Is Social Media Scholarship?


Yesterday I was in Northfield, Minnesota where I gave a talk about blogging, The Way of Improvement Leads Home (the blog), and the relationship between social media and civic engagement.  I spoke as part of a series on digital publishing sponsored by faculty and staff from Carleton College and St. Olaf College.  (Thanks to the DeAne Lagerquist for the invitation!)

During our conversation several professors talked to me about the possibility of starting their own blogs.

I don’t pretend to believe that our blogging model at The Way of Improvement Leads Home is normative.  We post a lot here and have developed a unique approach.  So yesterday I tried to suggest some ways that busy academics might make blogging work for them as teachers and scholars.

One model for academic blogging comes from Mark Carrigan in his recent Chronicle of Higher Education piece, “Social Media is Scholarship.”  It is excellent.

Here is a taste:

Before I created a research blog, I used to carry a series of ornate notebooks in which to record my ideas, reflect on what I had read, and sketch out my plans — or rather I tried to carry them. Inevitably I forgot them at the most inopportune moments, reducing me to scribbling notes on scraps of paper, only to fail to transcribe them at a later date. Even when I managed to record my notes, my overly-enthusiastic scrawls often proved indecipherable when I came back to them.

In contrast, my research blog is accessible to me wherever I have a mobile phone or computer. The expectation that others might read my notes forces me to work out what I am trying to say, rather than scribbling down in shorthand ideas that might feel meaningful to me at the time but are often confusing later.

Sharing those blog posts through my social-media feeds often leads to useful conversations — at a much earlier stage in the research process than would otherwise be the case. It creates an awareness of what I’m working on, and has often been the first step in eventual invitations to speak or collaborate. The fact that I can categorize and tag my online notes helps me see connections between different projects I am working on, highlighting emerging themes and deepening my understanding of how the topics fit together. Having my notes online also makes them extremely easy to search, providing a fantastic resource when I am writing papers and chapters.

My point is not that everyone should use a research blog. There are many reasons why it might not be suitable for you: (1) Without a smartphone, a blog would be much less useful; (2) some people find that writing by hand actually helps, rather than hinders, the creative process; and (3) many academics are uncomfortable with sharing work-in-progress online with an unknown audience.

Exactly which technology works for which person will depend on many factors. But in my case, moving from a research notebook to a research blog helped me become a more efficient and effective scholar. Rather than being an unwelcome drain, social media has helped me use my time more effectively.

Read the entire piece here.

Heading to Northfield


St. Olaf College

On Wednesday I will be in Northfield, Minnesota to give a few talks at St. Olaf College and Carleton College.  In the afternoon I will be speaking to faculty from both institutions on “Publication, Public Scholarship, and Blogging.” The talk is part of the “Future of Publishing” lecture series sponsored by the Saint Olaf and Carleton libraries.  I’m looking forward to it.

Learn more here.

Blog Comment of the Day

It looks like our OAH session “Is Blogging Scholarship” is getting more post-conference attention than most of other sessions that took place in Atlanta this past weekend.  Not bad for a Sunday morning panel.

This comment, written by “ebharlowe,” was posted in the comments section of the Junto in response to Ken Owen’s post on blogging.

“I’m wondering if Messiah College’s Admissions office is keeping track of applicants who consider coming to Messiah because of John Fea’s blog?

Here is the entire comment:

As a faculty member who has been through the tenure process multiple times and who has sat on personnel committees a private liberal arts colleges and regional state universities, I have a different view of the tenure thing…

Let me say that there are, and should be, different standards for tenure at R1′s than for Liberal Arts and regional universities. The publishing bar is far lower at *most* non-R1′s and the committee is more likely to value the Ernest Boyer types of scholarship more.

This is not to say that you can get tenure without *any* refereed publications or university press books (though I’ve seen it happen). My experience is that a blog that focusses on disciplinary issues, like “the Junto”, would be well-received by tenure committees as an aspect of scholarship. Blogging is not a substitute for traditional scholarship, but at universities where continuous faculty engagement is valued over production, it will count. Bottom line to tenure aspirants….local conditions may vary.

The other two pillars of tenure are teaching and service. Blogs like “Historiann”, “Tenured Radical” and “The Way of Improvement Leads Home” are invaluable as commentary on the profession. Through their blogs each of these authors have become public mentors to young scholars. Blog posts generate on-line discussion of important professional issues. They also generate discussions at the academy’s equivalent of the water cooler, the Xerox machine.

