“What’s the point of this?”
“This isn’t about anything.”
I’ve read these comments at the bottom of many fellow University of Venus writers’ posts (most recently Anamaria Dutceac Segesten’s post on gender equity in higher education). I’ve also started seeing comments like these come up on other academic bloggers’ posts, specifically Tenured Radical, in relation to how her posts have somehow “changed” now that she is blogging over at the Chronicle. I’ve been thinking about this question quite a bit: what is a blog post? Or, more specifically, what is a good blog post?
For my students, I had them write blog posts as op-ed pieces (or, more formally titled, an argument essay). Particularly in academic blog circles, this seems to be what we expect from blogs: a clear argument or “point.” We have been trained over the years to develop a strong thesis with support to back it up. But, we might not always want to pick a fight. And, why are we repeating a formal style (albeit shorter) in a more informal setting?
Others, like Dr. Crazy, use their blog as more of a journal. Certainly, she has argued about many things as they relate to higher education, but the majority of her posts are about her life as an academic, but also as a woman, daughter, sister, friend, etc. This is less, it seems, about making a point that keeping a public journal. Or perhaps the point is that academics are people too, with rich (and mundane) lives outside of the classroom. These blogs are useful because they do humanize us and the work we do. The Mama PhD blog here on IHE would seem to do that, too (although again there are lots of more traditional, argument-essay style posts).
Still others, like the good folks over at ProfHacker, would seem to favor the how-to or information approach to blogging. Each post usually profiles some cool tech toy or outlines some way that we, the professoriate, can make our lives (both at work and outside of work) easier. One could make the point that they are “arguing” for us to adopt their recommendations, but the tone is more informative than argumentative. It’s a fine line, I know, but an important one. Many teaching blogs and teacher-bloggers share their exercises, nuts and bolts, and tricks in their blogs, to help other teachers. It becomes about sharing information and expertise.
Then we come to perhaps the most controversial blog post of them all, at least in academia: the reflection post. These are posts that don’t really argue for any one clear side, or have a clear stance that they are defending. These posts are a type of work-in-progress, reflecting the author’s attempt to deal with a complex issue, in public, in writing. For me, the point of these kinds of posts (of which I’ve written quite a few) are to generate discussion, help clarify thinking, and generally get others thinking, too. The point, then, is that there is not yet a clear point.
This type seems to be popular for teachers to assign to students. We get them to write blog posts with their initial thoughts about their readings, their brainstorming process for an essay, and their reflections on what has gone on in class. They are useful because we, the instructors, can see where the students are “in real time” and respond. Students can also see where their classmates are and help one another. It becomes a virtual conversation, an extension of their learning. Why, then, do we seem so opposed to fellow academics writing the same kinds of posts?
Perhaps it is the platform; we have a certain expectation from something that is published on IHE, even if it is under the heading of “blogs.” Perhaps it is because we expect more from ourselves than we do from our students, even though we know that we work through the process of problem solving the same way we try to encourage our students to do. Perhaps this reveals our insecurity as academics, that we can’t share the process, only the solid results of that process. Reflection, then, is a sign of tentativeness, indecisiveness, and intellectual weakness.
But of course, it isn’t. Blogging allows for us to make these reflective moments public. So much of what we do in academia has too long been done in isolation. Why can’t we post reflections, incomplete and contradictory thoughts for feedback, discussion, and even new and different perspectives? You could say that I just wrote a standard dividing and classifying essay. The point? To get you, the readers, to think differently about academic blogging. The reflection, as “pointless” as it may be, should be embraced as an important part of academic blogging.