Academia’s Conflicted Reaction To Blogging

It seems that the reaction to blogging in higher education is a bit schizoid. On one hand the admissions office embraces blogging as a way for selected students to share their campus experiences with potential students. Admittedly, those blogs may be less characteristic of the true spirit of blogging than the ones created by students outside the constraints of administrative oversight – and student blogging sometimes leads to disciplinary actions. But the negative reaction to blogging by faculty at some institutions, mainly to the blogging of their peers, is perhaps even more puzzling. Isn’t the type of dialogue we see in blogs – the questions, debates, exploring controversial issues – at the heart of the university’s ideals? A number of stories have circulated about academic bloggers questioning if failed bids for tenure might be owing to their blogging.

The conflicted reactions to blogging in higher education are discussed in a good article at Slate titled, “Attack of the Career-Killing Blogs.” It suggests several reasons while academic blogging is looked down upon, including departmental jealousy, that it’s considered a waste of time that should be spent on serious research, and that it falls outside the traditional peer-review journal system. Blogs however, seem to fulfill in many more ways the “fruition, not a betrayal, of the university’s ideals.” The article then considers that if a major objection to academic blogs is that they lack peer review, how might a system to judge and review them be put in place.

Efforts to fit round blogs in to the square hole of peer review seems quite puzzling, but perhaps the discussion will lead to some greater acceptance of blogging as a legitimate form of scholarship. I’ve yet to hear of any stories about tenure or employment issues related to academic librarian bloggers. Perhaps within the greater scheme of things in higher education our blogs are still flying under the radar. Still, current and potential academic librarian bloggers may wish to reflect on higher education’s response to blogging, and how it might impact on future employment and promotion opportunities.

3 thoughts on “Academia’s Conflicted Reaction To Blogging”

  1. Rule 9 in Jacob Nielsen’s “Top Ten Design Mistakes” for blogs is “forgetting that you write for your future boss.” Ouch.

    That said, I think it’s strange to say blogs aren’t peer-reviewed. They ARE peer review! Of course “peer” is opened up to be more than two scholars working the same small seam of ideas in the dark. There’s plenty of evidence that, as a practice, it’s far from fool-proof. Just check out the famous study by DP Peters and SJ Ceci “Peer-review practices of psychological journals: The fate of published articles, submitted again.” Behavioral and Brain Science 5 [1982] 187-96 and all the commentary following. This was also reprinted as a book titled Peer Commentary on Peer Review, Cambridge UP, 1983.

    Blogs are often funny, ironic, opinionated, up-to-date, and personal – things that can be present in formal academic writing, but only if they appear in heavy disguise, thick spectacles and false beards almost required. (Isn’t there something sad about a genre in which your best zingers have to be hidden in the 8-point font of a footnote?)

    I think blogging has great potential to make it easier to share ideas in accessible ways. Like any form of expression, it works best if it’s thoughtful, responsive to audience, and able to provide good evidence for claims. Basic rules for all forms of writing. I think this anxiety is blown out of proportion. If academic freedom doesn’t extend to blogging, the academy has some explaining to do.

  2. I don’t find the two reactions to blogging that Steven describes as “schizoid” at all a surprise. Consider his examples: (1) the embrace of student blogging by student services professionals; and (2) the debate over whether blogging represents appropriate scholarly activity. This is simply another example of what much of the literature of higher education identifies as a cultural gulf between student affairs professionals (student-centered) and teaching faculty (discipline-centered). The fact that academic librarianship has been somewhat more accepting (Michael Gorman and Blaise Cronin notwithstanding) is perhaps an example of the middle ground that many of us play between those two well-defined academic cultures.

    Mind you, I am not stating categorically either that there is a “two culture” problem dividing academic and student affairs, or that librarians inhabit a well-defined middle ground, but both ideas are certainly part of the literature (with the former reflected strongly in calls over the past decade to bridge that gap through focused attention on academic affairs – student affairs collaboration) and, I think, provide a framework for what Steven rightly identifies as mixed messages about the place of blogs in the academy.

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