University as workplace: new directions

On 4th September I presented at BAAL 2015 (Aston University), a paper entitled “The University as a Workplace: New Directions in the Study of Academic Writing” .  There were a lot of nods in the room while I was talking, which suggests we are on to something!  Further to Sharon’s reflections on our autoethnographies of email, many of the questions afterwards picked up on the issue of emails, and how the reading and writing of emails integrates with and affects people’s working lives and experiences.  In particular, people were interested in the idea that the singular notion of the practice of ” doing email” actually brings together tasks, and therefore practices, of many different kinds: quick or complex, boring or challenging, potentially emotionally disruptive and definitely out of one’s control.

This was also the first time I had used our handy little project logo in public:


Someone who had come in after the start of the paper said to me afterwards, “I saw the logo at the bottom – are you part of a skills centre or something?”  I still have to figure out what that means about the semiotics of branding ….

The Mediatisation of the Literacy Practices of Academic Knowledge Production

On the 8th of September, I, David, presented a paper, The Mediatisation of the Literacy Practices of Academic Knowledge Production at the 6th International Conference on Language in the Media at the University of Hamburg. This is the first paper from the project which I have presented and the focus of the paper reflected the theme of the conference, Mediatisation. Click on the title Mediatisation of the literacy practices of academic knowledge production Sept 2015 for my slides . I enjoyed presenting the work and people seemed interested in the topic. Many thanks to everyone who attended and especially those of you who asked questions. It was obvious from talking to people afterwards that the topics raised in the paper – about how every aspect of being an academic is being transformed – fitted with people’s experiences around the world.


No email is an island

As one part of the Dynamics of Knowledge Creation project, members of the project team are researching our own practice and providing autoethnographic data on interesting themes to emerge from the research. One of these is the fragmented nature of academic work, and the role that email plays in this.

We each received between 3 and 106 emails per day, with the more senior team members receiving by far the most. These included personal messages, newsletters, circulars, and spam as well as emails that required a response. One team member deleted 68% of the 84 emails she received on the day she tracked her email habits, and sent only 5 messages, but it is sobering to bear in mind that this is an academic who is semi-retired!

One team member pointed out that “no email is an island”; those that require action often include links or attachments to everything from events websites to manuscripts, often involving hundreds of pages of reading. Our common strategies for handling emails included checking multiple times per day, dealing with the quick and easy messages first, flagging or marking as “unread” those that require further thought, and aiming for (but never reaching) the Nirvana of “Inbox Zero”.

Many of our research participants have described checking email early in the morning, or late in the evening, perceiving email as a distraction from their “real” work. But are academics unusual in this regard? It would appear not. According to Chui et al. (2012, p. 46) high-skill knowledge workers spend 28% of their workweek managing e-mail. In 2011, French IT company, Atos, announced their aim of going email-free after estimates that employees got an average of 100 emails a day, only 15% of which were deemed useful (Chui et al., 2012, p. 30). The same year, in response to union complaints about work-life balance, Volkswagen limited its servers to sending emails to staff between 7:00 and 18:15.

How would you feel about imposed limits like this? Is email a distraction from your “real” work? How do you manage the volume of emails?

Conference talks this month

Conference season is upon us, and the Dynamics of Knowledge Creation team is sharing early insights on different aspects of our data analysis. This week, Karin is presenting a paper entitled The University as a Workplace: New Directions in the Study of Academic Writing at the BAAL annual meeting at Aston University in Birmingham on the 4th of September.

On the 8th of September, David is presenting on The Mediatisation of the Literacy Practices of Academic Knowledge Production at the 6th International Conference on Language in the Media in at the University of Hamburg.

Finally, on the 15th September, Sharon is giving a paper on the use of techno-biographic interviews and what they can reveal about academic identity at the Quadrangular Conference on Technology, Organisations and Society at Lancaster University’s Management School.

We will post links to the slides shortly.