Bloggers also offer ways to explore and discuss new pedagogies. “The Junto” has published on using particular assignments or sources in teaching, for example. Blogging demonstrates a commitment to improving one’s teaching and is more useful in thinking about teaching than a dozen teaching development workshops.

Another aspect of service is getting your university’s name out to a wider audience. Blogs generate publicity for the department in ways that the publicity brochure and website cannot. I’m wondering if Messiah College’s Admissions office is keeping track of applicants who consider coming to Messiah because of John Fea’s blog? Are more students considering graduate work at Colorado State after reading Ann Little or Jonathan Rees? University PR folk love publicity. Shouldn’t bloggers get credit for this in their tenure/promotion file?

As with scholarship, maintaining a blog does not replace service on your department’s outcomes assessment committee or exonerate your poor teaching record but it *is* service to the department/profession and should be counted as such.

Still More on "Is Blogging Scholarship?"

Ken Owen of “The Junto” fame has now weighed in on our Organization of American Historian’s panel “Is Blogging Scholarship.”  Here is a taste:

The five bloggers on the panel all blog in different ways. John Fea pointed out that his model was that of Andrew Sullivan’s Daily DishHistoriann’s type of personal commentary is different and more regular than Mike O’Malley’s The AporeticUSIH and The Junto, both group blogs, take different approaches to generating content, with USIH assigning their bloggers more specific assignments.

When categorizing content, we should note that blogging is not one thing. Fea’s style engages a different audience from The Junto’s fare, yet both clearly fit under the broadest category of ‘historical blogging’. The real innovation of blogging lies in the ease with which people can access the means of publishing, and the hope of generating an audience.

That is necessarily disruptive of a process of recognizing “scholarship” through very narrow channels indeed. And really, the amount of scholarly activity we all do as historians that doesn’t fit neatly into a dissertation/article/review/monograph model should be accounted for in a review process.

More on "Is Blogging Scholarship?"

As my readers know, on Sunday I participated in a session at the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians entitled “Is Blogging Scholarship.”  I blogged about the session here. You can also read Michael Hattem’s collection of tweets posted by those in attendance.

Today some of the bloggers from the session and those who followed the session via social media are writing about it.  Here is what I have been able to find so far:

Ben Alpers summarizes his panel comments at U.S. Intellectual History.

Ann Little has posted her comments here.

Chris Gehrz was not in Atlanta, but he was following the Twitter feed and this blog.  See his comments at The Pietist Schoolman.

Paul Harvey discusses the session at Religion in American History

I like what Joseph Adelman has to say here.  (And thanks for the plug).  A taste:

Other blogs don’t aim for “scholarship” in the narrowest sense (John Fea had interesting thoughts on how to construe the term) but do wonderful service to the profession by highlighting books of interest, topics that deserve coverage, and connecting history to the present. And some blogs do a little bit of everything. John Fea is my best example of this. In a single day, he will post interviews with authors and book reviews, highlights of research projects, notes about teaching, and Springsteen concert clips. Go ahead over and read The Way of Improvement Leads Home and then tell me how you’d classify it. I can’t—and I like it that way.

Michael O’Malley discussed the session and summarized his remarks at his excellent blog, The Aporetic.

And in case you were not in Atlanta, the OAH filmed the session.  I imagine it will be appearing soon somewhere on the OAH website.

A Few Thoughts on OAH Panel "Is Blogging Scholarship?"

I thoroughly enjoyed sitting on a panel with Jeff Pasley, Anne Little, Michael O’Malley, Ben Alpers, and Ken Owen this morning to talk about historians and blogging.  You can read Michael Hattem’s storification of the tweets from the session here.

