In the last blog that I posted, I talked about why I believed academic blogging was going to be a major influence to how we approach the subject of Digital Humanities and how I believe it is already beginning to shape various fields of study. This week I am going to talk about some of the challenges facing maintaining an academic blog, such as establishing credibility and maintaining a professional digital image.
The first issue that kept cropping up is the notion of establishing a credible online presence. In their 2013 publication Online Credibility and Digital Ethos: Evaluating Computer-Mediated Communication, Moe Folk and Shawn Apostel highlight one of the key challenges with credibility in the digital age. In it they state:
With the near ubiquity of technology, acquiring and publishing online information has never been easier; however, increased access to consuming and producing digital information raises new challenges when establishing and evaluating online credibility. These challenges are important because they affect academia…Though this conundrum of too much information and what exactly to trust can be partly addressed through the traditional methods such as strict gatekeeping, the constantly evolving nature of digital information and the digitally-infused societies producing and assessing that information means that no fixed solution will be a panacea.
Folk and Apostel raise an important question. In an age of increased digital interconnection which revels in freedom of form and speech, what methods do we use to verify the credibility of the publishing source? It seems then, that while proponents of blogging revel in the increased freedom from non-academic venues, they duly suffer from the lack of standards used to regulate traditional academic journals. One such solution seems to imply a certain need for regulating blogs by using the same guidelines imposed on traditional publication methods. The reality of such a suggestion implies that while academic blogging offers an unmoderated venue for publishing, it pays a price for lacking the branding and promised quality associated with peer reviewed journals. Jenny Davis with the University of Texas Sociology department writes:
The most obvious problem with blogs is that they are not peer-reviewed. They sit outside the agreed upon standard of academia, taking away the insurance policy (however flimsy that policy may be) of the peer-review process. Anyone with minimal computer literacy and access to a computer can publish a blog. Although this opens the discursive boundaries, it also means the discourse is far more crowded, and an academic writer must navigate the crowds with no clear rubric to discern rigor.
If academic blogs cannot stand on their own merit due to issues of credibility, then the question becomes one of figuring out exactly where blogging sits in the canon of academic discourse. The answer? Somewhere slightly above non-regulated discourse and well below fully accredited academic publication. Yet in the same article mentioned above, Jenny Davis does highlight some of the relative benefits of academic blogs.
1) Peer-reviewed journals are slow, jargon ridden, and often financially pay-walled. Blogs are fast, self-published, and usually free. That is, the content of a blog becomes available far faster than that of a journal article, and is accessible to a wider audience. Including blogs within formal academic writing allows authors to utilize ideas that may not yet be available through traditional channels, and provides source materials for those without access to content hidden behind publishers’ blockades
2) Blogs can be written by anyone. Peer-reviewed journal articles and books are almost always authored by academics. This academic bias, like pay-walls and jargon, limits discursive participants, whereas blogs can potentially open discursive boundaries
3) Traditional journals rely on existing experts to decide what can/should be published. If an idea or methodology does not fit within an existing framework, its chances of acceptance diminish. Blogs are less susceptible this type of censorship, providing a wider breadth of theoretical building blocks and facilitating new theoretical directions.
Also, it is important to note that there have already been big improvements to how academic institutions have handled this problem of credibility. For many, the solution has been to build web portals in which publishers are verified by the individual institutions. Examples of these would be associations like the Institute for Research on Public Policy and the London School of Economics have used the weight and credibility of their name to establish the equivalent of brand names for academic publishing. This guarantees the reader that the work published on this site is written by a qualified individual who is vetted by the institution. Like any new technology, there will be growing pains associated with implementing their full use. Academic blogging is no exception. This is especially true in the traditionally conservative universities in which these technologies are trying to find purchase.
What is most important in these developing years will be to figure out exactly where these blogs situate themselves within the confines of academic discourse. While online credibility has presented a significant challenge, the mass proliferation of academic blogs that continue to pop up suggests that the potential risks have not yet outweighed the even more enticing benefits.