Blogging as a Scholarly Activity: Cutting a New Path for Academic Recognition

I have thought about blogging ever since I ventured into the virtual world of social media.  I’ve been Tweeting since January 2009 and have found Twitter to be a very useful format for (1) getting the word out about things that interest me, whether I’ve produced them or not (always with proper credit and attribution), and (2) for finding useful nuggets of information that I can ingest and utilize in my own work or simply share with like-minded folks (as before, appropriately attributed).

Engaging on Twitter has been a very rewarding use of my time, and I believe, constitutes a scholarly activity in that it has helped me to disseminate my academic outputs much more widely that I could have done using traditional academic channels (not everything I produce lends itself to a scholarly publication in a peer reviewed journal). Moreover, Twitter has fed my mind and leveraged my innovative spirit, and connected me with tons of people (through followers and their followers, in turn) that would normally have been out of my reach through traditional academic channels.  The most recent stats for My week on twitter: 6 New Followers, 3 Mentions, 2.11K Mention Reach, 8 Retweets, and 621 Retweet Reach. Not hugely prolific by social media standards, but given my 884 Twitter followers, I am fairly confident that this amounts to many more people than would have access to or will have read any of my peer reviewed publications… just sayin’.

In the academic world, my foray into Twitter and blogging has pushed me to the ‘cutting edge’ and positioned me rather ahead of the curve amongst my scholarly colleagues.  This is both good news and bad, aka challenging.  Good, for the reasons stated above, and challenging because the onus is on me and my social media savvy colleagues to present a strong case for why this ‘activity’ should be recognized as scholarly, by demonstrating credible indices of our social media impacts.

Others have pondered the value of social media for academia. Academic involvement in blogging is on the rise but not yet considered standard academic practice, as discussed by Achilleas Kostoulas in a recent LSE ISE blog post.  Kostoulas believes that “the openness and equality of blogs is fundamentally more democratic than other forms of scholarly debate”, and he reflects on why we might choose to blog academically, what we should blog about, how much time it realistically takes to engage in blogging, and how to stay out of trouble.

I am cautious to blog meaningfully, within a focused topic, and with a specific readership in mind.  More salient for me in everything I do outside of writing a paper for a peer reviewed publication is to ensure that I collect credible and useful evidence of my impact.  I spend equal (or more) time in the non-peer reviewed dissemination space, developing tools and resources for practice based on my science, and sharing on social media, and have yet to be academically penalized for it (although I do think about the potential academic costs every time my performance is reviewed).  I have growing confidence in my conviction that impact indicators (altmetrics) are among the best metrics of scholarship, and they are giving journal impact factors a run for their money (see here for more on that argument: “The Impact Factor and Its Discontents“).

I feel somewhat blessed in that my academic institution, the University of Toronto, recognizes what they term ‘creative professional activity‘ (aka community engaged scholarship, knowledge translation) as scholarship worthy of consideration for academic promotion.  This practice is evident at other universities (see here for Canada – and represents an emerging movement.  The Creative Professional Activity Committee for the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto, which I now chair, has a goal of promoting the U of T model and encouraging other universities to evolve with the times. I plan to share this model when I visit Australian universities in the Fall.

The challenge brought about by social media in academia, and indeed, the challenge of science and academia in the present day, is to demonstrate how we impact and engage a variety of knowledge users with our scholarly outputs.  Impact has to do with showing that people knew what to do with the knowledge you shared, and the task befalling the communicator is to capture that reality in a tangible way.  This needn’t only be reflected in quantitative data as is typically available on GoogleAnalytics.  Compelling narrative about the relevance and utility of research based outputs should be captured from the perspective the knowledge users with whom we are sharing our research findings.

I will return to this topic and share my ‘impact indicator methodology’ in the next year, when I embark on preparations for compiling my own academic dossier for promotion to Full Professor.  In the meantime, here are some useful resources that I often share in my professional development trainings and that you may find useful:

Happy Tweeting and Blogging to all!

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