The Benefits of Academic Blogging (a guest post by Dr Matthew Ashton)
This is a guest blog post kindly submitted for inclusion on the PJC and HE Comms blogs by Dr Matthew Ashton of Nottingham Trent University. In this post Matt offers the academic perspective on the benefits of blogging. You can check out Matt’s blog at www.drmatthewashton.com. You can also listen to a podcast I recorded with Matt about his approach to social media on the HE Comms iTunes channel.
As a politics lecturer at Nottingham Trent University I’ve been writing a blog for the past six months, updating it roughly once a day. Most of the articles are quite short, around the 500 word mark, and range from topical pieces to reviews and commentary. I’ve found this to be an incredibly rewarding experience and thought I’d write a quick post outlining the benefits of blogging. However it should be made clear that some of the reasons I’m listing are subject specific and wouldn’t necessarily apply to everyone.
1) New ways of teaching and learning and of student engagement
I blog on a wide range of political topics every week. One problem I’ve found with students is that they don’t fully engage with the wider subject area. For instance, while politics students often have an excellent knowledge of contemporary politics they’re sometimes less aware of events from before 1989. I write a column every Friday called “Great political mistakes” where I spend 500 words discussing a famous political mistake. If students read this it has the effect of slowly drip feeding them knowledge. Equally my column every Saturday on “Political advertising” helps raise awareness amongst students of political advertising techniques and campaigns and how they’ve changed over time. I also find that blogging can be a new way of engaging with student learning. By writing reviews of political films and books I can point students towards interesting ideas and resources. For instance I recently wrote a review of the classic political thriller “All the President’s Men”. I then asked the students to watch it and used it to kick off a wider discussion during a seminar that included journalism ethics, the power of the press and the right to know.
2) Encouraging writing and research
By writing 500 words every day I’ve found that I’ve become much more productive. The 500 words acts as a warming up exercise every day getting me in the mood to write. It’s also a useful way of stockpiling material. I recently had to give a lecture at quite short notice, and by going back through my blog I quite easily managed to put a brand new lecture together by using material I had already written.
3) New ways of sharing ideas and research findings
The traditional dissemination of research through books and journals is still the bread and butter of academia. However, one downside to this process is that it can be sometimes months, or even years, between writing something and it being made available to read. Using blogging I can put up an idea within 24 hours to see what my colleagues or other academics think of it. It can act then as an unofficial means of peer review.
4) Engaging with people outside the academic community
One of the problems I sometimes face as an academic is demonstrating the importance of what I do to people who work outside the university. Via my blog I’ve shared ideas and dialogue with people from a huge range of countries and backgrounds. For instance I’ve had some hugely illuminating conversations with an American about Native American rights in the media and how they relate to the US Constitution. This is an area of academia it would not have occurred to me to think about if it hadn’t been for my blog. In the same way people have pointed me towards books and documentaries that I wasn’t aware of that I’ve subsequently shared with my students.
5) Raising your academic profile
One of the benefits of creating a good quality blog is that it is a great source of material for the media. I’ve written several blog posts that have subsequently been used by the press as newspaper articles or led to me being interviewed on the radio about them. This is useful in terms of both raising my own profile and promoting the excellent work done by the university. On one recent occasion the press office contacted me to let me know that a blog article I’d written on Mubarak’s options in Egypt had appeared in a newspaper in Tanzania. On a more local level I wrote an article based on my recent research on the coverage of female sports that was featured in the Nottingham Post newspaper.