Rationalizing Academic Blogging

April 8, 2010 at 11:38 am 13 comments

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.

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. beki70  |  April 8, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    Nice piece Mark. I wrote my case for blogging a while ago, http://beki70.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/an-academic-blog/ I agree with your sentiments. I think it’s especially important to communicate broadly, that’s why I also agree to media pieces, because I think I have an obligation to communicate that way.

    One theme in my blog that’s surprised me greatly is how much attention I pay to the organization of the academy. I guess I am a process person, but it even surprised me. I believe that science is not just products, but is made in its processes, so I enjoy trying to reflect on those through my blog I suppose.

    Reply
  • 2. yardi  |  April 8, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    danah blogged about this awhile back. People took a contentious blog post of hers as research and she had to respond. See “Form and Format”.
    http://www.danah.org/papers/essays/ResponseToClassDivisions.html

    (Her original post had 395 comments and was picked up by BBC, etc.)

    Reply
  • 3. Jason Washington-King  |  April 8, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    Interesting work Mark

    I am a young aspiring academic in Australia. I don’t have a PhD or a massive amount of publications. So while I would love to blog, the University only cares about me publishing in journals and getting my PhD. I agree with you about blogging it is a great idea and I see it as the space to think, the space we all need to research and come up with new and ground breaking ideas. What better way to have your ideas enhanced and critiqued than to blog and let others comment.

    regards

    Jason

    Reply
  • 4. Leigh Ann Sudol  |  April 9, 2010 at 9:09 am

    Whats wrong with agreeing if we are right? :p

    But more seriously, I find that blogging, and reading others blogs, often help me refine a point. I have been using my blog as an indexable, searchable journal of my research thoughts as well as communications to the outside world (although been a little swamped lately, but have a couple of good posts brewing).

    I think academic blogging definitely has a place, and I wish it was more prolific while I was a new teacher – would have helped me think about things in ways that didn’t fully emerge until I started going to SIGCSE and getting more involved with that community. Not all teachers have the ability to use conferences as professional development, and RSS feeds make it easier than ever to set up your own PD network.

    Reply
  • 5. seanlancaster  |  April 9, 2010 at 9:39 am

    i certainly think it would be okay to list a blog as service to your field if you target it toward your field. however, i am quite opposed to thinking that a personal blog, even if professionally focused, should count as scholarship. if a person were to report research on a blog, the real benefit comes when this research gets viewed and scrutinized. if you only have a few comments to your blog here and there, then you aren’t likely to get the feedback that can help you or the field. i also know that i am far less likely to give critical feedback to a blogger on their own blog because i don’t want to make the blogger look too bad on their home turf. give me an article in the peer review process and i will give it the full scrutiny that the blind review process can allow (plus, i am getting credit for serving on the editorial review board and my incentive to participate in the process is greatly increased). this scrutiny is what can strengthen the literature and the field in the long run.

    Reply
    • 6. Mark Guzdial  |  April 9, 2010 at 10:10 am

      Sean, you’re describing the system for review and dissemination of scholarship of discovery, and I agree that blogs (professional or personal) do not play a significant service role in that space — I think that’s what danah learned in the post that Sarita mentioned. However, Boyer pointed out that faculty have other roles to play and forms of scholarship to pursue. Who connects to the practitioners in that model, Sean? The teachers may not be reading the research literature. Blogs can make those connections, interpretations, and explanations. In a discovery mode, there is little value for connecting across fields. How do people in computing education learn about what’s going on in science education? How do people in computing education research learn about the great work that was published pre-Web? These goals of application and integration are ill-served by the traditional academic media. I argue that blogs have a particularly important role to play there, and it is a form of both service and teaching, and should count towards tenure and promotion. The issue of evaluation and measuring impact is important, but we shouldn’t give up on measuring the right stuff just because it’s hard.

      Reply
  • 7. seanlancaster  |  April 9, 2010 at 10:44 am

    yes, but i think that counts as service and not scholarship and i am fine with that. i can even see it counting in teaching if you use it in your teaching. fine. in fact, i list my blog as service to my field right now and also when i went up for tenure 4 years ago . . . nobody questioned it, but the topic didn’t come up in the discussion i was in, so i don’t know whether it was valued as service or not. i suppose i had enough other service to make it a moot point??? i don’t think we’re that far apart, fwiw.

    there are many journals that are designed to be non scholarly and more focused on practitioners than researchers (e.g., AACE Journal or Learning and Leading with Technology or even T.H.E. Journal). to be published in these journals is much easier than a scholarly journal, yet these venues are often used to help bridge the gap between research and practice much like you’re describing with a blog. the difference is that a blog can contain anything from the very worthwhile to claims that are simply wrong. what happens when a popular blogger perpetuates a false claim and hundreds of practitioners read it and believe it? there is no formalized review process on blogs and there is no mechanism in place to make sure that what is published on a blog is properly scrutinized. perhaps you have a large enough audience that some scrutiny does take place, but what about a blogger who has a smaller audience or a less scholarly audience?

    i agree that blogs can play an important role in helping to bridge the gap between research and practice. but i think that individual blogs can do the process a disservice, too. i think each field could be more proactive in developing the online infrastructure to allow these research to practice discussions to take place. perhaps it would be linking to key bloggers in a field from the professional organization’s website and inviting the community to participate (so your blog would still be here providing value). the current model of individual bloggers here and there is just too hit or miss, i think — i arrived via a tweet RT, fwiw. i am disappointed that professional organizations are not doing more to facilitate these discussions because it’s not like this conversation or issue is new as most fields have trouble bridging the gap between research and practice.

