Academics on the Web

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Jill Arnold & Hugh Miller
Nottingham Trent University UK

There has been a recurring problem in academia concerning how people find each other rather than just the officially published work and how people find themselves or position themselves as part of a wider /global community. The Web and Internet technologies now provide opportunities to create presence 'out-there' of self and work but collectively we could also try to find ways to critically re-evaluate our work and debate and question the moral basis for what we find ourselves doing.


Our pattern has medium applicability as it is still in a stage of ongoing research. There are many professional and academic disciplines that could/ would use cyberspace to try to establish a more open and accessible acadmy and enable inter-disciplinary discovery and people to have a presence irrespective of real life status or limited resources. In this pattern Cyberculture is not seen as a phenomenon isolated from wider historical, social, or political contexts (Gackenbach 1998) so the benefits and solutions of development and promotion of the Web would seen at different levels of outcomes.


Over a number of years psychology has developed some understanding of how we engage with new technologies and how they impact on our understanding of ourselves and our interactions with others (Gergen 2001). In our research we have been considering and discussing how (particularly women) academics deal with the electronic world as part of their on-going struggle for finding and developing acceptability for themselves and their work and some degree of connectedness with others in these times of change in Higher Education (see the collection of papers at Cyberpsychology at Nottingham Trent 2001).We found that the politics of power over the potential and actual use of new cyber technologies are still firmly grounded in traditional institutional frameworks and attitudes.
Nevertheless, whether we are within or outside the academy, novice or well-established world authority, the advent of the Web and the Internet offers great possibilities for academics to share themselves and their work beyond and in ways that were only previously possible at conferences or within local institutional or collegiate communities. Some might still only see the Web and Internet as a means of connecting to an information /ideas 'superstore' (an addition -though rather less proper - to the library or bookshop), but of course the academic Web Homepage offers a way of being ‘out there’ presenting who we are and what we are, as well as our work. Limited though hypertext is, links to, for example, personal pages or other areas of interest can reveal enough for us to know something of the person and how passions and objections and ideas owned or disavowed, might be better understood. Even with restrictions from an imposed institutional ‘style’, the academic Web homepage brings the presence of the person as well as their ideas for inspection, inspiration, the sharing of knowledge and critical review.
In this pattern we would like to generate greater awareness that the importance of the Web and Internet to academia lies not just in exchanges of ideas but that when presentation of self (eg as a certain sort of thinker, researcher, person and in a particular context) and the work coincide, we can make connections between ideas to the doing of things. We are reminded that our work is part of life and our lives are not abstractions and separate from it – and also there is real possibility it might become part of someone else’s mission to create a better world.
When we discover the possibility of common academic interest with people from different backgrounds, or with different political or philosophical objectives then we might find common ground for cultural or interdisciplinary work.
We think one of the most important aspects to study further is how both men and women, the young (and not so young but hopeful) are developing the use of Web and Internet to create academic lives that resist / bypass institutional cultures that only encourages the pursuit of research that fulfils our institutions’ needs to enhance scholastic credibility in order to compete for financial resources. The web also offers many opportunities for us to share and spread ideas and develop solutions to problems without the patronage, limitations and control of mainstream print media. So we would want to address the many uncomfortable tensions found in some traditional academic hierarchies where control is threatened by the openness and possibilities of the Web (Hess 2001). Participation in presentation on Web offers the possibility for academics to ‘build’ a career or a reputation based on commitment to positive accountable democratic and life affirming inclusive research and to contribute directly into the wider/global academy.


What we would like to see occur from this pattern is to find the ways that Interdisciplinary and fuzzy edged work could be developed through the use of the Web and Internet. We also particularly think there’s room in cyberspace to develop ideas and connections in the interstices between disciplines and the establishment of new disciplinary ones.
We would like to consider how those currently at the beginnings, fringes or those immersed but lost in academic life, could build upon cyber opportunities to confer about and develop ideas that would not otherwise get heard or acted upon. Even within an institution a web presence and the development of interactive skills could contribute to positive change in the cultural life of academy. The development of social thinking and the ability to critically reflect on the nature of our professional praxis would come about from better connections with others in the same situation.
We’d like to find ways of advocating the Web and Internet within institutions that would allay any threats they perceive to the undermining of their authority and encourage them to see how active participation in the work and culture would enhance the quality of the work of the academy and maintain standards of scholarship not diminish them. A cultural shift towards improving the acceptability and status of Web based publishing would break some of the difficulties with finding acceptance of publishing inter-disciplinary, interstitial work.
One solution to the limitations of the virtual presence (for finding others and being found) would be to promote better use of the Web's technological wizardry (hypertext possibilities) to enhance the quality of Web self-presentations and reveal the complexities of our work.
If people find that their work does not coincide with local current ambitions academics the web would help them to explore a revised position for themselves and their work. Furthermore developing a Web presence offers a solution those who lack academic opportunities and the chance of establishing an academic presence because they can't get to conferences, or libraries, or who aren't linked to acceptable institutions. So people for whom their country of origin or their own immediate or local resources are unable to support their financial or academic needs a solution would be to foster a campaign for better access to Web and Internet facilities.
A wider acceptance of the Web as source for expertise would give confidence to those who may have access to an expert who might be guiding but restricting. The wider view would also enable those people developing independent /distance/lifelong learning skills to tap into the psychological, social and ethical benefits of shared endeavour and the sense of belonging to a wide academic community.

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