Do the math

[cross-posted at the TechLearning blog]

Update: As of October 2010, I now have about 22,000 subscribers to this blog. Alter my calculations accordingly…

According to Feedburner, I currently have about 2,100 subscribers to my blog. While that’s obviously not a huge number compared to many other blogs (see my Technorati rank, which is slightly below that of the TechLearning blog), let’s do the math for a minute…

Let’s say I average 4 posts a week for 50 weeks a year. 4 x 50 x 2,100 readers equals 420,000 person contacts each year. In other words, through my blog I have the opportunity to have 420,000 interactions with my audience every twelve months. These are folks who have actively sought me out and are voluntarily reading what I write (which, by the way, still blows my mind). Over 10 years, that’s over 4 million opportunities for me to spread my message to others, assuming that my current reader totals don’t improve at all (which, obviously, I hope they do).

Now, let’s compare this with a journal article. According to the information sent to me by the editors, the most prestigious peer-reviewed educational leadership research journal, Educational Administration Quarterly (EAQ), has approximately 160 individual subscribers and 1,630 institutional subscribers (i.e., libraries), for a total of about 1,800 subscriptions. Because EAQ serves folks interested in a broad range of educational leadership issues, at best only a small fraction of the individual readers will be interested in an article on technology leadership-related issues. This also is true for anyone doing a literature search for a research article or dissertation. For argument’s sake, let’s say that each technology-related EAQ article might have 60 readers a year, or 600 readers a decade (this is probably quite generous): a very rough ratio of one-third of the subscription total. [Note: this is obviously not very scientific. I'm engaging in some very loose back-of-the-envelope calculations here. There's probably a better way to come up with a more accurate estimate.].

Now of course faculty don’t publish in only one journal. An unbelievably productive faculty member might publish 5 to 10 articles a year, each in a journal with roughly 500 to 5,000 individual and institutional subscribers. For this example, let’s assume the faculty member is super-productive and is publishing in journals with the widest reach. Using the same rough ratio I used for EAQ (i.e., about 1/3 of the subscription numbers over a decade), 10 articles per year x 10 years x 5,000 subscribers x 1/3 = 166,667. Again, I think this is quite optimistic. Few faculty members are this productive and, even if true, it’s pretty likely that readership of a faculty member’s articles is nowhere close to this total.

Okay, let’s review:

  • blog = 4,200,000 person interactions per decade
  • journals = 166,667 person interactions per decade

The blog wins hands-down from a numbers perspective, even assuming what I think is probably the absolute best case scenario for the peer-reviewed journal path. If we also consider

  1. the ability to hear back from people via blog comments (i.e., to have a true conversation about what’s written);
  2. the ability to easily search the content of the blog via Internet search engines (unlike research databases, which typically allow you to only search within article abstracts, not full articles);
  3. the greater availability of blogs to the public generally and educators specifically (particularly since most K-12 folks rarely read peer-reviewed journals);
  4. the ability of popular blog posts to be spread through other bloggers and tools like Digg to even larger audiences;
  5. the ability of blogs to handle multimedia content (i.e., graphics, audio, video); and
  6. the superior connectivity of blogs compared to journal articles (i.e., direct hyperlinks to other resources versus footnotes);

the case for a blog seems even stronger.

So this raises the question… Why would anyone who wishes to actually reach educators and hopefully influence change in schools not be blogging?

Also… why haven’t more faculty caught on to this?

11 Responses to “Do the math”

  1. As a high school administrator, blogger, and tech-geek, I have taken the bull by the horns; I am , essentially, forcing blogging and collaborative technology onto the faculty.

    I created Dumont High School 2.0 using Ning. It’s a private network for our faculty. Only three teachers in my building blog or know anything about the collaborative and interactive tools available. It’s as if the last five years have gone by unnoticed around here.

    So far, I have only opened the network to the ten members of our Middle States Accreditation For Growth Implementation Team. I posted tutorial screencasts on the network so that the truly ignorant can learn at their own pace. I will show them and encourage them to set up their own blogs. In short, I have to lead by example.

    As an aside, the whole project is subject to shut down by the Director of Technology; he has no idea I set this up and launched it. I am working under the premise, “Seek forgiveness, not permission”. I’ve found that this is the only way to break through the phobias that tend to sicken the IT people in education.

    I’ll let you know if I have to apologize.

