Scholars need to make everything they do count in multiple ways

Stephen T Casper is a neuroscience and neurology historian, and an avid blogger and social media user. On The Neuro Times blog, he writes about neuroscience from multiple perspectives. Last week, his post “Why Academics Should Blog: A College of One’s Own” pierced through the Twitter noise and ended up on my Flipboard, the iPad application I use for sifting through 50-100 links every day, shared by people listed in the New Media Academics Twitter list, a list I created for the purpose of staying up-to-date on what thought leaders in the field of new media (broadly speaking) are currently reading.

To me, the most poignant paragraph from the blog post is this one:

“But most importantly, scholars need to make everything they do count in multiple ways: those blog book reviews can become the foundation of essay reviews or serve as literature reviews for new articles. They can also act as brief and searchable notes for teaching purposes that help to maintain a critical and cutting-edge classroom. Similarly, brief critical reflections on recent articles and books can develop with time into abstracts for conferences and workshops, which can become the basis for further grant applications or new articles. The joy of reading a new primary source can be shared with others who have read it and also enjoyed it.”

I shared this quote with my fellow colleagues at Malmö University and got the following reply from Hugo Boothby, editor of the Malmö University masters programme Communication for Development blog:

Here at ComDev we are working hard to develop our blog www.mah.se/comdev it’s been a good way for us to engage with alumni and new students and was a great way for us (myself and two colleagues) to quickly make public an article [The globalization of the pavement – a Tanzanian case study] on which we received valuble feedback, especially on twitter, and which is now being developed into conference paper and Nordicom article.

The ComDev people will probably continue to post article drafts on the ComDev blog now when they have had such a good experience from it. But, promoting the use of (and designing for) social media and collaborative technologies in academia also needs to take the question of tenure (“publish or perish”) into account from multiple perspectives. As Casper puts it, “scholars need to make everything they do count in multiple ways” and the challenge for a progressive academic publisher is to figure out ways for how to make the “alternative” contributions (i.e. written feedback that is NOT traditional peer-reviewing) on articles count. When will commenting on a fellow academic’s blogged article draft become an action you can put on your CV? Can we even expect academics to comment on article drafts unless this action can be put on the CV?

I’ve begun to look at blogs run by people from the academy to learn what the status of the “commenting culture” is and to learn what motivates academics to engage in scholarly debates on blogs, i.e. fora that don’t “count” in the traditional sense of the word. The outcome of these studies will, hopefully, inform me of how to think when choosing/designing the feedback mechanisms in the academic forum we aim to create. More on that later on.

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