For me, the medium matters

[Since CoComment won’t play nice, here’s my response to Clay Burell’s post]

When I started blogging in August 2006, I was feeling very down about the idea of writing. The range of acceptability of style and form in academic writing is pretty narrow. The belief of my peers that publication in peer-reviewed journals was the only writing that was worthwhile also was very constraining, particularly since the educators that I’m trying to reach don’t read those publications. I was struggling to find meaning and value in what I was supposed to be writing.

Blogging cured me of my writing blahs. It provided me with an outlet that fits me like a glove, helped me discover my writing voice, and made me realize that I LOVE to write – indeed, maybe LIVE to write – if given the proper medium. A few months of blogging also gave me the courage to say:

This is who I am. This is what I’m all about. I’m a practitioner-oriented professor trying to facilitate change in schools. I’m a professor who thinks that there is unbelievable power in the ‘Social Web’ and I am going to try to figure it out, regardless of what others think. If U. Minnesota won’t reward that, it’s time to find a place that will. And the hell with those who think I’m moving down the institutional pecking order. What matters is job/life satisfaction and I’m going to find it.

So it turns out that I am a writer after all. I just didn’t know it because I had been trying to follow someone else’s writing paradigm, one that didn’t fit me very well. I’m lucky that my new university, Iowa State, finds value in what I do. And I’m lucky to live in a time when these self-publication tools are so readily available. ‘Cause I’m going to milk them for all they’re worth.

6 Responses to “For me, the medium matters”

  1. Hi Scott,

    For my (and all of your readers’) sake, I’m thankful that you’ve found this space to write.

    A lot of what you’ve written here about universities’ reward systems resonates, but I am not sure about adding blogging to the list of activities relevant to tenure/rewards in the academic system. How do you think it should be weighed? How would we judge one’s contribution to the field?

  2. Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that blogging is yet ‘relevant’ to tenure/promotion in academia. That said, folks here at ISU at least are starting to ‘get it’ because they’re seeing the VISIBILITY that I’m getting through use of these tools. They brought me in with tenure and said ‘We want to send you a unanimous round of support to keep doing what you’re doing.’ So that’s worth something!

    How should we judge one’s contributions to the field? Great question. Right now we judge that very narrowly in research-oriented academic circles. Do I think there should be multiple paths to excellence, even at a research institution? Absolutely. ‘Cause otherwise people like me – who clearly are making a contribution – are basically told that their work has no value. There’s something wrong with that equation…

  3. Tina Kastendieck Reply May 1, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Marshall Lewis gave me this site to look over. Finding quite a bit of interesting topics. Really enjoyed the inservice on technology and the future. Made me think and then collaborate. Trying to get into the blog arena.

  4. First I want to agree with eduwonkette that Scott, we are all in your debt for the courage you showed to lead the field into the Web 2.0 world (some non-academic readers probably are not aware of Scott’s impact on the academic world of education, but let me just tell you it is substantial). Anyway Scott, you have changed my life without a doubt.

    Second point, blogging is becoming relevant to tenure and promotion. I am proof positive. Scott knows that I would probably not have been interviewed for some positions without the exposure I have from my blog (and the various Web 2.0 activities that comes with that such as commenting). My blogging was even valued by the committee that eventually did hire me. Would they have hired me without it, perhaps, but it certainly helped as many departmental faculty members have mentioned to me that they “love” that I blog (even if they don’t bother reading it). I would assume it was valued for the same reason Scott’s is valued at ISU, visibility.

    So there is value in academia, however small.

    But, the challenge for we pioneers moving forward is to find ways to classify our Web 2.0 activities under traditional structures. There is no reason that much of what we do on the Web cannot be classified as “service” even today. Because it is all about how it is written on the vita, we have to give vita-conscious names to our activities. This is why I have formed a “Communications Committee” for the Law and Education SIG of AERA to study how we can improve our Internet presence. The “Communications Committee” language is vita-conscious language so that it can be written under people’s “service” component for promotion and tenure. That is something we can do today. For instance, there are ways that Scott can use CASTLE to academically validate some activities.

    On the research side, there are also ways to move forward. A lot of us love to write in blogs, but need to write in peer-reviewed pubs to get tenure. So, why not merge the two and publish a peer-reviewed blog? Or, publish electronic, peer reviewed journals in association with a blog? The point is that there are ways to make the Web 2.0 world fit in the traditional promotion and tenure structures. We cannot wait on the system to change for us … we have to actively try to fit within the system while changing it.

    The questions of “how is it weighted” and “how much of a contribution is it” will be worked out over time. I would posit we don’t really have very good answers to those questions on the traditional peer-reviewed arena either. In fact, I would argue that it is actually easier to answer those questions on the Net. Thanks to my site tracker, I know that a majority of my hits are coming from K-12 educational practitioners in schools. I also have weird cohorts of readers in South Carolina and Ontario and there is an assemblage of about 10 or so law scholars that regularly read each other’s blogs. So, how much of an impact is it having, I don’t know, but at least I know who is reading (or possibly skimming) it. That’s better information than what I get when I write a peer reviewed article. Anyway, I don’t think those are questions that should stand in the way of giving value to Web 2.0 activities.

    Overall, we are just in a period of playing catch up with promotion and tenure. It is not that the system is against Web 2.0 activities, it just doesn’t know how to deal with them yet. So, just like in anything else, the pioneers have to blaze a new path that others will follow. Scott blazed a path. I and others are now following and blazing even a wider path. Eventually the path will be wide enough that people will recognize the value in it and naturally follow along. All of this makes it an exciting time to be doing what we are doing.

  5. @Scott
    Your post gives me hope of one day crossing the line into the university level. I too have discovered a love of writing in the non academic setting. Perhaps one day one’s digital footprint will be just as important as the number of journal articles published.

  6. “Blogging cured me of my writing blahs. It provided me with an outlet that fits me like a glove, helped me discover my writing voice, and made me realize that I LOVE to write – indeed, maybe LIVE to write – if given the proper medium.”

    What a great quote–one that describes my feelings, and those of my sixth grade students.

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