What academic blogging means to me (and what it is likely to mean in the coming year or so…)

As I mentioned the other day, Alex and Collin both had some very good and reflective posts about the reasons for academic blogging. Good posts. Go read them.

For me, keeping an academic blog has been useful and satisfying for all kinds of different reasons. I use this blog space to kind of keep notes and make links for myself (for teaching, for scholarship), my blog is a way making connections with other scholarly-types, I like the immediacy of blogging, I like the control I have, and I like the attention, modest though it may be. This is just a guess, but I’m pretty sure that more people read my blog every month than have ever read my more “real” scholarly publications.

In fact, I for one am likely to write even more on my scholarly blog and even less in more conventional outlets, at least for the next year or two. Why? Because I can.

See, in the next week or two, I should be will be as done as I am likely to get with a textbook project that I’ve been working on (and off and on) for years now. That’s the kind of project that will make you want to take a “break,” believe me.

Plus I’m in a comfortable and “settled” space life and career-wise. I’ve been tenured for a while now, and, because of the way things work at EMU, I will almost certainly be promoted again to “Professor” in a few years based on the work I’ve already done. My wife, Annette Wannamaker, is going to be starting a position in the department here at EMU as an assistant professor, specializing in Children’s Literature. This situation– both of us employed in good tenure-track positions that allow us to live in the same house like “normal” couples– has been something we’ve been working to achieve for almost 10 years now. We’re darn happy about it and because of this arrangement and the difficulty in getting this deal in the first place, I seriously doubt that we’ll be leaving EMU (which means we won’t be “going on the market” again, which we’re pretty darn happy about, too).

In other words, I’ve reached a point in my career where I don’t have to play the usual “publish or perish” games. And because of that, why not just blog?

Of course, my situation is a bit unique and perhaps different from a lot of other bloggers out there. It seems to me that grad students and tenure-seeking faculty need to make some careful decisions about blogging, about what to write or not write (I’m thinking here of the need to avoid posting things to a blog that might hurt future or on-going employment), and about how much and how often to write. Collin says that blogging is something that has helped him with his other academic writings, but I think I tend to agree with Alex when he writes:

You don’t give up other scholarly pursuits completely to go “all in� on blogging (or, at least, most don’t). But the truth is, rather than writing this entry, I could be working on a half-dozen other projects that would actually show up on a vita. The direct payout is not at all clear.

And again, by “direct payout,” I think what Alex means is stuff that will count in the academic game of getting a tenure-track job, getting tenured or getting a better academic job, getting promoted, etc.

For me, blogging is a benefit in and of itself. But I also see it as a dangerous procrastination activity. In the time I have spent this morning on this entry, I could have (probably should have) gotten some more work done on my textbook. Which is what I think I’ll go do right now…

Finally, "The Writing Show" goes on: thoughts and conclusions

Finally, it was time for the grand event itself, “The Writing Show.” Here’s how it went:

The event was held in downtown Richmond at the Creative Change Center, which describes itself as “a community space and an organization of collaborators promoting creative, innovative and entrepreneurial endeavors in the region.” It’s a cool and funky loft space in an old warehouse, but one where some group spent a lot of money making it cool and funky. My guess is it’s used on a day-to-day basis as a “spill-over” space by the advertising agencies on the second and first floors.

Anyway, it was set up pretty much like Dennis promised: there were some couches and chairs with microphones up front, and Dennis sat stage left (as is the tradition on most talk shows), the other two guests (Jeff Lodge and Doug Childers) and I sat stage right. Dennis asked us questions, we answered and chatted. There was an audience of about 20, which I thought was reasonably good (how many conference presentations and/or readings have you been to with much smaller crowds?), though it’s apparently small for this thing. Past events have had much bigger crowds, 80 or so people. Of course, the timing of this event, late July, probably meant a lot of people were out of town, and, in my experience, the internet and its related geeky factors often make writerly-types and English majors seek cover pretty quickly.

The intention of the format was for us to talk amongst ourselves for the first hour or so and then take questions from the audience, but the crowd jumped in pretty early with questions and comments of their own. People on the panel did a few “show and tell” things as they came up (I showed folks Stuart Moulthrop’s web site when a question came up about using to web to do things other than as a publishing vehicle for more or less “traditional” print writing, Doug showed the web site he did for a writer in Richmond, Jeff showed some links, including the electronic journal he helps edit, Blackbird), but mostly, it was, well, like a talk show.

