The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…

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Thank you, Kathleen!

Written and compiled by current and past SoTL Scholar-Mentors at Illinois State University

Earlier this week, Kathleen McKinney posted a blog on this site, reflecting on what SoTL has meant to her. The timing of this blog was important, as it was posted at the start of Kathleen’s last week before retiring as the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL at Illinois State University. The timing of today’s blog is equally important, as today is Kathleen’s last day of work at ISU before she retires. Several recent SoTL Scholar-Mentors could not let this day go by without letting Kathleen know that as much as SoTL has meant to her, she has meant a great deal to the SoTL movement on our campus and beyond.

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Kathleen has attributed her professional success to “advice, assistance, collaboration, and relationships.” She may have received those things from others during her career, but she has returned those same things in spades. Please indulge us today, as we acknowledge what Kathleen has meant to us, publicly and sincerely. She deserves it. Those of us passionate about SoTL at ISU know that she has been an amazing trailblazer, affecting change that has furthered the mission of our university. We gladly learn and teach at ISU, and we do that via systematic reflection and study — because of the work of Kathleen McKinney. We wish her the very best of luck going forward! Congratulations, Kathleen!

The people who transform our lives often show up in subtle ways and it is only with hindsight that we realize how fundamentally we have been impacted. When I first met Kathleen McKinney in 2008 I had no idea that I was gaining a research mentor, a skillful facilitator, a tireless role model, an impassioned advocate, and a lifelong friend. A quick review of my CV certainly delineates Kathleen’s influence with SoTL articles, awards, grants, conference presentations, service, and video documentaries all accomplished with her steady and inspiring collaboration. But the elements that can’t be itemized are even more important to me, as Kathleen has helped me define a significant approach to scholarship that has true meaning to my practice and to my sense of self. Thank you, Kathleen. My personal journey from media professional to academic scholar and teacher is profoundly more successful because of you.

-Maria Moore, Associate Professor & Mass Media Program Coordinator, School of Communication and 2014 SoTL Mentor


I vacillated on whether to use the present or past tense in this brief post about what Kathleen McKinney means to SoTL. In light of her recent retirement after a lifetime of scholarship and teaching, it would seem appropriate to use the past tense except for one significant factor. Her contributions endure, whether in written works, previous instruction or sheer inspiration and are very much a dynamic part of the academic community. Someone with greater acumen on grammatical matters (and that includes Kathleen herself) will hopefully forgive the messiness of verb tenses that follow. When I write that she was a most enthusiastic supporter of the scholarship of teaching and learning here at ISU, I also mean that her passion was infectious and still rejuvenates the lot of us who follow in her wake.

Kathleen’s bio reveals some of her many specific accomplishments, while the body of SoTL literature is replete with reference to those contributions. She is rooted in the field. And in my specific case, she is also embedded as a benefactor. When reflecting upon my varied experiences as a SoTL Scholar Mentor during 2014-15, a position that  fostered professional development as a researcher and teacher and amplified collaboration with colleagues across a multitude of disciplines, I remain wholeheartedly grateful for the role that Kathleen played in bringing me on board. Occupying the Office of the Cross Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning she was certainly more than a program administrator. She was a mentor’s mentor. It was Kathleen who flung open the doors to the SoTL community and guided my novice beginnings while shepherding or collaborating with others already heavily engaged in such work. Essentially it was Kathleen who—-through dedication, spirit and hard work—-exemplifies the mission and goals of SoTL itself, and continues to demonstrate its value to our university.

-Michaelene Cox, Associate Professor, Politics & Government and 2014-15 SoTL Scholar-Mentor


While on a tour of the CTLT during my campus interview, I noticed a small sticker on one of the office doors. It was for the ISU Equestrians and immediately I knew that I wanted to be involved with that organization. Little did I know what a profound impact it would have on my future work at Illinois State. When I arrived later that fall, I reached out to the faculty advisor, Dr. Kathleen McKinney.  We began working together as co-advisers for the ISU Equestrians, a registered student organization.  We soon began to discuss the personal and professional learning that we observed in the student members of the organization and my first SoTL project was born.

