Venturing into the virtual world of blogging (and Twitter) as a scholar, academic, or teacher/professor requires you to address a few foundational questions. Here are some of those decisions with examples from a variety of blogs addressing my field of education:
- Blogging allows the blogger to create a public persona. What persona do you want to present to the public? Some in education highlight their roles as teachers while others highlight their scholarship—some, of course, blend those roles. Katie Osgood, @KatieOsgood_, maintains a passionate blog, emphasizing her persona as a teacher. Nancy Flanagan, @nancyflanagan, blogging at Teacher/Education Week, speaks as a veteran teacher in her blogs. Julian Vasquez Heilig’s popular and high-quality blog is primarily scholarly work made accessible and strongly political (@ProfessorJVH). Examples of administrators blogging include Carol Burris, @carolburris, and Peter DeWitt, @PeterMDeWitt.
- Part of that persona creation includes an important blogging decision: Will you blog under your name or a pseudonym? Two bloggers who have debated this issue on Twitter are Jersey Jazzman, @jerseyjazzman, (pro-pseudonym and primarily a blogger addressing statistics and research while also being strongly political) and Jose Vilson, @TheJLV (an advocate for blogging under his name and speaking from the classroom as a teacher). Also see this excellent self-revealing piece from EduSchyster (@EduShyster) addressing her move from a pseudonym to posting under her real name.
- Blogging (and Twitter) are also platforms for extending the role of teacher into your work as a public intellectual. If the goal of blogging is to teach a wider public, then another important decision is, What level of discourse will drive your blogging? Many academic disciplines and fields include complex ideas and field-specific language. Translating those complexities in public blogs is a daunting task. However, blogging allows you to include hyperlinks, which in turn provide readers extensions to your discussion that provide context and richer examinations of issues than the typical blog can address (when a blog remains in the range of about 750-1250 words). Hyperlinking is a craft in itself that includes a scholar’s ethic of highlighting representative evidence, thus never cherry picking.
- Running through many of these decisions is a debate about tone: What tone and what level of civility will you honor in your blog? Two outstanding scholarly blogs represent fairly distinct answers to that question. Matthew DiCarlo, @shankerinst, represents some of the best scholarship online that is both meticulous and accessible; the blogs are highly instructive, but DiCarlo is all-business (his one attempt at satire blew up in his face and he lamented the shift in tone on Twitter). Bruce Baker, @SchlFinance101, offers a very similar blog in terms of content, providing the public highly detailed statistical analyses as well as reviews of high-profile education research. But Baker is often satirical and sarcastic, even in his headlines. While DiCarlo is balanced to a fault, Baker wears his agendas on his sleeve.
- A final point: Will you blog at your own platform (such as WordPress or blogger) or do you want to associate yourself with an online blogging publication such as Daily Kos or Daily Censored? The tensions between these options include how much traffic you want and can generate as well as how independent you want your persona to be.
NOTE: See a companion piece by my colleague Bryan Bibb, Getting Started in Online Communication; and two great posts from Peter Smagorinsky: