Blogging & Tweeting Academia

As the tools necessary for creating blogs and other forms of micro-publishing (podcasts, videocasts, microblogs) have become more readily available,many academics have been quick to embrace these new forms of communication. However, academics blog for many different reasons, such as disseminating scholarship, demystifying the inner workings of the academy, or promoting themselves in an uncertain job market. Many academics are employing blogging in the classroom, assigning podcasts as required reading, creating collaborative class blogs, and experimenting with Twitter to develop classroom community. In this forum we will be discussing the theory and practice of academic blogging. The academy has not yet settled on the role that digital scholarship will take in relation to more traditional forms of scholarship, and for this reason scholars are still struggling with questions about the role that bloggers play in spreading disciplinary knowledge, and how this kind of activity should be measured. Likewise, the pedagogical value of blogging, let alone "best practices" guidelines for incorporating blogging into the classroom, are still somewhat up in the air. In an effort to explore how blogging and academia interact, we will be live-blogging and twittering on www.hastac.org from two HASTAC events over the course of this forum: the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning Competition Showcase (Apr. 16?17 in Chicago) and the HASTAC III conference (Apr. 19?21 at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). For those of you who can't attend these events, we invite you to follow along on HASTAC and to join us as we discuss:

  • How are blogs being used in academic circles?
  • Do blogs help spread information or create bubbles and isolation of highly specialized academics?
  • Should blogs be counted for tenure applications? Should blog posts count as publications?
  • How can blogging enhance student learning? What successful ways have you seen blogging incorporated into pedagogy, and what can we learn from less successful attempts?
  • How does live blogging impact the experience of academic conferences or other such large, collective events?

John Jones is a graduate student at the University of Texas at Austin where he studies rhetoric and technology. Currently he is an Assistant Director of the Department of Rhetoric and Writing's Computer Writing and Research Lab. Ramsey Tesdell graduated from the University of Washington after writing his thesis, entitled "An Ecology of New Media in Jordan," through which he explored how various new media technologies are being utilized for collective actions. He now lives in Amman, Jordan and writes for 7iber.com.

19 comments

I am a student of Cathy Davidson's and incedently I had not ever heard of Twitter until she mentioned it in class. Now I feel like it is everywhere. I think that David brought up a great point on Twitter Leadership and its meaning, escpecially in light of the fact that Ashton Kutcher, an actor and former underwear model, just beat CNN, a world-wide news network to be the first person with 1 million followers on Twitter. After his victory he was quoted as saying "We now live in an age in media that a single voice can have as much
power and relevance on the Web, that is, as an entire media network, and I think that to me was shocking."

Yes, it is shocking. But does the number of people "following" Ashton indicate his "power"? I don't think so. I would posit that following on Twitter is not a "follow the leader" type scenario, but more of a tracking scenario. When you follow someone on twitter, you are interested in what they say but you do not neccessarily agree with it. That's why it is more like tracking. If person A tracks person B, A stays where she is while B moves, perhaps if A likes where B is, she will go stand there. But if A were to follow B, no matter where B went, A would also be there.

That is why I would say that the term "following" on Twitter is not actually following, and therefore, those with followers are not neccessarily leaders.

Another way for me to illustrate how the term "following" on Twitter is a misnomer, is how when people get a subscription to a newspaper, they become subscribers, but does they mean that they "subscribe to" aka agree with everything in the paper? Probably not.

I agree that Twitter is used in two different dimensions but I would argue that in no way are those people with the most followers are the most powerful leaders.

Thoughts?

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Thanks for hosting a discussion on such a great topic. I have two very modest comments to make.

I don't remember which forum it was (I think "What's Going on in the Digital Humanities?"), but we ended up getting into a conversation about effective student blogging. Cathy has found techniques that seem to work quite well and that I'm eager to try next semester. Brian rightly points out the relatively informal nature of the writing on most blogs (though I've seen some more formal ones, particularly among the academic set). I want to use that feature of the medium in my class as another place where students can get some informal writing done before they have formal, graded assignments. Student blogging is, of course, somewhat different from the type of blogs run by professional academics, but it also presents a set of challenges and rewards that I find fascinating... more so, sometimes, than some of the stuffier academic blogs I've run across.

As for Twitter, I'm already tired of it, but I think that's because I found I had almost nothing interesting to tweet. The one time I found it particularly useful was when I experimented in class with making the students do all the talking. As I took notes, I also tweeted my thoughts about their discussion, the ways it was unfolding, and the types of issues they raised. That experience was quite fun and mirrors, I think, the incredibly useful tweeting that John and others have done of academic events.

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I look forward to seeing responses to this forum, but wanted to offer a few thoughts on how I see blogging impacting academic circles and other important parts of life.

I find an ecology of new media to be a useful metaphor in that it offers space for more than one technology and also allows for these technologies to interact. 

For example, I see twitter, blogs, youtube, and mobile phones as important new medias, each with their own impact on the situation. Academics may use twitter to offer short pieces of information, share links, ask questions etc and then follow up with a blog that offers a larger space for discussion, including imbeding pictures and video. 

I see a lot of importance in opening up academia to more people, and creating open-source academics,where people can interact with your research, test it, play around with it, and in theory offer perspectives that you may not have thought of. Blogs are the perfect platform for such a thing. 

Finally, I'm really interested in seeing your opinions on whether blogs should weigh on a tenure application, or on a job application for an academic position. Personally, I know many people who spend a lot of time blogging and twittering that they deserve some credit for the work they are producing. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. 

 

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Thanks John and Ramsey!

I'm looking forward to seeing the discussion materialize.
I feel a lot of connection to Ramsey's comments about "creating open-source academics."
Along these lines, I'm interested in how a new class of public intellectuals seems to be emerging around what Jenkins calls "just in time" scholarship. http://henryjenkins.org/2008/02/links_for_those_who_attended_m.html and http://henryjenkins.org/2008/03/if_you_saw_my_talk_at_south_by.html

?Danah boyd also has written extensively on this subject, and I'm eager to see if she'll weigh in here. I was always fascinated by the aftermath of her blog post/essay-draft from a couple years back in which she argued for the emergence of a facebook vs. myspace class divide (among high schoolers). http://www.danah.org/papers/essays/ResponseToClassDivisions.html

That incident made me recall an important lesson from my linguistic anthropology days: that to describe an indexical correlation simultaneously points to the past (by presupposing that relationship to exist) but also points to the future (by entailing that relationship into existence). In other words, the very meta-language used to describe an indexical relationship also brings that relationship in social reality. In this case, danah was pointing to a pattern that she had observed (class distinction among high schooler SNS preferences), and she was very clear about the scope of her claim. But the post itself operated as a kind of authorless agent that circulated widely on the internet, and, in the process, seemed to be actively constructing an even more strictly framed class relationship than the one she initially gave voice to. Media outlets like the BBC decided to assign authority to the reductive binary that myspace = low class and facebook = high class ? all of which directly contradicted her own insistence that (1) the claim was exlusively about high school age users and (2) that the post in question was still an inchoate idea about which she was eager to receive feedback from peers.

So here's what I find so fascinating... one could argue that even if class and SNS preferences had been unrelated BEFORE the post, they certainly became so AFTER ? i.e. after that discursive frame had begun to percolate through the internet. The observations of public intelectuals, in this sense, can gather a kind of Heisenbergian momentum just by the nature of their being public. Which is not to say that the observations are somehow incorrect (in danah's case, I thought the argument was fairly compelling)... but rather that ? as the lines between cloistered academic and public intellectual continue to blur ? the impact of one's public observations have the potential to bring certain social realities into being even as they attempt to describe these purported "realities" as static objects.

Thoughts?

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Joshua,

I enjoyed the way your post followed up on Ramsey's comments on how new means of media publication are important for the ways in which they allow academic knowledge to be shared with larger audiences. However, there is some danger that this knowledge will be misinterpreted, or as you put it, the open-ended knowledge seeking of academia will be perceived as being black-and-white statements about reality which will in turn create new, and possibly damaging, realities.

Although I don't think that this comment will answer all of the interesting ideas you've raised in your post, what it made me think was that the accessibility of new media will help to bridge the gap between public knowledge-making and the (often) cloistered knowledge-making of the academy. That is, writing for multiple audiences will force academics to engage the public in a more direct way and to make their work more relevant to people's daily lives.

