29 September 2012

Show and Tell

'The academic online: Constructing persona through the World Wide Web' by Kim Barbour and David Marshall in 17(9) First Monday (2012) argues that an online persona is essential for academics.
This paper explores the way individuals are part of the prestige economy generated by universities as institutions. It explores how the construction of online identities or persona is now an essential activity for the academic both from the perspective of university value and individual/career value. Five distinct types of academic persona are explored primarily through academics working in digital communication areas; through these cases and examples this new communication environment is explored. This paper concludes that institutions and individuals need to develop in the most pragmatic sense, online academic persona and ensure that these online ‘selfs’ are connected with authenticity to the professional work of the academic.
Five distinct types of academic persona in "the creation of authentic, intentional, constructed personas that extend the boundaries of an academic’s individual influence beyond institutional boundaries, and allows them to work more effectively in the radically changed worldwide academic environment"?

They are -
  • The formal self — The static self
  • The public self — The networked self
  • The comprehensive self
  • The teaching self
  • The uncontainable self
One colleague, underwhelmed with that bizspeak taxonomy, asked "what about the blase elf?".

The authors conclude -
There is little question that the landscape for the contemporary academic has shifted in a virtual way. As we have outlined here, the nature of academic life has become in many ways surrounded by online and mobile media culture as much as there continues to be patterns of engagement and activity that resemble previous eras of scholarship. These transformations in the way that academics conduct themselves could be seen invasively as a threat to the structures of institutions surrounding a given individual. There is an invasion from below with students increasingly structuring their study and personal lives through digital technologies. In other words, the classroom has altered, the lecture theatre has a different disturbing electronic cacophony, and the ‘conversation’ between academic and student has mutated into various online and off–line forms. Implied in this invasion are new communication technologies that have become more prevalent. Web sites, social networks, online videos, and the invigorated capacity in student life to make links and connections between various sources of information accelerate changes in communication ecology. This movement of information to knowledge is critical to both the student and academic experience. 
As we have indicated in this paper, the academic is negotiating a new intercommunicative environment and must navigate these spaces. It is precisely this communication terrain that now occupies center stage in the movement of ideas and information. This process is not solely student driven. The academy itself has moved online as well with online journals, virtual conferences, YouTube submissions, and collective peer assessment techniques analyzing academic work. Moreover, university Web sites are advancing in their sophistication and links to other forms of interactivity and structures of social networks. These changes are redefining institutional identities and the manner in which individuals construct their identities within higher education. In effect, higher education communication is increasingly being reorganized through patterns of online personal identity construction, publicity and dissemination. 
We see these changes in the movement of ideas as less invasive and more as an opportunity to present and build academic personae individually and institutionally. Although there are other forms of power operating within and between universities, at the core of higher education is a very elaborate prestige economy. Academic personas are the linchpin in this system of prestige that often have clear multiplier effects for departments, colleges and universities. We have mapped in this paper an array of possible academic personas that are already in play in the online world and demonstrate ways in which reputation and ideas are conveyed. We have linked this development of persona to other systems of presentation of the self that are now ubiquitous in contemporary culture. The presentational media forms of social network sites, such as Facebook, have become the models for micro–social networks such as Academia.edu that are involved in shaping the presentation of the academic. 
Our characterization of five types of online academic personas provides a path for understanding how these new constructions of professional academic identity can be both charted and conceived as exemplary for other academics to imagine their online selves. Critical to this imagination of an online professional self is to realize that there is not one technique or pathway. The academic persona, like other online persona, also has to connect authentically to an individual’s professional work. It is not hype or spin, but more an elaboration of what one is conceptualizing or thinking about, developing, and achieved. In the micro–publics of academia, the online persona will resemble other peer reviewed systems of knowledge production and be primarily judged on its merits.
'Law Faculty Blogs and Disruptive Innovation' (University of Denver Legal Studies Research Paper No. 12-27) by J. Robert Brown Jr. hails the blawg, commenting that
The role of blogging in legal academia has been much debated. Some view the discipline as the antithesis of scholarship, a medium that allows faculty to broadcast ignorant or confused opinions. Others have viewed blogging by law faculty more favorably, focusing on the approach as a means of promoting traditional scholarship. 
While the debate has been ongoing, the matter has largely been resolved by actual practice. In the realm of legal scholarship, faculty law blogs are a disruptive innovation. Disruptive innovation usually connotes the introduction of a new technology that eventually destabilizes an existing market. Often, the technology, when introduced, is inferior and not perceived as a threat. Over time, however, the technology improves and migrates from a market niche and becomes the reigning standard. 
Law faculty blogs arose in a state of nature and were often perceived as inferior technology used by faculty to convey random, often personal, views. Over time, however, a recognized class of law faculty blogs emerged, with at least one having been cited 45 times in court opinions and another having been cited by over 700 times in assorted legal publications. Widely read and regularly cited, they offered a superior method for the rapid dissemination of some types of legal analysis and facilitate the introduction of ideas into an ongoing debate. They also provide a form of intermediation that discourages low quality posts. Law faculty blogs provide a form of scholarship that fills a gap left by traditional law reviews. 
Law faculty blogs overcome the slow publication process and dense analysis that often prevents traditional law review articles from playing a role in an ongoing debate. Said another way, law faculty blogs have altered the continuum of legal scholarship and reduced the role of traditional law reviews. Efforts by law reviews to fight back through the implementation of online supplements has so far failed. 
Law faculty blogs have also had a disruptive impact on the determination of faculty reputation. Blogging allows law professors to route around the traditional indicia of reputation such as the frequency of publication in elite law journals. Providing a “prominence” dividend, faculty who blog are able to advertise their expertise through substantive posts and become better known to practitioners, academics and decision makers. This type of reputational benefit can be seen from the correlation between sustained blogging and SSRN downloads. 
Blogging can also disrupt law school rankings. With reputation the single largest component in the rankings, law blogging can be used by some law schools to increase name recognition in a cost effective manner. In other cases, blogging can increase awareness of a law school’s faculty, elevating the overall reputation of the institution. Both can improve a law school’s relative rank.