Quotes of the day (and other days?): persistent academic discourse

Here is Grainne Conole, professor of e-learning at the Open University writing about academic papers, conference papers, and blogging:

Coming back to the question of which represents academic discourse – to my mind it’s all three – in different ways writing a paper, giving a presentation and blogging all help me to formulate and take forward my thinking on a particular topic, a means of meaning making and transformation of the raw ‘data’ to new understandings – surely that’s one of the cornerstones of what being an academic means? [e4innovation.com]

And here is how she distinguishes between those modes of academic disclosure:

So the function and nature of the three media seems to be:

  • Academic paper: reporting of findings against a particular narrative, grounded in the literature and related work; style – formal, academic-speak
  • Conference presentation: awareness raising of the work, posing questions and issues about the work, style – entertaining, visual, informal
  • Blogging – snippets of the work, reflecting on particular issues, style – short, informal, reflective


Here is Dani Rodrik, a Professor of International Political Economy at Harvard, commenting on an earlier post of his where he queried whether the high opportunity costs of blogging (think of all those other things that could get done if you did not use the time blogging!) would drive out high quality economics blogs. No, he concludes:

And second, in my trip to Nottingham I was simply stunned by how many people reported reading my blog. Not only that, people actually remembered my posts–some going quite a while back. With this kind of positive feedback, along with others like this, it is hard to imagine closing the operation down.

Not so incidentally, one of the unexpected scholarly benefits of having a blog is that it is like keeping an intellectual journal. You get an idea, you jot it down in your blog. Some months later, you vaguely remember having had the idea and you google your own blog to recover it. I am not kidding: I google my own blog all the time…

And here is the evidence: the first third of my talk at Nottingham was based on a couple of blog posts from a few weeks back (this and this). So maybe that someone also over-stated the bit about opportunity costs…[Dani Rodrik’s weblog]

It is interesting to see them both discuss blogging as an integral part of their academic lives. And their blogging is an important record of thinking about the academic problems they address. And an indication of their academic networks.
I regularly look at the blogs of several folks from the Open University: Tony Hirst‘s, John Naughton‘s, and now Grainne‘s (with whom I used to interact years ago when she was director of ILRT and I of UKOLN). I will occasionally land on Martin Weller‘s and am peripherally aware of Marc Eisenstadt‘s.
Ever since my (economist) colleague Brian Lavoie introduced me to Greg Mankiw’s blog, I have intermittently followed it, as well as Rodrik’s. They occasionally refer to their colleague George Borjas’s blog, another Harvard economics professor. Of course there are some pretty high profile economics blogs, including blogs from the Freakonomics authors and, recently, Paul Krugman, both hosted by the New York Times. And there is the prolific Gary Becker, Nobel prize winning economist, at the Becker-Posner blog. I have found Mankiw and Rodrik interesting because of the general mix of light material, commentary on theirs’ and their colleagues’ work, and their high-level and engaged policy perspectives. The general nature of the blog discourse, to borrow Grainne’s word, in that community is absorbing to watch.
Rodrik notes that his blog material appears to have enduring appeal for colleagues. Indeed, the intrinsic interest of the blog output of both the Open University and the Harvard bloggers, and its relation to their academic work, and their broader communities of interest, means that this is probably more generally true.
The blogging platforms used by these people vary. Sometimes they may be institutionally based, more often they will be on one of the main blog hosting sites. While they may be of enduring interest, little thought has probably been given to thinking about their longer term persistence.
Which brings me to my question. Universities and university libraries are recognizing that they have some responsibility to the curation of the intellectual outputs of their academics and students. So far, this has not generally extended to thinking about blogs. What, if anything, should the Open University or Harvard be doing to make sure that this valuable discourse is available to future readers as part of the scholarly record?

3 thoughts on “Quotes of the day (and other days?): persistent academic discourse”

  1. There was a bit of a technical discussion regarding the archiving to blogs on the code4lib mailing list. [1] The consensus seemed to be that such a thing was a good idea, and an ATOM extension (RFC 5005) enables this with relative ease.

    Personally, I am a bit concerned about this issue — just a bit. Much of blog content is married to blog software. Yes, you can get it out with through syndication, but if you want to migrate from one platform to another I think you will have a difficult time since the data is not as easily portable. That is why I always generate RSS from the TEI versions of my writings. I think I have more future options this way.

    [1] http://tinyurl.com/237y4o

    “Why am I writing something so early in the morning?!”

  2. This is an interesting point Lorcan – what it touches on is the relationship between the blogger and the institution. In a talk on blogging I did recently I said there was a continuum of ‘OUness’ for those of us at the OU who blog. John, for instance, doesn’t really mention the OU much at all, Tony is quite OU focused and I’m a bit in the middle. All of these are prefectly valid of course, as blogging seems to be about finding the right voice for you. So, back to your point, I’m not sure how much it is the OU library’s (say) responsibility to archive this work, since we aren’t always representing the OU directly. Having said that, there is now a very distributed set of articles, that probably aren’t archived in the traditional sense, but maybe we just say ‘that’s Google’s job’ (or Technorati, or whatever).

  3. “I was simply stunned by how many people reported reading my blog” says Dani Rodrik. It’s a comment that gets to the heart of the matter about justifying “opportunity cost”. If you don’t count the number of times a digital article is demanded, then all we are left with is opinions about its importance. The brilliant aren’t encouraged, while the stupid are left full of their own self importance.
    BTW. If you’re interested in OU stuff, the 4th note on this thread is from Patrick at OU, which points to their recent Openlearn conference. http://www.ocwconsortium.org/ocwcforum/viewtopic.php?t=122
    You’ll notice two links. One points to the conference programme & its papers, which may be of interest to librarians. The programme page also links to (unused at this conference) Real Time stuff, the OU “stadium”, which will be of no interest at all.
    Patrick’s second link points to their conference blog, which contains reports from various attendees. It shows another application for a blog, other than a personal journal= sharing an experience.
    You’ll love John Seely Brown’s keynote, where he (very nicely) explains the difference between Cartesian (objective)and atelier (workshop) perspectives of knowledge. The “sage on the stage model won’t work” says he, from a stage. Routines are so hard to break aren’t they?
    In answer to your question. Perhaps unis should stop thinking about (just) classifying yesterday’s institutional discourses and begin conceptualizing how they classify the (virtual) Real Time pipes, which their global groups, and their communities of interest, sometimes use to communicate.

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