I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject lately. When I created this blog, I made a conscious decision to attach my name, my REAL name, to it knowing I would only be publishing articles I would be comfortable letting the whole world read. In part it was to gain exposure to my own work, in part to participate in an ever growing scholarly community that exists exclusively online. But I never had any grand illusions that my blog would get me a job, tenure, or increase my chances of publishing in an academic journal.
It seems like there has been a growing emphasis on the need for colleges and universities to teach communications skills to their students. To help them become global citizens, to activate those little twitter feeds for good, not evil. Certainly was the impetus behind all those articles praising the “Millennials” involved in Obama’s campaign. “Isn’t that cute,” the newspapers seemed to say. “Those young kids are interested in politics.” Flash mobs, twitter updates, bloggers—these things and concepts are all important, but they’re a means to an end, not the end itself.
I agree that as educators, it is important for us to teach marketable skills to our graduating students. Having the skill sets necessary to create a killer power point will no doubt help you get a job. But I remain skeptical that the emphasis on presentation and web presence and twitter and digital communication should become the only way that we teach communication.
Old-fashioned writing is not going away. Being able to recognize that I began this sentence with a gerund and that it’s not the most effective sentence construction because it leads to run-on sentences is also an effective skill set, perhaps more important than knowing how to get a million followers on twitter. As much as I dreaded the 5-page writing assignment, I cannot WAIT to assign them to my students so that they too will learn how to write. And write in the old-school MLA versus Chicago style of writing.
All of that said, once the fundamentals are in place, once you’ve mastered the art of making an argument, once you know how to construct a paper, in short, once you have a grasp of the fundamentals, incorporating web 2.0 is a great pedagogical tool. For one, it makes the discipline available to people who aren’t necessarily specialists. A blog, for example, is a great way to share what you’re doing RIGHT NOW with your colleagues. Timothy Morton is a perfect example of a tenured professor whose blog, Ecology Without Nature, primarily appeals to romanticists, but it also attracts people who are interested in critical theory, ecology, pedagogy, and, well, Timothy Morton. It’s a self-promotional tool, yes, but also a research tool. His blog is an ever-updating set of items that he has discussed at length in his traditionally published work. A constant work in progress. And while I don’t necessarily agree with his research, I think his blog in an excellent model for those of us who are dipping their toes in the possibilities of web-based research.
In addition to faculty-based blogs, there are an increasing number of refereed scholarly journals or sources online. For example, my first publication was a book review published in an online journal (you can click the link at the top right to find). Other noted scholarly resources (that anyone can use without a university-paid subscription) include Romantic Circles and RaVon: Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. These are just some in my discipline and field, and doubtless there are countless others that you might want to share in the comments section.
It seems from an informal survey of academic blogs that scientists are more comfortable sharing their work online and setting up blogs. I wonder if this is the case because there is more collaboration in the scientists (multiple-author papers and books are rare in the humanities, not the norm) and thus scientists feel more at home with this technology. I’m not sure. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on the matter.