I had never done SoTL research before and working with Kathleen, with her incredible knowledge of and passion for SoTL, was inspiring.  We presented our findings at the CTLT Symposium, several conferences, and finally published it in the Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. In the seven years I have been at ISU, I have engaged in a number of SoTL projects with the support of Kathleen. Through her never-ending encouragement and mentorship, not only did my own research agenda reflect my interest in SoTL, but I was afforded a number of opportunities to work with other faculty members on campus to develop their SoTL research as well.

It is for this reason, that while Kathleen will be greatly missed, her impact on this campus will continue through the support and guidance she has shown to so many. Thank you, Kathleen, for being an advocate for SoTL, an outstanding mentor, and wonderful friend.

-Erin Mikulec, Associate Professor, Teaching & Learning and 2015-16 SoTL Scholar-Mentor


In 2005, I came to ISU as both an excited teacher and a reluctant researcher. During my first year on campus, I attended an “Intro to SoTL” workshop led by Kathleen. It was the best 2 hours I’ve ever spent in terms of professional development. I left that workshop saying to myself, “THIS is what I want to do!” The rest is truly history.

In working as a SoTL Scholar-Mentor the last three years, I’ve mentored others while simultaneously being mentored by Kathleen. My work with her has deepened and broadened my interest of and knowledge about SoTL in numerous ways. She has tirelessly supported so many of us — building personal and professional relationships that will live on beyond Kathleen’s retirement. I am not sure how many late night emails and text messages we have exchanged in the last few years about various topics and projects, but I view them as tangible evidence of strong support that is so very appreciated.

Kathleen has demonstrated the best of teaching and learning as a SoTL mentor, and I am a better teacher and researcher because of her. I hope I can return the favor in the very near future in my work with SoTL researchers on campus and beyond. To that end, I celebrate Kathleen’s retirement with respect for her contributions and successes as well as a true excitement to continue and extend the work that she has done here at ISU. I embark on my journey as the next Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL tomorrow — ready for this role because of Kathleen. Thank you, my friend!

-Jen Friberg, Incoming Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, Associate Professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders, and 2013-16 SoTL Scholar-Mentor


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What SoTL Has Meant to Me

Written by: Kathleen McKinney, Outgoing Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, Illinois State University

On June 30, 2016, I will fully retire from Illinois State University as well as from the many roles I have played within various institutions, my discipline more broadly, professional organizations, formal and informal collaborations, and the field of SoTL.

Similar to many others, I will leave with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I am ready to hand over the reins to the very competent and qualified Dr. Jennifer Friberg, the incoming Cross Endowed Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University. I am ready to not be the ‘responsible one’ in terms of initiatives, budgets, planning, education, persuasion, development, grants, meetings, PR…related to SoTL on campus and, often, elsewhere. On the other hand, I will miss the “work” and, especially, the people. Thus, though officially retiring, I am beginning two collaborative SoTL writing projects that I will do without any official affiliation: an invited paper on what those in Psychology might learn from SoTL in Sociology (with Maxine Atkinson and Tyler Flockhart) and an edited book on Conducting and Applying SoTL Beyond the Individual Classroom (with Jennifer Friberg). Yes, it can be hard to completely let go of ones work and identity!!

In a brief blog post such as this, I can’t really begin to describe what SoTL has meant to me over the last 30 plus years or so but I would like to highlight seven areas of positive impact of SoTL on my life. Through this reflection, I am hoping blog readers will get a sense of the potential value of SoTL to their careers, their lives, their institutions, their discipline and their students, and be encouraged to increase their own involvement in SoTL now and in the future. I hope others will be as lucky and as blessed as I have been to have these amazing experiences, opportunities, and outcomes.

  1. Collaborations and Relationships, new and old, exciting and creative with colleagues, students, and administrators at my institution, in my discipline more broadly, at the Carnegie Foundation, and in ISSOTL and other organizations.
  2. Opportunities to make a positive difference (I hope) in teaching, learning, faculty careers, and students’ lives in my discipline and institution, and beyond.
  3. Chances to learn many new things about SoTL, teaching, learning, research, other disciplines, faculty development, and administration.
  4. Chances to work with amazing students on SoTL projects, in class, in the office, in student organizations, on others’ SoTL grants, and in the student voices movement of the SoTL field.
  5. Successes and achievements in a joyful career filled with meaning, status, advancement, choice, and autonomy… full of intrinsic rewards (and, yes, certainly some extrinsic ones as well).
  6. An identity, a self-image, a sense of who I am and who I want to be.
  7. Opportunities to travel in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia… and to network with others in other cities and nations who do, support, and share SoTL.

I want to conclude by thanking many people. I didn’t experience or achieve these things on my own; it was all about advice, assistance, collaboration, and relationships. With a few exceptions, I won’t name individual people as there are far too many and I would not want to miss anyone. But I am eternally grateful to the colleagues, staff, and students in these groups or networks:

  • Colleagues in the American Sociological Association especially the Teaching Learning/SoTL movement, the Section on Teaching and Learning, the other editors, reviewers and authors of Teaching Sociology, and the many sociology colleagues in SoTL around the globe. And a special thanks goes to Carla Howery…lost to us far too early.
  • Staff at The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching especially during its decade focus on and support of SoTL, as well as my cohort of Carnegie SoTL scholars.
  • Faculty, staff, students, and administrators at Illinois State University. And a special thanks goes to Robert Walsh…also gone far too ‘young’.
  • K. Patricia Cross for her insight and future thinking about higher education, as well as her support of the ISU Endowed Chair in SoTL.
  • Colleagues in the International Society of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

I look forward to working on my new SoTL writing projects, to hearing about future trends in SoTL, and to seeing the successes of other ‘SoTLlers’, in every discipline and around the globe, and their positive impact on teaching and learning in higher education. I urge readers to take advantage of the amazing challenges and opportunities of SoTL in their careers and lives!




Designing and Conducting a SoTL Project using a Worksheet: A Baker’s Dozen of Important Sets of Guiding Questions

Written by Kathleen McKinney, Professor and Cross Chair in SoTL, Illinois State University

Many of us have numerous SoTL research topics or questions floating around in our minds. We have multiple ideas for design and measurement. We have thoughts, perhaps concerns, about IRB issues. We may be unsure about multiple methods/measures or whether to obtain qualitative and/or quantitative data. We are hoping to make the results and implications of the SoTL project public somehow and somewhere… and so on.

In my own efforts to begin to transform these disparate and numerous thoughts in to a solid, organized, meaningful, and practical SoTL research project, I have found that filling in a SoTL design and conduct ‘worksheet’ has been very helpful. I have also used such worksheets with faculty, academic staff, and graduate students in numerous SoTL workshops over the last fifteen years.* You may choose to fill in the worksheet all at one time (imagine there is plenty of blank space between the sets of questions!) or in multiple settings over time as you  progress on the project. You may wish to answer these questions alone or to complete it with others (e.g., co-researchers, peers working on their own SoTL project worksheet).

