The nature of academic discourse

Doing this blog has really got me thinking about the nature of academic discourse. It particularly hit me yesterday when I was checking the proofs of a paper that will be coming out in Computers and Education soon on our LXP learning experience work. Whilst reading through the paper a number of things came to mind. The paper took a particular stance on the work – weaved a specific narrative – which is of course what papers are supposed to do. It grounded the work in the wider literature and fore grounded certain aspects of the data to support the chosen narrative. It presented a coherent story (well at least I hope it did!). This was in stark contrast to the reality of the research process. In my mind I could remember the messiness of the real research process, the various blind alleys we went down as a team, the panic at different points (will the technology work? will we be able to recruit any students to the study? will the data generate anything useful in terms of our research questions?). Another ‘view’ on the LXP project is through various conference presentations – these also weave a particular story, for example for a lifelong learning conference I considered the implications for lifelong learning, whereas at EUROCALL 2007 I concentrated on the findings from the Language learners. So although presentations, like papers, weave a narrative, because the medium is different (i.e. a slide presentation with pictures, audio and video alongside a verbal presentation as opposed to a textual paper) the message is different too. I have also blogged about aspects of the work and blogging seems to offer an alternative style of voice, one which is much more reflective and ‘of the moment’. 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
  • Which of these is a true representation of the research? Which is real academic discourse? In the old simple world, academics were recognised and rated primarily by their textual output – ‘the seminal text’, ‘the paper published in the best journal in the field’. And indeed that of course is still the primary mechanism for the Research Assessment Exercise (don’t get me started on that one again). But now increasingly the blogosphere is offering an alternative style of academic discourse, which you could argue is potentially a counter-culture to mainstream academic publishing. It has its own federated peer-reviewing mechanisms, such as cross-referencing between blogs and indicators of esteem such as the technorati authority. Increasingly academics are taking note of this new communication space – however one could argue that the uptake is sadly slower than it should be, I can’t believe it has taken me this long to recognise the value of blogging. In welcoming me to the blogosphere George Siemens wrote

    It’s great to see research-focused academics entering the blog space. We need a edublog ecology which runs the full breadth from practical application to theory and research.

    I wholeheartedly agree with him and hope that in time, more researchers take the plunge and communicate their findings and thinkings through blogs as well as via papers and presentations.

    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?

    13 Responses to “The nature of academic discourse”

    1. Sarah Stewart Says:

      Hi Gráinne, your post has in some ways reflected a conversation I was having a few days ago about blogging as a form of academic publication. My argument was that if a blog entry shows all the features of research that it should be regarded as a credible research output and counted toward whatever measurement of research your institution uses. This is especially true if you can show it has been subjected to review by peers. Do you think that blogging and other research using social network tools will be accepted as ‘proper’ research?

    2. Gráinne Says:

      Hi Sarah, yes I have been thinking about that too and think at the moment my answer is ‘yes and no’. I am not sure that we have totally worked out the role of blogging academically speaking. It is definitely to my mind fulfilling a role that is different to a traditional paper and hence adds value - not sure if i have quite worked out what the uniqueness is yet. It’s certainly something as i said in my blog about the reflective, ‘of the moment’ nature, but I wonder also about what the social dimensions add. My partner said my blog style is very much a stream of consciousness, rather than a polished piece of prose - if that’s true then what’s its position academically? BUT if blogging isnt ‘counted’ as relevant acedemically will that put people off blogging?

    3. Sarah Stewart Says:

      Thats an interesting question and I guess it comes back to the reason people blog. I suspect that people do not blog with the prime purpose of increasing research outputs, but I don’t know and haven’t read anything about it.

    4. Karyn Romeis Says:

      This is one I struggle with, too. As a postgrad student, I am required to cite a sufficiency of peer-reviewed resources in my submissions. Sadly, people Like Jay Cross can’t be bothered to wait for peer reviewed publications - things are moving too fast and their turnaround times are too slow. When I am writing about cutting edge stuff, I find myself making some pretty flimsy, tenuous references, just for the sake of fulfilling that requirement, which steals more of my word count than I would like.

      Considering the readership of the blogs I would be likely to cite, I would contend that the level of expertise represented and the willingness to refute, rebut, challenge, defend, revisit, question etc. etc is far more rigorous than the peer review process. Sadly the assessing organisation does not agree.

