Leslie Chong is a JD candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.
Academic bloggers gathered at Osgoode Hall Law School to discuss their insights and experiences working with online forums through blogging and other social media sites. The panel discussion took place on February 9, 2011 and included Professors Simon Fodden, Sonia Lawrence, Kate Sutherland, and Giuseppina D’Agostino. As the internet and social media become increasingly important tools in facilitating communication and connection to larger academic communities, it is important that we look to some of the pioneers in this field to determine how we can use these devices to increase knowledge, make space for discussion, and encourage further online pedagogic endeavors.
Professor D’Agostino discussed her experiences spearheading IP Osgoode’s very own blog, the IPilogue (www.iposgoode.ca), which was first launched in her 2007 IP class following Osgoode’s academic policy to try and increase different forms of evaluation. She explained that the ‘one expert, one voice model’ pervasive in most university classrooms did not suit her scholarly agenda, and instead wanted to increase the plurality of voices on the many topics she introduced in the classroom. IP Osgoode’s blog was a tool that she used to implement a horizontal model of information exchange within the classroom so that students had a voice – not just the professor. With its coined promise of “One Fresh Post a Day” IP Osgoode continues to engage the expertise of students in ongoing discussions about ‘hot button’ intellectual property and technology topics. Within each piece, our IPilogue editors aim to ensure that different perspectives are canvassed and included with an evidence-based approach designed to highlight prevailing opinions on popular topics for our readers. As Professor D’Agostino noted, keeping a neutral and balanced commentary on IP content has been one of the biggest challenges in running a scholarly blog – it is often a painstaking process to ensure that our posts provide a clear and unbiased report on the opinions that exist on a particular topic.
Since its inception, IP Osgoode had been a well-trafficked website, reaching upwards of 13,000 readers per month. From its modest beginning, IP Osgoode now has an international reach with readers from across Canada, the United States, the UK, India, Australia and more. With 1000 original blog posts, and approximately 800 public comments, IP Osgoode has come a long way since its modest beginnings. While Professor D’Agostino has conceded that she might have had lofty ambitions by trying to have global dialogue with students from around the world, she is hopeful that the ‘wait and see’ approach might heed some increased international academic participation from students given IP Osgoode’s growing popularity.
Scholarly blogging can take on many forms, and Professor Lawrence discussed how her approach to blogging for The Institute for Feminist Legal Studies at Osgoode (ifls.osgoode.yorku.ca) is different from IP Osgoode's IPilogue. She found that the need for a blog in feminist legal studies arose because of the vast amount of content available on the internet that, for a busy person like herself, may be impossible to get through. Being pressed for time, she realized that a blog in this area of law would be helpful in turning the internet from creator to curator. Wanting to be informed about her area of law without having to sift through (the mountains) of information available on the internet, she developed her blog to fill the void as a ‘pioneer source’ of information for other feminist legal scholars. In her blogging, Professor Lawrence will often feature posts from other websites that she frequents – her posts aim to give you a flavour of what the article is about, redirect you to the writer’s respective website and will also cross-reference other relevant topics in relation to that post. This amalgamation of various topics into one blog post is what Professor Lawrence has aptly defined as the ‘curation’ aspect of her blogging – a succinct summary of various on-point and related topics relating to one particular post.
Conversely, Professor Lawrence has also used scholarly blogging in the classroom setting to fill the ‘creator’ aspect as well. Her State and Citizen blog, for example, has been used to help her direct students to interesting articles and developments not directly covered in class. She also uses blog posts for evaluation in one of her seminar-styled courses, rather than the traditional class discussion. Noting that students often put more thought into their writing, she has had great success implementing a system where some of her students are responsible for writing posts and others are responsible for responding through comments – enough success that she has even considered making all of the discussion happen on the online forum! All of Professor Lawrence's blogs are effectively self-run, and she admits that one of the biggest challenges is trying to keep her website up to date. She is currently grappling with the idea that she may need help to keep up with her blogging and hopes to recruit students in the future to help her keep the blog(s) running.
While blogging is an important social media tool that can be used in academic settings, Professor Sutherland – a well-seasoned blogger – has taken to Twitter and describes how this foray into a new medium has proved to be successful. Most people have a preconception about the quality of posts that Twitter users share with their followers, but Professor Sutherland found that it can actually help your scholarly research by developing relationships with other academics and practitioners in your area of interest. Twitter is what you make of it – users are given the power to decide who to follow and this allows academics to mould the information and links that you are receiving. Professor Sutherland has said that since she began using Twitter, she has never felt more in tune with the recent developments in her field – her online community’s updates have given her everything she needs to know about her current research on defamation law in Canada and the world.
But this is not to say that Professor Sutherland will not soon give up her blogging in favor of Twitter. Rather, she finds that it is very complimentary to her academic blogging. Having recently launched law.arts.culture (lawartscult.osgoode.yorku.ca) through Osgoode, she found that her previous readers and Twitter followers were largely supportive of her new website and as a result, law.arts.culture has become well-trafficked despite being relatively new. As one of the challenges, Professor Sutherland notes the marked difference between blogging for leisure (through her book blog) and blogging academically (through an Osgoode law blog). There is an added pressure to uphold a scholarly presence and of being an ‘expert’ of sorts in her law blog, and a sense of professionalism that must be imported when working on an Osgoode-affiliated website. But Professor Sutherland has taken these challenges in stride and hopes to include alumni, Osgoode students, professors and others in the law.arts.culture website. Furthermore, she is hoping that she will be able to use this blog as a litmus test for some of her current research. While peer review is common in academics, blogging and social media have facilitated this process and have allowed for nearly instantaneous feedback on current research - a task that would traditionally take years.
As one of the pioneers of scholarly blogging and the use of internet as a tool of the future at Osgoode, Professor Simon Fodden is urging Osgoode to pursue new and inventive opportunities to ‘reconceive’ scholarship. Professor Fodden is no stranger to academic blogging as a member of IP Osgoode and the founder of Osgoode's 'The Court' blog (www.thecourt.ca). Having started his blog, slaw (www.slaw.ca) nearly 6 years ago, he now has 60 regular columnists who volunteer their time and labour to by writing on various legal topics throughout the year. Despite the fact that it has been nearly 6 years, his blog is still a constant state of wonder – it is astonishing what people can do with the internet (at virtually no cost) and the generosity that people have in dedicating their time to maintain this website. At present, Professor Fodden’s website has garnered nearly 150,000 monthly views from around the world. A truly impressive feat, but he argues that blogging is on its way out – it is a ‘tried and true’ medium which is no longer a ‘novel concept’ and Osgoode needs to think about its next step to stay at the forefront of innovation.
Legal scholarship has a tendency to be ‘hermitic’ – researchers talk to themselves in their legal cavern and this becomes an engrossing process where they close off their research and only emerge to show their findings when it is completed. Professor Fodden argues that research ought to have a collaborative side to it and this is where blogging helps to facilitate a global discussion within one’s academic community. This collaboration helps to advance research and promote an open discussion that inevitably will help create more comprehensive legal scholarship. As a legal institution, Professor Fodden is hoping that Osgoode will look forward and take steps to stay at the helm of technological developments by implementing simple (but innovative) ideas. For example, he suggests that the Osgoode Hall Law Journal ought to be provided electronically and through online databases, or the development of a Zotero-like tool to help with Canadian legal citation. With the quick-paced developments in technology, it is important that Osgoode, as an institution, jump at these opportunities to stay relevant in a time of innovation and inventiveness.
Note: This post was updated on March 8, 2011 to add a link to the podcast of the panel discussion. See the first sentence of this post.