  1. Think about a teaching and/or learning issue, problem, intervention, or question that you have about your students, a course, an assignment or pedagogical strategy, a program, a co-curricular experience, etc. Briefly state that as a question or questions.
  2. What do you already know (from theory or literature in your discipline, or SoTL or education more broadly) about this topic/question– whether it has been looked at in the past, about ways to gather data on student learning and other outcomes related to this topic or question, and what has been found in previous research on your or a similar question(s)?
  3. Given your question(s), what types of information or artifacts do you already have or already collect that will help you to answer this question(s)?
  4. Given your question(s), what other types of information or data or artifacts will you need (and from what sources) to best answer your question(s)?
  5. Given your question(s) and the information/data you need, what research strategies or methods (e.g., student reflections, assignments, interviews, focus groups, questionnaires/tests, observations, quasi-experiments, and so on might you use to obtain the information/data need to answer your SoTL question(s)?
  6. Would it be a good idea to use multiple research strategies (methods)? Which ones? Why? What about multiple measures of certain outcomes? Is your SoTL question(s) best answered with qualitative and/or quantitative data?
  7. What time frame is a good fit with your SoTL research question(s)? Cross-sectional? Longitudinal? Short or long-term? One semester or multiple semesters? How many data points do you need to best answer your question(s)?
  8. How might you involve an undergraduate and/or graduate student or students in this SoTL project, not only as participants, but as a research assistant or co-researcher? What nontrivial tasks could students do or assist with that would benefit both their learning and research experience as well as the SoTL study? How would this add ‘student voices’ to the project?
  9. What are ethical issues you should consider or might face in designing and conducting this project? Informed consent? Right to Privacy? Protection from harm? Other? How will you design the study to reduce ethical problems and to protect participants? What are any local IRB issues or procedures you should consider/plan to address? Where/how can you get help with your IRB protocol if needed?
  10. What are some potential practical problems you might face in conducting this SoTL study? Limited time? Limited funds? Lack of expertise for part of the project? Limitations to using the best design? No available co-researchers? How will you deal with these practical problems? What faculty support units and internal pots of funds could you apply for/use?
  11. With whom can you share your initial (above) ideas for a SoTL study (SoTL researchers and/or relevant disciplinary colleagues) for feedback? What changes in the design does their feedback imply?
  12. Who are the audience(s) you hope to reach and to impact with this SoTL project and results (students, disciplinary and SoTL colleagues, administrators, community members, tenure and promotion committee members, and so on)? How can you best represent this project to convey it and its’ value clearly to these audiences (e.g., presentation, publication, internal report, video, blog post, creative product, etc.)?
  13. What are possible peer-reviewed outlets (conferences, journals, juried shows, web sites…) you can use for this representation to make it public? Who can peer-review your draft representation before you submit?

*A simpler (and much older) version of a SoTL design worksheet was published in McKinney, K. 2007. Enhancing Learning through the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: The Challenges and Joys of Juggling. Jossey-Bass.


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A Sample of Funded SoTL Research Projects: Inspiration for Ideas, Connections, and Applications

Written by: Kathleen McKinney, Outgoing Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL, Illinois State University

Sometimes it is useful to acquire and share a sense of SoTL projects in progress or planned on your (or other) campuses.  This may contribute to new ideas and questions, to potential new connections and networks, and to possible cross-disciplinary and/or cross-institutional applications.

In this blog post, I share the names and disciplines as well as the project titles of just a sample of the SoTL research being conducted at Illinois State University. If you want to connect, email addresses for these researchers are available via the search box on the university home page ( As projects are completed, and as required when accepting funds, recipients submit a representation or summary of the project (paper, power point, poster, blog post…). Once submitted, these summaries can be viewed by clicking on the grant competition title and then the particular project at

These projects have received some type of funding from our Office of the Cross Endowed Chair in SoTL via highly competitive grant programs. Sometimes the area of SoTL research was ‘open’; other times, the area was specified in order to gain greater understanding of the impact on our students of a University priority or initiative. Thus, I also share a bit about the goal/purpose and process of each grant program.

I encourage blog readers to comment with related information or links about SoTL research and grant programs on their campuses or in their organizations!

2015–2016 Going Global with SoTL Mini-grants ($1,000 each)

This program provided mini-grants to study the developmental and learning outcomes of Illinois State University students as a result of global, international, or cross-cultural curricular or co-curricular experiences. These experiences could have been part of, for example, an ISU class or program on campus, a study abroad experience, a co-curricular travel and/or volunteer experience, etc. as long as a global/international/cross-cultural component was clearly a major aspect of the assignment, opportunity, or experience. We received and reviewed twelve applications and were able to support five.

