So where are the blogs? In my first post, I promised a variety of educators a platform for expressing their vision to the world. I believe I was inspiring. The feedback I have had from colleagues has me motivated. The blog was shared more than any other I’ve written.
But where are the blogs? Shouldn’t they be pouring in, responding to my evangelism?
Of course not.
Stepping into the online world and making transparent your thought processes is challenging. Especially when you are a part of an industry that economises people’s thinking. The better the quality, the better the value.
Below are a few of my colleagues’ concerns. I can only address them from my own experience. I am not going to evangelise any more. Maybe gentle nudging is a better approach.
1. Blogging is not what my PhD and the Academy has trained me to do.
I agree. The linear progression towards a PhD is about learning to review problems, write ethics and grant applications, craft a very long paper (a book even), publish and promote yourself in well established and regarded places.
(But!) The PhD journey, for many including myself, is long and lonely. I had many things I wanted to discuss and no one to discuss them with. I realised that doing a PhD is a life-experience, not just a degree. I noticed many decisions I made about my degree were influenced by my personal life. I wanted to share these experiences and the traditional PhD track would not allow me. I discovered Twitter and I blogged.
Sometimes my brain activity would not allow me to sleep. So I blogged. Sometimes I wanted to try out an idea in public. So I blogged and tweeted.
The social media process allowed me to organise my thoughts, think through the useful, set aside others for further development, and get things off my chest.
I thoroughly believe that I wouldn’t have the same product without social media. I think the publicness was useful because it kicked in a different way of thinking about my ideas. Even though it was a largely positive experience online, it was nerve-wracking to put a thought out there. I didn’t know what anyone would say. Maybe I would pull down hell?
All in all nothing really noteworthy happened. A few kind and generous people virtually patted me on the back and my confidence grew.
2. I have a brand to establish/maintain. Will blogging negatively affect that brand?
I have to say that I don’t have any real experience in this way of thinking. I did a PhD on Facebook data so my brand from the start was in the social media realm. But I do think that if social media does not suit your brand, then don’t do it. The added stress will not improve your academic profile because real engagement and enjoyment in the medium is needed to maintain use. Mark Carrigan, a digital sociologist, explores this idea. In a nutshell, the Academy is getting faster and purely engaging in social media to keep up with it could lead to the devaluation of the industry.
Furthermore, social media is simply a tool. If you can engage audiences successfully in a different way, why change? However, if your offline audience is diminishing, then consider whether they have moved online. You might not have to sprint alongside the Academy, but what happens when the race changes?
3. I like the idea of hiding behind academic papers and jargon. I want my thoughts to be crafted over several months until I am happy for them to be published. A misplaced word can be a real problem in my field.
I can also understand this point of view. I’ve met a troll or two. You only have to peruse the online press to find out that people who are controversial or make a stand (or are famous) can experience real danger by irate tweeters.
But in regard to writing, I use a blog as part of my academic writing process. Academic writing is public and it is social. When someone references a paper, they are engaging in a social act. I just start the social earlier than a conference.
Personal notebook/Twitter: I have a personal notebook where I write down ideas I am thinking through. When I want to try them out, I tweet them. I find that putting an idea into 140 characters is a neat technique for clarifying an idea.
Personal blog: When my ideas are further developed, I try them out in my personal blog. I promote that blog on Twitter and work on greater clarity of ideas.
Curator blog: I have only once contributed to a curator. I need to explore this further, but when you look down the bottom of a blog post from a research institute like The London School of Economics and Political Science Impact Blog you may see that the blog was extracted from a personal weblog. Contributing to a curator can spread your ideas, further testing them out.
Conference paper: The real first public test of an idea. I could see the faces of those asking the questions. Here is where I had to make sure I knew what I was talking about and have the grace to listen to the critics. The questions asked became papers and the theme of the conference helped frame my thesis.
Journal article/Thesis: As a colleague said, the act of writing a journal article and referencing other academic writers is a social act. You are engaging in a conversation that has been snowballing since philosophers were first recorded. The questions asked and the gaps found lead to another conversation/debate, which I start all over again on Twitter.
4. What makes this blog any different from all the other ones out there? Won’t we get lost in the crowd? Is it worth the time and effort?
I think it is easy to think that social media is the answer to increasing academic impact, but if everyone is doing it, then there is no advantage. In my opinion, social media is a tool, not an environment. It should enhances my writing process. This feedback from the first blog in our experiment sums up my reason for blogging:
Increasingly, I think it is important to share the journey of this labor of work with different audiences. Why? Because such writing will make public the process of learning and thinking involved in the academic writing journey, and hopefully others learn why we academics think this is important work.
In a nutshell, writing a blog can bring academic/philosophical/sociological thought down from an ivory tower. It can make transparent the creativity in the profession. It is open access. The narrative voice
can be is engaging.
It’s worth a try.
What are your concerns about academic blogging? What are your experiences?