST) quickly took advantage of the WhatsApp platform, and the ease with which re-purposed learning materials could be shared in a PDF format. Kris Stuchbury reflects on the project’s initial reaction to lockdown focused on logistics and project delivery, discussions quickly switched to how successful the use of WhatsApp had turned out to be.  This presented an opportunity for knowledge exchange across the OU and Zambian project teams through a process of collective sensemaking, captured through reported enhanced technical skills and improved levels of communication.

Concurrently, the Supporting Adolescent Girls’ Education project (SAGE) in Zimbabwe was discovering similar learning around the affordability of alternative learning platforms.  As community learning hubs closed, many girls returned to the isolation and barriers that have prevented them from accessing learning throughout their lives. While the long-term effects of these disruptions are difficult to estimate, clearly, the impact of the pandemic will affect boys and girls in different ways.  Margaret Ebubedike argues in her blog that the impact of the pandemic on girls lives’ in low income countries will be longer lasting and challenges governments to do more to avoid any more missed opportunities for girls to access learning.  To counteract this, the SAGE project implemented a series of synchronous WhatsApp community educator training to continue engaging with girls, albeit at a distance.  In their blog, Clare Woodward, Steve Harrison and Clare Tope talk about this as a ‘just in time’ initiative and the wealth of opportunity this approach offers to other currently restricted environments.  However, they also argue the importance of documenting this experience as they move towards harnessing the power of text-based synchronous WhatsApp focus groups as a reflective tool for research.

These co-creative and collaborative approaches for research are vital for greater sustainability and improved understanding.   In their blog, Alison Buckler and colleagues recognise the need for these types of long-term drivers in the creation of transformative change in the delivery of our international projects.  We posit that the strength and sustainability of our work depends on informal cross-project learnings that capture emerging changes so research opportunities are not lost.  Therefore, we pose two questions:

  • How have you negotiated the shift between informal research opportunities and project delivery?
  • How can we generate robust research data that builds on the informal learning opportunities that present themselves in the midst of our everyday work?

Margaret Ebubedike is a Post Doctoral Research Associate (Int Education) Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies. Her research currently draws on the use of creative approaches to explore the educational needs across all levels in low-income contexts, including in girls’ education in protracted crises.



Liz Chamberlain is a Senior Lecturer in Education at The Open University in the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies.  She is Academic Director for the Leave No Girl Behind project, Supporting Adolescent Girls’ Education (SAGE), in partnership with the NGO, Plan International, working with out-of-school and never-been-to school girls in Zimbabwe.


‘That girl, she hear what we talk’: provisional and ongoing consent in research with 4-5 year old children

Sarah Jane Mukherjee, Research Associate, The Centre for Literacy and Social Justice, The Open University

Rich insights into learning opportunities in playful classroom contexts can be sought through research into children’s peer to peer language.  To do this, the language must be captured through recordings before a researcher is able to hold a magnifying glass to linguistic playful interactions, yet ethical dilemmas around children’s consent overshadow the ease in which an audio or video recording can be made.  How can a researcher be confident to capture young children’s consent? Flewitt suggests provisional consent, to acknowledge that the implications of research are unlikely to be fully understood by young children, and ongoing consent as ‘negotiated in situated contexts on a minute by minute basis’. Here, I reflect on ways in which I addressed the research challenge of consent in my naturalistic study of children’s learning in classroom role-play with small groups of 4-5-year-old children.

Empower the children to refuse to participate.  For children, withdrawing from a study should be as easy as agreeing to participate.  I wanted the children to be able to say to me that they had changed their minds. The time before the study started was important in this; I wanted to build a relationship with the children.  Recognising that an adult I may be perceived as a teacher I introduced myself by my first name – in contrast to the teachers who were all addressed traditionally e.g. Mrs Cook – to reduce the formality of my presence.  In addition, I spent time in the classroom reading, playing and chatting with them with the aim that the children would feel comfortable to refuse to take part in the study should they wish.

