Pat Thomson (Nottingham) Inger Mewburn (ANU) SRHE December 2012
why look at academic bloggingMany universities now have official blog sitesThere is a league table of university social media useAcademics are now being told how they must use social media, including blogs: • UK - how to do downloadable booklets, and workshops • Australia - as above, but also some concerns about regulation (a moral panic?)There are a lot of unofficial academic blogs What’s going on here?
Blogs communicate with others, right? Quote: Why academics should blog3. The point of academia is to expand knowledge!If you believe that the reason academics publish is to expand knowledge, then expandingit beyond the few tens or hundreds of your colleagues that read the obscure journals youpublish in should be a good thing. Your ideas should matter (if they dont you shouldtry to come up with some better ideas). If they matter then more people should knowabout them, and right now almost all your ideas are locked up inside the walls ofjournals, academic conferences, and university quadrangles. Set them free, and the goodideas will spread, be built on by others, and knowledge as a whole will benefit.!!4. Blogging expands your readership!Cross-pollination of ideas makes for a more healthy intellectual ecosystem, and bloggingmeans that anyone, not just those in your discipline, will be likely to read your stuff.This includes other academics, as well as the rest of us (politicians, policydevelopers, artists, engineers, designers, writers, thinkers, kids, parents, and on andon). Anyone might have an interest in your work, or nuanced ideas about how it might beimproved, or indeed thoughts on how your thoughts might improve their own thinking on aparticular (perhaps nominally-unrelated) topic. More readers, from a more variedbackground, means your ideas will have a bigger impact.!Hugh Maguire. Huff Post 28/10/2008
What to ask about blogs?Weller (2012, p. 5) offers a set of quality oriented questions e.g. are they proper scholarship? What is their impact on academic communities?Hank (2012) looked at who was blogging - she collected 644 blogs, surveyed 153 bloggers, interviewed 24, codes 93 blogs, looked for motivation and preservation issuesWalker (2006) examined own practices over timeEwins (2005) looked at motivation, identity issues and potential work difficulties and pay offsGregg (2005) looked at blogs as support for doctoral researchers who have inadequate institutional support and supervision, (b) as mentoring and job seeking support, and (c) as a space distinct from the parent culture of institutions, and (d) blogs as a form of individualized self-promotion.
There is research into bloggingThere is research into blogs from subject specific interests eg journalism, linguistics and communications, cultural studiesThere is research which looks at blogging with pedagogical purposes: how to use a blog as part of a courseThere are of course a lot of blogs about blogging - advocacy and experience-basedBut there is still very little research looking at academic blogging per se
Our questions about academicblogs:What is going on?Who is blogging about what, and for whom?And this means:Is there a way of categorising academic blogs?…recognising that textual analysis is only part of seeing’ production- reception practice
Our sampleWe used three selection criteria for an academic blog:• A blog is published and read online• A blog has sequential entries, published over time• The blog entries are written by someone either working in or clearly associated with one or more universitiesSelection process: modified snowball techniqueTotal blogs in sample: 174 so farThis is a preliminary analysis of 83 of these blogs
Who is blogging?In the analysis presented here:36% bloggers had no clear allegiance; 42% were Humanities scholars and 22% bloggers were from SciencesThe majority of blogs (66%) were written by academics; (23%) by professional staff members and the rest were unclear.28% of the blogs had multiple authors.49% of the blogs were from the UK; 39% from the USA and the rest from Canada and Australia.
Who was the intended audience?In most cases, the intended audience is implied in the topic and tone of the post, not explicitly stated in the about section.The vast majority of blogs (95%) appear to be oriented to an academic audience*Only 5% of the blogs seemed to be explicitly aimed at disseminating research to the interested general public and 4% at students.Most academic blogs seem to be written for an audience of the bloggers peers
What are they blogging about?So far we have identified 11 different categories of post (the percentage shows the number of blogs such posts appeared on): Academic culture Critique (41%) Research conversation (40%) Academic Practices (32%) Information (26%) Self Help (17%) Technical practices (15%) Personal reflection (8%) Teaching advice (5%) Career advice (1%)
What voice are they using?The last 5 entries of each blog were reviewed. Most employed hybrid genres; the three genres we identified were:Pedagogic (teacherly)Essay (formal and informal or reflective)ReportageInformal or reflective essays were most common; reportage was least common, but more blogs (75%) employed mixed genre than single genre.
What does a typical academic bloglook like?Based on these data, blogs with the highest cue validity (Roche, 1978) would be those which are:• Single authored• Written by someone in an academic position• Engaged in commentary on academia itself and research dissemination with an informal essay voice• Written for an audience of the bloggers peers
So what?(1) Comparatively few academics blog. Many academic blogs, like all others, are ephemeral. There are relatively few long- lasting blogs. Institutional commitment might be one way of creating sustainability, but long-life academic bloggers are creating a body of work and there needs to be some way of treating it as such, not just as a series of isolated posts.(2) Pedagogic blogs can be seen as a gift economy. Critique is of course also a kind of gift. There is sharing of information rather than collaboration.There is however certainly a lot of self-promotion which is congruent with practice in the wider academic field
And…more surprisingly(3) Academic bloggers seem to largely talk to each other. This is not a place where there seems to be a lot of public engagement. There are of course some areas of overlap with practice fields ( e.g. school education) and some from celebrity academics all of whose publications attract a wide audience. But there is less translation than might be expected if it was public engagement or dissemination to the public more generally. There is an assumption that the audience is like me. Dissemination seems more like a conversation, with a lot of assumed knowledge. This is not dissimilar to the message of a journal article, but blogs are journal-lite.(4) But the presence of so much discussion about impact and changing work patterns in HE suggests blogs do exist in some kind of public sphere in which asynchronous debate could be said to exist. There is less evidence of dialogue. However it is evidence of an inward looking practice.
We concur with Dean (2012) that there is a blogipelagonot a blogosphere. Academics seem to exist on their ownset of islands, largely talking with each other. Their blogsare evidence of this. While this is still a public good, itraises questions about assumptions that blogging is ameans of generating public debate.
We welcome comments: firstname.lastname@example.orgPlease cite this as a conference paper “ Social media: an academicpublic good” Thomson, P and Mewburn, I ( December 14, 2012) SRHEconference, Newport, Wales.