I'm interested in hearing what people think about this idea: is the openness of new media leading to greater understanding between the academy and the public, or is it only creating greater confusion and distrust between the two?

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Hello everyone, I'm very new to HASTAC and I'm so appreciative of the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.  I started using Twitter about a year ago but in the last 6 months I've stepped up my use of it.  I definitely envision myself disseminating my research and thought as a social and cultural theorist and ethnographer using Twitter.  I'm excited about how microblogging on a big public service like Twitter can provoke one to constantly imagine and re-image the audience of one's expressions.  This very active stress on reflexivity as a means of communication, leading to sharpening thoughts and reflection on framing thoughts, is an unanticipated and welcome consequence of Twitter.  What this has gotten me thinking about in more depth lately is the notion of following as the active concept in practices of twittering.  It really places an inherent and practical stress on audience, which I like alot.  It decenters authorship and humbles even the most influential as they can see their stock of followers rise and fall.  What has become curious to me is the question of how leadership works in these fluctuating formations and reformations of audiences.  In using Twitter I've come across a number of people who seem to reduce leadership to the notion of influence, which seems like such a dismal mass media concept by comparison with the possibilities of microblogging.  The one-way concept of communication: A make a statement which B, C, and D then hear and consume.  As I type right now, Oprah is somewhere preparing for her entry into the twitterverse.  Many Oprahs will afterwards be 'following' the original copy.  What we need to do (if I may be so presumptuous) those of us who value education and openness is perhaps to rethink and make more clear the mimetic function of twittering.  It will be sad if 'following' comes to be seen as merely imitating.  I would like to put forward the question:  in what senses can we lead by following?  That is, how can one make a contribution in one's social and cultural context through practices of following that is meaningful to others, that opens up possibilities for others?  Are there analogies in offline life?  One analogy that comes to mind is following as modelling, for example modelling reading for one's children by letting them see you reading books - one is 'following' the ideas in a novel and this communicates the value of following to others.  What concepts can we create to capture this agentic dimension of following in the twitterverse?

 

David Toews, PhD

Department of Sociology and Anthropology

University of Windsor

dtoews@uwindsor.ca

Follow me on Twitter! http://twitter.com/dtoews

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What a fabulous discussion. My own two cents, as a long participant in the culture wars, is the more insular we academics are, the more we are subject to mischaracterization, trivialization, and dismissal. I'd rather go down on my own words than on someone's bad and unfair characterization of my words! In other words, the choice isn't, to my mind, as much about whether we expose ourselves to the public, but, rather, how we represent ourselves or, if we choose not to represent ourselves, then who will?
It seems that, if we are educators, we believe in the power of our pedagogy to perform something: a transmission of knowledge, skills, attitudes, methods, applications, practices. That already is a public act. So then it feels to me that the equal obligation is to represent our representational and pedagogical practices. That to me extends our educational imperative and mission. Of course some people will criticize us, but by being public knowledge citizens, we also give ourselves a platform for dialogue, for talking back, rather than being the recipient of someone else's monologue about us.
I've spent the last few days, since the passing of my dear friend Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, reading her work. In last night's bout of insomnia, I reread "Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, Or You're So Paranoid, You Probably Think this Essay is About You," in TOUCHING FEELING. It is a marvelously illuminating theory of what happens when one denies oneself of agency and, instead, attributes extremely powerful agency elsewhere. "Paranoia is a theory of negative affects," is one brilliant section about the internalization of paranoid that leads to the "masquerading as the very stuff of truth." I highly recommend this essay . . . and its injunction (as in all the essays in the volume, powerful and inspiring theory by someone who was ever-subjected to hostility and, I think, said: bring it on!)
Thanks for such a meaningful discussion!

