The Power Of Social Academia Online
Experiences and insights of an academic blogger
This is a great example of an inspiring & spontaneous guest-blogging moment.
As a multi-tasking online professional I’m often too busy to stray too far away from my own teaching & learning path. Yet, sometimes when we read beyond our normal parameters, we can get an unexpected brain-lift. In fact, I mentioned this phenomenon during my iTDi webinar on Creative Thinking Strategies For Teachers. I listed 40 tips for nurturing creativity and ‘reading beyond your niche‘ was one of them.
This tip was on lucky slide number 13.
Brain-lifts are free on the blogosphere if you know where to look;)
That’s what this guest blog post is all about. Free and open social academia and how it can change our educational landscapes for the better.
The blog I stumbled upon for a lightning brain-lift was one by Achilleas Kostoulas.
What struck me about his blog was the fact that it seemed to me as if it was a public display of his ongoing research and work – almost like studying in public. I was very interested in the fact that he was leveraging his blog professionally rather than toiling away behind closed doors.
I must also mention the fact that Achilleas Kostoulas has fascinating research interests. That’s why we need to read beyond our narrow teaching niches now and again. Going walk-about on the blogosphere can be quite an education.
I asked Achilleas to explain complex systems theory for us. This is how he describes it.
“Complex Systems Theory (or Complexity) aims to explain how unexpected, intricate phenomena come into existence when a large number of agents interact in relatively straightforward ways. For example, complexity can be used to explain why ant colonies demonstrate ‘intelligence’ without central planning, even though ants are, individually, fairly unsophisticated creatures. Complex Systems Theory originates in the natural sciences, so what my colleagues and I are trying to do is find ways to make it relevant to fields like Applied Linguistics and Education.”
I asked him about his motivation and thoughts on how academia & research interests are being played out on the blogging arena.
His answer went beyond the one-liner sentence I’d asked him to contribute, so naturally I had to ask him to publish it in this guest article for us.
Take it away Achilleas.
For me, there are three main motivations sustaining the blog.
From time to time I have information and research which I want to communicate (e.g., a paper I’ve published, or a conference in which I am appearing). Or maybe I want to communicate an idea in ways that are more accessible than an academic article would be.
I use the word accessible in two senses: both in terms of prose (‘jargon-free’), and royalty free, because sadly, too much good research is currently locked behind paywalls to protect corporate profit. I think that this kind of exposure can help me become noticed as an authority of sorts in my field – I think that in a very limited sense it already has done this locally (in Greece).
I am also happy to say that I am ranked very near the top in a Google search for ‘Likert scale mean’ , and that gives me a certain aura of credibility as an academic, I hope.
The second motivation is what I suppose can be described as a genuine desire to share or help. I was lucky enough to have excellent support by my tutors and supervisors throughout my postgraduate studies, but I am afraid that this is far from a usual experience, especially in non-Western settings.
A large part of what I do in my blog is about ‘giving back’ to the community. For example, I routinely share information that finds its way in my inbox (e.g., conference announcements). Or, if someone asks me an intriguing question, I might share my response through the blog, in case it’s useful to others as well – at very least, it means that the next time I am asked the same question I can point people to the link, rather than explain things all over. Having people say that the blog has helped them in some way is probably one of the most gratifying things I do.
3) Communication skills
Blogging helps me become better at communicating my ideas. In the most obvious sense, having a regular writing regimen improves my writing skills so that I remain fluent in English. It also helps me experiment with different ‘voices’, in ways that would not be possible in academic writing. One of the earliest comments by my supervisor was that I often sound like one of those venerable, old (I think the implication was ‘boring’) scholars. I think blogging has helped me change that – well, partly at least.
Finally, it’s a way to develop my thinking. Many of my blog posts start as not-quite-fully-developed ideas, and then -in the process of writing- I get to do the kind of conceptual work that might be presented at a conference or something.
Special thanks to Achilleas for sharing these insights. Two particular aspects of the above points struck a chord with me.
Firstly, anyone who follows my blogs, slideshow, webinars or social media comments will know that my teaching values are largely influenced by the psychological, intellectual and deeply humanistic benefits of sharing.
I could sense that Achilleas was sharing something beyond his own intellectualism. I think that mindful blogs can share humanistic values beyond the confines of academia when researchers and thinkers allow themselves to admit to and express the true heart of their working endeavours.
Achilleas has shown great clarity in his reflection on writing and thinking as an academic and socially active educator.
The second thing that struck me was the way he described the sharpening of his foggy insights through the blogging process, kind of like wiping the windscreen of your car after the rain and suddenly being able to see the bigger picture in a new light.
Here’s another post that Achilleas had previously written about academic blogging, which may be useful to those of who wish to explore the blog in more detail.
In my previous article called ‘30 Reasons Why Your Blog Can Make A Difference’ I listed five points as to how I believed academic blogging could bring about some sweeping changes in education.
Here they are again:
1) Academic bloggers can free themselves from stifling intellectual constraints by sharing their research and thought processes throughout the blogosphere. This will revolutionise the experience of academia and break down barriers across the educational divide.
2) Academic bloggers can remain creative and socially relevant by expressing themselves boldly on blogs, away from the restrictions of academic writing styles.
3) Academic bloggers can become known as experts in their fields and build up followings before they ever graduate.
4) Academic bloggers build up the kinds of socially intelligent and culturally sensitive skills that are often repressed in the stern, dark halls of intellectualism.
5) New spectrums of learning will open up throughout global communities beyond ivory towers and socio-economic inequalities.
Taking all of the above into account it seems that my brain-friendly thinking box needs a new filing system – an occupational hazard of the curious;)
About Achilleas Kostoulas:
“I am an early-career academic, currently working towards the completion of my PhD in Education at The University of Manchester. In my research, I have used complex systems theory to understand foreign language pedagogy in the “periphery” of the English-speaking world, i.e., those places where the English language is not used natively or officially, but it is nevertheless extensively and intensively taught. Some of my work has been published in journals and edited collections, which are listed here.”