A possible day in the life of a junior researcher using "Researchr": A future scenario
After walking, feeding and watering the dog, I grab my laptop bag and head out the door to my local Starbucks. My tall black Italian Roast coffee in hand, I open up my laptop and connect to Internet using Starbucks' free "wireless for everybody" service. With some bemusement, I recall how Starbucks used to be one of the only places I could go to work, but now with improved wireless transmission, it is possible to access the Internet nearly everywhere, even in Toronto's subway system.
I check my inbox. Twelve new emails. Not too bad. I quickly scan them - only seven are related to my academic work. Four are notices that a bill has been paid or a service has been renewed. I have all my bills set up to be paid automatically – bookkeeping has never been my strong suit. One is a personal email from my friend Rob, reminding me to finish the drawing I promised him for his wife's fiftieth birthday scrapbook. I'll do that tonight in front of a Ted Talk or something. Researchr, the academic workflow program I use for nearly all my research tasks, will recommend a video that will be current and relevant to my work.
The academic emails take a little more time to process. Three are related to a workshop I attended yesterday. The workshop facilitator has posted some photos from the workshop on her blog. She wants us to stay in touch and continue to comment on the research ideas that we presented at the workshop, through her blog. I click on the link in the email, and a dialogue box from Researchr asks me if I want to add it to the list of blogs I am following. I reply, "Yes." Whenever something new is posted, the facilitator's blog will go to the top of the list. I have all of the blogs I follow organized this way. Blogs most closely related to my research interests appear higher on the list, as do blogs that I visit the most often. The last email is a link to a paper that one of my collaborators thinks is relevant to our research. I click on the link. I am prompted by Researchr to indicate whether or not I want this link added to my project workflow space. I select the project we are working on, ironically "The Future of the Academic PDF", and the link is connected to the project.
Next, I check my Twitter feed using my web browser. There are links to a couple of items of interest. One of the links is to an article in Wired magazine that looks promising. As I skim the article I see that it is related to the research I am doing about using social media tools for learning. There is an icon for Researchr in my web browser which allows me to select the project space I want to connect the web page to, in this case Social Media Enhanced Learning. The other link of interest is to a YouTube video on using Web 3.0 tools in the classroom. This is an item of general interest, and not related to a specific research area. I click the Researchr icon again, and this time select a project workspace I call "Cool Stuff." Researchr allows me to schedule in breaks, so if I set a minibreak for one hour from now, a prompt will suggest that I watch an item from the "Cool Stuff" workspace. Researchr will only play approximately five minutes of the video at a time, fading off at a natural break in the video. During my next break, if I choose to continue watching the video, the video will resume from 30 seconds before it ended the previous time.
With my email and social media tasks complete, I launch Researchr. It prompts me to log in, and I provide my academic account name and password, provided to me by the university. I will be able to access all the journals, proceedings and online books that I am interested in. Articles that I have indicated I want to add to the program will be automatically downloaded to the appropriate project workspace.
The Researchr interface is uncluttered and clean. I select the "Tasks" icon and a list of about 15 projects drops down. Three are active, as indicated by their bold text.They are also organized by urgency, so the project with closest deadline appears at the top of the list. I choose the item at the top of the list, "The Future of the Academic PDF" and a window opens up that covers half of the desktop. I am able to "scrub" through all of the research papers, website pages, digital sticky notes, and mindmaps that are related to the project. This gives me a visually rich overview of the work that has been done on the project so far. I select the "Documents" view; only PDF files and Word documents are visible. I want to read the paper that my colleague sent me this morning. I select the "Most Recent" view and the paper has already been downloaded and is ready to read.
