November 18, 2007

Blogging Talk Follow-Up

There was a great turn-out and a lot of lively discussion at my talk on Friday about blogging. Several people suggested that they would like links to the material I highlighted, so I'm providing them below, grouped by where I used them in my presentation. First, though, here are some of the things I've taken away with me to think about more.

Because I framed my discussion of blogging with some material on academic publishing, one topic that got a fair amount of attention in the questions after was peer-review; this was no surprise, and also it's something that is addressed a lot among academics who blog. One colleague made the interesting observation that debates about academic blogging seem always (including in my talk) to be set up in terms of its potential contributions to or value as research; much less consideration is given to how it might relate to our teaching. I know there are people using blogging as a pedagogical tool, as a way for students to communicate with each other about course material, for instance, or as a version of reading responses (Miriam Jones does course blogs, for instance). But I think this comment was not so much about how we might add student blogging to our array of assignment options (though others picked up on this possibility as appealing) as about how writing as an academic blogger might put a kind of public face on our own pedagogical activities and ideas (along the lines of what I have been doing with my posts on 'This Week in My Classes,' perhaps). The 'routine' or everyday character of blogging also matches the rhythm of teaching, in which you are incessantly rethinking your material and looking for ways to bring it to life (intellectually and affectively) in your classes. Writing up this work requires conceptualizing it in ways that perhaps we don't always do otherwise--and also, I've found, brings out connections I might not have seen otherwise. I've seen some suggestions that, of the categories used to measure academics' professional contributions, blogging should be considered 'service'; I guess I think that's just a way out of trying to evaluate the substance of the writing.

Another suggestion, from the same colleague, was that academic scholarship has a wider audience outside the academy than is often supposed. I'm not sure how we would go about testing this hypothesis, but it would be interesting to know. And another colleague observed, also in discussion about our relationship to the wider public, that teaching is too often overlooked (in my dozen years of teaching, how many students have passed through my classes? it's tricky to measure, especially as many students take two or more classes with me--I've had some take five or six!--but certainly the number would be somewhere around 2000). As others pointed out in response, even so, that's only a fraction of the reading public, and only for a limited part of their lives (and when they are under compulsion to pay attention!). But when measuring our impact on literary culture, it's true that we ought to take teaching into account. (That said, one of the reasons I've been thinking again about my own research projects is that they tended not to resemble very much the work I do for my teaching. This is where the trouble starts, for me.)

Finally, another colleague proposed that, overall, the internet is great for connections, comments, and other 'lighter' forms of scholarly interaction (I'm paraphrasing) but not suited for sustained analysis. I think this is true in a way, but more because of how we use the internet than because of any necessary limits on its forms. Among the disincentives to long, thoughtful posts is that they don't 'matter' or 'count' professionally, for example. But if we re-imagine scholarly discourse to accommodate or value some kinds of on-line exchanges as professional contributions (CV-worthy, in other words), I don't see why they should be taken any less seriously by writers or readers than, say, 'responses' to articles that sometimes appear in journals by invitation--which are not, strictly speaking, peer-reviewed in the same way as anonymous submissions. Participation in book events is a form of on-line academic discourse that seems basically equivalent to publishing a book review, with the extra burden of having to respond to other scholars' queries or dissenting views. (Update: See Dan Green's thoughts on these issues at The Reading Experience.)

Overall, then, much to continue thinking about. As the point of my presentation was to get just this kind of conversation going, I consider it a success. Thanks to everyone who showed up!


First, I compiled a number of links about academic blogging previously; see here. Also, if I referred in my talk to a source I haven't included here and you'd like to follow it up, let me know; it wasn't feasible to put in every single cited source.

I. Questions About Academic Publishing

MLA Task Force Report
FitzPatrick, "On the Future of Academic Publishing, Peer Review, and Tenure Requirements
Krause, "Considering the Value of Self-Published Websites"

II. Questions About Audiences: Ourselves, Other Academics, Other Readers

Erin O'Connor, "Relatively Sincere"Lisa Ruddick, "The Near Enemy of the Humanities is Professionalism"

III. Blogging in Particular

Tedra Osell (BitchPhD), Academic Blogging and the Public Sphere
John Holbo, "Form Follows the Function of the Little Magazine"
Miriam Jones, "What I Told the Tenure Committee"

IV. Varieties of Literary and Academic Blogs (samples)

Conversational Reading
The Elegant Variation
The Reading Experience

Academic (Administrative, Literary, and Other)
Confessions of a Community College Dean
Deans' Weblog
The Little Professor
Michael Berube
The Long Eighteenth
Blogging the Renaissance
Crooked Timber
The Valve

V. Long-time Bloggers Reflect

An Enthusiast's View of Academic Blogging
A Skeptic's Take on Academic Blogging
Academic Blogging Revisited

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