Alice Bell, who blogs as through the looking glass, is currently doing some research on academic blogging She’s focusing particularly on people who blog about education. This post is a response to her questions. I won’t repeat the questions here ; you can find them on her site Research: education bloggers – and you might like to respond to them too.
So why do I blog? This is a question that I consider from time to time. The answer I give now is pretty different to the reasons I had when I started. For me, there is a difference between beginning and sustaining patter.
So the creation story… I began to blog as a way of putting down some ‘stuff’ that I often ended up talking about in my teaching, particularly the academic writing and research education courses and in supervision. The same things often cropped up in the academic writing workshops that I run. I thought that some of the pedagogical strategies I’d developed were worth putting down and putting out there – wherever there is. And I was pretty certain that there weren’t enough discussions about academic careers and life and these were things that a lot of people were worried about. My hunch was that it was worth trying to put some of this ‘stuff’ together.
Could I have done this in some way other than a blog? Well not really. No individual post in this blog would constitute a journal article. Overall the posts don’t amount to a book, although some of them do relate to my publications on academic writing. So the blog is a good genre and word length to write about things for which there isn’t an obvious alternative outlet.
Originally I had no idea who would actually end up reading the blog, nor how I would publicise it, although I did know that I was generally aiming for doctoral and early career researchers and other like-minded people who are interested in supporting them. So I’ve always had a reader in mind.
I don’t get paid to do this blog per se. I wouldn’t be chastised for not doing it. However I do see it as my job, specifically three things (at present):
(1) it’s a form of professing – it’s a public expression of some of the things that I work on and think about.
(2) it’s an affirmation of the academy as a gift economy, and a bit of a stand against only writing in publications that individuals or institutions have to pay for. I know I’m not alone in this, but I also know that a lot of researchers with careers to build can’t afford to be so open with their ideas. Quite frankly I have nothing to lose in career terms from putting my stuff out there.
(3) But bizarrely it now turns out that blogging is actually OK. Well who knew? Suddenly my own and other institutions think that social media is important and that blogging is a Good Thing. I’m one of a smallish group of my colleagues who blog and we are seen as some kind of leaders in the field. I don’t care about this too much but it does mean that I can talk about blogging within my own institution from a position of participation, rather than as an observer.
However none of these three things keeps me going. What does?
Well, the blog does have a much more immediate readership than any other form of writing I’ve done. People comment, they like and they subscribe. This is very affirming for me as a writer and something you don’t get in the same way from journal articles and books. There the responses are much more remote and distant; the time from the writing to the review or citation is often quite long, as opposed to the almost immediate blog response.
And the comments that people make in response to posts are often very interesting. And things happen I don’t anticipate. For example, two people who’ve commented on a post and who didn’t know each other seem to have decided to have an offline conversation between themselves as a result of a shared set of concerns that were stimulated by a post. Fantastic. So the blog has been a space which hasn’t just been mine, it’s been used by others and I’d certainly like to see more of that and have lots more unexpected things happen.
That example is just one manifestation of the connectivities that I’ve established via the blog and its connected twitterings. I’ve got to know new people and the work that they do. I’ve connected with people across disciplines and looked at their work and exchanged comments in ways that were previously unavailable to me. I’ve jointly written posts with Thesis Whisperer and we’re about to meet f2f for the first time: on the table for discussion are other possible collaborations. So that’s all really stimulating and very worthwhile.
And the blog is endlessly fascinating – I confess it’s more than a bit addictive looking at the daily blog statistics, trying to sort out what day and what time is most auspicious, what kinds of posts get read most and what posts appeal to which readership.
I must additionally confess that I worry I will run out of things to write about – but so far I’ve kept the posts going for nearly a year without that happening. So maybe the fear of blogger’s block just serves the same purpose as any other kind of self imposed deadline. Produce to pressure. I’ve been well trained to do just that, so I guess the blog now falls into that broad category of things I must and just do.
Well Alice, I know you had some other questions, but like all interviewees I’m in control of how much I say and about what. I’ve had enough of this now. Thanks for provoking me to blog about blogging and of course I’m happy to chat offline if you actually do want to follow up.
I’m also interested in hearing about other bloggers’ responses so I look forward to reading about what you’ve been told.