Posted tagged ‘blogging’

Coaxing university leaders into the social media

August 31, 2011

I spent yesterday at the annual conference of CASE Europe – the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. I was invited to take part in a panel discussion on blogging and tweeting by university heads. That, I might say, is a space I am used to being in on my own. When I was in Ireland I was, as far as I ever discovered, the only blogging and tweeting university president, and I am now the only university principal in Scotland doing so. There are some in England (including one of my fellow panelists yesterday), and there are by now a good few in America, but none in Scotland apart from me, and I think none at all now in Ireland.

In the course of the discussion one of my fellow panelists (not the university head) suggested that it was enough for a university head to come to understand the potential of social networking; they didn’t need to grasp the techniques in any detail or become active themselves. However to be frank, I am not sure about this. Universities are in the business of communicating, whether through teaching or through research, and it seems curious to me to suggest that presidents or principals – or for that matter lecturers – should be able to stay away from today’s channels of popular communication. We really should not be quite as other-worldly as that. Universities are not historical theme parks; they need to engage with contemporary society.

It is my view, therefore, that university heads should dip their toes into this particular water, and should try out forms of communication that will make them seem less remote to others. And we should welcome their efforts when they do.

The blogging world

December 23, 2008

At this moment, you are reading a blog. Only a few years ago, you had no idea what a blog was, and if you had known you wouldn’t have found any or many. Now there are millions of them, and it is estimated that perhaps 300 new blog posts are published every second. But it is not just volume: blogs are credited with all sorts of things, including determining the course of election campaigns, ending the careers of major business leaders, changing tastes and fashions, and so forth. They have changed the publishing industry, and in particular the news industry: even traditional newspapers now also run blog sites for their journalists, which allow readers to make comments. Some blog sites are as influential as the traditional media – see for example the always interesting Huffington Post. In fact, an article written three years ago on CNET suggested that blogs were the future of publishing, with the qualification that the author did not think they would ever present a commercial proposition.

More recently some doubts have begun to set in. Some commentators and analysts have begun to wonder whether the sheer volume of blogs and the disorganised nature of the whole phenomenon is actually preventing rather than encouraging intelligent debate. Furthermore, as blogging becomes more and more pervasive, the worry is that it may be compromising the viability of traditional news media organisations – a recent commentator associates the growth of blogging with the possible collapse of the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

And what of the bloggers? Are they all ego-maniacs, driven by the belief that everyone out there is just dying to know what they think? Are some of them just incredible time wasters, slaving away at their blogs while they should be out having a life? Are some of them simply mad?

Of course there is an unpredictable and eclectic set of blogs out there. Quite a few are technical, some in such an obscure way that I doubt they do much for anyone. Some are true believers in something or other, which often remains opaque to the uninitiated. Some use blogs as a kind of family diary that would have very limited appeal outside of the family. Some are plainly crazed (and I confess I read one or two of such with amusement). But there are also blogs out there that are intelligent, enlightening, thought-provoking, humorous, humane.

If we are afraid of this avalanche of unorganised information and opinion, we should relax. We have been there before. The arrival of the printing press several hundred years ago had much the same effect, and the same kind of people tut-tutting today about the unreliable nature of the internet in terms of orthodoxy and accuracy were at it back then also, bemoaning the new technology that allowed people to assemble and disseminate views and information without first getting anyone to authorise it. It would be difficult to argue that mass printing did a disservice to humanity, and I imagine that the same will be said of blogging.

And I suspect we’ll continue to be able to distinguish between good information and valuable opinions on the one hand, and mindless rubbish on the other. Just like we are able to tell the difference between a quality newspaper and a sensationalist gossip rag. Humanity will survive, and I suspect blogging will continue to prosper and evolve.

But then again, I’d have to say that.


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