Personally, I thought the format worked pretty well, and I’m thinking about ripping it off borrowing from the concept. I think it might be kind of an interesting teaching tool (groups of students put on a talk show about some kind of writing concept for other writers), or it might just be kind of cool to try to replicate the concept in the Ypsi-Arbor area.

The only thing that marred the event a bit was at the very end. Dennis was cleaning things up and I was milling around, talking to him, talking to a few straggling audience folks. All of a sudden, Dennis and a woman named Colleen (who, it turns out, is the director of James River Writers and the only person who is actually paid to do any of this stuff), start having this confrontational, ah, discussion. Colleen didn’t think the event went all that well. She said she wanted to see more people taking notes (actually, a lot of people were taking notes), she didn’t think people were all that engaged (though the fact people were interrupting sort of suggested to me they were), and she didn’t think we were really delivering the right “product” (which begs the question “just what exactly were you expecting?”).

It was a kind annoying/marketing wonk way to end the evening. I’ll let those folks sort out their own internal political issues, but I guess what annoys me about the whole thing is the way she treated me. Or rather, didn’t treat me. Sure, I did come in and do this because I wanted to make a road trip to Richmond, to see Dennis, to participate in a unique kind of presentation, etc. And I’m not exactly a “superstar” or the sorts that can draw people just with my name. But that doesn’t give this Colleen person the right to more or less just ignore me (I don’t think she ever said “thank you” or much of anything else to me), and I thought it was bizarrely unprofessional to have that “discussion” right there. It’d be too bad if a good idea like “The Writing Show” was sunk because of petty politics and “creative differences” and micromanagement.

Anyway, even with all that, it was cool and fun. Now I gotta hit the road.

Day 2 of "The Writing Show" road trip: Dennis makes the news?

Dennis being interviewed

Annette and I said farewell to friend Mary and headed to Richmond, first for lunch at Joe’s Inn (the original, mind you) with Laura, Sarah, and “Writing Show” organizer and host Dennis Danvers. A fine time was had eating at Joe’s (Annette and I split a spaghetti ala Greek– ah, memories) and then wandering about in Cary Town (not to be confused with Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown).

As we were about to part ways, we were approached by a channel 12 news crew asking for an interview. Since Dennis was the only local, he was the interviewee. They were asking about the prospect of a new movie theater in dowtown Richmond, something Dennis certainly favors.

Okay, this doesn’t have much to do with “The Writing Show” or even using blogs for creative(ly) publishing writing with the Internet, but I thought folks might get a kick out of it nonetheless.

day one of the writing show roadtrip (brought to you by a witty and reassuring lower-case san-serif font)

cute lettering

Annette and I stayed last night at a Hampton Inn in Harrisonburg, VA, where we stopped off to visit an old friend. A good time has been had by one and all and the hotel is very comfortable and pleasant.

But I have to say that I am really struck by the “branding” of this hotel, more than I have been by just about any place I’ve stayed recently. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING– the cups, the little writing pads (as you can hopefully see in this not great picture), the shampoo, the signage in the elevator, the listing of the available channels, the little sign that tells me there is “hi-speed internet access. complimentary.“– is is this font. And they are trying to be kinda funny/cute about it, too. The water cup says “some like it cold;” the cup for coffee says (you guessed it!) “some like it hot.” The soap says “clean your body.” Thanks for the tip.

This sort of branding is around us all the time of course. I guess I don’t give the hyper-consistency of font and color a second thought when I am in a store or surfing a well-designed web site, but it kinda freaks me out a little bit in a hotel room.

Talking about blogging at "The Writing Show" (and maybe proposing a book project on blogs?)

I probably won’t have much chance to blog this week because I need to get ready for an appearance/presentation on something called “The Writing Show.” It’s sponsored by James River Writers in Richmond, VA, and is the creation of Dennis Danvers, who is a novelist and an old friend of mine from my days in the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University. Basically, Dennis wanted to do a show about writing and the internet, he asked me if I’d want to be a part of it, and I said absolutely.

