Category Archives: Academia

Academic blogging

Kate, from our ITD department, wrote a little about blogging on the new ITD News blog, and mentioned my blog. She also dropped the subtle hint to me that perhaps I could post some more about academic blogging?

So, here’s a few points from a handout I did for a workshop a little while ago.

Given that academic life has traditionally valued, at its heart, lively discussion and debate, it is not surprising that many academics have adopted blogging, both as a part of their own academic work, and also in their teaching programs.

The following outline just some potential uses of blogs by staff and students.

Staff (individuals)

    • For teaching – eg, supplementing WebCT through general discussion of issues, references to links, modeling blogging for student assignments
    • For reflection on teaching practice, and networking with other teachers, students etc to develop teaching practice
    • For research – exploration of issues, drafts of papers for feedback, networking with other scholars internationally
    • For building professional identity within a community of practice
    • For community involvement – commentary on issues, interaction with the broader community, sharing/publication of research
    • For professional development – reflection on practice

Staff (discipline/research groups)

    • For collaborative teaching and research
    • For community engagement
    • For publication and scholarly activity

Postgraduate students

    • For research – exploration of issues, drafts of papers, networking with other scholars internationally
    • For learning – formal course work, informal exploration of issues, reflection on learning

Undergraduate students

    • For learning – formal class work, informal exploration of issues, participation in scholarly and broader community, learning about effective web interaction and responsibility.
    • For building a professional identity – presenting their professional learning and journey as part of a community of practice
    • For collaboration – encouraging conversation and embedding ongoing learning in a social, collaborative experience – part of the ‘e-commons’
    • For community building – college activities, other UNE activities, the UNE experience, the student experience whether on-campus or off-campus

Our ITD area has now set-up an installation of WordPress MU, so UNE staff or students who wish to have a blog for their teaching, research, professional work, or community involvement can go here to sign up for one.  The process is simple and only takes a minute. I’m currently talking with ITD about adapting some resources to develop a guide for using the WordPress installation – more news as it eventuates.

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OpenLearn – the way of the future?

The Open University in the UK has recently launched its OpenLearn website, which makes ‘educational resources freely available on the internet, with state of the art learning support and collaboration tools to connect learners and educators.’

They already have quite a range of modules available across a range of discipline areas, using Moodle as their LMS.

What may also be of interest to some is the associated LabSpace site, established to share and reuse educational resources. All the content from OpenLearn can be downloaded, adapted, and used and adapted versions uploaded to the site.

Both sites are worth a look. I’ve been experimenting with Moodle a little lately, and it’s interesting to see it in action in a major site. It’s also interesting to have a look at the approach they’ve taken to the learning design in the various modules – the ones I’ve glanced at are more structured and step-by-step than we normally do here, but that’s probably appropriate for the open access nature of the project.

Developments like this and MIT’s OpenCourseWare , plus other projects such as Google Scholar and the trends to make academic journals freely accessible, do challenge us to consider what the future of higher education is – if the learning content is freely available, why should students enrol in our institutions, for an expensive three-year or more degree? What is it that we will be giving them? If we’re going to be about more than just assessment and awarding formal qualifications, how do we make the learning process more engaging and rewarding for our students?
What are the implications for our future?

Academic blog links

I mentioned yesterday that it can be a challenge for those who aren’t highly web-confident to find blogs in their areas of interest.

I Googled ‘academic blogs’ and came up with some useful links:

Crooked Timber’s extensive list of academic blogs, grouped under broad discipline areas.

BlogScholar.com also has a good list – you’ll find discipline links on the right-hand side, part-way down the page (it’s not especially obvious.)

Rhetorica’s Professors Who Blog link is no longer maintained as at July this year, but has a fairly long list of blogs, albeit with limited information about them.

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s site also has links to academic blogs, each with a short description of the blog.

And then I found that there’s a (relatively new?) Academic Blog Portal – a wiki of academic blogs that you can add your own to. So, yes, somebody else has already done what I was thinking of 🙂

(And does anyone else think it amusing that the spell-checker in WordPress – a blogging software – does not recognise the words ‘blog’, ‘blogs’ or ‘wiki’?)

Should All Learning Professionals Be Blogging?

Over at the Learning Circuits Blog their ‘Big Question’ for the month is ‘Should all learning professionals be blogging?’ The question has generated a range of varied responses from educators – the post has links to them.

