A Very Brief Introduction

I created this blog as part of a project for my Digital Humanities course at the University of Lethbridge. The intent of this series is to provide resource materials on academic blogging, as well as to introduce some of the trending themes and conversations that are happening across the internet in regards to this topic.

The point of this blog series is to start to craft a conversation around why academic blogging is relevant to Digital Humanities. My premise behind my thinking is rather simple in this regard. Digital technologies, in this case blogs, are changing the way in which we engage in post-secondary pedagogy and scholarly research.  Specifically, blogs provide a medium by which academics can disseminate information at a unprecedented rate. As such, blogging has, and will continue to, become a vital means of scholarly discourse.
You will find two main elements on this blog site. 

1. Four larger posts listed here. These range from 1,000 to 1,500 words each and deal with some of the more salient issues concerning academic blogging.  I have also linked all of the resources that I encountered, cited, or found relevant to these conversations. Simply click on the links and they will direct you to further readings.

2.  Four smaller posts that contain research material, or videos that I found particularly useful in this study.

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From the Cathedral to the Bazaar

I chose the title of my first post from a series of academic blogs written by Mark Carrigan  that I have been reading over the past semester in preparation for my Digital Humanities final project. In his post, Carrigan quotes Professor Daniel Little of the University of Michigan on his views of how academic blogging has shifted scholarly publishing from ” intermittent, private productions of one off works” to iterative, dialogical forums. The full quote reads as such:

 Perhaps it’s time to move from ‘the Cathedral to the Bazaar’. These metaphors from the open-source software movement refer to contrasting models of [academic] development. In academic terms we might see them as referring to distinct orientations towards publishing: one which works towards the intermittent, largely private, production of one-off works (papers and monographs → cathedrals) and the other which proceeds in an iterative and dialogical fashion, with a range of shorter-term outputs (blog posts, tweets, online articles, podcasts, storified conversations etc) standing in a dynamic and productive relationship with larger-scale traditional publishing projects: the ‘cathedrals’ can be something we build through dialogues, within communities of practice, structured around reciprocal engagement with publications on social media platforms.

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2012/02/29/reflections-continuous-publishing/

When I found this quote for the first time I was relieved to realize that over the course of the last five years, there have been huge strides made in the transition to what Little refers to as the new forms of open source publishing. I use the time frame of five years, as it is personally significant; in 2009 I began my undergrad journey. I still vividly remember some of my very first professors lecturing us on the dangers of online based research and publishing. They would all (or mostly all) espouse that the internet was little better than a cesspool of uneducated opinions represented by quasi professional websites. Five years later I end my undergrad career studying Digital Humanities, which at its core promotes the sort of open access global community that half a decade earlier was so railed against. The idea of academic blogging stood out to me as I began researching a final project for my Digital Humanities course at the University of Lethbridge, as it embodied the spirit of what I thought Digital Humanities to be; a shift from the Cathedrals of journalistic methods of publishing to the Bazaars of global academic dialogue.

Returning to Carrigans blog again, he says: “What I found particularly interesting in Little’s [description of academic blogs] is that he describes himself as an ‘open-source philosopher’. The integration of the blog into his working practices, such that it constitutes the starting point for traditional scholarship rather than something in opposition to it, is something which deeply resonates with me from the opposite end of the career spectrum.”

I believe that Carrigan and Little are both making compelling arguments for how in this case form  (blogging), is crucial for the development of content (academic discourse and development):

 The past six years have demonstrated to me the broad and expanding opportunity the Web and social media provide for scholars and thinkers. It is possible to reach readers throughout the world whom we would never have reached in the past through traditional journal and book publication. And I have found the medium to be a great stimulus for research creativity as well. I’ve written on topics that never would have come up for me in a more traditional research strategy, and these topics have broadened me as a philosopher and thinker. And I’ve formed new academic relationships through the blog and associated social media….

– Social media such as blogs represent an incredible opportunity for scholars to engage in discourse beyond the walls of academia. As I ponder graduate studies, the idea of blogging sprang to my mind when deciding what some of the most influential movements in Digital Humanities would be moving forward. Originally, I wanted to talk about how social medias such as Twitter, Facebook, Blogger (etc) were impacting scholarly pedagogy, though I realized that the scope of such a topic would be far too large for what I wanted to accomplish here. So instead I chose to focus on blogging, and will integrate some of the talk of other social medias around it as a central hub.

