I’ve reached an interesting milestone – this is my 100th post on the blog. When I started the blog in March, I never expected to be able to post regularly. And there have been patches of very few posts (not much in the last month I’m afraid, as I’ve been teaching and writing research proposals). But overall, by treating the blog as part of my research, I’ve managed to blog far more often than I expected.
Someone recently suggested my decision to start blogging was an experiment in constructivist learning. I think that’s accurate, and certainly reflects my own philosophy about learning (and, serendipitously, the google search for a good link on constructivist learning gave me an opportunity to refresh my memory about Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development and Kelly’s Personal Construct Theory, both of which I learned about many years ago when I was at Sussex). Clearly, I need to write a longer post on this, as ZPD is a useful concept to guide communication about climate change – understanding what each audience is ready to grasp is important for ensuring we get through. But anyway…
By becoming a blogger, I’ve learned many things. One is that there’s a huge gulf of incomprehension between the vast majority of (academic) researchers who don’t blog, and those who do. I was struck by this at a conference last week. I arrived a few minutes late to the opening keynote address, which was by Fred Brooks. I opened my laptop, and started taking notes, thinking I would liveblog the talk. Within a few minutes, the conference chair came to me and asked me to close my laptop. It seems that before the talk started, Fred had asked everyone to close their laptops so they could pay attention to the talk, and the conference chair felt that Fred is a sufficiently distinguished that his suggestion should be enforced rigorously. So, having recently gotten used to meetings where a significant segment of the audience is blogging, twittering and friendfeeding as the talk progresses, here was a conference where none of these things were even permissible. I was stunned – this was old-fashioned stodgy academic conferencing at its worst.
One of the things that I love about liveblogging a keynote talk is that it forces me to pay careful attention to the talk. I’m generally taking notes, crosschecking web references, and trying to distill the essence of the talk in realtime, and it’s exhilarating. Without that activity to focus me, I just daydream. So I missed large chunks of Fred Brooks’ talk. I think he said some interesting things about coherence in the design process, but I missed a lot. I thought about taking handwritten notes, but decided that was useless as (based on past experience) I’d never look at them again. And anyway, the simultaneous googling of ideas in the talk is much of the fun. Liveblogging has spoiled me. And the non-bloggers probably have no idea what I’m talking about.
Something else: before I started blogging, I speculated that most academics don’t blog because they already have a strong online presence, as represented by their papers, books, webpages, etc. I guess I thought that blogging just a way for validating your existence if you don’t already have a body of published work. But as I blog, and come to know other people through their blogs, I realise that it’s a much better way to communicate research. Published papers represent only a fraction of the ideas a researcher is working on – and usually by the time the publication appears, they’re old ideas. The blog gets across the current set of ideas a person is working on. It offers a much better awareness of what people are up to, and is great for starting conversations at conferences (you don’t have to go through the whole “what are you working on these days?” process). So now I think the reason most academics don’t blog is because they’ve been trained not to by an academic system that places value only on peer-reviewed papers, where anything else is seen as a distraction.
Which brings me to one more point: I had naively thought that my blog posts would form the basis of papers I would write, and that I could construct a paper by stringing together several existing posts. Well that never happened, and other people have confirmed that it doesn’t work that way for them either. So I’ve ended up writing fewer papers, but feel I’m getting much more research done. Which will be a very uncomfortable situation for many academics, especially those without tenure yet. But I’m a tenured professor, and quite frankly, I don’t give a damn. There are already too many published papers out there anyway.