June 3, 2009

Academic Blogging at ACCUTE

I've been meaning to say a little bit about the lunch-hour session on academic blogging that I convened at ACCUTE last week. As some of you will know, this session was the down-sized version of a panel I proposed for which there were, well, not many submissions. I'm not altogether sorry. Our informal discussion was certainly more fun and interactive, and probably more productive, than a series of well-rehearsed papers would have been. I enjoyed meeting other bloggers, including The Classroom Conservative and some of the founders of the new, and highly recommended, 19th-century blog The Floating Academy. (During the conference I also met a couple of lurkers: if you're still out there, thanks for introducing yourselves! Who says the Internet can't foster actual human interaction?) Also present were some academics who blog but don't necessarily define themselves as "academic bloggers," which in itself raised some interesting questions about how (or whether) we define our working or professional selves as distinct from our personal or other selves.

I began with a few words about how I stumbled into blogging and then some comments on what seem to me its benefits from a specifically academic perspective: writing often, writing for a potentially wider audience, getting feedback on work-in-progress, making contacts. I think I also mentioned the slow pace of academic publishing (not conducive to the steady or collaborative development of ideas) and the frustration with writing more for careerist than intellectual or scholarly reasons. The flip side of all this is (again, from a narrowly academic perspective) lack of professional recognition for this activity, which then raises questions about the time commitment, particularly for junior faculty. Then we just went around the room and everyone explained their own interest in or experience with blogging, academic or otherwise. I thought it was a friendly and productive discussion. Probably what emerged most strongly for me was that, just as it is difficult to define "blogging" because the form itself determines almost nothing about the content, so too "academic blogging" can take many forms, from the scholarly to the personal to the literary. As a result, academics who believe their blogging is contributing in some significant way to their professional development and therefore want some credit for it (and let's face it, most of us have an interest in moving forward, not just intellectually, but also professionally, so the issue of "what does this count for?" is bound to come up, given how many demands there are on our time) will have to make the case based on the specific kind of work they are doing. Still, it also seems to me that the primary value of blogging, whether academic or not, is and should be intrinsic. Whether you blog because you find the mental exercise stimulating or clarifying, or because you find it useful to have a repository for your unfolding ideas, or just because you enjoy it, then whatever else comes of it, you won't be sorry. And given the ways academic work tends to meld with everything else we do and think about, our work is bound to benefit, even if only indirectly. Many of us remarked, for instance, that the simple challenge of writing often and (implicitly) for a broader audience than other specialists was, in itself, one of the chief attractions and rewards of blogging: it brought us back in touch with the pleasure of writing. I'd like to hear any follow-up thoughts from others who were there.Thanks to all of you for coming! I was afraid it might be a lonely lunch for me.

As it turns out, there was another blogging panel at the Congress, sponsored by University Affairs; unfortunately I didn't know this one was on the schedule until I had already booked my return ticket for that day, or I would certainly have attended it as well. (If any of you were there, I'd be interested in your report. I found a bit more information about it, here and here.) I was surprised to see only one Canadian blogger on the panel, though perhaps I shouldn't have been considering my own experience trying to uncover other Canadian academics who blog.


Jon said...

Hi again Rohan,

Found a brand new book that you may be interested in with a section on blogging. Don't know if you've read yet...


Especially Chapter 6, "Blogs: The New Elite Media"

Even though I don't agree with a lot of what Hindman is saying (particularly because he's looking at blogging from a political/utilitarian perspective) there was some really good ideas brought up in the text.

I like your review of the discussion from Congress as well. And thanks for the link through to A Blade of Grass.

Hope all is well in your realm (both "real" and "digital").

Bye for now,


Emily said...

Hi and thanks for the link, Rohan. I certainly enjoyed the session and found it useful to hear from other blogging perspectives, especially around the time that we're just beginning our own foray.

Tara said...

I really enjoyed the rountable and, like Emily, I found it to be a great way for me to start thinking about the larger implications of academic blogging and why we do it. I think you're right that the rountable was more fun and interactive than polished papers might have been. I'll be writing about it tomorrow on The Floating Academy and will link back to your post above!

Dale Kirby said...

Thanks for your mention of our panel Rohan. FYI all of our panelists are Canadians, however, Michael Barbour is at Wayne State in Detroit.

Rohan Maitzen said...

Jon, thanks for the recommendation; I'll have to have a look. And Tara and Emily, I'm glad you found the roundtable useful, especially at this point in the development of your own blog. Dale, thanks for the correction. I should have known not to assume based on place of work--though I have in fact been particularly interested in finding academics in Canada who blog, as my impression is that this trend is much further ahead in the US. I wonder if others have seen this too? Or perhaps the participation is proportionate but we are just a much small number up here.

Rebecca H. said...

I'm very pleased to have found your blog -- and thanks for linking to mine! I would have liked to attend this panel, as the subject is endlessly fascinating (to me at least!). I'm glad to hear there was a consensus that it's nearly impossible to define blogging and academic blogging, as I can't stand it when people try to define those things and end up limiting the possibilities of what they can be.