My inspiration for the study of academic blogs can in part be attributed to some of the form and content discussions in our early Digital Humanities classes. Another source that I would attribute significance to has been the idea of the Unessay: the deconstruction of formal academic writing into a style which favours content over form. Through this the idea of meta-blogging ( blogging about blogs) took form. In the context of Digital Humanities, I began asking myself how formal scholarly discourse has, and will continue to, evolve in the wake of what Saloman Kahn has dubbed the digital revolution.

As I delve further into this topic I will begin looking at some of the most salient topics in regards to academic blogging that I have discovered through the process of reading these blogs. For myself, I am most interested in watching a movement away from formal publishing venues ( most notably Journals), as to allow for academic discourse to evolve effectively. As these blogs develop I will focus on a handful of subjects that I think are useful for considering when engaging with the concept of scholarly blogging, such as integration with other technological platforms, creating digital personalities, and learning how to use blogs as a means of exploring and incubating new academic discourse.

To close, I want to leave you with another quote from Little’s blog ( which, for the record, if you haven’t heard of yet you should take a second to read). Above all else, I think he perfectly sums up why blogs are invaluable to Digital Humanities.

– The blog has also given me a chance to write about topics I’ve long cared about, but haven’t had a professional venue for writing about. These include things like the reality of race in the United States; the lineaments of power that determine so many of the features of contemporary life; and the nuts and bolts of education and equality in our country. And along the way of researching and writing about some of these topics, I’ve come to have a better and more detailed understanding of them. Not many philosophers have such a wide opportunity to write on a variety of topics beyond the confines of their sub-disciplines.

Mewburn and Thomson – Why Do Academics Blog? An Analysis of Audiences, Purposes and Challenges.

This is a great read on the subject.

Why do academics blog? An analysis of audiences, purposes and
challenges – Inger Mewburn and Pat Thomson

http://0-www.tandfonline.com.darius.uleth.ca/doi/pdf/10.1080/03075079.2013.835624

Academics are increasingly being urged to blog in order to expand their audiences, create networks and to learn to write in more reader friendly style. This paper holds this advocacy up to empirical scrutiny. A content analysis of 100 academic blogs suggests that academics most commonly write about academic work conditions and policy contexts, share information and provide advice; the intended audience
for this work is other higher education staff. We contend that academic blogging may constitute a community of practice in which a hybrid public/private academic operates in a ‘gift economy’. We note however that academic blogging is increasingly of interest to institutions and this may challenge some of the current practices we have recorded. We conclude that there is still much to learn about academic blogging practices

Academic Blogging: A Brief Introduction.

        It has been an interesting past couple of months reading through the (literally) hundreds of academic blogs that have been plastered all over the internet. If you are curious as to how popular it is, I would encourage you to simply type in “ Academic Blog” into your nearest search engine and watch it explode ( metaphorically that is). Though one of the first curiosities that I stumbled across is that the very nature of informal blogging is that there are very few rules or regulations that dictate what makes a blog apply to a certain genre aside from content. I found myself asking “ What is an academic blog, and why do some professional chose to set them up?”. With that in mind, I had quite a few questions concerning what an academic blog is and what differentiates it from other forms of blogging. In an attempt to bring some definition to this subject, I have compiled a small list of reasons and concerns that I found were common topics for bloggers who identified as working in academic fields. While the ensuing post is in no way comprehensive, there are quite a few good points that have been made as to what you should consider in thinking about starting a blog about your professional life.

           Perhaps the most salient questions I kept encountering in my reading are really the most simple ones. Why should academics blog? What are the benefits? Are they enough to outweigh the time investment that generally go into having to maintain a  blog site properly?  There have been some very compelling arguments made by people who are much more qualified than myself, but here are some of the general points that have been made.

1) Blogging is a great way to create and sustain a public profile.

    Wether you are an undergrad, grad student, Ph.D. candidate or tenured professor, blogging is an extremely effective way to generate interest in your research. In an earlier post I wrote on Daniel Little’s assertion that blogging is transforming academic progress from the Cathedrals to the Bazaars – which is to say from the strictly academic settings into public conversation – and I think that this metaphor is incredibly pertinent. Part of the benefit of summarizing your work for online publication is that it is subjected to interactions from people literally all over the world. It also establishes a track record and begins building a portfolio around your research. While some may choose to stay away from this style of public interactions, other academics, especially in the Humanities and Sciences, have found it to be a great way to interact with a diverse array of opinions. Furthermore, guest blogging has increasingly been used as a means of injecting professional opinions into a more public sphere. Some people may rail against the idea of thrusting a traditionally conservative institution into the limelight, but it has proven to be incredibly effective. Doubt my last statement? Just ask the likes of Neil Degrasse Tyson.

