Mewburn, Inger, and Pat Thomson’s article “Why Do Academics Blog? An Analysis of Audiences, Purposes and Challenges.”* is a content analysis and not and a study of academics’ self-stated motivations for blogging. Nevertheless, five thoughts on why I blog here:
Self-promotion: I started blogging in earnest when the Higher Education Academy decided not to fund subject centres any longer. Whatever the rights and wrongs and politics of that decision it motivated me to raise my profile in the online world. I’ve promoted my research, conferences, publications and other ideas on my blog. I’m not ashamed of the self-promotion aspect of my blog. I’m not sure how many people actually read it on a regular basis, but this is part of my voice in academia.
An aide memoire. Many of my more technical posts are to help me remember how to do things. A web developer colleague gave me the idea of blog things which I have worked out how to do, but can’t be relied upon to remember. If others are helped by this sharing, then that is great.
Responding: I’m not a person who responds to every news story that comes out about higher education (or anything else for that matter). The annual ritual of worrying about how many people are studying languages is something I’ve written about fairly frequently trying to get behind the data, and get away from some of the less thoughtful discussions about why (or even if) language learning is in decline.
Reviewing things: I’ve written about software such as nanDeck and AQUAD7 on the grounds that not many other people have.
To help people: I hope it doesn’t sound ‘corny’ to say I’m motivated by helping others, but it is true. If people say they find my posts helpful then I’m all the more pleased to have written them.
*Mewburn, Inger, and Pat Thomson. “Why Do Academics Blog? An Analysis of Audiences, Purposes and Challenges.” Studies in Higher Education 38, no. 8 (2013): 1105–1119. doi:10.1080/03075079.2013.835624.
As an experiment I attempted to covert the statistics for humanities website into an ebook. I was very impressed with the plugins rendering of text and tables. The images have not come out that well, but its main drawback from my point of view is that is doesn’t seem to cope with the more complex math code very well, which limits its use ‘out of the box’ for my purposes. However for purely text conversion it is excellent.
It is possible to edit the hard code whilst putting the e-book together. I haven’t tried this out yet.
Publishing in academic journals and engaging academics can help you get an academic job, get promoted, be invited to serve on committees, and get invited to speak at academic conferences. Yet if we want to make some sort of difference in the wider world we need to engage with people outside academia.
Most of us will never have our own TV series or sell millions of books, but here are five ways we can engage the public with our research.
Start a blog: With blogger.com or wordpress.com you can get going within a few minutes. Try to write a post every week or so about something related to your thesis. The blog puts your work ‘out there’, especially if you are disciplined enough to write something on a regular basis. Your blog may be found by potential collaborators, journalists seeking an expert opinion or other people with an interest in your work.
Write for non-academic audiences: There are lots of opportunities to write in publications for school pupils, teachers, activist groups, charities, popular magazines and clubs and societies where an audience for your work may be found. These sorts of publications are not a substitute for academic books and articles, but they will probably be read by more people.
Get involved in non-academic activities: Similarly look for opportunities to give talks about your research to these groups and/or get involved in their activities. Before he became well-known for Time Team the late Mick Aston came to my school and gave my A-level history class a talk about the excavation of Hailes Abbey in Gloucestershire. I have never forgotten that experience.
Don’t keep interesting things to yourself: If you find out something you think may be of wider public interest speak to supervisors, colleagues and the university press office to explore how you might communicate your work.
Get involved in the outreach activities of the faculty/ university: Public engagement is not just about your own work. The university reaches out to the public in many ways including lifelong Learning programmes, open days for prospective students, partnerships with local organisations and outreach into local schools.
Finally, two notes of caution.
Firstly, public engagement is important, but it is not a substitute for publishing in academic journals, going to academic conferences and becoming known in your academic community, especially if you desire an academic career in the future.
Secondly, make sure your public engagement is good public engagement. Despite the popular saying, there is such thing as bad publicity. Be very careful what you say and do, especially online. A negative ‘digital footprint’ is difficult to erase.
I have spent the past couple of months putting the Statistics for the Humanities book into an online format. After much deliberation I have used the MediaWiki software to do this. They is still a lot of tidying up to do and its not quite finished but comments are very welcome.
It is not a collaborative wiki a là Wikipedia , but I am open to the idea of setting it up so logged in members can amend, add and improve content. At the same time I would not wish the character and level of the material to change in such a way as to do against the actual point of the website.
Please do let me know what you think about the site itself and ways in which others might contribute.