Internet communication and practices of scientists in the academic world : an intercultural approach

Bergner, Ingrid GND

Scientists have been faced with constant and rapid increase in the use of digital information and communication technology in the scientific field and universities respectively within the last three decades. Accordingly, the basic assumption of this study is that professors in academia have been experiencing transformation processes concerning their habitus and communication patterns as actors within scientific fields due to integration of online communication tools into their professional activities. My qualitative research study in form of exemplary case studies with 17 scientists from three geographic areas - Austria, Canada (Quebec) and New Zealand - was inspired by some ideas of the French philosopher and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, especially his concepts of “habitus” and “scientific field” are well suited tools to investigate the transformation processes of the habitus, already existing and changing patterns of communication as far as the professional practices of scientists are concerned. The analysis of the interviews showed some essential differences in online behavior of scientists especially in personal email management, web presence and using online tools as far as collaboration, teaching and scientific reputation are concerned. On the one hand there is a group of scientists, mostly people of the older academic generation already in top positions at university, who are faced with severe difficulties in adapting to and using online tools in their professional activities. But on the other hand there is a group of scientists who have already adapted to and have effectively integrated these new tools gradually into their practices as scientists and researchers though to different degrees. These two main groups which I defined as “Laggards” and “Shifters” are contrasted within the two poles of the “Enthusiasts” who intensively use all kinds of online tools and the “Dinosaurs” who, close to retirement, totally resist these tools and even do not engage in personal email management. Online tools are already used as fighting tools for career building by the “Enthusiasts”, they keep their web presence very high and thus predominantly engage in digital publications, personally keep websites, even maintain a personal blog in some cases in two languages. In contrast, “Shifters”, “Laggards” do not regard online tools as fighting tools for career building, but use some online tools to facilitate their work. Moreover, the qualitative analysis of my interviews revealed that the degree of using online tools is not a language based problem but rather a problem to overcome technical difficulties and time pressure. English, the Lingua Franca of the net, naturally used by English-speaking native scientists only plays a minor role for those scientists who are English-speaking non-natives. Referring to teaching methods “Shifters” and “Laggards” in contrast to “Enthusiasts”, who predominantly engage in online teaching, mainly deal with traditional forms of teaching since face-to-face contact with students is very important for them. Some engage in both traditional and online teaching, some integrate small online units and others like the “Dinosaurs” use traditional teaching methods only. An overall conclusion of this study is that implementation of online communication tools has already strongly impacted the working conditions of scientists in the academic world. Most of the professsors belonging to the old academia are faced with the problems of transitional stages when integrating online technology. Some of them have already turned into “Enthusiasts” naturally dealing with technology and its implementation while “Laggards” are still struggeling to overcome technical difficulties, time or group pressure. Contrary to the “Shifters” they still lack competence for critical reflections on effectively using these new tools for their professional practices.

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Bergner, Ingrid: Internet communication and practices of scientists in the academic world. an intercultural approach. Hagen 2011. FernUniversität in Hagen.

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