How can we dare leave to secure warm, fuzzy email universe and begin taking academic discussions online.

Some days ago I emailed my Medical Museion colleagues, asking if anyone happened to know Angela Last (I had visited her website, and found her research profile congenial to our academic research and curatorial programme.)

My short inquiry elicited an intensive in-house email correspondence, in which Louise, Adam and myself brought views, which I think may have implications, both specifically for our planned Studiolab event on synthetic biology early next year and, more generally, for the problem of how to display micro- and nanosized material things in museums.

After 6-7 turns Daniel wrote: “Indeed a wonderful discussion — and imagine if it had been carried out on Google+ or on our website! ;)”. Which in turn prompted Louise to ask: “How about excerpting the existing conversation as a blog post, with some reflection on what we’re doing, then continuing the discussion in comments?”.

I’ve already posted the actual conversation. What interests me here, however, is the general observation as academics we tend to limit our informal discussions to the email-medium and are often hesitant to take the debate online.

True, some of us already do have lots of academic discussions online. To speak for myself, over the last two years I have incited and taken part in several serious discussions on Facebook and Twitter (and a few on Google+) and I feel quite comfortable about it. But all these discussions have been with people far away from my own institution. My in-house discussions almost always takes place through email.

How can we dare leave to secure warm, fuzzy email universe and begin taking more of our academic discussions in the public? How to strike a reasonable balance between in-house and online discussions threads? Louise’s suggestion is to start in-house discussions through email and then porting them over to an online medium at an earlier stage in the discussion:

In general I think we should probably run email threads past all contributors before posting in public, and it does raise some technical questions about (a) stripping out sensitive/private information (which of course not everyone will agree on the boundaries of) and (b) giving context – we freely refer to shared knowledge about e.g., the human remains exhibition, and the studiolab project … Not at all prohibitive issues though!

There is probably not any formulaic solution to how to strike the balance between in-house and public discussions. Generally speaking, however, I believe many more of our in-house conversations could profitably run online — thereby encouraging a larger group of people to follow our thoughts and perhaps help us solve the problems we’re struggling with.

Any comments — here or on Twitter?

Thomas Söderqvist

Author Thomas Söderqvist

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