        Actually there was a nice article posted in The Guardian by John Gallagher back in 2012 about the benefits of creating a public persona for research.  In it he states:

        A lot of comment on this debate misses one simple, crucial fact: the cat’s already out of the bag. The new generation of [academics], far from waiting for Penguin and the BBC to come to call, are actively using blogs, Twitter, and even stand-up comedyto reach a far wider audience than their predecessors might have dreamt of. It’s not just recent PhDs doing this – witness the multimedia dynamo that is Mary Beard – but it’s hard to deny that the younger generation’s media literacy has given them an increased ability to enthrall an interested public.

      And it’s good for research, too. Dr Lindsey Fitzharris createdThe Chirurgeon’s Apprentice, a blog about the history of surgery which allows her to merge her academic interests with a desire to reach a wider public. She says that, as well as making people more interested in some fascinating but little-known material, the blog “has forced me to think about my own work from the perspective of a non-specialist”, inspiring “new and interesting ways to think about my research. 


2) Blogging can be a natural extension of work rather than an added chore.

  One of the beautiful things about blog posting is that it is not subjected to the same strict regulations of more formal academic writing. In fact some may argue that blogs are not subjected to any rules at all. The benefit of such low key standards is that they allow you to do just about anything you please with your blogs.  As a result of this, blogging can become a natural extension of your work.

       For one, blogging allows you to post and keep track of the work that you are currently engaged in. Think of it as a public ( or private) notebook by which you can post the things you have been reading while adding in short summaries from time to time. It also helps connect you to other individuals who may be using the same material for completely different reasons. Either way it serves two distinct purposes. To log and summarize the research that you are doing and to provide possible avenues for others to engage with your work in a meaningful way. The argument for this is simple really. Wether you choose to do this publicly or privately – blogging is a simple way of amalgamating and tracking your research over a prolonged period of time. It also allows for near ubiquitous access.

     Another useful facet of blogging is that it allows you to broadcast your work to specific groups of individuals. Allow me to clarify – there is a difference to be found between public and private blogging. Public blogging is postings that are open to the word to see. Private blogging is a form of work that is specifically limited to certain groups of individuals. For instance, a professor could use a blog to share lecture notes with his classroom, address frequently asked questions, or provide a means of explaining difficult concepts more fully without having to take away from class time. Blogging provides a platform for engaging with students that can be saved, replicated and refined over the course of several years, which in turn can save quite a bit of time.

    Mark Carrigan has yet another great blog on the benefits of continuous blogging.

    Another great source on tips for successful academic blogging is this blog here.  

3. Blogging Increases Digital Literacy

       Over the course of my undergrad degree I have given several lectures on why digital literacy is more important than ever.  By digital literacy I simply mean the ability to meaningfully interact, understand and utilize new forms of technology. For perhaps a more holistic understanding of the term I would suggest you check out this blog. For many users, blogging is a relatively gentle means of getting your feet wet in a more technologically oriented fashion in your career and it often leads to a greater understanding of digital trends as a whole.

      In terms of academic purposes, blogging can transform itself into a gateway for interconnecting between various medias and styles of research…. ( While I was writing these blog series I quickly found myself picking up all kinds of incidentally related facts along the way such as embedding RSS feeds, html coding basics…..understanding and incorporating different kinds of media into my work ( ie youtube video’s pictures ect) and logging bibliographic information) … I quickly found that the more I blogged, the more I discovered different ways to blog. One idea led to another and in short order I realized that the process of blogging forced me into waters that were different than what I expected.

   Another critical aspect of digital literacy is it promotes an increased ability to evaluate and cross-reference content. With a few quick google searches I was quickly finding out who some of the leading experts in various fields across the world were. In turn, their blogs often referenced the work of other academics which they had found meaningful or influential. Very quickly I was able to create frameworks for understanding what some of the more salient topics were in a given field and who the most helpful people to reference were when looking at any given subject ( Ie: While writing a history paper last term, I was able to compile a very comprehensive bibliography on my particular subject by paying attention to authors and works that were commonly cited the most). A long story short is that for the nature of most blogs they are designed to deliver short bursts of information quickly. This can be extremely useful in developing and expanding a body of research quickly.

Corporate blogs. An interesting side note.

– I chose to include this post because I think there are pertinent connections to be made between the psychology of corporate blogging and academic blogging.