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In addition to running this forum, Ramsey and John blogged, tweeted, and Flipcam'd (and posted the vide interviews) on the HASTAC homepage for the HASTAC/MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Competition. They did an amazing job and we cannot thank them enough! My favorite moment, I think, was watching the twitter fall projected behind Howard Rheingold and Mimi Ito who were discussing participatory learning . . . the tweets were being answered by other tweets, both from in the audience and from afar, and learning was happening in process, people forwarding, posting similar urls, creating a spontaneous online bibliography in reaction to a conversation live between Howard and Mimi.
Ramsey and John: THANK YOU!!!!

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I think framing the act of blogging in terms of agency does a great deal to respond to some of the concerns that have been mentioned here. What I like about academic blogging is that it not only gives researchers and thinkers in the academy a direct channel of communication to the world, it also gives the public a voice in responding to academic knowledge. It's nothing new to say that blogs provide a way around the hierarchical system of publication that dominates the mass-media, but your post reminded me that in addition to giving the blogger agency, it allows the audience a voice as well, to challenge the or support what is being written about.

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David,

I've been meaning to respond to this post for a few days, but I've been traveling and I haven't had a chance to sit down and write something until now.

I think you pose some interesting questions about how one can use the structure of Twitter to add meaning to other people's lives.

While Twitter is constantly evolving, it seems to me that there are at least two kinds of Twitter activity going on right now: social and broadcast. Social activity is the conversational dimension of Twitter use, where users respond to each other's posts and actively engage each other. Some posts, however, have little social component. They consist of posting links to off-site content, or using the service to promote a personal brand.

While some users rely heavily on one type of communication or the other--users with small groups of followers may use Twitter almost exclusively in the social sense, as a replacement for IM or chat, while some celebrities and marketers use Twitter as a alternative broadcast medium, engaging in little feedback with other users--most use some combination of the two.

I said all that to say: I think the most influential leaders on Twitter balance the social and the broadcast dimensions of the technology, not only using Twitter to share information and off-site links, but also engaging with the site's community. This mixture of broadcast and engagement is, I think, the best way of being a leader on Twitter, for it models openness between communicator and audience.

Thoughts?

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I'm sorry I didn't catch your name enw2 (student of Cathy's), thanks so much for your interesting reply. I agree that 'following' is not the most accurate term. However, I think that almost any term would have difficulty capturing the numbers of different ways we make use of microblogging. Tracking is definitely one thing we do alot, no doubt. If only Howard Rheingold knew how I stalk him online (just kidding Howard!). But to be serious, your notion of tracking would fit with Wellman's concept of networked individualism, and would be useful. Do you have any specific references on tracking you could share? Also what John says is great, provides good clarification. I agree with John's distinction and his notion of balance between broadcast and social.

I did want also to respond by pushing my previous point a bit further. In defense of the term 'following', I think while it is hopelessly vague, it does have one virtue, which is to suggest that microblogging represents an accessing of a new kind of energy in 'audiences'. Following, whether offline or online, is (perhaps...) the agency of the audience, the ability of an audience to make a difference in the social definition of the performances of what John calls broadcasting and communicating. Erving Goffman, the sociologist, spoke of the agent of interaction as the 'team', which includes both the communicator and his or her audience. The team works together to create meaning and social situations. In the mass media model, the audience (the so-called masses) appeared separate, outside of the meaning producing team. In microblogging, the intimacy and interdependence of the audience and the performer is revealed. What I'm suggesting is that perhaps Twitter is even tipping the agency in favour of the audience. The audience (individuals or groups) is empowered. But in what specific ways? How can being a follower make a difference? How can 'followers' take the lead in defining what is important in the interactions?

David Toews, PhD

Department of Sociology and Anthropology

University of Windsor

dtoews@uwindsor.ca

Follow me on Twitter! http://twitter.com/dtoews

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I'm sorry to be coming to the conversation so late, and I'm a bit surprised that there hasn't been more said here already. But that probably has a lot to do with where we are in the current semester.
I'm going to skip over David's and enw2's provocative thoughts about "following" (or "tracking") and instead turn to a few points that John and Ramsey raised earlier.

