Blogs as an academic resource for undergraduates

I wrote the following as an assignment for the course ‘Learning and Teaching Online’ and is a brief discussion of how teachers and lecturers can help students appropriately incorporate contemporary digital media (such as blogs) into their research and essays. This is a very brief discussion, so if anyone has additional comments on how teach students about appropriate online referencing please feel free to add them in the comments section.

Also, as this was course work, there’s secondary sources at the bottom, which may come in useful for education academics.

According to a study conducted for the Pew Internet and American Life Project, as early as 2002 search engines had replaced library catalogues. Students, especially undergraduates, are often more comfortable searching the internet for resources than bookshelves and ‘are likely to use information found on search engines and various Web sites as research material.’ (p. 13)

Contemporary students may feel more confident using online resources; however, without guidance they can lack the skills to recognise which resources are appropriate for citation. Therefore, when a student cites a blog in an essay, the student may be marked down for inappropriate sources. Yet, as blogs are gaining traction in mainstream academic research, rewarding students when they only reference traditional journal articles may be putting them at a disadvantage.

Jenny Davis, Assistant Professor at James Madison University, cites blogs in her own research, and in ‘The Place of Blogs in Academic Writing’ discusses the benefit of using blogs in academic study. She states that peer-reviewed journals are ‘slow, jargon ridden, and often financially pay-walled’, but ‘the content of a blog becomes available far faster than that of a journal article, and is accessible to a wider audience.’ She also states that the academic bias of traditional peer reviewed journals can lead to dismissing worthy research, ‘If an idea or methodology does not fit within an existing framework [of an academic journal], its chances of acceptance diminish. Blogs are less susceptible of this type of censorship, providing a wider breadth of theoretical building blocks and facilitating new theoretical directions.’

Additionally, Davis states that ‘blogs can be written by anyone.’ This is an issue with which some in academia take umbrage. Davis argues that the lack of approval is part of the reason she finds blogs so relevant. ‘Peer-reviewed journal articles and books are almost always authored by academics,’ she states. ‘This academic bias, like pay-walls and jargon, limits discursive participants, whereas blogs can potentially open discursive boundaries.’

The use of blogs in academic discourse may be fine for the seasoned scholar who understands how a fine tuned discussion, authored by academics or laymen, can enhance a topic, but should an undergraduate, only just learning about the rigors of research, cite a blog in their work?

Patrick Dunleavy, Professor at London School of Economics, in a blog post for Medium, discusses the open path that blogs can provide for finding academic research. He states that blogs can link to research reports, and those blogs have been listed on social media sites, thus making the research easier to find and more readily available. Gill Kirkup, in an article for the ‘London Review of Education’, states that ‘blogging offers a new genre of authoritative and accessible academic textual production, and in this way is changing the nature of what it is to be a twenty first century academic practitioner.’

Therefore, dissuading students from participating in this academic movement may hinder their future not only as researchers, but may limit transferable skills for later in life. In other words, students who understand how to disseminate contemporary arguments delivered straight from the author as part of a larger discourse will be better trained for a myriad of professions.

How then should academics teach students to cite and use blogs as a reference? The key is to put themselves in the place of the undergraduate. Investigate the very topics and essay questions you will assign your students. Pretend you are that student, and start by searching on Google. What comes up? What happens when you adjust your Google search to Google Scholar or add ‘blog’ to the keywords of the search? Perhaps, you can Google authors you believe your students should be referencing? Do they have a blog? Do they post on social media sites?

Familiarise yourself with blogs created in your subject, then have an open discussion with your students about why you feel this blog may or may not be relevant. Perhaps, even assign the students a smaller task of researching specifically for blogs and have them write why they feel that particular post is relevant to the essay they will be writing. You may find that your own understanding of the subject has broadened.

Resources:

Davis, Jenny. ‘The legitimacy and usefulness of academic blogging will shape how intellectualism develops’ for the London School of Economics and Political Science. (No date of article noted, but first comment posted on 8 May 2013) <http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2013/05/08/the-place-of-blogs-in-academic-writing/&gt;

Dunleavy, Patrick. ‘Shorter, better, faster, free: Blogging changes the nature of academic research, not just how it is communicated’ for the Writing For Research blog posted on Medium.com. (11 September 2014) <https://medium.com/advice-and-help-in-authoring-a-phd-or-non-fiction/shorter-better-faster-free-fb74bddaec03&gt;

[Note on Dunleavy article: Dunleavy provides two tables in his article which summarise how the different blogs work, and he draws attention to the advantages and disadvantages of each type. I recommend taking a look at both tables.]

Kirkup, Gill. ‘Academic blogging, academic practice and academic identity. London Review of Education, 8(1), pp. 75–84. (2010) <http://oro.open.ac.uk/20714/1/Academic_blogging_ORO.pdf&gt;

Jones, Steve. ‘The Internet Goes to College: How students are living in the future with today’s technology September’ for the Pew Internet & American Life Project, Washington DC. (15 September 2002) http://www.pewinternet.org.

Resource for students interested in publishing their work:
Shockey, Nick. ‘R2RC Launches New Open Publishing Guide for Students’ for Right to Research Coalition (27 October 2011)
< http://www.righttoresearch.org/blog/r2rc-launches-new-open-publishing-guide-for-studen.shtml&gt;

 

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