Can We Stop Telling Faculty to Only Focus on Writing for Scholarly Outlets?
This column originally appeared in Diverse: Issues in Higher Education and is reposted with permission. The author was a panelist during AACTE’s Holmes Summer Policy Institute on June 4. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.
Last week I had the opportunity to talk to current and aspiring doctoral students who were attending the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) Holmes Summer Policy Institute. Throughout the session titled “Linking Research to Policy: White Papers, Blogs, and Social Media,” I joined several panelists to dialogue about the importance of leveraging social media as an outlet to get your research exposure outside of the ivory tower and into the hands and screens of practitioners and policy makers.
During the Q&A portion of the panel, a senior faculty member presented the following comment (paraphrased) to the group: “It is great that we are talking about the importance of social media and blogging, but that needs to wait until after tenure. The focus for scholars should be to publish in their journals and other respected outlets.”
The senior faculty member’s advice was certainly useful, because it framed the importance of peer-reviewed publications for faculty success, getting tenure and promotion, which I agree with. However, there is significant value in writing for popular press and discipline-specific practitioner outlets. The comment in many ways diminished the important role non-peer-reviewed publications play in increasing your national profile as a scholar and thought leader.
For instance, after writing for peer-review outlets, I typically share it on Twitter (@ramongoings) and Facebook with my colleagues, family, and friends. As a result of sharing my work and engaging with others on social media about my research on Black male student success, I was contacted by a local grassroots organizer to provide professional development on research and evaluation to organizations that support Black boys and men in the local community. If I decided not to share my work and develop a community via social media, that opportunity may not have ever occurred.
As a junior scholar, I certainly understand the “publish or perish” mantra in higher education, so I would not want to tell future scholars not to focus on peer-reviewed publications. However, if we are honest, many peer-reviewed publications are on paid publisher sites, which limits the readership. As a result, many of the people who would benefit most from our findings do not have access. This is why I advise students I work with and mentor that in addition to writing for academic audiences in peer-reviewed outlets, they should learn to communicate important information either in writing or video to the audiences who can benefit from their commentary.
While I do not expect the academy to change, I think as scholars we can shift how we disseminate our research. More importantly, for many scholars like myself whose work is centered on impacting underserved communities, we cannot afford for our work to just live in scholarly outlets that very few or only academics will read. It needs to be shared with practitioners and policy makers who can use it to impact policy and practice.