I’m really looking forward to seeing what this format is going to be like. Dennis has told me that his idea is that this is basically a talk show: Dennis is the moderator and he asks questions of a panel of experts and then the audience joins in. The web site describes it as “Entertaining, interactive, The Writing Show is …. Inside the Actor’s Studio meets the New York Times bestseller list… The Tonight Show meets the art of writing.” I don’t know all about that, but I’m always interested in participating in forums that try to break out of the conference presentation mode, and Dennis has said that the past writing shows have been a whole lot of fun.

So I’m not preparing a “talk” per se, but I think a lot of what I’m going to end up talking about is going to be a lot like my spiel at the 2005 CCCCs, “Blogs and the Writerly Life.” The main audience for “The Writing Show” are practicing and aspiring writers, folks looking for book deals of their own, and my CCCCs talk was part of the MFA SIG program. There have been plenty of stories about blogs leading to a book deal, but I hope to also talk about the idea of how blogging in and of itself can be a benefit in the writerly life all by itself.

This perhaps goes without saying, but I’m also looking forward to a roadtrip to Richmond, too. My wife and I are going to take a trip (albeit a short one) down memory lane.

Anyway, this writing show stuff has got me think about a different but related topic, a book project of my own. I am going to be applying for a sabbatical this year for the 2006-2007 school year, and while I was originally thinking about a few other things, I’m beginning to think more about proposing a book (or book-like) project on academic blogging. I haven’t formed anything yet, but I guess I am thinking about a book that more or less builds on some of the things I’ve published/spoken about at conferences before and some of the things I’ve written about blogs here (and, of course, read about blogs elsewhere): identity and blogging, teaching, blogging as a scholarly practice, blogging, related technologies and academic publishing, etc.

Like I said, it’s just an idea at this point– not even a decent paragraph, if you ask me– but if you’ve got any ideas on ways I can take this someplace, let me know.

Slight update:
I came across a description of a forthcoming book on blogs called Uses of Blogs that might be interesting. It’s going to be a collection of essays written mostly by “soft science” types of academics. And of course, there was the interesting collection/experiment Into the Blogosphere, too. I do think what I have in mind is a bit different from both of these projects, but that’s hard to say….

Podcasting and teaching writing: an interesting example?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m planning on using some podcast technology in my online class this coming fall. Though to be completely honest, I haven’t completely figured out what I’ll be doing with it. My original (current?) plan is to use podcasts to supplement the online class materials– not a “lecture” exactly, but sort of a weekly (or so) “show” about the class. But I was at a function last night, talking with a bunch of fellow English (although literature) professors about this, and they wondered why I didn’t just write it all up and post it for students to digest in that form. I suppose they have a point, but I think you could make the same argument about radio in general: why listen to the news on the radio (or watch it on TV, for that matter) when you could just read it? Hmmmm….

Anyway, I’ve been playing around with iTunes and podcasts lately, and I came across some podcasts that are kind of an interesting example how this stuff might be used in a writing class context. Check out the CSU Writing Project Summer Institute 2005 blog and podcast site to see what I mean. I’ll be honest: I don’t find it exactly compelling “must listen to” stuff. But I also don’t think I’m the audience for these blogs, either.

Miscellaneous links I came across today

In lieu of doing something a bit more productive, I cleaned out my email inbox today, and in the process, I came across a bunch of links to stuff I thought would be worthwhile to post here:

  • The Future of the Book web site. Some good info, but what I thought was especially cool was the java-script powered graphic at the top.
  • Journals in Rhetoric and Composition. Lists and links to different publications in the field. Hey, it’s from BGSU, so it must be good.
  • Today’s Front Pages. This is a pretty nifty little flash-driven site that show you the front pages of a bunch of different newspapers all over the world. It’s an interesting melding of traditional print and electronic media that might be a good topic of discussion in a class like 328.
  • 826 Michigan has opened up (and has a web site, too). I’ve been trying to find some time work with these folks, and I really want to find a way to make some sort of connection between the work that they’re trying to do (tutoring writing to young folks on a drop-in basis) and the work my colleagues and I are trying to do (teach future high school and junior high teachers). I do wish they had opened up the center in Ypsi, but that’s another issue.
  • TiddlyWiki. A friend of mine sent me a link to this. To be honest, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to mess around with this, but it looks to me like it has some kind of cool potential as an interesting way to write hypertext.