First up, Ramsey's question as to whether or not blogs should count as part of a tenure application. In short, I think that my answer is no--if you're thinking about the research/scholarship portion of the T&P process. But before I have all of HASTAC mobbing me, let me clarify. I really admire the blogs of Jason B. Jones (The Salt-Box) and David Parry (Academhack). I find tips and reflections on teaching and technology from two fellow scholars/collaborators that give me pause and reason to re-evaluate how I approach things in the classroom. But are these "scholarship"? Not really. If anything blogs like this are service. And they are a very valuable form of service. But we all know that service is the black sheep of tenure and promotion.

Now it is certainly possible that people can use blogs for more "scholarly" enterprises than reflections on technology and teaching. I think Kathleen Fitzpatrick does this well with Planned Obsolescence, where she is posting about the development of her new book project, including the proposal. Whether or not Kathleen's blog posting as she's writing her book--one that will in all likelihood be published on that oh-so-obsolescent format of dead wood pulp--her scholarship is improved by her having engaged with a community about her work, a community of commentators that will hopefully help her sharpen her work as much as possible. The scholarly workshopping that occurs on a blog can go even further if you use a tool like CommentPress, as Noah Wardrip-Fruin did last year (see his thoughts on the process at Grand Text Auto). I think CommentPress is one of the more fascinating tools that we can use to legitimate blogs as a part of scholarship.

That being said, however, I think of blogs in the main as testing the waters for ideas and allowing others to poke holes in them. I don't expect my department to give me tenure for the number of pages that I write and then reject through the editing process. Similarly, if a blog is just practice writing, it shouldn't necessarily be considered for tenure. We should all be practice writing throughout our careers. Just because yours or mine is publicly available doesn't mean that it should count anymore toward tenure than that of my colleague who writes with a legal pad and a pen.

Now to respond briefly to John's question about whether or not the blogging is helping to bridge the gap between academics and the general public: I have to assume that it is helping if only because typical academic monographs aren't. Any chance where we as scholars have a chance to snag new readers and get their feedback is a chance worth taking, and I believe that blogs do offer this. Nevertheless, I think that most blogs have fairly insular audiences. You move from The Valve to Academic Cog to . But do you ever end up on my wife's girlfriends' recipe site? No? Well, then why would you expect them to end up on your blog? Academics seek out blogs of other academics during work hours, and I don't know how many others are stumbling in.

This is why I see Twitter to be such a useful tool. Like John suggests, it can be both a social tool and a branding tool. (Twitter is the fourth hit for my name on Google.) Given the dynamics of Twitter--especially the RT--it becomes possible to reach a wide audience. Just look at what happened when Amanda French (the different terms of service of different SNS. Suddenly she has 200+ comments. And her site visits exceeded 17k for one day.

As scholars, we need to figure out how to get the word out about our work and to make the work relevant to enough "regular" people that we can create an audience for what we are doing. Blogs and SNS are a part of this...but for the moment I think ur (we're) doing it wrong (still).

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Brian,

I think you make some good points. I would guess that most people on this forum agree that the informal writing that occurs online has some place in tenure cases, but it's not quite clear what that place will be. Thinking about your example of the blog that precedes (or becomes) a book made me wonder if one day there will be a class of blogs that serve the same relationship to books as dissertations do. That is, that work out ideas for a small audience of dedicated readers before publishing them for a different audience in a more polished form.

I also enjoyed your observations about the relationship between Twitter and blogs. As you suggest, the portability and lightweight engagement of Twitter makes it easier for a person to manage a larger network, and that larger network can be a way to engage people in scholarly work who would otherwise never come in contact with it.

Thinking about the social and broadcast uses of Twitter, I wonder if one reason that academic blogs are often insular is that they are used primarily as broadcast mediums with very little social component. Making connections outside the academy (for example via thoughtful comments or promoting other's work via Twitter) is crucial to avoiding a blog atmosphere that merely replicates the monograph echo chamber in a new medium. I think you are right that Twitter makes possible a greater network for engaging with those outside the academy, but I wonder if traditional blogging offers tools for social engagement that are also effective, but less frequently used (perhaps because they aren't often discussed in the academy).

