Inside the ivory tower
Blogging is allowing academics to develop and share their ideas with an audience beyond the universities. But as Jim McClellan reports, not everyone is convinced
Academic researchers are drawn to blogs because they're useful knowledge management tools. MacCallum-Stewart says that her site quickly became a kind of "mind gym", a place to test out and develop ideas and to hone her prose style. The social networking side of blogging became very important here, she says. Her blog helped her build links and share ideas with researchers in the area at other universities.I quite agree. One of the things that is indeed very useful to the individual academic blogger is the encouragement to be thinking about how to present his/her research and ideas to a broader public.
More interestingly, her blog has drawn in non-academic readers. Writing every day for them - making sure her arguments on current popular myths about the first world war are clear and concise - has helped her prose style, she says. "I think I write in a more accessible, less academic way now," she says. The sense of connecting with a larger public is important, she adds. "You get so obsessed with a thesis. It's just you most of the time, so to be able to talk about it to all sorts of people is very useful."
But many more traditional academics are suspicious of taking their ideas public in this way. For some, the blogging academic is the latest incarnation of the media don, ready to simplify complex ideas in return for a few minutes of fame. Others are wary of sharing ideas before they are ready - or of seeing original theories stolen before they are published.Well, I don't worry too much about academics who think this way. I doubt that such people are genuinely concerned about one simplifying complex ideas, and I can't help suspecting that they are more concerned about their own shortfalls in attempting to communicate with a broader public. That may sound harsh, but I must admit to being puzzled by those who appear to go out of their way to avoid talking coherently to anyone other than their own students, and sometimes not even to them! It is a strange educational ethos. The worry about having original ideas stolen before publication is actually discouraged and not encouraged by blogging. With blogging one can document and date the articulation of the idea in question, often long before it finds a "final" form in a peer-reviewed article or a book.