Make the research process visible.  Ahead of each recording, I reminded the children about the research and was sensitive to cues that might suggest they were uncomfortable participating.   I positioned the two video cameras deliberately visible for the children, and I asked them to turn on the recorders and place the audio recorder in the space. Although it might be thought that this could draw too much attention to the recorders, and that this might mean that the playful language I sought to capture, would be eclipsed by the children playing for the camera, the recorders were not intrusive in this way. The recordings showed that largely the presence of the equipment did not influence the spontaneity and naturalness of their play language.  However, importantly the equipment was not completely forgotten and thus the research process remained visible.  For instance, on occasion, the children would look though the viewer to see their peers ‘I can see you’; reference the recorders and research ‘there’s one there…she has recorded our voices’. For me these quotes provided some evidence that the children’s provisional and ongoing consent had been achieved.

What steps do you take in your data collection to support your child participants’ provisional and ongoing consent?

Sarah Jane Mukherjee joined the OU in May 2020 and is a Research Associate in the new Centre for Literacy and Social Justice. Her PhD explored children’s meaning making in classroom role-play using systemic functional linguistics.  She is currently Co-I on a project exploring children’s picture fiction.


‘No!!!!!!!’ – Dealing with rejection

Jonathan Rix is the Professor of Participation & Learning Support at the Open University.

Rejection is at the heart of being a researcher. Most of us have accepted that the impact of our words and our work will be niche. But that does not stop us from dreaming dreams or from needing a bit of hope in our working lives. Submitting papers and applications is a key source of this hope.

Some personal pain

The nature of rejection can be wide and varied. Here are three of my personal favourites:

  • a major educational journal not sending a paper out for review because they felt an international study on Special Educational pedagogy did not fit their brief
  • being rejected on the basis of things in the first draft, not the resubmission
  • an editor agreeing with our reasons for not making a particular change but rejecting the paper on the basis of not making that change, because their policy was to follow reviewer recommendations.

(Shattered) Hopes and dreams

Some funders have a two-stage rejection process. You try not to get your hopes up for the first stage, but find they surge when you get through to the second stage – much as they do when you resubmit a second draft with major rewrites. Consequently, your hopes have even further to come crashing down when they finally say ‘no’. Perhaps worse still, is applying or submitting to those funders/journals that you think love you already, because they have funded or published you previously. You can’t help but feel confident. This rejection feels like a personal betrayal.

In stark contrast are those moments of unsolicited joy, when offers come out of the blue. These are rare but magical. Once, I was rejected by a major funder having received their highest review scores. We despaired of the world. But three months later (having got over the pain) we got a barely-believable email to say funding had now been approved. How fantastic is that…. but what sort of precedent has it set for my hopes and dreams? When can I put my hopes to bed and dream new dreams?

Getting back up again

Our response to rejection is a key part of our academic identity. I tend to spend a short period of time being very rude about the reviewers/editors/funders. This brings some sense of catharsis. I remind myself why they are wrong and what fine work it is. Then, feeling a bit better about myself, I copy and paste any feedback into the article/submission and get on with reworking it. Annoyingly, almost invariably, the subsequent document is much improved.

This determination to dust ourselves down and get back up again, to re-engage with hope, is a key strength in building a successful research profile. This is why a few years ago having been rejected by a major US journal, I received an acceptance email from an even higher ranked US journal (after four resubmissions) with a note from the editor telling me they were surprised I managed it.

The great thing about rejection is getting over it.

How else do you show them you were right all along?

Jonathan Rix is the Professor of Participation & Learning Support at the Open University. His research interests focus upon: policies, practices and language that facilitate inclusion within the mainstream; capturing diverse perspectives; and developing models to facilitate our thinking about the form and function of education.


The intranslatability of linguistics?

Johannes Angermuller is a Professor of Discourse, Languages and Applied Linguistics at the Open University.

While linguists study languages, they have given little attention to the fact that linguistics itself comes in a language. One counts around 6000 languages worldwide and when linguists communicate their ideas, they have recourse to exactly one of them. The choice of language is never neutral as any given language constrains what linguists can and cannot say and who can or cannot react.

