Most Science-Content Is Available to A Very Small Number of People

Think of all the presentations that researchers give on a regular basis.  Even grad students like myself give several talks and/or lectures every year, each of which is available to just a handful of people who attend the talk itself.  Why not use social media to spread that content with a far greater number of people, with little or no additional effort?  Below are 3 tools that I have found especially useful for sharing previously produced content with the world at large.

Slideshare

Earlier this year well-known obesity researcher Angelo Tremblay gave a free lecture at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa.  He was kind enough to allow me to record the audio of his talk (using my ipod and a Belkin TuneTalk), and then provided me with the slides of his presentation.

Following Dr Tremblay’s talk I published his slides on Slideshare, a free site for hosting Powerpoint presentations (it’s basically Youtube for slideshows).  Using their simple “Slidecast” feature, I then uploaded the audio of Dr Tremblay’s talk, and synced the audio with the slides.  Since it was an hour-long talk, I broke the presentation into 4 separate sections, so that a person could watch any individual section in 10-15 minutes. Finally, I then wrote up a short blog post on Obesity Panacea outlining each section of the presentation, and embedded the Slidecast so that people could watch it on the blog (I’ve embedded one of the presentations below as well to give a sense of what the Slidecasts look and sound like).

Sleep

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Dr Tremblay’s original talk had a very good turnout for a Lunch & Learn event – I’d say somewhere between 50 and 100 people.  But that number is dwarfed by the number of people who have since accessed his content online.  To date the 4 blog posts on Obesity Panacea containing Slidecasts have been viewed more than 2,500 times (2,100 unique views), and the individual Slidecasts have been played over 1,900 times (averaging just shy of 500 views per Slidecast).

Even if we assume that the same 500 people watched each Slidecast, that’s still at least 5x the number of people who were at Dr Tremblay’s original presentation in Ottawa. And this is content that Dr Tremblay had already produced – all I had to do was put it online so that people could access it. And it cost a total of ~$60 for a recording device that attaches to an ipod that I already have (a laptop and a cheap mic would also have done the trick).

I have done other Slidecasts myself, uploading my a conference presentation and simply recording the audio while I was rehearsing my talk a few days before the event.  It added maybe 20 minutes to my conference preparation, but it allowed me to share the content with way more people than would ever see me at the conference itself.  Endocrinologist Yannis Guerra has done something similar, uploading the slides from a talk he gave at his hospital on the health impact of sedentary behaviour.  Since the presentation is simply the slides with no audio, it would have literally taken just 2-3 minutes to create his account and upload that presentation, which has been seen nearly 100 times in its first few days (which would be a phenomenal turnout at most hospital seminars that I’ve been to!).  That’s the great thing about Slideshare – it is extremely effective in promoting your work with very little additional effort.

Podcasts

Podcasts are similar to Slideshare in that they allow you to spread content that you have already produced.  For example, I uploaded the audio from Dr Tremblay’s talk to the Obesity Panacea podcast, which has since received another 1000 downloads.  Podcasts are also a great excuse to meet new researchers.  For example, at the recent Canadian National Obesity Summit I recorded conversations with a number of researchers, which I will be putting up on the Obesity Panacea podcast in the coming weeks.  Most of the conversations I recorded were from poster sessions, with me simply talking to people about their projects (in this way podcasts and other forms of interviews can also be a great way to network with other researchers). Once those conversations are online, they will be available to a far greater number of people than could ever have attended the poster sessions themselves.

Video

Video is another tool that is both easy and obvious.  For example, a few years ago Peter recorded a lecture that he gave to an undergraduate physiology course, which has since been viewed several hundred times.  This is content that he had already produced, all he did was record it so that he could share it online.  Here is a short section of that video:

We have recently done something similar here in Ottawa, when we hosted a debate last week on the impact of food and exercise on body weight.  There were roughly 150 people at the debate itself, with another ~80 people watching the debate live through Justin.tv, a free live-streaming website which allows you to embed live video on any website (the blog post with the embedded video can be seen here).  The live-stream video was obtained using this $88 webcam (roughly 1/4 the cost of the “light refreshments” that we purchased for the event) and the audio was recorded using a Skype conference call microphone that I borrowed from my lab. The webcam recording of the debate has now been seen more than 350 times, well more than twice the number of people who attended the debate itself. And we are in the process of uploading a higher resolution version of the video which will be more suitable for people to share and embed on other websites.

For less than $100 dollars (just 1/10 of the budget for the event as a whole) we were able to double the number of people who have accessed the debate.


Watch live video from travissaunders on Justin.tv

Are there any tools that you have found especially useful in promoting scientific content online?

Travis

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