"The Transformative Potential of Blogs for Research in Higher Education"

In the March/April issue of The Journal of Higher Education there’s an article, “The Tranformative Potential of Blogs for Research in Higher Education” by Jana Bouwma-Gearhart and James Bess, that makes me think that the very potential of the title may be on the point of being realized. Bouwma-Gearhart and Bess write:

It is our contention that, as a result of the interplay of evolving cultural norms and communication technologies, as well as the changing demographics of academic research communities, it is now propitious to consider the utility and advantages of an even broader, more inclusive community of scholars (Goodman, 1962). Instead of involving only a few collaborators inside one’s proximate and accustomed academic research circle, ongoing research can now be informed by the contemporaneous inputs of a wider cadre of experts from around the world. These tangential researchers, whose traditional role has been as post-publication reviewers and revisionists, can both access and contribute the freshest ideas and knowledge in real time, even as those very ideas are being developed and refined, rather than having to wait until they are formally published. We call this anticipatory participation1 in research projects and concept development, or as Tapscott and Williams (2006) define it,prosumption—collaboration in advance with contemporaneous and eventual users of the ideas. In the case of a research community, these users are researchers themselves. If this collaborative, contributory practice becomes the norm, academic knowledge will thus be much more broadly socially constructed (Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Hibberd, 2005). (249-250)

Oh, yes! This is exactly what I want to see and want to be more involved in: academic knowledge broadly socially constructed. This is even why I published a Call For Papers on this blog yesterday instead of just posting where specialists go: I see no future for scholarship narrowly defined, with scholars “characterized as isolates, most commonly toiling alone in their work places” (249). I want to be in discussion with as many people involved as possible, and from many differing perspectives.

This is why I have been so interested in blogging. Not only does it carry possibilities for expanded conversations of all sorts and a re-emergence of a real public sphere, but it can make the kind of scholarship I enjoy most even more fun.

Yet, almost as important to me as the paper as a whole with its galvanizing presentation of possibilities is this:

This medium, with its potential to provide universal access to and exchange of ideas almost as they are being created, has been greeted with great acclaim in both the popular and academic domains (Kline, Burstein, de Keijzer, & Berger, 2005). As Barlow (2008) notes, however, innovations such as blogs “are not simply a function or result of the technology that distributes them. … Blogs are also a new and original cultural phenomenon, reflecting more the changes and needs in society than simple realization of technological possibility” (p. 1). We build on Barlow’s notion in this paper, arguing that blogs will reflect and meet modern needs of the higher education research community.

When you’ve been pushing an idea, trying to get others to try it on and move it in their own directions, it’s extremely gratifying when that actually happens, when you see that you haven’t been alone, crying in the wilderness.

Thanks, Bouwma-Gearhart and Bess. You’ve made my day in more ways than one.

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