    Reply
    • 8. beki70  |  April 9, 2010 at 11:17 am

      Interestingly, I think the distinction here between scholarship and service connects to Mark’s previous post about how we value service.

      I don’t see it as either scholarship or service perse but something in between, and so quite distinct. If I take Mark’s blog as an example, I think what he uses is his scholarship and expertise to translate the results of work in CS Education and broadly disseminate it to me for example, I feel I’m learning quite a lot about an area that I didn’t understand before… but also I presume to non-academics, to practitioners perhaps? I think that’s another type of scholarship, isn’t that even, dare I say it, “impact” a criteria by which scholarship is measured.

      As I write I increasingly think that I am convincing myself that this is scholarship.

      Reply
    • 9. Mark Guzdial  |  April 9, 2010 at 12:16 pm

      I take two separate points from your remarks, Sean. First, you raise an excellent point that there is no sense of review on blogs. I can and do make mistakes here, and I’m fortunate that I have some smart people reading these blogs and catching me on them. The blog can’t serve as a form of scholarship without some sense of review that leads to higher quality. I imagine that we could create mechanisms for that the way that we evaluate teaching, e.g., peers could review a collection of blog pieces, a selection of blog posts could be submitted for review, or an external committee could review a set of blog posts. The point is good, and we should develop mechanisms to insure quality.

      The second point is the tension between calling blogging “service” vs. “scholarship.” It is a service. Is it also scholarship? Just “teaching” isn’t “scholarship of teaching.” “Scholarship of teaching” involves assessment and evaluation, reflection on practice, comparison of practice to other practice — all those things I claim that a blog can be part of a reflective scholarship of integration and application, but isn’t by itself. For example, it can serve as outreach to practitioners and as a connection between disciplines, but unless there’s some reflection and evaluation of that outreach and connection (and that reflection and evaluation may be within the blog itself), I think it’s just service not scholarship.

      Reply
  • 10. slger  |  April 10, 2010 at 12:36 pm

    As a retired computer scientist participating in lifelong learning courses and disability advocacy, academic blogs are an easy, efficient way to track university-based technologies and changing fields. Academics should remember that many of their publications reside behind paywalls of journals and associations so blogs can highlight advances worth following. Links to free downloads are appreciated and more likely to be cited as evidence of academic research value to society.

    Another brand of academic blog is career commenting, such as “This is what a computer scientist looks like” at http://acdalal.wordpress.com/category/computer-science/ and the defunct, cliff hanger “See Jane Compute”.

    further valuable output of academic blogs could be linking current trends with pre-Web computing history, helping to surface materials beyond Google. I recently searched for “logic programming” finding very few freely available resources. Blogs on such now esoteric topics could hold together communities of interest for posterity or re-discovery.

    Finally, note a fine podcast series that blends computer science fields and applications Jon Udell’s “Interview with Innovators” at http://blog.jonudell.net on the http://itconversations.com network. A recent podcast with Scott Rosenberg discussed the changing roles of blogs and a bug tracking system for news articles.. ‘Computational thinking’ is a common theme.

    Susan Gerhart
    http://asyourworldchanges.wordpress.com

    Reply
  • 11. Teachers Don’t Talk Enough  |  April 15, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    […] you are new to my blog. ) If you are looking for a more scholarly set of reasoning check out Rationalizing Academic Blogging by Mark Guzdial who is a tenured professor at Georgia Tech. Start with reading them and adding your […]

    Reply
  • […] Katalog blogów akademickich Bardzo dobry i aktualny katalog (głównie amerykańskich) blogów historycznych Sceptyczna analiza potencjału blogów naukowych How to write an academic blog? Rationalizing Academic Blogging […]

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  • 13. Mohamed  |  May 6, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    Hello all,

    This blog is an interesting one. The comments in particular touches on some of the issues I have been thinking about when it comes to academic blogging. I just want to pick-up on one point.

    Since we are living in the so-called the knowledge economy and the internet age, then there is a need to re-think of how we communicate our research. Whilst there is the conventional wisdom of maintaining academic standards when it comes to publishing papers (through peer review), then why not we have peer reviewed blogs?

    In other words, an academic should have the liberty to write about his or her discipline but under the condition of getting the rubber stamp of a peer reviewed blog. In that way, we can establish that the information on the academic blog is sound. Most importantly it would be quicker to get research to the world and thus by-passing the labourious peer-review process of some journals – where even some papers disappear in the ether!

    I just believe that the traditional route for publication in academia is just not workable in our current time given the amount of information we handle every day. Isn’t it a time to consider a change?

    I would be interested in any comments.

    Mohamed

    UK-based academic

    Reply

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