  • Study Abroad Experience in Peru and Students’ Development, Aysen Bakir, Marketing
  • Interpreting the Frames: A Study of Six Art Education Students’ Integration of Their Study Abroad in Australia Experience Into Their Classroom Teaching Practices, Judith Briggs, Art
  • History Teacher Candidates and Discipline-Specific Pedagogy: Theory, Policy, andPractice in England and the United States, Richard L. Hughes and Sarah Drake Brown, History
  • Preparing Future Early Childhood Teachers: Furthering InterculturalDialogues among Early Childhood Pre-service Teachers across the Globe, Miranda Lin, School of Teaching and Learning
  • Exploring and Understanding Global Diets from a Sociocultural Perspective: ACase of Pre-service Teachers in Thailand, Taiwan, and the U.S., Do-Yong Park, School of Teaching and Learning

June 2016 SoTL Research Mini-Awards ($700 each)

The purpose of these awards is to provide a small amount of funding to support work on SoTL projects that are currently in progress (e.g., design stage, IRB stage, gathering or analyzing SoTL data, working on a creative or scholarly representation of the SoTL study/results, travel to present SoTL). Selected applicants had to make a convincing case that a SoTL project about ISU students is on-going and that the award will be used for work/activities in the month of June to further the project’s progress, completion, application, or visibility. They also agreed to submit a blog post to The SoTL Advocate about the project by October. Applications about all SoTL topics or research questions were welcome. We received and reviewed twenty-three applications and had the funds to support eight.

  • Investigating Methods for Improving Graduate Student Writing, Becky Achen, Kinesiology and Recreation 
  • Using Interrupted Case Studies to Teach Developmental Theory, Bill Anderson, Family and Consumer Sciences
  • When Privilege and Oppression Becomes ‘Real’ in the Life of Emerging Social Workers, Deneca Avant, Social Work
  • Exploring the Learning Process, Perceptions, and Confidence in Experiential Research Project Scaffolding in Two Allied Health Undergraduate Courses, Jackie Lanier, Health Sciences, Julie Schumacher, Family and Consumer Sciences, and Rachel Vollmer, Family and Consumer Sciences
  • Student Stories of Free Speech Acts on Campus: A Digital Documentary Film, Maria Moore, Communication 
  • Factors Associated with Students’ Integration of Course Content in Online Discussions, Nancy Novotny, Mennonite College of Nursing and Elahe Javadi, Information Technology
  • A Holistic Approach to Learning about Laryngeal Cancer through an Innovative Independent Study Experience, Lisa Vinney, Communication Sciences Disorders
  • Group Contingency Interventions in Special Education Courses, Virginia Walker, Special Education and Kristin Lyon, Special Education

2016–2017 SoTL University Research Grants (about $5,000 each)

The program provides scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) small grants to study the developmental and learning outcomes of ISU students. For 2016-2017, projects must focus on a teaching-learning issue(s) explicitly related to out-of-class learning opportunities experienced by ISU students. This would include, but is not limited to, study abroad, civic engagement experiences, service learning, involvement in co- or extra-curricular activities, and so on. Each proposal, must be from a team of at least one faculty/staff member and at least one student (graduate or undergraduate). Team members may be from the same discipline or include members from more than one discipline. We received and reviewed nineteen proposals and were able to fund or partially fund five.

  • Evaluating Graduate Student Out-of-Class Learning: The Professional Field Trip, Rebecca Achen and Clint Warren, Kinesiology and Recreation
  • Intentional and Integrated Field Experiences’ Contribution to Health Education Teacher Candidate Achievement of Learning Outcomes Relevant to Youth Disproportionately Affected by Health Disparities, Adrian Lyde, Health Sciences
  • Development of Leadership Competence through a Service Learning Project in a Dietetic Internship, Julie Raeder Schumacher, Family and Consumer Sciences
  • Learning through Teaching and Dialogue: A Student-Directed Vocal Health Education Program, Lisa Vinney, Communication Sciences and Disorders
  • Exploring the Potential of a Diverse Set of Service Learning Projects to Increase Dietetics Students’ Self-Efficacy in Nutrition Education, Rachel Vollmer, Family and Consumer Sciences

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Call for Contributors and Reviewers for Volume 5 of Gauisus

The call for contributors and reviewers for the 2016-17 volume of Gauisus, Illinois State University’s internal SoTL publication, has been posted. Redbird faculty, staff, and students — please consider contributing a representation of your SoTL work or submitting your name to review the work of your peers!

Interested in seeing current and past issues of Gauisus? Check them out here!

