Synching feelings

A lot of time has been spent studying the impact of user generated content. You know, all the stuff that gets posted up onto the web, and whether it is at all useful to us as teachers and educators. Some of the best content is often provided by amateurs - people who are not necessarily specialists or qualified in their field of interest, but who are never the less passionate about their subject. This is also the ethos of sites such as Wikipedia, which rely heavily on 'the people' and 'wisdom of crowds' to create and maintain the content held in its pages. Blogging has emerged in recent years as a strong contender for the number one spot as user generated content, driven as it is by people who are both passionate and knowledgeable.

But it's not plain sailing. Influential commentators such as Andrew Keen have sniped consistently against such amateur content, suggesting that it is not only dumbing down society, but also eroding the authority of professionals and scholars, and denigrating knowledge.

And yet where is the first place students will go when they want to glean some facts or information about a subject? A lot of academics and scolars scoff at Wikipedia and forbid their students to reference it in their assessed work. Even more anathema are the many thousands of specialist blogs that are written by avid fans of topics. I must agree that quality across such sites is variable, but I also point out to the critics that just like Wikipedia, there are real experts out there writing these blogs. What if these blogs did not exist? How much poorer would we be in terms of knowledge of the world? There is a criticism that blogs are not peer reviewed, contain mainly opinion and have no credibility when compared with peer reviewed journal articles. Let's examine each criticism in turn.

Journal articles are usually double reviewed by people who are deemed to be experts in their field. Once reviewed, articles are sent back to the author for correction and revision before they are accepted for publication. Such tasks are usually performed by editorial teams. Blogs are peer reviewed, not necessarily in a formal way, but certainly informally through reader comments. I certainly think long and hard about what I write on this blog, because with between 1000-2000 views per day, and a stream of comments coming in from those who either agree or disagree with my views, I sure feel as though I am being peer reviewed. The difference between journal articles and blogs is that blogs are peer reviewed within minutes of being posted. They can also be adjusted, revised and corrected quickly, and re-posted instantly on demand. There may be typos and spelling errors in blogs, but who can honestly tell me that they have never spotted an error in a peer reviewed journal article or book chapter?

Blogs contain a lot of opinion, whereas journal articles are usually based on empirical evidence and research. But what is research anyway? We can no longer argue that research is all about statistical analysis, because there are so many qualitative, narrative and experimental forms of methods available to us as researchers, so who is to say that blogging is not a valid means of research? But how often do we read and take in the editorials in popular newspapers, which are also opinion? I have even read peer reviewed journal articles that are openly 'fictionalised' in their methodology. Opinion is also an excellent trigger for discussion. How will we learn if we don't discuss ideas and negotiate meaning between us. How can we synchronise our activities if there is not a common understanding of what needs to be done? We don't have to agree - in fact it would be a boring, colourless world if we did - but we need to be able to understand each other to get on together.

Blogs are gaining credibility, particularly those that are being followed and read by many people, and those that attract awards and plaudits from peers. They have credibility in a different sense to peer reviewed journal articles. Blogs can become a rallying point - a tribal totem - around which people can come to terms with ideas, change their approach, exchange best practice, and generally engage with their community of practice. It is a lot more intimate than the community that gathers around a peer reviewed journal article. Journals perform a different function entirely, and are less immediate, more slow burning in their impact. Blogs tend to be transitory and ethereal in their presence. Although the archive of a blog is there for people to revisit if they wish, generally it is the article at the top of the stack that is most visible and therefore most visited.

You may already have noticed that blog addresses are beginning to appear in the reference lists of peer reviewed journal articles. This is a trend that I predict will increase as blogs begin to achieve a more respectable and accepted position in the academic world.

One final word: We need to remember that professionals built the Titanic, but an amateur built the Ark. It's not always about expertise - sometimes it's about passion.

Image source Wikimedia Commons

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Synching feelings by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


peps mccrea said…
'Who is to say that blogging is not a valid means of research?'

What a delicious question... might have to do some research in the form of a blog [] to find out! Good starting point might be the question: what story do blogs have the authority to tell?
Manish Malik said…
Agree with the last statement, and I have seen my blog appear in a paper published using peer reviewed process.

So I can see your prediction will only become more true with time.

It will be a long while though before Wikipedia is considered a uniformly valid resource for scholarly purposes, be it on blogs or on peer reviewed journals.

