Thursday, 17 September 2009

Should Academics Blog?

In the THES is an article titled I'm a celebrity academic ... in the blogosphere. Apparently it is much more common in the USA for academics to self-promote and use blogs to do so, whereas in the UK there is a lot of doubt about the value of doing so.

I think there are several factors that need to be considered: First, what is 'blogging'? Does it mean you have to churn out a post every day? Or every two days? Does it still count if you're posting at irregular intervals? I believe the latter is acceptable, otherwise there is too much pressure to write just for the sake of writing. As a comment on the THES site said, with RSS feeds it is quite easy to follow a blog without having to check every day for a new post.

Second, can we afford the time to blog? I think yes, as long as we are aware that a blog post is not a polished journal article, but something more 'raw'; however, the danger here is that you write something which you never can take back. Once it is out there, it always will be. But nobody should expect academics to be infallible, so there is nothing wrong with making mistakes. We're usually used to more scrutiny through peer review, and perhaps students who want to catch us out.

What then, is the point of blogging? For a start, you can disseminate knowledge. A lot of things I come across during my work are more bite-sized chunks of information/discoveries, too small to write up in an article. And if I wait and aggregate them, and do write an article, and get that reviewed and published, two years might have passed before other people can read it. A blog is much less formal, and is a much quicker route to the audience.

As for self-promotion, I think it becomes increasingly necessary to maintain a good on-line presence, and that not only applies to academics. And a blog is a good way to become more visible, raise awareness for the kinds of things you do, and perhaps even dispel some urban myths. As long as it does not interfere with your other tasks, I see no harm in academics blogging.

The next question, then, is the 'where'. Should universities provide blogging facilities? What if an academic moves to another university? What if the institution doesn't like what's written on the blog? Here we have the conflict between private views and those institutional ones. For the time being I guess it is safest to blog outside one's university, for reasons of freedom of expression and also the security of a fixed location.

If anybody reads those academic outpourings, however, is a completely different question!

Monday, 14 September 2009

Twitter in Teaching?

I've been thinking about using twitter for teaching this year. One obvious application would be to get students to summarise articles they've read in the eponymous 140 characters or less. This I think would be really good to force them to be concise and restrict what they write to the most important part. But one problem I was wondering about is the transient nature of tweets: here today, gone tomorrow... But by chance I stumbled across a solution on twitter (thanks to Lou Burnard for that!): TweetDoc

Tweetdoc collects tweets and turns them into a PDF. Basically I'd get all students to mark their tweets with '#freda' or something, and then tweetdoc will be able to aggregate them in a single document (you can specify a date range as well as search terms). That seems like an OK solution to automatically produce a discussion document: everybody tweets about things they come across during the week that are in some way relevant to the module (and I think Discourse Analysis is almost everywhere...) and then in the seminar session the students get a tweetdoc as a handout, and comb through it, discussing what has been collected. Might work.

On the other hand, it might not; but it could work as an additional way of getting students who are interested in new technology to contribute to a seminar in a more indirect way. Perhaps they are too shy to mention something in the seminar, or by the time the seminar comes they've forgotten what they wanted to say. Twitter here can fill a gap between email to the lecturer (which might be too intimidating) and a direct communication in the seminar. It'd be somewhat anonymous (given the wide variety of twitter names) and as such might just be the ticket to more student-led discussions.

What do YOU think?