Linguistics is no exception as linguists typically study language through the lens of one language. And I regret that in English we cannot build on the neat distinction between langage (French) or lenguaje (Spanish) as the human capacity of producing meaningful utterances and langue(s) (French) or lengua(s) (Spanish) as a particular system of choices and constraints.

Words have connotations which structure the way we think about objects. While German Sprache is more or less coterminous with “language” in English, it conveys a sense of speaking activity (as it derives from sprechen, speak) whereas “language” (just as “linguistics”) comes from French langage and Latin lingua (tongue), which like Greek γλῶσσα (glossa) and Russian язык (iazyk) evokes the speaking organ, the tongue. The Latin, Greek and Slavic words, therefore, present language as something that you use whereas Germanic words suggest language is something you do. Is it just a coincidence then that the founder of German-language linguistics Wilhelm von Humboldt conceived of language as energeia whereas language-in-use traditions dominate in the Anglophone world?

Yet the problem of rendering basic linguistic terms across languages goes deeper and many concepts are tricky because certain distinctions cannot be made. An example I have treated in more depth is the area which has been known as “speech act theory” in English since Austin’s seminal work. While English mobilises a mix of words with Latin and Germanic roots, Romance languages such as French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese can draw on the many variations with a single Latin root, enunti-, which, among specialists of linguistics, goes well beyond the standard translations of “articulate” or “declare” since it covers all aspects of human communication (see my work on French enunciative pragmatics, Johannes Angermuller, ‘Poststructuralist Discourse Analysis. Subjectivity in Enunciative Pragmatics’ (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014). If a speech act is defined as the enactment of an utterance by a speaker in a context, the Latin enunti- root can be used to express all aspects of this definition. Therefore, it would not be inconceivable to define a speech act in Romance languages as “an enunciation that is enunciated by an enunciator enunciating an enunciate in a context of enunciation”. What generates gibberish in English is in fact a powerful apparatus of terminological possibilities available to speakers of Romance languages.

Even though my Poststructuralism Discourse Analysis is now available in French, German and Portuguese, I have become ever more sceptical as to the success of my project. Language resists translation, and especially it seems the concepts and terminologies that linguists like to use. Yet monolingualism is a problem, especially for a discipline like linguistics: it is built on hierarchies, creates borders and streamlines the human mind. Perhaps as linguists we should consider speaking and writing in and across languages?

Johannes Angermuller has been Professor of Discourse, Languages and Applied Linguistics at Open University since 2019. He holds a binational doctorate in linguistic discourse analysis (University of East Paris, France) and sociology (University of Magdeburg, Germany)



Ethical challenges in researching children’s experiences of the Covid-19 crisis: some reflections

Lucy Rodriguez Leon is a lecturer in Early Childhood at the Open University

 At time of writing, we’re several months into the Covid-19 crisis and the ‘second wave’ is gathering speed; on a personal level, the longevity of the situation is beginning to sink in.  Children’s worlds continue to be disrupted in ways we could not have imagined at the beginning of the year.

In the past, young people’s accounts of significant world events have offered unique insights that will never be found in history books or political rhetoric, such as the Diaries of Anne Frank. However, today children and young people have a range of media platforms that operate on a spectrum of private to public. I often wonder what Anne would have written had she known her paper diaries would be published for a global audience of millions, or had she had access to instant messaging or a blog.

ISBN-13: 978-0241952436 (Penguin)

Over the last few months many researchers have developed some creative approaches to capture and record children’s subjective realities of the pandemic as they emerge.  My inbox and social media feeds have received a steady stream of information about covid-19 response projects. These include academic research into a range of educational and social issues using various methodologies. Community facing projects have aimed to collate children’s diary entries (consensually) to eventually publish an anthology as a record of this historic event. Other projects have consulted with children on how  particular Covid issues affect them. Yet, I am still grappling with how this research can be genuinely participatory and  authentically capture children’s perspectives on the issues that actually matter to them. Moreover, how can we do this ethically?