    5. leighblackall Says:

      In the recent NZ Performance Based Research Fund, I submitted my edublogging as a primary inicator of my performance. The Technorati authority seems to rate me as having “some authority:)
      Sadly, even though I included pointers to such measures, including my own blog stats and significant references, the PBRF crew didn’t rate me :(
      But as Sarah rightly points out, PBRF is not at all what motivates me to blog, nor is the official idea of what rates as research what directs me as to what I blog about. I guess the likes of PBRF and research generally are an after thought to blogging, a sweetener, or a device to achieve recognition and mainstreaming. So, while blogging seems to meet many of the criteria of research, and that blogging as a movement would no doubt benefit by having more researchers engaged, I think it is a very different process with different purpose, uses and outcomes… I think.. in short, it would be nice to recognise blogging in its own terms.

    6. David McQuillan Says:

      Thanks Gráinne for this posting, and everyone else for the discussion.

      I agree that blogging may often be “a stream of consciousness, rather than a polished piece of prose”. Does this invalidate it as valid piece of academic work?

      You are recording your thoughts here, where they are accessible for any interested parties to review & provide their perspective on. I actually think that this virtually instantaneous review is potentially more useful than the formal research peer review process. Through sharing your thoughts as they develop you can influence and be influenced by other researchers or progressive thinkers.

      Perhaps blogging as it stands now is best considered as a mechanism for the development of theory. A pathway to publication.

      However I don’t see any reason why blogging couldn’t be considered to be acceptable academic research in the future. What would need to be included in a blog posting for it to be acceptable as formal research? Perhaps research-oriented blog postings could be required need to have a formal structure, and to be reviewed by a certain number of parties who are recognised as having an acceptable level of academic rigour. Systems to formalise the research assessment process would need to be put in place, and perhaps this process would need to be centralised in some way. A research-oriented Facebook equivalent?

    7. Martin Oliver Says:

      Please, don’t condemn me to having to wade through pages of peoples’ blogs in order to find the one or two good ideas in there! The prospect of blog entries substituting for slow publication isn’t something that thrills me. It has its place, but so does the discipline of shaping ideas in a format that can take a year or more to come to fruition. Distance brings its own perspective, and can help discern what’s of lasting value, rather than momentary excitement.

      This is why, for all that they’re reviled, lectures and presentations can be so helpful. Listening to someone who’s thought about a problem for long enough and hard enough to shape a 30-45 minute argument - and argument that actually needs that sustained presentation, not just padding - is quite an indulgance. Think of all the months I won’t have to spend thinking, having had someone else do it for me!

      By all means, blog away. But I think we’d be in a poorer state if we stopped books and articles.

    8. Gráinne Says:

      I think you raise some really important points Martin and would agree with much of what you say - but I do think we need to raise the issue of where and what people are publishing nowadays. I wasn’t advocating the ‘let’s all go the blog route’ (although some people clealry are feeling increasingly incline to go that way - which creates a potential divide)…. To my mind the different forms of communication have different merit and different purposes and certainly for me - formal papers/chapters, confrence presentations and blogs are al valuable in their own right. BUT if some academics choose to only blog and some choose to only read ‘peer reviewed’ journals - where does that leave us??? Conversely as you say has the world just got a level more complicated with yet another communication medium we have to keep up with???

    9. » Blog Archive » Papers versus blogs, the argument continues… Says:

      […] versus blogs, the argument continues… Oct29 29 October 2007, Gráinne @ 9:34 am My post ‘the nature of academic discourse’ seems to have hit something of a nerve, which I thought was worth summarising here. Not […]

    10. » Blog Archive » The ABC of academic discourse Says:

      […] the students are using blogs to reflect on readings and discuss things! I like his reordering of my suggestion for the role of blogging into a simple ABC:  A-academic paper, B-blogging, C-conferences!! Soooo […]

    11. Concordia Says:

      Actually, quite frankly, the commentary is more interesting messages themselves. (Not to insult the author, of course:))

    12. Gráinne Says:

      lol nope not insulted at all!

    13. Jae Kim Says:

      I’m in the process of starting a social experiment via the web, and am in need of someone that can write really well. The details of the project is laid out on my website at I’m looking for someone that can edit the content in a more easily understandable format. Please visit the site, and contact me if you or someone you know might be interested in participating in the project. Thank you.

      PS. This is NOT a paid position; I’m looking for like minded individuals who are interested in making this prjoect become a success. Thank you.

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