Faculty blogs: Good idea or Bad idea?

Faculty blogs: Good idea or Bad idea?

I’ve used this space time and time again to extol the virtues of blogging; it’s not that I’m just dazzled by the technology, I genuinely believe that the venue has real promise. Linking ideas about information literacy from a library science perspective with pedagogical theory, and with the criticisms faculty and students have of university education as it currently it is currently configured, I think blogs could go a long way toward revolutionizing the classroom. In short, I think that when you have a medium to sketch out your reactions to the things you read, a constant, personal venue, you get in the habit of composing a post every time you get an interesting idea. You don’t read things and just store them away; you read and react, you write something down. Blogs can help encourage the habit of seeing the world of discourse as a conversation rather than an avalanche of information. And being prepared to respond means your critical thinking hat is never off. That’s information literacy. Always with a question, always engaged, never on autopilot. That, I think, is the goal of a university education, regardless of field.

That said, what does it mean to be a blogging faculty member? Duke University’s Chronicle published an article that briefly notes that some faculty members are uneasy at the idea of keeping a regular blog.

[A blogging facultt member] pointed out that other professors might not be as willing to openly express their personal views on blogs because they think it could threaten their chances of receiving tenure.

“Most professors are much more worried about what other people think,” he said. “I bet there are a lot of phantom bloggers here at Duke. I don’t know of anyone who is out of the closet like myself.”

Why are faculty so worried about blogging? Can a blog negatively effect their chances of getting tenure? Again, this seems to come down to the same question is always comes down to; what exactly is a blog?

If for a moment we understand a blog as a diary that’s available to all, I can understand their concern. A diary generally means something personal, an account of a person’s emotional existence. There seems to be a correlation between the idea of a personal weblog and random venting and private thoughts, ideas and comments that should circulate only from friend to friend over beer. Is that what worries non-tenured faculty? That they will be caught with their pants down complaining about the department chair, or lasciviously remarking on the physical attributes of the incoming class?

I’m not the sort to suggest a different classification for the different types of content one finds on blogs (see the <a href="“>journaling vs. blogging debate in some quarters), but possibly we need to have more discussion around what it means to publish in a way that is not strictly personal nor journal-publication level professional. Karen has tried to confront this issue head on in talking about what sorts of ethics are rules should be guiding us as professionals who blog. To date, there is no easy format for the audience-aware, semi-professional weblog. It’s not so much about ethics as it is about finding the right voice to use when speaking in this medium.

I can imagine that it would hardly do to have the committee pore over your personal musings about your navel while considering you for tenure, but on the flip side, surely it would only help your application if you kept a decent, interesting, professionally challenging journal where your active curiosity and interest in keeping up-to-date is apparent. A weblog wherein you actively engage with the work in your field and consider new ideas for your own research. Where you muse publicly about different teaching methods and comment about various issues relevant at your university. I mean, it’s okay to have a personality, right? It’s okay to care about and talk about the politics of the moment, international events, conferences, and so forth? In some fields, being web-savvy enough to have a weblog, and a domain name, can only be a good thing to tenure committee. What if your blog is actually a public sandbox where you learn about new things, try out new technologies for use in the classroom and discuss their pros and cons, littered liberally with ideas about your work and your field? If the students can benefit from keeping their ideas and notes from class on a blog, surely an academic can benefit from doing the same in the “classroom” that is their regular reading of the newest work in their fields. We are not, any of us, finished products. We are constantly learning and renewing ourselves, and why shouldn’t a online presence reveal that?

So what if it’s not the tenure committee faculty are worried about? What if it’s the students?

Professors are standing in front of students on a regular basis. Do they want only that experience to be unmediated by Google searches that reveal more about them? Is there something frightening about keeping a semi-personal journal in the face of a new crop of students every term?

Perhaps that’s the guiding principle of keeping a weblog as a faculty member, or an administrator, or a librarian, is less about ethics and more about being audience-aware. Your blog can actually be fairly personal and reflective of your real life, as long as you remember who your audience is or can be. Everyone has little anecdotes about their lives that they like to relate; before professors posts one, they should ask themselves whether, in a casual setting, they would tell that same story to a student. Most professors I’ve met are pretty liberal with the bits of real life they’re prepared to mention in class; one of my least forthcoming professors would tell us stories about the funny thing that happened on the airplane on the way back from the conference this weekend, or something that happened in line at the grocery store, and suchlike. Those stories, as told in class, would always relate in some way to her work, to the issues at hand. Those sorts of anecdotes, I would think, would be perfect blog fodder. And, I think, would not cross and lines in terms of professor/student interaction, but would not be entirely impersonal either.

I wish it were clearer what kind of communication blogs are in academic circles. It’s not like publishing in a journal, though it might be a bit like replying to a letter in a published forum. It’s not like a book review, though it could be how book reviews should be; as long as they need to be, as honest as they can be, and as fast as we need them.

I would love to see more faculty blogging. I would love to see more visible thinking from academia, more rough ideas and interaction and community. More personally, I would love to see some of my former professors blogging, because I want to keep getting the benefit of their insight even though I’m no longer in their classrooms. And I would love to see more of my friends who are professors blogging. To me, there are palpable absences in the blogosphere, and I’m not sure how to overcome that.

Edited to add: I guess I shouldn’t be encouraging my favourite profs to start blogging just yet: it appears that a non-tenured instructor may have lost her job over hers. It all makes me feel sick.

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