“The Blog” as a living, breathing, evolving body of work

The featured image is of saucer magnolias blossoming in front of Burruss Hall. Like these blossoms that are finally coming into their season, we graduate students are future faculty and we are beginning to come into our own as well.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what the role of a blog is to academia. In this graduate class, like many others across Tech’s campus, blogging is a requirement for the course. Professors point to the blog as a space for sharing ideas, for collaboration, for practicing writing, and for developing a digital presence–kind of like a next generation CV or resumé.  I can get on board for all of that.

I have found that implementing blogging in classroom pedagogy can be difficult without adequate support and reinforcement. For the classroom blogging culture to take off, the instructor has to facilitate the prompts and then make space during course time to talk about the responses. I’m glad I started blogging again when I began graduate school. It has forced me to practice my writing skills on a regular basis–which is priceless, really. Above all else, the blog is a tool.

In a recent article I found by Sara Kjellberg “I am a blogging researcher: motivations for blogging in a scholarly context” she writes about the transformation in academic writing to include non-traditional outlets (such as blogging) in a researcher’s body of work–and she asks the question “Why do people blog?” In her article, she cites different ways that researchers describe how their blogs function: disseminating content, expressing opinions, writing, interacting, and creating relationships. While many may balk at the idea of actually expressing an opinion, I find the concept refreshing and I wish that more academics would exercise their right to free speech. I question whether we can have rigorous discourse without confronting our own bias–we can’t very well bring something to the table to discuss if we are afraid to even speak at all. I liked Kjellberg’s abstract, so I’ll share it. And while it is a little dated now, I think it’s an interesting starting point in the debate over whether blogging should count.

The number of scholarly blogs on the Web is increasing. In this article, a group of researchers are asked to describe the functions that their blogs serve for them as researchers. The results show that their blogging is motivated by the possibility to share knowledge, that the blog aids creativity, and that it provides a feeling of being connected in their work as researchers. In particular, the blog serves as a creative catalyst in the work of the researchers, where writing forms a large part, which is not as prominent as a motivation in other professional blogs. In addition, the analysis brings out the blog’s combination of functions and the possibility it offers to reach multiple audiences as a motivating factor that makes the blog different from other kinds of communication in scholarly contexts. (S. Kjellberg, 2010)

Recently, there has been no shortage of discourse about what constitutes scholarly writing–or blogging for that matter. A quick VT library search for recent publications (published in the last 12 months) yielded a staggering number of results. For the search terms “academic writing” with scholarly & peer-review filters, 40,447 items were produced. 38,200 of these were journal articles. Using the same parameters, the search terms “publish” and “journal” together produced 30,246 results with 30,009 being journal articles.  “Blogging” with the same parameters (except no time limit) produced 119,304 results. With a 12 month cap, there were 9,832. “Blogging” + “scholarly” produced 2,192; restricting results to the last year yielded 134. Flying at 30,000 feet, these numbers are huge. Every discipline has their own way of talking about the place, use, and framework of blogs in the academy. How do we even make sense of it all?

In academe–at least for us up-and-coming scholars– we are under intense pressure to publish. All I hear all the time from every direction is “publish publish publish.” The buzz phrase is “publish or perish” and there is no shortage of writing about that, either! I know I should be doing more–or at least getting into it–but publication is a lengthy process and frankly, I’m new. I just haven’t cut my teeth yet.

Not too long ago, the Architecture program was hosting applicant interviews for a faculty vacancy, and some of the applicants (JR faculty) were boasting upwards of 30 or more publications. And all-stars in the field are claiming 150+ publications over a 25-30 year career! That figure is scary to a graduate student like myself or anyone in my cohort–because we worry that if our merit is distilled down to just one factor (publications) that might tip the scales in our favor, then we are all in trouble. I don’t believe this will be a problem for me forever, because with time and continued research (funding), I will be able to produce those coveted publications.

In spite of this, I know that I shouldn’t just rely on having publications in prestigious, peer-reviewed journals–and I certainly can’t just wait around as I rack these up over time. No, that doesn’t make sense for me. If that were the case, I could probably expect to produce 8-12 +/- papers during my time in graduate school. Maybe? For me this isn’t enough. I want to engage in another style of writing and communication. I want to produce something to show that I haven’t been sitting around with ideas locked in my head. I want to share; the solution that works for me is blogging.

I think blogs are great. They offer a means to share research and writing with the public (isn’t that part of a land-grant institutions’ mission?) Blogs are typically user-friendly and come with many features and tools that can help the author communicate their ideas in a rich format. No, they’re not peer-reviewed in the way that journals are peer-reviewed, but I invite anyone and everyone who finds there way to my blog to comment, challenge, and participate in the conversation.

While some authors may worry about perfecting each post, I am not. This is a flexible platform. If I make mistakes, I can fix them. If I change my mind or choose to take a different stance, I am able. This blog is my place to share ideas and reflections on topics related to science, landscape, and higher education–to name a few. It is a testament to evolving ideas, new concepts, and growth as a whole person. I like to think of this blog as proof that there is progression in academic writing and thinking; the blog is an opportunity to visit research ideas before full projects are conceived.

When the time comes for me to be weighed and measured, I hope that my blog is part of that collection of tangibles reviewed by search committees. It is important that they know and understand who they’re getting, for instance, and a blog is the perfect place to begin to tell that part of my story.

This post’s featured image was taken by me this morning as I was walking into my building (Burruss–Northwest side facing Cowgill Hall). Isn’t Spring wonderful? Last year, freezing conditions took all these beautiful blossoms before the trees had time to put on their full show. Fingers are crossed that we are allowed to actually enjoy them this year!

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