Corporate blogs: What factors influence blog readers and comment providers to continue using blogs. – Livia Negrutu ( 2013)

https://www.uleth.ca/dspace/handle/10133/3476

Abstract:

As blogs have become a new and significant way of distributing information, businesses and organizations have started looking for ways to exploit corporate blogs. With their recent evolution, little research has been conducted on the factors that influence blog readers and comment providers to continue engaging in corporate blogging activities. In this study, we analyze IT corporate blog users’ motivations to continue using blogs based on an integrated technology acceptance model (TAM) and expectation confirmation model for the information technology domain (ECM-IT). Our findings suggest that confirmation, perceived usefulness, information quality and social norms are the main determinants of satisfaction, attitude and continued blog usage intention. Moreover, results indicate that some of the factors that influence users to continue using personal blogs do not apply to corporate blog visitors. Overall, our model explains 71% of the variance of continued blog usage intention.

Creating and Sustaining a Digital Personality.

In the last blog that I posted, I talked about why I believed academic blogging was going to be a major influence to how we approach the subject of Digital Humanities and how I believe it is already beginning to shape various fields of study. This week I am going to talk about some of the challenges facing maintaining an academic blog, such as establishing credibility and maintaining a professional digital image.

The first issue that kept cropping up is the notion of establishing a credible online presence. In their 2013 publication Online Credibility and Digital Ethos: Evaluating Computer-Mediated Communication, Moe Folk and Shawn Apostel highlight one of the key challenges with credibility in the digital age. In it they state:

With the near ubiquity of technology, acquiring and publishing online information has never been easier; however, increased access to consuming and producing digital information raises new challenges when establishing and evaluating online credibility. These challenges are important because they affect academia…Though this conundrum of too much information and what exactly to trust can be partly addressed through the traditional methods such as strict gatekeeping, the constantly evolving nature of digital information and the digitally-infused societies producing and assessing that information means that no fixed solution will be a panacea.

Folk and Apostel raise an important question. In an age of increased digital interconnection which revels in the freedom of form and speech, what methods do we use to verify the credibility of the publishing source? It seems then, that while proponents of blogging revel in the increased freedom from non-academic venues, they duly suffer from the lack of standards used to regulate traditional academic journals. One such solution seems to imply a certain need for regulating blogs by using the same guidelines imposed on traditional publication methods. The reality of such a suggestion implies that while academic blogging offers an unmoderated venue for publishing, it pays a price for lacking the branding and promised quality associated with peer reviewed journals. Jenny Davis with the University of Texas Sociology department writes:

 The most obvious problem with blogs is that they are not peer-reviewed. They sit outside the agreed upon standard of academia, taking away the insurance policy (however flimsy that policy may be) of the peer-review process. Anyone with minimal computer literacy and access to a computer can publish a blog. Although this opens the discursive boundaries, it also means the discourse is far more crowded, and an academic writer must navigate the crowds with no clear rubric to discern rigor.

–   http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2013/05/08/the-place-of-blogs-in-academic-writing/

If academic blogs cannot stand on their merit due to issues of credibility, then the question becomes one of figuring out exactly where blogging sits in the canon of academic discourse. The answer? Somewhere slightly above non-regulated discourse and well below fully accredited academic publication. Yet in the same article mentioned above, Jenny Davis does highlight some of the relative benefits of academic blogs.

1) Peer-reviewed journals are slow, jargon ridden, and often financially pay-walled. Blogs are fast, self-published, and usually free. That is; the content of a blog becomes available far faster than that of a journal article, and is accessible to a wider audience. Including blogs within formal academic writing allows authors to utilize ideas that may not yet be available through traditional channels, and provides source materials for those without access to content hidden behind publishers’ blockades

2) Blogs can be written by anyone. Peer-reviewed journal articles and books are almost always authored by academics. This academic bias, like pay-walls and jargon, limits discursive participants, whereas blogs can potentially open discursive boundaries

3) Traditional journals rely on existing experts to decide what can/should be published. If an idea or methodology does not fit within the existing framework, its chances of acceptance diminish. Blogs are less susceptible this type of censorship, providing a wider breadth of theoretical building blocks and facilitating new theoretical directions.

Also, it is important to note that there have already been big improvements to how academic institutions have handled  this problem of credibility. For many, the solution has been to build web portals in which publishers are verified by the individual institutions. Examples of these would be associations like the Institute for Research on Public Policy, and the London School of Economics have used the weight and credibility of their name to establish the equivalent of brand names for academic publishing. This guarantees the reader that the work published on this site is written by a qualified individual who is vetted by the institution. Like any new technology, there will be growing pains associated with implementing their full use. Academic blogging is no exception. This is especially true in the traditionally conservative universities in which these technologies are trying to find purchase.

What is most important in these developing years will be to figure out exactly where these blogs situate themselves within the confines of academic discourse. While online credibility has presented a significant challenge, the mass proliferation of academic blogs that continue to pop up suggests that the potential risks have not yet outweighed the even more enticing benefits.