Ann Little of Historiann fame got us off to a solid start.  Since she posted her comments before the session, a a few members of the panel (myself included) used part of their brief remarks to respond to Ann.  Is blogging scholarship?  Ann answered the question in the negative.  She could not get around the idea that the things we write on blogs cannot be subjected to peer review and thus could not formally be called scholarship.  Everything else she said about blogging was extremely positive.  She encouraged scholars to try to make a case for blogging as scholarship (although she warned pre-tenured faculty from doing so) and extolled the value of blogging for professional development and the development of writing habits. In the end, Historiann was a realist.  She was just not convinced that departments will accept blogging as scholarship when it comes to tenure and promotion.  She is largely correct.
I was up next.  I began with Ernest Boyer’s 1990 essay Scholarship Reconsidered.  Boyer seeks to expand the idea of scholarship to include the scholarship of discovery (traditional research in books and articles), the scholarship of integration (synthetic work), the scholarship of application (bringing historical thinking skills and knowledge to the public), and the scholarship of teaching.  I argued that all four of these types of scholarship can be accomplished on a blog, but especially the scholarship of integration, application, and teaching.  I said that schools like Messiah College and others that have adopted Boyer’s categories might consider blogging as “scholarship.”
Michael O’Malley said that blogging is a form of scholarship, or at least is should be.  Blogging has the potential to be a venue that integrates the glowing personal reflections of a book’s “acknowledgements” page(s) with the detached scholarly analysis found in the rest of the book.  Scholars are in the business of “making meaning” and blogging is a way for historians to share their personal struggles to make meaning out of the past.
Ben Alpers has done a lot of thinking about blogging.  He challenged the panel and the audience to separate “scholarship” from considerations related to promotion and tenure.  Scholarship does not have to be connected to peer review or the demands placed upon academics at their home institutions. He offered several advantages to blogging: speed, dissemination, inter-activity, flexibility, and hypertextuality.  Blogging also has its disadvantages: speed is not always good when doing historical research, blogging demands constant content, blogging is informal (it does not feel “scholarly” and when it tries to be “scholarly” it does not feel like blogging), blog posts are short.  He also reminded us that blog posts are always “works in progress,” but they are also published.
Finally, Ken Owen talked about his experience at The Junto and his attempts to get his work at the blog to count toward his tenure at a school that values the Ernest Boyer model of scholarship.  
During the Q&A session several non-academic historians pushed the panel to see blogging as a way of engaging the public outside of the academy.  Several panelists and audience members rejected the idea that there should be AHA guidelines about what constitutes good blogging.  In a discussion about how to convince history departments that blogging was a legitimate form of scholarship, Clare Potter, a.k.a. “Tenured Radical,” said that bloggers need to convince their departments that “not everything on a computer is the same.”  
Thanks to Rosemarie Zagarri for bringing this panel together and Jeff Pasley for chairing it.  There was so much more I could have said about blogging (it has been a part of my life for over five years now), but I encourage you to keep reading The Way of Improvement Leads Home to get a better sense of what we are doing here.
With that, I think my OAH 2014 blogging and tweeting has come to an end.  Thanks for following this weekend.  

Sunday Morning at the OAH

I hope you are still in Atlanta.  If you are, I want to invite you to the 10:45 session: “Is Blogging Scholarship?” Historiann has already tipped her hand.  I am holding my thoughts close to the vest. Not sure what O’Malley, Pasley, or Alpers will say.  I hope to see you there.

Chair:  Jeffrey Pasley (University of Missouri)

John Fea (Messiah College)
Ann Little (Colorado State University)
Michael O’ Malley (George Mason University)
Benjamin Alpers (University of Oklahoma)

Should be fun.

I will be live-tweeting the 9:00am session on the state of religion in American history.  Stay tuned.

Is Blogging Scholarship?

For those of you attending the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians this weekend in Atlanta don’t forget to hang around for the Sunday morning session “Is Blogging Scholarship.” Just in case you need some added incentive, check out my co-panelist Ben Alpers’s post at U.S. Intellectual History.  Here is a taste:

Starting this Thursday, the Organization of American Historians will be having its annual meeting in Atlanta.  I’m delighted to be on the program this year as one of the participants in a roundtable that will address the question “Is Blogging Scholarship?” Also taking part will be John Fea who blogs at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, Ann Little of Historiann fame, and Mike O’Malley, who blogs at The Aporetic.  The roundtable will be moderated by Jeff Pasley, who has blogged at Common-Place.  I’m really looking forward to what should be a fascinating discussion, except…
They’ve scheduled the roundtable for the very last session of the conference on Sunday morning at 10:45 am.  The primary purpose of this post is to encourage any of you who will be in Atlanta and who have late flights home to come to the roundtable.  That purpose having been served, follow me below the fold if you’re interested in thoughts on roundtables and conference scheduling.
Read the rest here: