Wednesday, 21 September 2011

I teach, therefore I blog?

There's been a raging debate recently on the value of academics blogging (what do you mean, you didn't hear a thing? Maitzen and Cassuto have been going at it like Hamface and Cultman in Face/Off . Blood everywhere, man. 

It all started with this live chat, in which Cassuto said that he didn't mind blogs existing, but he didn't feel the need to read any. After a bit of the old ultraviolence, the survivors got back to their keyboards and - obviously - blogged about it. Sarah (the SheepU) has put together her thoughts, and they're pretty compelling. To her, academics blogging about their research are circumventing the social disconnection of the traditional publication methods. In the established model, you write a paper and submit it to a journal. It gets reviewed by an anonymous expert, sent back a couple of times, before being published (hopefully), a mere couple of years after you write it. In some subject areas, you pay large amounts of cash to get it published, and in all areas, you pay massive amounts to buy the journal. The general public (hell, most academics) never contemplate buying the outlet or reading your article. But being read isn't important: being published is (as I know to my cost). Get a list of publications on your CV and you stand a chance of getting a job in HE: your skills as a teacher are below your juggling skills when it comes to essential requirements in many institutions. 

But I digress. Sarah sees blogging as a partial answer. She means the 'edited' blog: online space devoted to the exchange of new ideas and methods. It's about gatekeeping: if you're writing on Stanford's Arcade blogsite, you're credible and influential: your peers can trust you even though your posts aren't peer-reviewed or footnoted (I pine for a footnote facility on Blogger), but it's not the same here at Vole Towers. But Sarah also sees a place for the personal blog, of which Vole is one - I rarely go into the esoteric details of my literary interests, partly because I don't get enough research done, but partly because I think my readers wouldn't be that excited by it. To Sarah, the personal blog gives prospective academic partners and employers an 'in the round' view of the author. 
I believe my work is an extension of myself. It comes from me, from my attitudes, values and personal experiences. When you hire me for a job you are hiring me, the person and I believe the personal blog provides an introduction to that person. Someone could be a publishing regularly in in high impact journals but it's not easy to tell what they are like to work with. By putting my blog out there I am offering my readers an introduction to not only my work but the things that inspire it and the things which make me, as a researcher, as person, as a potential employee tick.
Um. As a great man once said, 'Up to a point, Lord Copper'. I was talking about this to my students today. Not one said they were completely factually truthful on the web. We use pseudonyms. Flattering photographs. We try to be cool, authoritative or even - and not speaking personally - sexy. We refer to the awesome half-pipe we pulled, and not that embarrassing flatulence problem. We edit ourselves: the web has provided us with multiple spaces for identity. On the web we can be whoever we want - or we could be, were our friends and even distant acquaintances not posting pictures of us in a drunk and dishevelled condition. to, of course, that there is a 'true', permanent or stable self off- or online.  

Sarah is talking about the mature, responsible world of academia, and she's right: most of us respect each other enough to challenge and share ideas rather than merrily engage in flame wars and trolling. But I don't mind admitting that I'm not entirely convinced of the world's disinterested regard for us bloggers. I've been outed a couple of times now, but I don't list Vole on my CV - I still think that the authorities see us as unfocussed whingers to some extent, and looking at many of my posts, they're not entirely wrong. For Sarah, her thoughtful, intellectual blog has led to peer-regard and further dissemination of her work. Perhaps that will happen for me, though the very restricted field I work in perhaps militates against it. On the other hand, there are tentative moves that way in my field, such as the CREW blog, which acts as a clearing house for Swansea's Centre for Research into the English-language Literature of Wales). 

I certainly agree with Sarah that the sclerotic and corrupt world of academic publishing could be shaken up by speedy, egalitarian blog-style publication, but we're not there yet. I haven't yet collaborated with colleagues in other institutions through new media, but I'm certainly open to offers. One thing which springs to mind is minority language use of new media: what's the Welsh for Twitter? ('adar yn cant' is 'birdsong', and 'to chatter' is 'sgwrsio', but that's the closest I can get. 

1 comment:

Tim said...

I thought 'Cloncian' was to chatter or perhaps Twitter. At least that was the name of a conversational Welsh course I took a few years ago.