25 Years of OU: 2014 – Battle for Open

As an academic, part of the expectation is to publish journal articles and book chapters particularly with the REF in mind. I’ve always managed a reasonable level of output without being one of the people with an h-index of 60. But I would say my preferred output methods are at opposite ends of the effort continuum – blogs and books.

I had written three books previously. When I published my first, Delivering Learning on the Net, I sat back and awaited the new lifestyle of riches, yachts and fame that would ensue. I am still waiting. It was with 2011’s The Digital Scholar though that I began to feel like I was finding my voice as a writer, helped a lot by having a blog through which it had developed. That was also the first open access book I had published, with the realisation that if my books aren’t going to make me rich, I may as well try to make them free so they can be as widely read as possible. In 2014 I published the Battle for Open with Ubiquity Press and this felt like I was developing a coherent argument for the first time (readers of the book may disagree about the coherent part).

But why write books at all? A colleague once dismissed them in my field saying “why write one book when you could get five good REFable papers from the same material?” He had a point in terms of return on investment for metrics, but putting that aside, I think part of my attraction to writing books is because they counter the blogging immediacy and small chunks. The blogging style appeals to me (obviously), but the bite sized approach does not led itself to the construction of a connecting narrative or argument. The point is, I often don’t know where I’m going with a book’s theme, but it emerges when I revisit blog posts and weave these together. Rebecca Solnit says of walking that it allows you to ruminate and find what you didn’t know you were looking for. The same is true of writing a longer text I feel. It is only when you are putting together different chapters in a concerted effort that the connections become apparent.

So, my reply (several years too late) to my colleague would be that, on the contrary, I often don’t see the point to journal articles. A blog post is sufficient to get across a key finding or point and a book is the best means to construct a meaningful argument. The article sits awkwardly between the two. Of course, I do know why and when articles are useful, but their role as the dominant form of academic discourse is questionable.

I also like writing books primarily to annoy Jim Groom.

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