lördag 19 november 2011

On academic blogging

I sat on the subway, talking to a colleague, and started a sentence by "as you know, we are planning a new course on...". Then I stopped and thought for a moment and realized that she wouldn't know about this course as she's not in the loop. So I started over again and said "there is no reason for you knowing it yet, but we are planning a new course on...".

The course itself is not of interest in this blog post, and might not be of interest to her, but if I will teach that new course during the next academic year, the implications of me dropping some other course might affect her and this is of interest to her. So how does information like this (in this case about a course-in-the-making) spread informally at a workplace? Are there ways of improving it? What use could a blog like this be?

Right then and there, on the subway, my thoughts went to 1) the coffee table and 2) to this blog. The coffee (or lunch) table is a great place for exchanging and spreading information informally, but some topics don't come up. In this specific case, there are only me and two colleagues who are in the loop at the moment, and I can't recall us talking about it a single time in the company of any of our colleagues yet. The course is not a secret, quite the opposite, it's just that the topic hasn't arisen.

That's where a blog like this could make a difference and my thoughts immediately went to it. Despite the fact that we have only had one meeting about the new course, the yet-unplanned and yet-unnamed course could be the topic of a blog post here. Perhaps it "should" be, but it competes with many other possible topics for blog posts, as well as with practical issues such as how much time I have to write, and my level of ambition (minimum of one and maximum of two blog posts per week).

I don't primarily see this blog as a semi-(in)formal way to inform my colleagues about what I think they should know - such a formal agenda would be to oppressive and would turn the blog into another "must-do". This blog is rather my blog and I write about whatever I want to write about (having colleagues and other vague groups of readers - students? researchers elsewhere? friends? - somehow in mind). If what I write about happens to be of interest to my colleagues, fine, and if not, well, that's fine too I guess. It's like the difference between a consultant having to spend an hour every week with a dreaded time reporting system to input data for billing customers, versus the same consultant writing a (perhaps anonymous) blog, freely choosing topics and reflecting upon the past week at work.

The difference between what I "should" write about, and what I do/want to write about might be smaller that I make it out to be, and I might very well write something about the new course here, and if not now, then perhaps sometime in the spring. It's just not something that I've thought of as a topic for a blog post yet.

My colleague on the subway could have known something about the course had I already written about it here, and we would have shared "common ground" in our conversation. Perhaps she should subscribe to this blog and at least scan the messages, since some of them might affect her (perhaps she already does?). And even if she didn't already subscribe to the blog, our conversation on the subway could have been followed up with a mail and a link to a specific blog post. I've done quite a few of those, i.e. writing something up and then immediately sending of a mail to specific persons with a link to that blog post. (I'm doing it with this blog post, sending her the link directly after it is published.)

So, this is yet another proposed use of a blog like this. I don't suggest that we should replace our coffee tables with blogs, but they could complement each other. Stuff that doesn't "fit" or doesn't reach the coffee table could be written up in a blog. Blog posts could become topics at the coffee table, and conversations at the coffee table could become topics for blog posts (with relevant links included - difficult to provide at the coffee table).

This text has focused on the role of this blog (a blog) as a means of communicating with colleagues. One reason for writing about this specific issue right here and right now is that I will talk about my use this blog and the perceived uses and benefits of having a blog like this at an informal weekly department breakfast meeting next month. I might post something here if I get interesting feedback at that meeting.

I also realize that I can use this blog post to invite any colleagues who read this text to come to that meeting (at Torget at 9 a.m. either Mon Dec 12 or Dec 19 - the date hasn't been finalized yet) and contribute to the discussion! I could also disseminate a link to this blog post before the meeting - but I don't know if that would entice people to come or if all this navel-gazing would scare them away! Right before publishing, I realized I had to change the title of this blog post. If I will disseminate a link to this blog post, the title of the blog post would be seen in the link/URL and should be general and self-explanatory (chosen more with potential seminar visitors and less with regular readers in mind).

Do you know of other (academic) blogs that you would like to recommend or that could be of interest for me to check out before the seminar? Please post a comment and also say something about why you think the blog in question is interesting or good. <--- This request is yet another use of a blog like this!

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