Rating (studying, really) Ratemyprofessors.com

Via Clancy’s blog, I came across this colorfully titled article, “‘He Will Crush You Like an Academic Ninja!’: Exploring Teacher Rating on Ratemyprofessor.com,” which is in the current version of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. As the title implies, this is a study of how students use the infamous professor evaluation site, Ratemyprofessor.com.

It’s a problematic study for a variety of different reasons that the authors themselves acknowledge (for example, the focus group participants were all at one school), but it’s still kind of interesting reading, I thought. Here’s one long quote summarizing the answers to a focus group question about what motivates students to post ratings in the first place that kind of sums up my own doubts about Ratemyprofessor.com:

One theme that emerged when discussing posting practices was the notion of posting a comment about a professor only if the students really liked or really disliked the professor. “I only post when I have a really strong opinion of a teacher, either really good or really bad,” one student reported. In other words, neutral feelings about a professor did not motivate students to post. Students felt reporting about these specific instances would be most useful for other students. Particularly in the case of “bad” professors, other students could be warned about that teacher and the class itself. This finding confirms what Ahmadi et al. (2001) found; that is, students write specific comments for only exceptionally good or bad professors.

Besides posting to pass along important information to other students, several of the students mentioned revenge or venting. If they had a bad experience in a certain class with a certain professor, posting to the site was their way passing along information, but also of “getting back” at that instructor. For example, one student shared her reason for posting. “I do it so people won’t take that professor, but I think it’s more my revenge in a way. It’s my way of getting back at them.”

One of the results of this “love ’em/hate ’em” rating motivation is, ultimately, very few ratings. I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of students since I’ve been at EMU, and on ratemyprofessor.com, there’s a grand total of eight reviews. And there’s no way of telling if these students rating my class really were former students, either. And so forth.

Can you tell I don’t care much for ratemyprofessor.com?

I do think it’s kind of an interestingly difficult thing to study though….

I've been beaten to the punch at Ivan

I’m still in “vacation mode” because the in-laws are here and my wife and I just returned from a getaway to Niagara Falls— oops! too much information for Ivan “the worst ‘not his real name’ name ever” Tribble, at least according to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Bloggers Need Not Apply.”

Jeff, Jenny, Collin, KF at Planned Obsolescence, and many others have already said what needs to be said, so I’ll just add a few more thoughts:

  • Tribble does have a point in that there are a lot of bloggers out there, academic and otherwise, who are not as aware of the potential downfalls of their vast and unintended audience as they perhaps ought to be. Lots of people have lost their jobs as a result of their blogs, and it is probably true that others have been passed over for jobs because of their blogging. Of course, most of the academic blogs I know of that share a bit too much– ah… problematic “personal” information– are anonymous anyway (and I’ve certainly complained about the problems I have with anonymous academic blogging in the past). So, assuming that the anonymous academic blogger applying for a job isn’t going to be promoting his or her anonymous blog in a cover letter or on a campus visit, Tribble et al could have easily hired the exact kind of blogger he and his colleagues were trying to avoid and not even know it.
  • I don’t know what field Tribble is in (though I must say that he sure sounds like a pretty old-timey/traditional Literature– with a capital “L”– kind of guy to me), but in my field, I’m pretty sure that we’d look quite favorably on a candidate who kept a blog. Many of the folks I list as comp/rhet bloggers are doctoral students or newly minted Ph.Ds, and I’m betting that they’ll land decent jobs.
  • Finally, Tribble reminds me of one final piece of unsolicited advice I’d like to offer in my role as The Happy Academic: while the academic job market is extremely tight, always remember that job candidates have to evaluate the people who are doing the hiring, too. Afterall, there is a decent enough chance that you will have to spend the rest of your working life with these people, so you had better have a sense of what they’re like. I have had MLA interviews with a variety of different schools where, about half-way through that half hour sitting in a hotel room someplace, I thought to myself “there is no way I would be willing to work with you people.” I freely admit that it’s perhaps a bit too easy for me to say this now that I’m happy and tenured, but I guess what I’m getting at is I’m pretty sure that Tribble and his colleagues at “a small liberal arts college in the Midwest” wouldn’t want to hire me, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t want to work with them.

Update:
Here’s a link to the newsgroup style discussion about all this on the Chronicle site. I stumbled across it while looking at Clancy’s site, though I don’t think I have the same sort of patience as Clancy does to actually read what people wrote there….