I've posted twice (here and here) on "The Tranformative Potential of Blogs for Research in Higher Education" by Jana Bouwma-Gearhart and James Bess, but don't feel I'm nearly done with the topic. After all, it is something I've been interested in for years.
As I argue in the first of my books only blogging, The Rise of the Blogopshere, blogs have the potential of re-establishing a vibrant and unproscribed public sphere (as Jurgen Habermas describes it). This can only happen, however, as long as blogs are really and truly open--accessible to all and easily created by anyone. In fact, Bouwma-Gearhart and Bess echo Habermas, who sees the public sphere as, essentially, an 18th-century phenomenon undergoing constriction ever since, arguing (as I do, more generally) that blogs can open up academic discussion to a free-wheeling nature that has not been seen (except in unusual circumstances) for a long time and that can happen in real time with immediate collaborative response, debate, explanation, and even change:
In a blog setting, collaboration has the potential to happen in real time; the give and take of idea sharing and discovery give immediacy to progress in the research and writing. Veteran bloggers, in fact, claim appreciation for the promise of quick self-publishing and related reaction afforded by blogs (Lasica, 2001). Thus, the use of the blog allows the vast resources embedded in the research community to be brought to bear in the formative stages of the research with the summative stages represented subsequently in published material. For Fleishman (2001), blogs promise greater reader interaction with writers (more so than traditional modes of communicating ideas such as publishing in periodicals, etc.). Blogs can have multiple categories and some interfaces allow users to choose categories of interest and filter pertinent postings (Rhodes, 1999). According to Halavais (2006), “Blogs seem to be particularly good at establishing and exchanging what Merton calls ‘specified ignorance’ … [or] a new awareness of what is not yet known or understood and rationale for its being worth knowing” (p. 119). (260)They can do even more. Walt Whitman, in "When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer," contrasts the "applause in the lecture-room" with looking "up in perfect silence at the stars." What blogs can do is allow us to move seamlessly back and forth from one to the other--not having to, as Whitman did, leave one for the other.
This affording of social value in relation to new offerings is a norm in academic communities, of course. In many ways, blogs mimic these communities’ strengths and have been shown to have the potential to evolve into true virtual communities, with a distinct community culture and affording of specific social value to their respective participants (Blanchard, 2004; Efimova, Hendrick, & Anjewierden, 2005b; Granovetter, 1973). We contend that blogs may, in fact, provide a new space for capitalizing on pre-existing and beneficial norms and forms of formal academic collaboration, including what Halavais terms the invisible college, or “the collective creation of a school of thought by a distributed group of scholars, often using both formal and informal channels to communicate their ideas” (p. 123). Blogs may additionally support the informal contacts and communication required for effective contribution, survival really, in the academic environment. Halavais (2006) likens the blog to “archetypal scholarly communication settings: the [research] notebook, the coffee house, and the editorial page” (p. 117). The blog, like these other settings, “is an effort to move thought into the social realm, by presenting facts, ideas, and requests for assistance-and ultimately build knowledge” (p. 120).