Today, I am giving a presentation at AERA, in a Public Communication Workshop. I have been invited to participate in this session because I am an education researcher who blog about the field that I am in. I have been asked to focus on six questions, and I thought it might be nice to share my thoughts about this with all my readers.
1. Why do you blog?
This is actually a rather complex question to answer, but I think the easy version is that I am using my blog to learn more about my field. I spend quite a lot of time searching for new articles and books, and I use an amount of (mostly web-based) tools in this process. When I write about the articles and books I find, it helps me to remember it, and my blog has also become part of my continuous process of organizing my own knowledge about the field that I am in. I think it is fair to add that this could easily have been done in a more private notebook or something like that, but I have experienced several benefits of presenting this in my blog rather than keeping it private. One of the benefits is that people from all over the world can learn about the work that I do, and they can take advantage of the efforts I have made to keep up with everything that happens within the field of mathematics education research. Some of my readers make comments on the things I write. Sometimes, the comments challenge my own thinking, which is good. Other times, their comments make me aware of aspects that I did not think about in the first place, or they introduce me to people with similar or different views than I have myself. Sometimes, I have written about an article, and the author of the article has sent me an e-mail and attached some more articles that (s)he has written. I like that!
Last, but not least, my blog forces me to write. As a researcher, it is important for me to always be in some kind of a writing process. English is only my second language, but it is still the language I publish most of my papers in. My blog is therefore a tool to help me practice my writing skills (in English) as well.
2. Does it help you profesionally?
The short answer is YES! The somewhat more extended answer is that I believe my blog helps me profesionally on many levels. First, my motivation to start writing this blog was - as I have already said - to keep up to date with my field. Whenever one of the large journals publish a new article or issue, I try to write about it. As a result, I feel much more at home in my field, simply because I know more about what is happening. Personally, I also want to write and publish articles. Because of my blog, I feel more confident about the theory - I know that I have made an effort to stay up to date, and I believe that my blog writing has given me a very good overview of the field that I am in. My blog also forces me to read more scientific articles, and this has helped me in my own process of writing scientific articles.
Another thing that I have gained from my blog is of course that more and more people from all over the world know who I am, which helps me on a professional level too. One of the most recent examples of this is of course that I was invited to present in this workshop as a direct result of my blog!
3) Are math colleagues skeptical?
Overall, I would say no! Most of my colleagues appreciate the work that I am doing with my blog, and some of them use it as a tool to stay up to date themselves. Some have been skeptical towards the entire idea of sharing too much of your work and ideas online, because they fear that someone might "steal" your ideas. I don't see this as problematic at all! I share a lot online, and I think the benefits of that far outweigh the possible disadvantages.
4) What are you trying to accomplish with it?
As I have already said, the main reason I had for starting to write this blog was to learn more about my own field of research! I did not do this to become famous or something, and I didn't even think a blog like this would attract many readers at all. It looks quite boring, there are very few images or illustrations in it, and many posts are quite similar. If I were trying to gather lots of readers, I would definitely make it different! Still, every month I have about 2,000 readers from 70-100 countries all over the world. This is not a lot, and it is not very important, but I still think it is quite good. After all, we are talking about a blog that focus on research in mathematics education. I wouldn't expect something like that to attract the masses anyway!
5) As a practical matter, how do you find time to do it, given the teaching/research/committee assignments work of a professor?
Short answer: I wake up early :-)
On a normal day, I am in my office at 7:00am. I spend the first hour checking for new articles in the main journals (I use Google Reader for this, so the news come to me rather than the other way around). If there has been published a new article, I read the abstract (sometimes that's all), copy the entire article to Evernote (if it is available online), index it, and write a blog post about it. On average, I use 3-4 hours every week on my blog. On busy days, I might do this in the evening instead of in the morning.
6) Is this something you'd recommend that young scholars do?
When I started writing my blog, I couldn't find anything like this on the web. I still haven't found many other blogs like this, and I think this is quite sad. I believe that a blog is a great way of communicating with people, and I believe that a blog would be more accessible to most people than a scientific journal. I also think a blog is a great tool for gathering and sharing information from different sources, and in that respect it can be a great tool for researchers as well as for "ordinary people". I wish more scholars - young and old - would do this, so this is something I would definitely recommend! I have been thinking about making a new blog, where I communicate research results from my field in a way that is more accessible to teachers and people outside the research community. Unfortunately, I haven't found time to do this, so this might be a challenge for someone else. I think it would have been great if someone took the challenge!