Why the Academic Blog?

Over the past decade blogs have proliferated on the Internet. Among those are the academic blog, which has all kinds of subgenres. We have a colleague, for instance, who regularly posts items about the political forces involved in our state’s higher education institutions—e.g., individual institutions, the Commonwealth’s legislature and its committees, the working of the state school board, and even things happening on the various campuses. Another colleague writes a very personal blog about his growth in academia—e.g., the books and articles he reads, the adjustments he makes to his courses, and the conferences he attends.

Martin Weller in “The Virtues of Blogging as a Scholarly Activity” sees the blog as a key aspect of the digital revolution and a part of the modern academic’s identity: “now you might want to reference not only your publications, but also a set of videos, presentations, blog posts, curated collections, and maybe even your social network.”

And, of course, we have been writing an-almost weekly blog for New Forums on the general topic of innovating faculty development. This week we’d like to discuss why academics blog and follow it up in part two by addressing the key question: is academic blogging scholarship?

The Diary Approach

Some people blog as a contemporary form of the diary. They like to keep an ongoing record of what they are doing throughout the year. Good classes and bad, successful and poor strategies, as well as ideas and students confronted provide daily or weekly fodder. But whereas traditional diaries were personal and once kept under lock and key, today’s posters go public because they wish to share. They want to belong to that great social media universe where the biggest phobia is FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out. Such people remind us of Whitman’s “Noiseless, Patient Spider” continuously launching filaments out of itself, hoping to connect. The blog becomes the virtual coffee house.

Conveying Scholarship

Weller points out that in the past “if I wanted to convey an idea or research finding, my choices were limited to a conference paper or journal article, or, if I could work it up, a book.” Now one can use a blog, Twitter, or perhaps Facebook. “Institutional reputation,” he concludes, “is largely created through the faculty’s online identity, and many institutions are now making it a priority to develop, recognize, and encourage practices such as blogging.”

Other Motivations

Some post for the sheer fun of it. Some post to see if they can do it. One of our colleagues writes his blog the same way he watches Netflix—in binges. Some blog because they feel they must, either personally or professionally. Some do it, like us, as a way of participating in a larger conversation than we can find at our institution. In the old days, one read a paper as a first step in developing an idea, using the feedback to craft a more complete and complex paper for publication. Now, of course, every post invites immediate (and PRINTED) reaction that can be quickly incorporated into developing an idea or project.

Our Primary Motivation

The three of us come from the writing as discovery school. We don’t really know exactly what we think about anything from literary theory to our feelings about the latest Star Wars movie until we write it down. Sometime we write fiction to express our feelings. Sometimes we write a complex article or a column to figure out what and why we believe a certain idea.

Take this blog as an example. It all began because at dinner one night our publisher, Doug Dollar, noted that we had two major bodies of writing—those about innovation and those about faculty development. He wondered if we had ever thought about a possible relationship between the two subjects. One hundred posts later we’re still exploring that relationship. Along the way, though, the blog has helped us figure out numerous relationships. For instance, our whole theory of using milestone events to tie together every program we offer came about because we discovered its importance while writing these posts. Other posts have suggested to us that we need to take a very scholarly and comprehensive approach to a topic as in our upcoming Scaling the Scholarship Mountain book. Sometimes a reaction to something we have written has caused us to explore the topic in greater depth—e.g., do you guys have an application process for your Faculty Innovators program?

But the ultimate evidence that writing is discovery is this blog itself. In 2012 we published Introduction to Applied Creative Thinking (Stillwater: New Forums) in which we posited series of creative strategies that we dubbed “The Nifty Nine.” It looks like our nonet has become a dectet with the addition of writing.

But do any of these motivations make our academic blogging scholarship? See you next time.



author Hal BlythePh.D Hal Blythe writes literary criticism to mystery stories. In addition to the eleven books he’s published with New Forums, Hal has collaborated on four books on a variety of subjects, over 1000 pieces of fiction/nonfiction, and a host of television scripts and interactive mysteries performed by their repertory company. He is currently co-director of the Teaching and Learning Center for Eastern Kentucky University. Meet Hal Blythe.

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