I came across the question yesterday at Jim Belshaw’s blog, and posted a spur of the moment response:

…perhaps the question isn’t so much ‘should all learning professionals be blogging’ but rather ‘should all learning professionals be actively engaging with the current developments in their discipline?’ To which, in my mind, the answer is Yes.

The ‘How?’ question then leads naturally to blogging or similar activities – because the exciting, new and innovative developments in pretty much all a university’s discipline areas are being discussed, reported, analysed and further developed on the web, through online journals, news, blogs, wikis and so on. The web is the home to the current knowledge and ideas, and is much more up-to-date than most traditional print-based academic journals, where the time-frame from research to publication can be years.

Participating in those online communities is a true scholarly activity – contributing to the ‘unending conversation’ in our discipline areas, debating ideas, furthering knowledge and understanding, and sharing that with the wider community.

Yes, it’s a time commitment, but it’s part of our pursuit of knowledge in our respective discipline areas – and it’s also a timesaver in some ways, with easy access to the leading thinkers and resources, the opportunity to share and seek feedback on ideas and drafts of papers, and so on.

On reflection, I haven’t changed my view much. I don’t necessarily think that all learning professionals/academics should be actively blogging – blogging is not for everyone, and it takes a while to develop one’s blogging ‘voice’ – but, as expressed in my previous post, I do think that we need to be very aware of, and participating in, the current developments in our respective fields. And, while I’m ready to be corrected, I can’t really think of any discipline where what is happening on the web is irrelevant.

Blogging is one way – and can be an excellent way – of actively participating in one’s discipline, and contributing to the application of ideas and knowledge in the wider community. Blogging goes further than traditional email discussion lists, conferences, academic papers, and other standard academic means of communication. So, yes, I think academics should be aware of what blogging is, reading the relevant thinkers in their fields, and at least actively considering whether blogging is an appropriate form of participation for them.

However, for those who are less confident navigating their way around the web, sometimes finding relevant blog communities can be a bit of a challenge. To assist the academic staff I work with, I’m working on putting together a wiki resource with links to blogs across a range of discipline areas. Although if anyone knows of a similar resource already existing, please let me know!

New directions for academic publishing?

When I was a child, in the late 1960s, early 1970s, my father worked at the John Curtin School of Medical Research. My first engagement with the world of academic publishing and scholarship was the piles of printed cards my father would bring home – requests for copies of articles, sent from around the world, to the researchers at JCSMR (this being in the days before photocopiers, when authors received a certain number of printed copies of their article for distribution). As my sisters and I carefully cut around and soaked off the stamps for our stamp collections, the avid reader that I was read most of the cards, trying to decipher the handwritten names, addresses, article titles, journal names, and marvelling at the connections that paper made between professors and doctors in such far away places as Canada, Poland, and India.
Many things have changed since then, and as I sit in my office now, I have access within seconds to millions of journal articles. In fact, just yesterday I experienced a sense of frustration that a particular article I want is not available online, and I shall actually have to walk the 60 meters or so across to the library building, find the hard-copy journal, and photocopy it myself. (Yes, aren’t we spoilt these days!)

But apart from the relative ease of access to published material, has academic publishing really fundamentally changed in the last 3 or 4 decades? Is our model of scholarly dissemination still relevant to the 21st century?

Over at if:book, the blog of The Institute for the Future of the Book, they’re exploring this very issue, and developing an alternative approach. A recent article introduces the MediaCommons project-in-progress:

Our shift from thinking about an “electronic press” to thinking about a “scholarly network” came about gradually; the more we thought about the purposes behind electronic scholarly publishing, the more we became focused on the need not simply to provide better access to discrete scholarly texts but rather to reinvigorate intellectual discourse, and thus connections, amongst peers (and, not incidentally, discourse between the academy and the wider intellectual public). This need has grown for any number of systemic reasons, including the substantive and often debilitating time-lags between the completion of a piece of scholarly writing and its publication, as well as the subsequent delays between publication of the primary text and publication of any reviews or responses to that text. These time-lags have been worsened by the increasing economic difficulties threatening many university presses and libraries, which each year face new administrative and financial obstacles to producing, distributing, and making available the full range of publishable texts and ideas in development in any given field. The combination of such structural problems in academic publishing has resulted in an increasing disconnection among scholars, whose work requires a give-and-take with peers, and yet is produced in greater and greater isolation.

The whole post is worth a read, and has generated some interesting coments and views, some of which are outlined in yesterday’s follow-up post at if:book: initial responses to MediaCommons