As an academic, most of my evaluations focus on three pillars of research (publishing in peer-reviewed, top-tier publications), teaching (student evaluations), and service (outreach at the local, national, & international levels). I’ve found that blogging helps me in my scholarship in a variety of ways. There are also challenges as I strive to embed these practices in my everyday work.
Blogging as research
Blogging helps my writing and research as it forces me to regularly keep ideas flowing, explain them succinctly, and make sure it is organized. On a related point, I’ve noticed that many of the journals in my field are moving closer to a style or format that we would usually identify as being blog-like. This includes a good title and hook, shorter chunks of organized content, and subheadings to guide the reader.
Blogging as a scholarship practice also helps me clear up and expand my thinking. I use blog posts to capture my thinking at a given time point, and share it online for feedback from others. Some of these ideas are half-baked, but I feel the need to get them down in print or pixel. I often go back to some of these ideas at a later point and hopefully expand on them.
To put a finer point on this, I spend a lot of my time reading, writing, and researching. Some of my work ends up in published articles in journals that are behind paywalls and no one will ever see. Many more pieces never make it to the final, published article. They live on the editing floor as they’re chopped out during the revision and proofing process. Some of these die off as rejected manuscripts, failed projects, or thought projects. In my doctoral program, I was taught to keep a Google Drive folder full of these loose ends and misfit toys in the hopes that they would live on at some point in a publication or presentation. Early on in my program I made the decision, against the advice of many colleagues and mentors, to openly share these materials on my blog.
I decided to share these materials to help share my ideas, hopefully benefit or inspire others, and to keep a trail of breadcrumbs of my thinking. This is a challenge some times as scholars, professors, Drs., PhDs are supposed to know everything…and not think out loud. We’re not supposed to ever be wrong. As I work openly online, and show my notes, I’m often thinking through things, or thinking out loud.
Blogging as teaching
I share most of my course materials openly online. In this, I share out syllabi for courses, and many of the course materials. In fact, while I was teaching at UNH, I documented all of my thinking as I built up my IT&DML program. I shared all of the syllabi for the program, and the course sequence. I documented my work as I integrated Google Apps, Chromebooks, & BYOB (Bring Your Own Browser) into the program. I documented the life and death of the program.
I shared all of these materials from my time at UNH on my blog under a Creative Commons license. I didn’t realize it at the time, but sharing all of this work, and my thinking behind the work was helpful as I was recruiting students, facilitating the program, and watching it all end. It was/is a progressive program, and I left the notes for everything online. Everything is still there waiting to be used, or allow me to reboot it elsewhere.
I also share parts of my research and publications out as blog posts to use in my teaching. I pull parts of my literature reviews, or explainers on topics to share with students in my classes. If I need to teach a lesson on the differences between critical literacy and critical media literacy I share out my teaching materials as blog posts. I pull info from my publications, and supplement with other information I find online. I link to these posts in my course materials and LMS (learning management system).
This regular use of the blog as a source of content for courses ensures that students are getting current information. Any errors or changes in the materials are quickly noticed in classes. Students also use Hypothesis in my courses, and the blog allows them to annotate my materials.
Lastly, these posts are available openly online. Students can bookmark them to use as a resource in the future. They are also open and accessible for other educators and learners that I may not work with. I can share a syllabus and links to my blog posts to provide a comprehensive resource to use in their classes.
One challenge of this is how I organize these posts here on this website. It is only after writing and sharing a couple hundred posts have I realized that a blog makes it hard to connect the dots across ideas. I’ve recently toyed with building a personal wiki to make these connections and resources much easier to sift through.
Blogging as service
I should note that I view blogging a writ broadly. That is to say that my view of text, or blogging has relatively great breadth, width, or latitude. I share blog posts about service that I conduct at the local, national, and international level. The blog serves as an online space to document ideas, and provide a canonical URL to allow ideas to congeal.
As an example of this, I spent a lot of time working on the Web Literacy initiative as a member of the Mozilla Community. I learned from Doug Belshaw and others a I saw how they used blogs and websites to document the work of the program and help share ideas from the community calls. As I started working on the initiative, I used my blog as a space to document my thinking and responses to the work. Instead of leaving my thoughts hidden in Google Group threads and EtherPads that would get lost over time, I would take time to flesh out my ideas in a post, and then share the link with the group. This was helpful as I was documenting our work and thinking over time…especially as Mozilla moved on from this initiative.
As a more recent example, I’ve been working with a group to rewrite the definitions and frameworks for digital literacy for NCTE and ILA. As part of this work, I wanted to reach out and provide channels for individuals and groups outside of literacy and education to help inform how we define digital literacy. I put together a post on what is digital literacy, and a second call to action to help us define digital literacy. These two posts allowed me to share these ideas out through social networks and connect with others online. Lastly, in our work on the definition for NCTE, I found that I was able to dig into my years of writing about literacy and technology on this blog and pull that thinking into the new frameworks.
Value of blogging as scholarship
I definitely understand the questions that surround the value of blogging as a valuable tool in open scholarship. Much of what I write in these spaces will not count to my official evaluations, tenure, and promotion.
When I submitted my materials for third year review at UNH, the first page of my binder included the URL and a QR code to the address for my main blog. I indicated that my binder would contain my publications, teaching evaluations, and service documentation. But that I believed my best work lived on my website, and it was an example of how I viewed my role as a scholar. My dean at the time ripped out the page at my review meeting and threw it away. She indicated that none of that mattered, and would only serve to confuse reviewers and my colleagues.
I learned a lesson that day. My work blogging as an open scholar was set aside from my work at the institution. If I chose to continue this work, it would (for the most part) not be valued in most/all of my evaluations. I have continued this practice, and have been motivated by others as they continue to write, share, and document their thinking.
To learn more about the work of others, I recommend reviewing the following two publications. They’ve been a valuable resource as I try to cite my blog posts in my research, teaching, and service.