Spread the word: blogs help land-grant universities strengthen connection with public, others

 I’m a terrible negotiator.

When I took the job at Kansas State University in 2006, I was a tenured, associate professor, and they asked if I wanted to be considered for full professor. I said no, I haven’t done enough, and I’d rather earn the title than have it awarded.

What I didn’t know is that the achievement clock got a reboot: my previous papers didn’t really count, it was only what I had done at K-State.


I went up for full professor in 2009; that didn’t go so well. The usual complaint was levied by my departmental colleagues — we don’t really know what Powell does.

So I started producing a bunch of journal articles, and that was the best thing for me. I began to better appreciate the effort required to produce something and throw it out into the peer-reviewed world along with the revisions and continual improvement required. I’ve known these things for a long time, but it became more focused.

So why keep blogging?

It took a couple of years in which technology has outstripped much of what we thought, a lot of self-examination, and a lot of helpful comments from reviewers, but we finally attempted to answer that question in a new paper, Blogs, infosheets and new media as academic scholarship in food safety research, education and extension."

The article will appear in the journal, Innovative Higher Education, and is available online in advance of publication at http://bit.ly/vyzEhV.

Me and Chapman and former research assistant Casey Jacob argue blogs and other forms of social media are ideal tools to further the goals of academic institutions, especially the research, education and extension activities of land-grant universities like Kansas State.

In the article, Doug Powell, a professor of food safety in the department of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology at K-State, says that researchers and extension personnel at educational institutions should be encouraged to use blogs and other social media to strengthen relations with public stakeholders and enhance their engagement with interested individuals, groups, and subject matter experts.

"We’ve been running barfblog.com for almost five years and more than 5,000 posts," Powell said. "Some posts are scientific, some are sad and some are silly. But we keep readers coming back while promoting the goal of a safer food supply. Rather than just respond, we help shape the public discussion of food safety issues."

The authors note that while being more transparent and nimble with results, blogs and other online communication can compliment rather than replace the rigors of peer-review. Blogs and other online communication forums do represent an additional mechanism for the rapid sharing of ideas, methodologies, research, findings and dialogue. They also say disclosure should be provided on the procedures used for sourcing and conveying information, and references should be cited when appropriate (ours is here: http://bites.ksu.edu/about-bites).

"It’s about building trust," Chapman said. "There’s an abundance of information online, some evidence-based, some not. Researchers who use blogs and other social media can build trust by pulling back the curtain on discovery and showing an interested audience how they investigated a problem, limitations and all."

Chapman can write his own version. Me, I got full professor, I love my job, and I love writing.

Powell, D.A., Jacob, C.J., and Chapman, B.J. 2011. Blogs, infosheets and new media as academic scholarship in food safety research, education, and extension. Innovative Higher Education, published on-line ahead of print, DOI: 10.1007/s10755-011-9207-

Abstract: Compiling a referenced article for publication in a peer-reviewed journal is traditionally the most respected means of contributing to a body of knowledge. However, we argue that publication of evidence-based information via new media – especially blogging – can also be a valid form of academic scholarship. Blogs allow for rapid sharing of research methods, results and conclusions in an open, transparent manner. With proper references, blogs and other new media can position academic research in the public sphere, and provide rapid, reliable information in response to emerging issues. They can also support other traditional goals of higher education institutions, serving as tools for teaching, learning and outreach.