Further Thoughts on Blogging Profs.

Following my previous post on Professor Pat Thomson’s new blog, a few things have been nagging at me in terms of the wider context of professorial blogging and the nature of influence in social media practices across academic hierarchies.

It is reasonable to assume that professors who choose to blog play a role in inspiring early researchers within their disciplines to do the same, but does this necessarily lead to adoption? If I see a professor presenting at a research conference, I might be inspired, but I may not be eager to jump up there and do the same.

In my experience, some of the most crucial barriers to postgraduates starting to blog centre on perceptions of academic quality, reputation and audience – something along the lines of:

  • “I don’t have much to say / contribute (at this stage in my studies)”
  • “Nobody is interested in what I have to say”
  • “I don’t have the confidence to share my thoughts on a public platform”
  • “I may regret putting my ideas online that will appear academically naive in the future.”

We might reasonably assume that senior academic bloggers are highly knowledgeable, confident and articulate, with a rich portfolio of research and experience to draw on, and an ability to attract a critical mass of fellow academics. However, whilst they may inform and inspire, might the apparent maturity, assuredness and gravitas of their blogging practices actually deter early researchers from blogging themselves?

Of course, we should not necessarily assume that senior academics have the experiences and competencies of using blogging platforms. They may be new adopters to social media generally, and cautious of the potential implications to their own professional identities and reputations.

But we cannot realistically expect these busy academics to spend any amount of time on informal online dissemination without good reason. I’ve written before on the multiple purposes of blogging (that are often interrelated in complex ways), and there is no reason why a professor should be any different. For some it may be no more than a minor box-ticking exercise in demonstrating research impact, an online platform for self-promotion, or a resources dump. Others may seek to develop more dynamic, discursive and reflective blogging environments, which invite debate, engage with their current practice and research, and demonstrate a willingness to share ideas and expose their own inconsistencies, doubts and challenges.

Which of these are the most likely to influence and affect social media practice in their field?


12 Responses to “Further Thoughts on Blogging Profs.”

  1. Inger Says:

    Interesting Andy – Having a blog does raise your profile and expose your work to others – for good and bad. I wonder if becoming vulnerable in this way is difficult for many academics? Blogs grow best when they invite people to engage and add their own opinion – but we are taught to persuade others in our writing, not engage them. We are trained to protect ourselves from attack with sharply honed arguments. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately because the most common argument I get from academics for not blogging is “I can’t write like you” – by which I suppose they mean ‘journalistically’. I’m not sure this is a compliment4 🙂 What do you think?

  2. Lucy Griffiths Says:

    Hi Andy
    This made me think about why I blog. I’m an ‘early career’ lecturer at an institution very focused on teaching who is trying to fit research in around a heavy teaching commitment and administrative responsibilities, and for me blogging is a way of having a voice (albeit a very quiet one). I don’t craft my blogs, they are just collections of thoughts that would otherwise be forgotten, and unlike the professorial blogger I have no concerns for my reputation as I haven’t got one to lose! I also believe that academia needs to loosen some of the cords of elitism and control that bind its publishing community to their ranked journals. As an academic community we should be diverse, accepting, and prepared to adapt to new media instead of afraid that it will erode our carefully constructed and protected images of gravitas and intellect. If you, or I, or a star professor have something to say, why be afraid to say it?

  3. Andy Coverdale Says:

    Hi Inger.

    I guess learning is partly about exposing oneself to ‘vulnerable’ situations.

    By ‘journalistic’ I assume you mean a more populist style of writing – engaging with a wider audience etc? I think senior academics are (or should be) highly skilled in this, and do so across various platforms, formats and environments.

    New researchers are predisposed to developing a formal ‘academic’ language seen as necessary to gain access and reputation in the research community. How is this challenged when we have to engage in public and interdisciplinary contexts?

    Academics (at any level) may not be so familiar with – and therefore wary of – perceived cultural conventions (‘etiquette’) around blogging and other social media.

  4. Andy Coverdale Says:

    Hi Lucy.

    I think we all have a reputation to some extent – no matter how lowly we may feel sometimes!

    Your comment on the “carefully constructed and protected images of gravitas and intellect” is interesting. How much do you think these forms of representation are constructed by the systems inherent in formal academic discourse, and how much by the individual academics? Is there a tension here?

  5. virginia Yonkers Says:

    On my faculty information sheet which is used for promotions and support for appointments, there is no space for blogs. In the American academic system, blogs are not considered academic as there is no review process.

    Many of my students use blogging socially. In fact, in the US, blogging is moving away from a public voice to a “news” feature.

  6. David Albrecht Says:

    There are so many directions for a professor to take in blogging. I hear you mention blogging for other academics. In my discipline, that would mean educational blogging.

    My blog (The Summa