Professors Who Blog
By Scott McLeod
May 15, 2007
from Technology & Learning
Web 2.0 publishing venues don't need to clash with higher education's traditional practices.
Although an increasing number of K—12 educators have taken up blogging in the past few years, blogging professors are still a rarity. Time pressures, entrenched beliefs about peer-reviewed publication, and a lack of familiarity all contribute to the paucity of faculty who regularly blog for public audiences.
I asked several prominent academics to share why they blog, some of the challenges they've encountered, and their recommendations for faculty who are considering such new Web 2.0 communication tools. Their responses have implications for both postsecondary and K—12 educators.
Connecting to the Larger World
Dr. Sherman Dorn, an education professor at the University of South Florida who blogs at Shermandorn.com, notes that his blog offers an alternative outlet to academic journals for his thoughts on public policy issues. Similarly, Dr. Alex Golub, professor at the University of Hawaii, says his cultural anthropology blog, Savageminds.org, creates a "public sphere" or "civil society" outside his professional association and helps him find new content and resources.
The ability of blogs to connect professors with the larger world outside of academia was also noted by other faculty. For example, Dr. P.Z. Myers, a University of Minnesota professor of biology who blogs regularly at Scienceblogs.com/pharyngula, enjoys the opportunity to discuss scientific issues with those outside his small towns. Myers likens blogs to a worldwide Speaker's Corner in London's Hyde Park, where you "can find plenty of people arguing away, and it's easy to bring your own soapbox and start a discussion on anything you want."
Integrating the Digital into Traditional
Most of the professors I contacted said their institutions were either supportive of or ambivalent toward their blogging. Jim Maule, a Villanova University professor who blogs at Mauledagain.blogspot.com, said that his regular publication in more traditional academic outlets precluded any concerns other faculty might have about his blogging. Both Dorn and Golub note that they've heard very little from their faculty colleagues about their blogs, perhaps because they try to be fairly discreet, only blogging about public issues rather than their own institutions, and categorizing their blogging under outreach or service rather than publication for tenure.
Tips for Newbies
Maule recommends blogging regularly, writing short posts, and using your blog to float ideas and get feedback. Golub says to be sure that your "enthusiasm for your subject shines through on your blog" and to use the blog as a mechanism for fostering your own intellectual development. But Myers insists new bloggers also should be patient. "The key words are fearlessness and persistence," he says. "Readers will reward you for speaking your mind—no matter how controversial you might be—but it takes a long, long time to build up a presence on the Web."
Some of these academic bloggers have tens or even hundreds of thousands of visitors per month on their blogs, a total matched by few, if any, academic journals. Postsecondary faculties are beginning to recognize blogs' potential to reach larger audiences off campus and also to see the benefits of the perspectives of non-academic peers. As colleges and universities begin to validate and even encourage faculty blogging, we will see an increasing number of professors lending their considerable knowledge and expertise to the blogosphere. I can't wait.
Scott McLeod is director of the UCEA Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE) at the University of Minnesota and a regular blogger at www.dangerouslyirrelevant.org.