Academics Without a Public Persona on the Slippery Slope

It goes without saying I enjoyed another dose of digital scholarship (blog post to you and me) from Martin Weller entitled Arguments for social media engagement. Despite Martin being less direct and more subtle than usual he still managed to get my dander up. The topic in question is to what extent if any should academics have a public persona, ie have active blogs, wikis and even publish audio and video on other social networking sites. And no I’m not mad at Martin but at the views of his colleague, Chris. Chris Jones actually who exposed his public persona in a comment on a previous Martin post:

What of the bulk of other academics interested in research and publication? They may move to open access routes for publication but will they want to spend their time in developing a public persona? I am not sure they or I will.

Are we not witnessing these unstoppable trends?

  1. Major research funding bodies including national research councils and higher ed institutions are beginning to insist on open access of research publications
  2. The granting of research funding is gradually being based on the perceived impact on the wellbeing of the organisation/nation/world
  3. Members of the public reading the open access research publications wanting to check up the credentials of the authors; the public includes the paymasters of academics
  4. Checking of author credentials by the public will use online search engines, the only avenues available to them
  5. Research authors without a readily searchable and accessible public persona will (possibly unfairly) lower their credibility

Chris then goes on:

I am not sure that digital scholarship covers all or even the main aspects of intellectual endeavour. Sometimes it is a lone academic quarrying away obscurely on a narrow point that makes a difference. Some of the dynamics of intellectual life require a position outside of the public gaze.

I cannot see how the scholarly outputs of even an obscure intellectual life when published can be other than digital and inevitably exposed to public gaze.

A digital public persona is part of digital literacy, a necessary life skill going forward even for academics. The days of only academics assessing fellow academics are slowly fading.


About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

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