Posted by: Ellie Kutz | March 1, 2011

Why Do Academics Blog?

Faculty maintain blogs for a variety of purposes:  they blog about their research; they blog as public intellectuals; they blog to extend their dialogue with their students.  Or, like Marietta Schwartz in Chemistry, they may want to share their experiences in teaching a new course or trying out new instructional technologies (http://blogs.umb.edu/mariettaschwartz/).  But some both blog and reflect on blogging.

Henry Jenkins, a blogging professor who was until recently the director of Comparative Media Studies at MIT (now at USC) says of his own efforts: 

This blog is a place where I share my thoughts about many contemporary developments and publish my works in progress. It is also a space where I showcase the work of my students at MIT and now at USC and give you a glimpse into the world where I live and work. And it is a place where I spotlight interesting work in the field of media studies which may be relevant to a readership that includes not only academics but also journalists, educators, industry insiders, policy makers, fans and gamers.

 In a post on Why Academics Should Blog,  Jenkins offers what he sees as the value of blogs for faculty and for their students. For faculty, blogs offer an opportunity for what Jenkins calls “just-in-time scholarship,” a place where they can respond to contemporary events related to their field, giving public voice to ideas in an immediate way, without the long time line of traditional scholarship, and perhaps laying a foundation for work that can be developed for publication in scholarly journals. Because blogs support comments and discussion, they offer a locus for informal academic forums and exchange of ideas.  Further, web 2.0 outlets such as blogs reach a wider audience than would be reached through journal publication.   Jenkins finds that the blogs his colleagues in media studies reach “public-school teachers trying to foster new-media literacy, creative people from the media industries seeking to understand shifts in consumer behavior, advertising executives looking for new models of engagement and participation, [as well as] fans and “gamers.”  Blogs also help to develop an audience for the books that faculty write, while allowing the author to update content after publication, following up on new developments. 

Younger academics find more personal advantages to blogging.  Jill Walker, reflecting on her blogging as a doctoral student and new faculty member at a Norwegian university, says that, although she could have been isolated as a “young would-be scholar” in a small, distant town: 

I know that my blogging helped me gain a foothold among researchers in my field, that the regular writing and discussions with readers and other bloggers helped me become a confident writer, and that I had more opportunities to give talks and write in other genres than most of my non-blogging peers. So quite probably, blogging helped me succeed in earning a PhD and getting my first academic job ( 2006).

While both Jenkins and Walker are in fields related to Media Studies, faculty across disciplines seem to be finding similar advantages in becoming bloggers.   To more ideas you might look at the blogroll from the University of Chicago (http://news.uchicago.edu/more/blogs.php), where faculty in the humanities, law, medicine, etc. are posting to blogs in coordinated efforts to share information and expertise and to engage in public debate. Or visit Crooked Timber (http://crookedtimber.org/) a respect blog maintained by a group of political scientists.  Or visit  3QuarksDaily (http://www.3quarksdaily.com/), a “filter blog” that aims to draw the best content from the web, including that of many other blogs, and which gives an annual prize for the best blogs in different fields.  Our own Wayne Rhodes of the English department was a finalist last year for the arts and humanities prize, and you might check out his blog, Imaginary Boundaries (http://imaginaryboundaries.wordpress.com/ ) where he blogs about music, writing, plagiarism, and other topics of interest to many of us.

Walker, J. (2006). Blogging from inside the ivory tower.  In Bruns, A. & Jacobs, J. (Eds.), Uses of Blogs, 127-138. Digital Formations 38. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

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