The state of South Dakota has an office whose mission is to help commercialize the research that's going on in state universities. But we believe the responsibility also lies in the rest of us who are working throughout the state to seek out such research.
Here's an example: A Dakota State University biology education student presented research results at a national conference and was a fellowship awardee. The research project was titled "Effects of Plant and Soil Samples on Microorganisms on Corn and Soybeans." Yet we wonder how many people involved in corn and soybeans in South Dakota have read it or taken action knowing the results [Jon Hunter, "The Rest of Us Need to Learn from Higher Education Research," Madison Daily Leader, 2009.11.30].
Hunter makes a reaonable point: I'll bet few if any farmers or elevator managers have spent time reading the academic research journals related to their industry. I'll also bet few if any farmers or elevator managers have spent an enjoyable evening removing hair from their butts with duct tape. The two experiences are roughly similar in pleasure and productivity.
Why on earth would any practitioner in any field want to read an academic journal? Academics publish in the arcane journals of their field to win and keep tenure. They write their articles for a narrow audience of fellow professors who serve on the boards of elite journals. Writing for practitioners is actually viewed as a ding against one's record at some universities. University researchers expect each other write abstract, detached epistles to theory and methodology, devoid of context, specifics, or passion.
My friend Toby and I submitted a paper on this very topic at the MWAIS conference here at SDU last May. Even as we wrote, we struggled against that same urge for fancy academic lingo. We recommended researchers adopt a research methodology called scholarly personal narrative, in which the researcher talks directly about his or her own experience and puts it in the context of actual practice as well as the latest developments in the field.
One excellent way to carry out scholarly personal narrative and produce the sort of relevant, engaging research that Hunter wants is the blog. Researchers (like Lilia Efimova, who researches the Internet) can conduct and write about their research online. They can blog their ideas, their data collection process, their thought processes. They can put rough drafts online, in publicly accessible language. They can even turn on the comments and seek the input of their readers, who may see things in a very different light from the laboratory perspective. They can make their results available to everyone, immediately, with the push of a button, rather than waiting for an academic review process that can take years and results in papers locked away in proprietary journals and databases that folks outside the university can't afford to access.
Some researchers are pursuing something like blog-based research and "open access" publishing. If academics want to fulfill Hunter's desire for more engagement between researchers and practitioners, they should look at the open access model. They should look at breaking away from the insular language and rules of the current journals and speak directly to the general public online.