This PDF has already been opened by my colleague, and his version of Researchr inserted the correct metadata into the metadata-field of the PDF, so my program automatically recognizes the correct citation, and it will now show up when I browse by author, journal, title, etc. But I also have a number of PDFs that a colleague handed me on a USB stick. These have typically useless names, such as "301434.pdf. I import them all to Researchr. It does a two-step fingerprint matching with its online service - first comparing the checksum of the file, to see if anyone else have tagged that exact file before, and if that doesn't work, it creates a checksum of the text contents (similar to Turnitin.com). It successfully identifies four of the files, downloading the citation data and shared annotations. Two files are not recognized. It does its best extracting information from the PDF, and suggests two hits from Google Scholar that look similar. I correct it, and click "OK". Now, the metadata has been written to the PDF (so if I e-mail it to anyone, it will automatically be imported when opened in Researchr or another program), and the fingerprints have been uploaded to the central server.
I take a sip of black coffee from my white porcelain cup. The PDF document has several layers attached to it. If I want to, I can make my colleague's highlighted text and annotations visible by clicking the eye icon next to her name. I decide to keep her comments turned off for now. Instead, I choose to click on the cloud icon, and a cloud tag for the entire document appears beside it. This gives me a quick overview of the article's key concepts. I wonder if cloud tags can be used to analyze interview data?
I decide to switch tasks for a moment. I click on the "Notes" icon. I can see an overview of my drawing board that contains clusters of images, 3D drawings, notes, emails, documents, and web pages, organized by topic. I zoom in a little and find "Research Methods." I select the "Tweet" icon, and write "Cloud Tags - A Viable Method for Analyzing Research Data?" I might as well get feedback on this instead of keeping it to myself. Researchr will tweet my question. If anyone responds to the question, I will be notified during my break time. As a researcher, one of the greatest challenges I personally face is procrastination. My scheduled breaks allow me to have some control over distractions.
I click back on the "Tasks" icon, and the PDF I was reading is open to where I left off. I continue to read the article, highlighting and making comments as I read. When I am finished reading, I switch the "Read" toggle to complete. I know that all my highlights and annotations will be visible to my colleague.
A text box pops up saying it is time for a break. I am informed that there is a response to my Twitter question with a link to a relevant article. As I scan the article, I am excited by this adjunct method of analyzing data! I click the Researchr icon on my browser and add this page to the "Research Methods" cluster in the Notes section. Before starting to watch the YouTube video on Web 3.0 techologies in the classroom, I get up and go for a free refill on my coffee (having paid with my registered Starbucks card, of course!).
I have to rush to a meeting, so I go outside to wait for the streetcar. My computer has automatically synced all my recent articles to my Kindle, and as I stand waiting, I continue reading some of the articles my colleague gave me. I highlight some interesting passages, and add some quick notes. I see others doing similar things on their iPads and Nooks. Luckily, these days most PDFs also contain alternate ePub versions of the article, making it easy to read on both small and large devices. When that is not the case, my software allows me to quickly mark up a PDF for reading on a smaller device with a few clicks, and this is then synced to the central server, and made available to everyone with the same file.
I have lots of time to read on the streetcar, since there was some construction on College and Bathurst. Finally back in my office, I am ready to do some writing. On my laptop, all the highlights and notes from my Kindle have already been synced. These highlights can be seen when I browse the original article, but together with the general notes I made on the article, they are also searchable. I create a smart folder that gathers all the notes and highlights I have made that reference the word "metadata", and I quickly go through and add the "metadata" tag to a few relevant highlights that don't specifically use this word.
Now I switch into the mindmap mode, and am able to visualize all the snippets and notes I took. I create some connections, move things around, and add notes. The program is constantly suggesting additional readings based on the connections I make, based on what my community has read, and the connections that they have made in their mindmaps (sharing this data is of course optional, but most people leave it on). I decide I have enough ideas, and begin to draft an article. While writing, I quickly drag and drop a few citations, which automatically generates the citations in APA format (and inserts the metadata in the Word doc, which will enable other people reading this article in Researchr to automatically download all cited articles).
Finally happy with a first draft, I click a button to push it to my blog. People interested in this topic will find my writings, linked directly to my mind maps and annotations. Hopefully I will get some useful feedback.