  2. Interesting math, but I think your numbers are pessimistic on the blog side!

    It only counts the people who subscribe by rss. I haven’t set-up a subscription for this space, because I know I will be reading this blog frequently. I only use rss when the content doesn’t get updated often.

    Also, your audience is more nimble with web published material. If you reference an article in a print journal, how long will it take someone to get a copy? If a blog entry goes viral your estimate is very, very low.

    Is it “Publish (on paper) or Perish” for faculty? Or are college administrators hip to the new medium and the new math?
    You are right. If you want to send out an idea, the web is the place to be.

  3. Hi Scott,

    I am not convinced your numbers are meaningful. Given the different purposes for writing for a professional (refereed) journal and a blog, this is comparing apples to bananas or something.

    Is persuasion or influence a primary purpose for writing for a scholarly journal? I thought it was to inform the profession and build knowledge in an objective fashion through research. Not really for purposely creating educational change.

    But I am not nor never have been an academician!

    Oh, do you want us to tell people again that they will be knotty-pated hedge pigs if they don’t do your survey?

    All the best,

    Doug

  4. Probably because blogs are blocked in many, many school districts…just kidding but it could be true…(c:}

  5. Hi Doug,

    We all know that educators rarely, if ever, read peer-reviewed journals. So at some point we have to ask deep and important questions about why / where we do our writing as academics if it’s not reaching (and thus impacting) the field. It’s hard to affect K-12 practices through research (which should be the purpose, in my mind) if the people you’re trying to reach don’t read the outlets in which you put your writing.

    And, yes, feel free to revive the ‘knotty-pated hedge pigs’ idea!

  6. Anybody can have a blog. Heck, I have a blog, so that should tell you something. With that in mind, at what point does credibility enter in to the picture? You’re a professor, so I assume you also have some published material in scholarly journals. The chances that I’ll ever come across it are pretty small, but the chances of me reading your blog entries are quite high because you’re in my reader every day. So, you have a lot of credibility with me just because of the consistency and frequency of your high quality posts.

  7. More university faculty would be blogging if doing so carried the same weight as publishing in a refereed journal. However, most PAC and tenure-review committees do not consider blogging to be as scholarly as publishing books or peer-reviewed articles.

  8. Frederick the Great of Prussia liked to call himself “The First Servant of the State”, which pleased the Enlightenment philosophers no end. He eliminated torture, and increased the rights of the peasants. But he didn’t really end the absolute power of the monarchy, nor constrain the nobility, nor redesign the legal system. In the same way, saying “I’m an educational leader” doesn’t make it so.
    On the other hand, if you’re really potentially reaching the point of having 4,000,000+ interactions between people over the course of a decade… well. People reading your blog, reading your comments, comparing stories, collecting anecdotes, building a following? Isn’t THAT what peer review is supposed to look like?

  9. Hi Andrew, thanks for the thoughtful comment. And I appreciate the idea that simply saying, “Hey, I’m serving people!” doesn’t necessarily make it so. I think that I am adding some value to the conversation and to leaders’ lives. My readership keeps growing so that’s at least one indicator that I’m on the right track. That said, there’s so much more I could be doing and/or that needs to be done…

    I think the typical academic’s response to your last sentence would be a haughty sniff followed by the question, “But are they QUALITY people?” In other words, peer review has to be by folks they consider to be ‘peers’ and the general public / anyone that isn’t a tenure-track faculty member at a university (preferably a research university) doesn’t fall into that category…

  10. @ Scott
    As you know I am a regular reader, but largely due to having met you and knowing you are a grounded individual. The advantage of peer reviewed journals is that those who publish there become credible. A blog can be wonderful, and it can also be full of crap. Most journal publications have an editor that look for errors or information which can not be verified using sound educational research methods.
    There are a tremendous amount of people who purchase the National Inquirer, but I would not look to it as a place to publish valuable information.
    Please take no offense to this analogy as I spend a great deal of time reading specific blogs,many of which I have come across as a result of visiting Dangerously Irrelevant. I also have monthly journals that I read and yes I do at times even look at some of the peer reviewed journals. Ussually after being directed there by the references at the end of some article in a more popular publication.

  11. Scott… I’m sure that Frederick the Great would have asked the same question, “are they QUALITY people?” Really, though, the question asked by the academic, and the question asked by King Frederick, are merely variations on the aristocratic thought-process.

    Blogs are clearly more democratic, because they allow anyone’s voice to be heard, and for that voice to be influential under the right circumstances. To quote the famous New Yorker cartoon, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

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