Archive for April 8, 2010

Rationalizing Academic Blogging

My colleagues and I in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech have been having an ongoing conversation about the role of blogging in academia.  Fellow faculty Andrea ThomazAshwin RamBeki Grinter and Amy Bruckman blog, and there are probably more than I’m not aware of.  Some of these conversations spiked when my Blog@CACM post “went viral,” receiving over 52,000 page views in a two week period.  That feels like it’s a good thing, that people are reading our academic output.  Yet it’s not the kind of activity that academia typically rewards.  I’m a full Professor (for which I do feel grateful!), so I don’t have to worry about tenure and promotion. I still struggle with what role blogging should have in my academic life. Sarita Yardi sent me a link to this really terrific piece in the Berkeley Alumni magazine on just this point:

As far as DeLong is concerned, he’s just telling it like it is; somebody has to and it probably won’t be the mainstream media. “There’s a feeling that someone should try to point out things that are simply not true,” he says. “Tenured professors are in a pretty good place to do that.”

For Holbo, blogging was a way to open a conversation beyond the ivory tower about his esoteric interests. “Academic blogging is not very pure academics,” he says. “Half the commentators on my blogs are not academics. It feels very healthy that way. Almost everyone who does it seriously does it without mixed motives.”..Yet even though the blogs reach a huge and influential audience compared to that of scholarly journals, the blogs are not recognized as scholarly publication and don’t count toward tenure.

via The Tenure Tracts | CAA.

Based on this piece, I have two arguments for blogging now:

  • Blogging is a new form of non-amateur journalism. My colleague Irfan Essa has been talking about computational journalism and the rise of the amateur journalist for some time now.  Amy has recently blogged about the continued importance of expertise.  Faculty are experts, and blogging is a way of connecting that expertise to a broader community.  My role as an academic blogger is to use my expertise (here, in computing education research) to connect to and interpret events, new results, new publications — like a journalist, but with an even more protected job, and frankly, biased from my perspective and lens.  Don’t like this lens?  I hope that many other computing education blogs grow (like Leigh Ann’s and Alfred’s, though we three probably agree too much) with other perspectives.
  • Blogs can provide the narrative knowledge that connects research to practice. I just rewrote my reports on Carl Wieman’s and Sally Fincher’s SIGCSE 2010 keynotes for Blog@CACM.  What I saw Carl doing in his keynote was connecting science education research to computing education research.  What I saw Sally doing was to show how to bring abstract research into concrete practice.  Providing that kind of connection is exactly what American universities were created to do originally, to connect research to practice and to provide service to a broad society.  Academic blogging is a way for faculty to perform the job as it was originally intended.

Maybe these aren’t “arguments,” as much as “rationalizations.”  I like to blog!  I just also like to think that it’s useful.  I see blogging as part of what academics ought to be doing. It is a mixture of service to the community, teaching through our publications, and connecting to research.

April 8, 2010 at 11:38 am 13 comments


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