I am a tenure-track assistant professor four years out of my doctoral program (and two years into my current appointment). What that means is that I often feel split right down the middle when it comes to the writing I want to do vs. the writing that “counts.” And, my absence from my blog writing has much to do with this – as time spent blogging is time apart from data sets and writing publications that stand a chance of getting cited in other spaces, etc. My reviewers offer steady feedback that my “academic writing” is strong, but that pulling away from practitioner pieces (and talks) would demonstrate “more commitment to impact (again as measured by the values of the university).”
Sitting in my blog reader this morning was the echo/push that I needed to re-see and possibly affirm my thinking. I’ve been a hungry reader of danah boyd’s work for several years. Today’s post to her blog emerged from a talk she presented at last week’s CHI 2009 conference. In reflecting on what it means for research to have “impact,” she offers:
While it’s easy to argue that publishing at the top journal or conference is the best way to keep an academic job, can we honestly say that publishing in these venues is the best way to have impact? Especially when these articles are locked down and made hard to access? In my area of research, I would argue that the answer is no… my research has immediately implications and applications. I want to be in conversation with scholars, to be informed by academic thinking and critique, but I also want my research to get into the hands of those who can put it to use. In my case, that means getting my research out to parents, educators, policy makers, technology developers, and youth, groups who would never think to turn to [a research conference] to learn something. The “impact” of my work cannot be measured by citations or “best paper” awards…. My goal as a researcher is to get my work into the hands of all who find it relevant.
Gutsy, smart, spot-on ideas.
So, in using this as a lens through which to think about my own work, I immediately put pen to paper, writing for a good hour on how I defined impact and what it was I wanted my work to accomplish. (Why I did so on paper and not within the blog is another post all together.)
Yes, I work in a system that values a certain kind of publishing – and I knew that going into this job. And, yes, I expected “push-back” when it came to the degree to which I write for teachers. But, the reality is that my audience doesn’t turn to a journal on research in teacher education to learn. So, to use danah’s frame, the impact of my work is measured less by citation count than by shifts in teachers’ pedagogy and, perhaps more importantly, the engagement, motivation, and learning of each student in their classrooms.
So, the question emerges… Could a blog be useful in disseminating research findings? (Or, bigger, can a blog that is mostly public be a space for the meaning making that happens prior to drafting a manuscript?) What social media are useful in getting my research into the hands of the teachers, parents, administrators, tech coordinators, media/library folks, etc. who need it? And, is moving down this path generative?
Sara, please continue to post your research findings here. I value your thoughts and your work. And for me, social media is how I learn now (aside from an occasional conference). Impact, indeed. Put it in our hands, please.
What I most value about the blogs I read is that they contain frontline, immediate, unfiltered (by publishers) information. You are caught between a rock and hard place in that you are expected to publish in professional journals and yet those who can most use your research are more likely to hear about it on Twitter or read it on a blog. Each method addresses the needs/expectations of two different audiences. I think the lines will blur in time but that does not help you now.
The obvious question is how to divide your time between the two. But the bigger question is how to change the thinking of the university system? How do we help them understand that the writing done online and the feedback gained from it is as impactful as, if not more so than, the writing done for traditional journals?
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