This post reflects my first four month experience of using this Blog (the Virtual Canuck) for the type of pseudo-academic writing that seems to characterize the 12 postings I’ve made to this blog. The post compares disseminating academic related discourse on a blog as compared to publication in the more traditional peer reviewed Journal.
Comparing new and old technologies has its challenges. Jermey Heibert noted in response to a related comparative post that one shouldn’t “criticize the design of a screwdriver because it doesn’t work well for hammering nails”. Will Richardson in his excellent primer on blogs and other tools, seems to have a similar conception about what is “real” blogging and what is not. This type of criticism misses the continuous appropriation of technology to undertake and in some cases transform tasks that were not at all related to those envisioned by the original developers. Thus, I attempt in this post to compare and contrast the use of blogs for a task they weren’t designed for, yet may still be applied with interesting result.
I begin by providing some personal context. I am full time academic and researcher working at a Canadian University. My field is educational technology. Like all academics I am in the “publish or perish” game and have, over the past 20 years, authored or coauthored 5 books and over 50 peer reviewed articles and book chapters. I work in a discipline that values many forms of scholarly discourse including data defined “scientific results”, qualitative interpretations and ‘think piece’ type reflections – my own work demonstrates all three of these types of scholarly publication. My self directed learning challenge is to explore Blogging as a viable mode of academic publication and discourse.
Writing Style: Blogs seem to have a subtle capacity to humanize academic discourse. Gee (2004) argues that in academic writing the author disguises themeselves to write for and from the perpective of “one who backgrounds his or her distinctive indiviudal, social, ethinic, economic and cultural properties, and, in that sense fictionalizes him or her self”p. 280. This is very markedly contrasted with advise from many blogging “how to” books and articles suggesting that Blogging has a distinct writing style that falls someplace between colloquial banter and newspaper style reporting. Perhaps the effects of 20 years in academia have reduced my ability to write in any but ‘uptight academize’, thus I have used the blog to publish pieces that are not dissimilar in style or content from the “think piece” type writing that I typically use in an article or in an editorial in the journal that I edit.
I don’t feel a compelling need or desire to publish overly personalized notes. Is anyone really interested in seeing flicks and commentary about what a wonderful holiday I had last summer? But I am passionately interested in the evolving social software tools and their current and prospective applications in formal education and informal learning. Thus, my posts have been semi formal – often containing a number of references linked or listed in a bibliography at the end. As I re-read the posts I pick out the odd spelling mistake and ways that the grammar or wording could have been improved. Sometimes I make retroactive edits, but if the errors are not too embarrassing, I leave them.
Writing style is always defined by the author’s image of the reading audience. I think I write in this blog for my professional peers, who are mostly in the education business, and who are operating close to the bleeding edge or at least as early adopters and innovators of educational technology. I make assumptions that they are interested in the technologies and in learning and assume they can follow an academic type argument.
Feedback and Interaction
Immediacy: The most stunning comparison between blogs and journal publishing is the immediacy of the former. A typical journal article in my field represents months of work, followed by submission to a journal, followed by the editor’s preliminary review and then peer review by 2 or 3 others. Almost inevitably the reviews results in requests for edits forcing enhancements which may give rise to a second round of reviews. This is then followed by submission to the accepted paper queue and a further wait of from 3-12 months. Then one can look forward to a very sporadic “I read your article in…..” comment from a colleague sometime down the road. One can also look forward to referencing of your work in other articles – these may begin to appear after a minimum 12 month minimum delay as the response or reference works through the system. This is contrasted with a response that may arrive within hours of posting to the blog.
Responses: It is interesting to compare the responsiveness to a journal article to that which resulted from a posting I did on Personal Learning Environments. The Intelliseek BlogPlus conversation tracker produces the following when seeded with the URL from that article.
Each of the postings above references my post or a posting that referenced my post. This is not to suggest that each of these blogs was inspired directly by my post, but that these writings referenced the post, indicating a likely avenue for me (and others) to pursue in order to delve deeper into the topic. Note as well the immediacy of the responses – all with 10 days of my post.
The Blog also allows me a venue for rebuttal and engagement with the reader that are perhaps possible but very rarely done directly in academic journals. Thus, feedback and immediacy demonstrates very high relative advantage for Blogs.
However, what of the quality of that feedback? First, one has to discount the plague of spam that seems to be the most popular genre of comment posted to my blog. The responses I get are quite varied and usually consist of short snippets of feedback. Now this lack of detailed response may be due to the somewhat mundane and perhaps pedantic nature of my posts, but I have not gotten the type of in depth feedback I would expect to get from editors and reviewers of a peer reviewed article. More typically other bloggers use a reference to my posting to begin and expand their own thinking. So one can conclude that blogging response is more generative than comprehensive or authoritative.
Ego Boosting: To varying degrees all writers write to exercise their ego. I do enjoy noting the number of links from Technorati, the number of references from others found in Googleblogs and like to see my posts referenced in Stephen’s daily email listing. Most comments are fair and thus far have been more or less congratulatory and reinforcing. Publishing on the blog is like throwing a big rock in a lake. The initial splash is terrific and unlike a similar thrilling splash from holding the first copy of a paper publication, the ripples keep expanding and washing back on the shore.
Dissemination: Like all academics, the dissemination of my work is a professional responsibility. I’ve made a personal commitment not to submit any more articles to journals that are not open access or at least allow for self archiving on a public website. Thus, dissemination and consequent search and retrieval on the blog is not qualitatively much different than dissemination in an open access journal. However there are some differences. First the specialty search engines index the two types of dissemination differently. Blogs are indexed in Technorati, blogsearch.google, www.blogpulse.com http://www.google.com/analytics/ and Google Measure Map. And others. These services allow me to track and visualize the ripples as they expand outword from my blog splash and the intersections of the ripples from the postings of others. More formally published articles are indexed in different places including ERIC, CiteSeer, Google Scholar and proprietary aggrgators such as Thompson ISI and Epsco’s Academic Premier. The lack of cross over among theses indexing services means that items posted in one genre will not likely be retrieved in another. Thus, an interested reader might miss a publication if they were not searching in both types of indexes. I should note though that of course ordinary Google does index both genres.
One should also note the ethereal nature of blog postings. A blog posting could stay in existence for a long period of time but there is little guarantee of its permanence. (note to self – make some archived copies). Unlike a journal article, there is no editorial resource or system of librarians dedicated to preserving and making the article available for the long term.
Reward: How are blog posting assessed in academia? I think it is almost un-arguable that self publishing on a blog does not carry anywhere near the academic value as publication in a peer reviewed journal. Fortunately, I’m a full professor and so not quite as vulnerable to the demands of tenure and review committees as my younger colleagues. But institutional acclaim is only one set of rewards. Blogging is emerging as a vocation in its own right and the rewards for blog stars are beginning to materialize in writing and review contracts, conference appearance requests and consulting opportunities. I think that the web presence (validated by a variety of indexes) provided through regular Blog posting will increasingly be seen as an indicator of contribution – in addition to fame and glory!
Conclusion: To end where I began, one can conclude that a peer reviewed article and a blog posting are very different genres of academic dissemination. The former is usually longer, more formal, more polished and more substantive, but the later is more responsive, immediate and timely. I think both are useful tools in academia and blogs are emerging as an important way for academics to move their work outside of the academy in ways that are very cost effective and that can meet the needs of important new audiences.