I have seen many journals are making their papers and data open. Perhaps the blogger need to take a leaf from the peer reviewed journals and not just hyperlink references in the posts but conform to a standard way of referencing. But I suspect that will kill the joy of it :)

Simon Ensor said…
As a curious learner, this blog post inspired a Google search. I found an interesting article to read. It’s title is below:

“Investigating the myth of the relationship between teaching and research in higher education: A review of empirical research”

An Verburgh, Jan Elen and Sari Lindblom-Ylänne

From the issue entitled "The Universities Revisited: Questioning the Public Role of Universities in the European Knowledge Society

Sounds like an interesting article for someone like myself working in a university. Let’s just see what they are talking about....Oh dear, darn!

“Access to this Content is Restricted
This content is secured to subscribers. Options for obtaining access to this content are indicated below...”

(34 euros! It had better be good!)

What is the interest of academic research? In whose interests is academic research carried out?

Empirical research cannot be disconnected from a historical and economic context. If empirical research is based on observation, who decides where we look? Who decides on the most appropriate means to communicate our evidence? Who decides on the right to access this invaluable knowledge? Who decides on its value? How do we have a say on which direction we/it should take?

As an amateur of sailing, I like to observe the seascape, take in the sea-air,feel the breeze on my face, discover the the different parts of the (my?) ship. I enjoy meeting the passengers, I hope to find some entertaining companions along my way.

My knowledge of history has made me wary of trusting shipping companies. I try to keep close to a life-boat and personally watch out for ice-bergs.

For the moment, I have to accept that I am the holder of a second class ticket, I don’t have the right to venture onto the captain’s deck.... I am lucky; the majority of the passengers are in the bilge!
mhawksey said…
"We need to remember that professionals built the Titanic, but an amateur built the Ark. It's not always about expertise - sometimes it's about passion"

One of my favourite quotes in this area is from Terry Mayes 'Groundhog Day' paper (2007):

"Wenger describes how radical doctors are trying to describe a new paradigm for the doctor-patient relationship, where a consultation is re-conceptualised as a dialogue between two experts – one, the doctor, being expert in the generic medical science, while the other, the patient, is expert in his or her own case – medical and lifestyle history, symptoms etc. Both kinds of expertise are necessary for a successful diagnosis and agreed treatment regime and should be arrived at through a dialogue between equals – a horizontal relationship in which responsibility for outcomes is shared"
I liked your final word, Steve
Dave Truss said…
I was given Andrew Keen's 'Cult of the Amateur' a while back but just couldn't get through it. If felt contrived. I'm sure I can probably go through your blog (or my blog) and find just enough quotes to be able to call one of us Democrats, Liberals, Socialists, anti-establishment anarchists or larks. That's what Keen's book felt like to me... 'I'll scour around and find just enough information to prove my point'. Is it just ironic to me that as I read the book, it felt like Keen was trying to dumb me down? Maybe I'm biased and didn't give it a fair shake, but I seldom give up on a book.

I wrote a post a while back calling my blog my PhD or actually my PhB- Blogtorate:-) I agree with you that it is 'peer' reviewed via comments. And, I often learn quite a bit when someone disagrees with me in my comments, (sorry I can't do that for you now).
On my blog, I think I'm getting close to a word count of a typical PhD by now. I seriously lack the rigour of research and content, yet I see twitter-folk that are doing their thesis and literally doing daily word counts. I have to wonder about the quality of those words, whereas I'll spend 2+ hours on less than 500 words I post... loving the process the entire time. There is something to be said about writing with passion!

ps. I love your 'One final word'! Many uneducated farmers have taken machinery built by 'experts' and made them better. Many 'amateur' stargazers have made astronomical discoveries within clear view of the experts. Many educators are turning their practice inside-out and sharing what they do with the world, while the experts model great schools around getting good standardized test results... hmmmm.
abracadabra said…
I publish "empirical" and researched articles on my blog. Mostly because I don't think this should be hidden behind the iron curtain of academy. I think that is a question that should be addressed - how to allow more access by a wider audience to all the research that is mostly hidden in walled journals?

Great thoughts - I would add one correction though.

Qualitative research has validity and is "empirical". I would not lump it with blog posts, opinion or even experiential stuff....

David Deubelbeiss

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