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SoTL Advocacy Via Social Media: Reflections and Suggestions

Written by: Jen Friberg, SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State University


Over the last two years, I have (sometimes grudgingly) endeavored to use social media to learn about SoTL and share my thoughts and interests related to SoTL with others. As a SoTL Scholar-Mentor at Illinois State, I have regularly used Twitter, Facebook, and WordPress to share the SoTL work happening at ISU and beyond. That said, I initially resisted the siren’s song of social media for professional use, preferring to use social media for personal communications and connections. Over time, my thoughts on this topic evolved as it became evident that others were harnessing social media effectively, sharing their professional work and ideas more widely with social media than without. Further, I realized that SoTL, a movement that is growing, global, and appealing to people of many ages, has natural synergy with social media as users can capture current research, ideas, applications, and events central to SoTL and publicly share them with large (and varied) networks of users. I am now a happy convert, and access social media often to learn about and to promote SoTL.

At the SoTL Commons conference in March, I attended a presentation by Josephine Csete and Janice Chia of Hong Kong Polytechnic University titled: Using social media to build your SoTL research & profile: The “what,”why,” and “how.” This presentation underscored  the vast influence social media has in society with billions of people using social media in a variety of ways to share thoughts and ideas with others. Csete and Chia did an excellent job of citing data to support the use of social media in SoTL, sharing the following:

  • There is evidence to suggest that an active online presence may directly impact a researcher’s credentials as measured though traditional metrics (Bik & Goldstein, 2013).
  • Sharing publications on Twitter is statistically correlated with increases in downloads and early citations of work (Shuai, Pepe, & Bollen, 2012).
  • Articles that are “highly tweeted” were 11 times more likely to be cited in subsequent publications than those were not shared via social media (Eysenbach, 2011).

I mentioned above that I am a social media convert. That said, having prior experience using social media for personal use didn’t make me an expert in using social media to advocate for SoTL. I learned a few lessons (some more easily than others!) along the way:

  1. Harness social media to the extent of your comfort. There is no reason to put yourself in a position where you are doing something that you are uncomfortable with or overwhelmed by. Start slowly with using social media and build your involvement over time to create a sustainable routine and purpose.
  2. Select social media platforms purposefully. There are numerous social media platforms — I won’t list them all here. Wikipedia provides a list of the top 15 social media apps with links to explain each, which provides a good start to understanding the diversity of options available to those interested in using social media. Select the platform most aligned with the reason you’re choosing to use social media. I started a blog to share SoTL resources and feature the work of a variety of SoTL contributors and researchers. That would have been more difficult to accomplish via a different type of social media.
  3. Don’t be afraid to share. Use social media to share your SoTL work, your favorite SoTL articles, and the SoTL work (properly cited) of others. Share images that reflect SoTL. Contribute to the Commons. We acknowledge that SoTL represents a big tent, with many diverse ideas and disciplines represented within — and having diversity in contributions focused on SoTL via social media is essential.
  4. Be patient. It may take a while to develop a following on social media, but keep contributing. A lack of followers does not mean that you don’t have thoughts worth sharing…it may simply mean that you haven’t yet been “found” by like-minded SoTL folks. Alternately, a lack of followers over time could mean that you have selected a platform that is incongruous to your goals for using social media.
  5. Develop a personality via social media that promotes authenticity. There is no “one way” to use social media to advocate for SoTL. Represent yourself on social media in a way that is unique to you. Develop a voice, a style, and a manner that is personal, authentic, and genuine. Anything else will be hard to sustain!


Blog References:

Bik, H. M. & Goldstein, M. C. (2013). An introduction to social media for scientists. PLoS Biology, 11(4): e1001535.

Csete, J. M. & Chia, J. (2016). Using social media to build your SoTL research & profile: The what, why, and how. Presentation at the SoTL Commons conference in Savannah, GA. Retrieved from:

Eysenbach, G. (2011). Can tweets predict citations? Metrics pf social impact based on twitter and correclation with traditional metrics of scientific impact. Journal of Medical Internet Resources, 12: e123.

Shuai, X., Pepe, A., & Bollen, J. (2012). How the scientific community reacts to newly submitted pre-prints: Article downloads, Twitter mentions, and citations. PLoS ONE, 7: e47523.