These projects face all the ethical challenges of any research with children; access, gatekeepers, fully informed consent, protection from exploitation or harm and accessible methods, for example. Some projects address these ethical and safeguarding challenges through insisting on parental involvement and mediation. Yet, arguably, participatory research requires trusting relationships to be forged and nurtured between researchers and participants, it requires dialogue, time for reflection, co-construction of ideas and thinking, collaboration – it is a process built on social interaction and connection, at a time that we are practicing social distancing. Of course, the affordances of digital technology have, to some extent, overcome the social distancing challenges.

However, the most concerning ethical dilemma, in my view, is researchers’ ability to respond to the issues that young participants might raise. In some respects, there has been great camaraderie and community positivity during the pandemic (think ‘Captain Tom’, rainbows and the ‘Clap for Carers’), but equally there are reports of children feeling isolated or going hungry, there have been escalations of domestic violence and unprecedented job losses, all taking their toll on children’s wellbeing. Furthermore, the nature of a global pandemic means that too many of our young citizens are living through bereavement.

There is undoubtedly a rich opportunity to capture children and young peoples’ perspectives of the pandemic, yet I’m curious about how researchers are honouring their ethical responsibilities. Firstly, how can we ensure that research offers a supportive space for participants to explore, discuss, express, connect and make sense of the ongoing and evolving situation. Secondly, in what ways will all children’s voices be authentically represented in research or in any resultant anthologies, particularly if parent or teacher mediated? Is there a danger that some voices are being heard, whilst others are being marginalised?

Dr Lucy Rodriguez Leon is a Lecturer in Early Childhood at the Open University and co-convenor of the UKLA Early Years Special Interest Group


Academic Twitter for Digital Introverts

Natalia Kucirkova is Professor of Reading and Children’s Development at the Open University

During the lockdown, increased online communication made it clear that social media are a key place to stay in touch with the world around us. With their persuasive marketing techniques, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter’s algorithms are designed for exponential growth and not for deep conversations. They are designed for amplifying content that is typically the most controversial, latest or shocking news. And yet, social media are also the place where professionals share useful resources and academics exchange latest research papers. For millions of users, social media are the place where they begin and end their daily interactions. So, whether you hate them or love them, you probably realize that you should be part of at least one social media platform. But what if you are one of the digital introverts whose heartbeat goes up even by receiving a group email? What if you prefer alone time rather than the mega social conversation?

If you are completely new to this, there are many guides and resources for how to set up a social media account, what content to share or how to interact as a digital scholar. The Digitally Agile Researcher book is one such resource. Oliver Quinlan and I co-edited it in 2016 at a time when tweeting and blogging academics were an exception rather than the rule. It is fascinating that the trend flipped within the space of a few years. It seems to be common knowledge now that as researchers and scholars, we serve the public interest and this includes participating on social media. But even though there are more researchers sharing their studies with thousands of followers, there are still many researchers who find social media engagement hard. It’s not for a lack of knowing how or why it is good to tweet.

It might be because they are introverts. They find the noise and pace of information exchange overwhelming and they prefer quiet places, where they can browse anonymously. I am one such digital introvert. Personally, I prefer to like and re-tweet rather than write my own posts. I like writing blogs because I can write them slowly and quietly and pace myself when and how I respond to the readers’ comments. A blog also gives me something to tweet about. I do not share my private or personal thoughts on Twitter (I have another account for that), but I like it when other academics do that. There is no clear right or wrong here. I am sharing this to encourage the digital introverts among you to embrace your unique interaction style as a strength. Social media are new spaces that we need to develop the etiquette for. That’s why it’s good for all of us to be part of the conversation. Perhaps we could start a social media guide for academic introverts?

Natalia Kucirkova is Professor in Reading and Children’s Development who joined the Open University in July 2020. Her PhD focused on supporting children’s story-making with digital and personalized technologies.  Currently, Natalia is working on a project that examines the ways in which personalized books might support children’s empathy towards other children.