Staying up way too late as a research method

I got quite carried away with this project, chasing down leads on blogging and ended up leap frogging from one site to another into the early hours of the morning.

It’s an interesting but cautionary tale. We all know how easy it is to get lost in either our email or web-surfing, I suspect blogging can become an extreme version of that. But at another level it has left my head buzzing with a range of interesting ideas and practical leads.

In this post I’ll give an idea of the range of thought and practices that I came across. I will use some of this for more detailed reflection later.

I discovered that academic blogging is a very hot issue at the moment and that there are many very different approaches to academic blogging.

First there are the personal blogg journals of individual academics. There’s an interesting list of some of these here.

Here’s an excerpt from Professor Dyke who describes her blogg this way: “A Writer and Professor Talks Smack About Writing, Publishing, Teaching, Misadventures on the Tenure Track, and the Perils of Being the Only Single, Non-Student Dyke in Smalltown-Collegeville (a.k.a. Bumfuck-Egypt) U.S.A.” As you might imagine from that its a quirky take on everyday life. Here’s a recent taste:

Was one of those days where I came home thinking: I love my job! I love my students! I love teaching! I’m a good teacher! In fact, I’m an all-around good doobie , now that I think about it!! Of course, there’s always those days where things just seem off, your students appear to be bored shitless, you feel awkward and inarticulate and uninspiring, and you just want to go home and crawl under the Bad Professor Rock and never ever enter the classroom again because you suck, you suck, you SUCK !! But then there are days like yesterday which always remind me how much I like doing what I do.

. . . it was like butter !!! My undergraduate workshop was talkative and engaged, and the period flew by like nothing. And then, in my night graduate seminar, the discourse was lively, very intense, intelligent, and fun !!! “Thanks, I enjoyed it!” one student said on the way out of the classroom. “Great class!” said another student as she exited. “Class was absolutely great!” wrote yet another student in an e-mail.

And so today, I now feel thrilled and exhilarated, in an arms-spread, bow-of-the-ship, Leonardo DiCaprio-esque, King-of-the-World(!) kind of way!!

It’s simple reflection that, as academics, we can all relate to.

Interesting aside: I guess I was drawn to this blogg in the list I came across because it was detailing the experiences of a fellow gay academic. So bloggs can link academics with particular academic identities whether these are disciplinary identities or broader identities around, race, faith, sexuality or gender. Or academics at different stages of development. But the initial link is not enough, once I got there I also responded on a personal level to her quirky style. Lots of questions to unpack here.

Another fascinating set of bloggs are the well established blogg communities that play host to groups of academics who share a similar world view or who are interested in a set of disciplinary ideas. Two reall good ones are Crooked Timber and Kairosnews.

Both have lively discussions. Crooked Timber has an extensive list of academic blogs in a wide range of disciplines. Kairosnews is “A Weblog for Discussing Rhetoric, Technology & Pedagogy” and is particularly interested in how to use the web/blogs for the teaching of writing.

Kairosnews arose out of Kairos Journal which is a refereed online journal devoted to the same topics. The current issue has a fascinating article: “When Blogging Goes Bad: A Cautionary Tale About Blogs, Email Lists, Discussion, and Interaction

Steven Krause details a bad experience of trying to get writing students to blogg. He questions whether email lists are a better more direct way of encouraging collaborative discussion amongst course members. Here’s a taste of some of his ideas:

Blogs, on the other hand, do not foster this sort of dynamic discussion as well. The jury is still out, of course– blogs are still quite new, and as I hope I’ve made clear, my classes’ failure with blogs had as much to do with my poor structure of the assignment as it had to do with the technology itself.

Nonetheless, while blogs are interactive and dynamic texts in the sense that there is a dialog between bloggers and their texts, the dialog is not the literal sort that is fostered and promoted by email exchanges. Email posts to mailing lists are drafts or works in progress, they are conversational in their direction toward an audience, and more often than not, they demand a literal response. Blog posts are more finished, are more personal in that the audience is the writer as much as it is a potential reader, and while readers might “respond” in some sort of metaphoric way, they are not as likely to write a direct response to the writer. …Finally, to the extent that collaboration is fostered by the “interaction” and “discussion” characterized by the exchange of ideas and the give and take of a group of writers, I think that email offers a much better opportunity for collaborative writing. After all, blogs are in their most basic sense electronic journals; more often in not, they are spaces for publishing highly individualistic writing. …

If you have a piece of writing that you want to “deliver” or “publish” as a more or less finished text, put it on a blog. If you have something to say to a particular audience in order to enter into a discussion with them, put it on a mailing list.

This article generated a lot of discussion and some good ideas on the Kairosnews blog.

One of the interesting aspects of this discussion was that I stumbled across references to different technologies for building and managing blogs. A number of the contributors to the discussion about Krause’s article made the point that certain blogg formats are set up to encourage collaboration and community whereas most of the free online stuff like blogger.com do not do this very well.

One of the Kairos regulars has a site devoted to a blogging/content management system software called Durpal which he has preconfigured into a set of “skins” that can be downloaded and used for classes. He has designed them for writing courses. Like a lot of this stuff it is all freeware.

I even came across an interesting discussion about whether academic blogging should be counted as a publication for promotion purposes.

In response to a quip in a law professor’s blog, wondering whether his dean would give him credit for his blogging, a dean from another university posted a fascinating and detailed response that concluded:

Bottom line: While no replacement for writing articles and books, and no one is going to get tenured or promoted through blogging (at least not today); but what I’ve called a serious blogger would get a big plus on the positive side on the ledger from me when it gets to merit review time! Failing to reward it would be failing to recognize that blogging is not just another new communication medium; it is a new way to do scholarship.

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