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The Virtues of Blogging as a Scholarly Activity

At the Chronicle of Higher Educationthis week, the Open University’s Martin Weller has a very strong essay on why blogging for many should be a central part of a scholar’s overall portfolio of work.  As Weller notes, there are not only may advantages for the scholar, but also for their institutions, as increasingly a university’s reputation is a function of their online identity and reach.  

Blogging will never replace peer-reviewed scholarship, and junior scholars need to be careful in balancing their time commitments.  But as someone who has blogged since 2005, I have found that it is a very beneficial platform for connecting with other scholars and thinkers across disciplines and professions.  It’s also a strong platform for mixing traditional scholarship with public scholarship, especially if you work in an area of the social sciences, humanities, or sciences that are policy-relevant.

Here’s how Weller explains his own outlook:

My academic identity—I’m a professor of educational technology at the Open University in the United Kingdom—is strongly allied with my blog. Increasingly we find that our academic identities are distributed. There was a time when you could have pointed to a list of publications as a neat proxy for your academic life, but now you might want to reference not only your publications, but also a set of videos, presentations, blog posts, curated collections, and maybe even your social network. All of these combine to represent the modern academic. My blog sits at the heart of these, the place where I reference the other media and representations.

This is not to argue that a blog should play the same role for everyone. A key aspect of the digital revolution is not the direct replacement of one form of scholarly activity with another, but rather the addition of alternatives to existing forms. In his book From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg: What You Really Need to Know About the Internet (Quercus, 2012), my colleague John Naughton argues that this is a lesson we should learn. “Looking back on the history,” he writes, “one clear trend stands out: Each new technology increased the complexity of the ecosystem.”

This trend is evident in academic practice. Previously if I wanted to convey an idea or a research finding, my choices were limited to a conference paper or journal article or, if I could work it up, a book. These choices still remain, but in addition I can create a video, podcast, blog post, slidecast, and more. It may be that a combination of these is ideal—a blog post gets immediate reaction and can then be worked into a conference presentation, shared through SlideShare, or turned into a paper that is submitted to a journal. In each case the blog or social network becomes a key route for sharing and disseminating the findings. One recent study suggests that use of Twitter, for instance, can both boost and predict citations of journal articles.


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