Academia and Web 2.0

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.


3 thoughts on “Academia and Web 2.0

  1. Neurotic Workaholic says:

    One reason it's important to teach students to use their social networking powers for good is because we often hear stories of problems that resulted because of social networking. For example, I've heard stories of college grads who didn't get jobs because their prospective employers didn't like what they found on the grads' Facebook pages. Then there are people like that girl from UCLA who posted a video on Youtube; she made offensive comments against Asians. As a result, for the rest of her life she's going to be known for that. So I think it's important to teach them the right ways to express themselves through blogs, Twitter, etc. On the other hand, you're right in that these forms of communication should not be the only things that should be emphasized. There has to be a way to get them to be willing to write papers as well as blogs/Facebook entries, or at least to get them to see that writing papers can be worthwhile.

  2. Laura M. Campbell says:

    I think technology and Internet-based communication tools are vital when discussing skill sets for graduating students, either secondary or college level. Our world is constantly evolving, forcing us to keep up, leading us to communicate with people in other states let alone other countries faster than before. It's amazing. But, in the end, we still need to understand how to effectively express our thoughts and feelings. I agree with you, before we can take off with powerpoint presentations and other tech tools, a student should understand the fundamentals. The first step: Write. Second step: Speak.We learn by doing. Our communication will improve when our speech improves. We will speak better when our writing improves. A student should tackle those steps before getting carried away with flashy, exciting new tools that build off the fundamentals.

  3. Anna says:

    I think you both brought up a great point, namely that students are faced with a media world that is rapidly expanding, perhaps beyond our collective capacity to keep up. There are countless examples like the one you brought up, N.W., of students behaving badly online. And I think your suggestion Laura, that we should write before speaking, is perhaps the solution. It seems like these concepts are two sides of the same communication coin.

Comments are closed.