Why do we blog?: Academics and the Internet

flickr-alamodestuff, creative commons licensed

I am currently in an English class that is very different from any English class I have ever had before.  We are studying Shakespeare, but instead of a traditional research paper due at the end of the semester, our professor is having us write a research blog.

Yes, a blog.  I find this absolutely fascinating.  It is a wonderful way of combining traditional scholastic academia with new media and social networking.  This changes the purpose and the outcome of academic research.  Traditionally, a student’s research paper is only read by one person: the teacher who grades it.  Is that really very useful? Not in my opinion.

With a research blog, students are able to gradually develop their ideas, with feedback and input from their peers and others.  I really enjoy this, because my blog has certainly developed and grown and found its focus as I have written as I have discussed it with others.  At first it was simply a place where I discussed my thoughts as I read some Shakespeare plays.  But then as I developed a focus (studying Shakespeare and Germany, how Germans has appropriated and interpreted Shakespeare), I started posting reviews of books and research that I was doing.  This generated comments, which helped guide me in my research.

My professor recently posted asking the question “When is my blog done?” in which he discusses the criteria he is looking for in our research blogs.  Since this is for a class he has to have some way of assigning a grade, and he has come up with these criteria for that purpose.  But in that post he uses that picture above and says,

What I’m getting at here is that blogging, unlike a typical academic research paper, is always in the business of constructing the identity of the blogger, as much as it is serving a given subject. So, the short answer is that you are done with your blog when you are done with yourself.

Ideally, a blog should never really be ‘done’, it simply exists.  For me, the blog exists as a repository of my thought process and research and my conclusions.  I write posts in which I link back to previous posts, where I have outlined the pertinent research, then I analyze that research and draw my conclusions.  My professor calls this type of post a ‘hub post’ because it acts as a hub, linking multiple posts together and giving cohesion to the blog as a whole.  And I have had several ‘hub posts’ as my research focus has changed (I actually have two slightly different, though related, foci — Hamlet and Germany, and Shakespeare in Nazi Germany), the hubs acting as a recap of what I have already done as well as looking to where I am headed.

I am a big fan of this form of social learning and collaborative research.  As I commented on my professor’s blog post, I see that quote backwards.  Not “I blog therefore I am”, but rather, “I am therefore I blog.”   Blogging, for me, has become a way to organize my thinking and share what I am doing with others who may be interested.  And I love the social aspect of blogging, I can’t tell how many of my blog posts were inspired by a comment on another post, or an email or chat with a friend, or a link shared online.

Blogging is a new way of communicating, but it doesn’t have to just be about what I did today.  In its infancy, blogs were mostly journals that people posted online, sharing their intimate secrets, normally kept in spiralbound notebooks under the mattress, with the world.  But, in recent years, blogs have come into their own as a form of writing, as a way of sharing information.  There are theatre review blogs like UTBA (Utah Theater Bloggers Association), there are tech blogs like Gizmodo or LifeHacker, there are blogs about just about anything you care to read about.  And if you are interested in how Shakespeare is treated in Germany, there’s even a blog about that!  But it’s not just a blog with my personal thoughts, I incorporate academic research as well, quoting and citing from books and scholarly articles just like I would with any formal academic paper to be turned in.

But what I enjoy most about the research blog, as opposed to a traditional paper, is the process.  With a blog, my whole process is out in the open.  I have posts where I describe what books I found and what I hope to glean from them, and what interesting things I have discovered as I research.  I see academic blogging becoming the future of scholastic communication.  Rather than trying to be published in this journal or that, scholars can post and comment on each other’s posts and learn from each other in real time, without the need to wait for editors and publishers.  But we would lose the peer-review process that most journals require before publishing.  This could perhaps be solved by having clear blogger bios, with personal information about their qualifications, and by having other scholars comment on each other’s blogs as a form of peer-review.  That will be something that will have to be worked out, but I definitely see a future for academic blogs and collaborative research.

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One thought on “Why do we blog?: Academics and the Internet

  1. I agree. There is a purpose for peer reviewing published material, in that the content has to be professional and develop sound reasoning. One of the aspects that most alarms me about blogging and tweeting is the danger of losing the storytelling skill. Writing a tweet or blog, where thoughts are put out a sentence or even a word at a time, does not demand the skill of thinking through an extended story. This applies to research papers as well as creative writing, since both have to hold together and make sense in the world they explore.

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