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These responses are thought-provoking and insightful. I have found that using a blog for years and twitter for a little while have promoted a type of community amongst scholars (and others) that existed only in conferences and hallways before. My blog (like most blogs, probably) is not a replacement for scholarship in traditional places like journals and books, but a place for rough work to breathe and see the light of day, ideally to promote discussion. Like many others, I tend to mix academic concerns with personal (to some extent) and more general tech/media topics on my blog, and I'm sure that I have readers who respond solely to one or the other, but I hope it makes the blog a little less insular and a little more open to a general audience. Twitter, on the other hand, I use mostly for personal matters, with some academic references sprinkled in. This has a lot to do with my followers, consisting of old friends, local acquaintances and scholars from other institutions. No single tweet will interest all these people, but I imagine as a whole, all of my followers find my feed worth following for some reason.
As far as blogging and tweeting in the classroom, I have used blogs in the classroom, and have had students, of their own accord, friend me on facebook. Haven't used twitter yet, but I am interested in the potential for a different type of classroom community this might create. I have found the use of blogs to be mostly distracting, with a difficult learning curve for some of the students, but I think the public nature of the blog is useful for student writing, so they are writing not just for the instructor, but for a perceived community, whether it's the class or general public, or both.
There is a bit of irony in pursuing this discussion about open, dispersed communication technologies in a central place that we have to register to use, but it is refreshing to see it in one place, as a threaded conversation.
Erik
http://www.erikmarshall.net/blog
http://twitter.com/emarsh

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For me, there were three stages of thinking about the relationship between blogging and academia: as a reader, as a writer, and as an instructor.

I teach courses on digital rhetoric where it is difficult to ignore the role of political blogging in partisan public discourse.  So blogs have been an important object of study for me for a while. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, I became an avid reader of blogs written by English-speaking Iraqi civilians and by military personnel in the theatre of combat. In an era of embedded journalism, I was frustrated by the offerings in the twenty-four-hour news cycle, and I was interested in the anti-occupation blogs of people like Salam Pax and Riverbend, which later became repackaged as trade books, and by the cheerleading Internet cultures around pro-occupation blogs like Iraq the Model.

After giving a talk about how blogs function in relation to traditional journalism, I tried to become a more consistent and conscientious blogger myself. I launched the Virtualpolitik blog which later won the John Lovas best academic blog award from Kairos. However, as others have pointed out in this thread, seeing models from other academic bloggers was really important in developing a sense of audience. Most academic blogs have very small audiences of people interested in narrow topics. I usually only have about a hundred readers a day. So it was important for me to keep up on what other scholars working in digital rhetoric were saying online to facilitate dialogue and avoid redundancy. In addition to the great list that Brian Croxall presents, I read Grand Text Auto, Writer Response Theory, and blog posts from Ian Bogost, Siva Vaidhyanathan, and Michael Bérubé. I would also say that group blogging, which I do with Osocio and I did with the now defunct Sivacracy is also really helpful for getting a sense of how academic debates can appeal to a broader public. Eventually, Virtualpolitik became a book from MIT Press about how political institutions struggle with dual roles as Internet content-creators and regulators, loosely following the models established by academic blog to book experiments like Expressive Processing, Gamer Theory, and The Googlization of Everything, Of course, there can be costs to blogging, as is clear from this panel on academic blogging that includes Scott Kaufman of The Valve.

I think one of the most challenging forms of engagement with blogging is figuring out how best to teach it. There is good advice to be had at places like Computers and Writing and the social media panels at 4Cs and by seeking out other instructors in your geographical region who are giving similar assignments to get a sense of best practices. Students may find blogging and appealing to public audiences through other forms of networked social media empowering, but there are so many genres of blog and so many possible niche audiences that it can be difficult to give students advice about crafting their online personae in sustainable and satisfying ways.

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I've been blogging at Media Praxis (www.aljean.wordpress.com) for nearly two years. On top of what has been already mentioned here (blogging as a sounding board, a place to speak less formally and develop ideas in real time), I'd add how marvelous this has proven for meeting, learning from, and interacting with scholars I'd never have otherwise known of (like Liz Losh, above), which, in turn, has led to "real" professional opportunities like speaking gigs, publishing possibilities, and collaborations.

Following another track, I think of my blogging as part of my "service," as far as promotion and evaluation are concerned. When I go to paper or conference it becomes part of my scholarly output.

Finally, I'd want to mention that since I blog (and also write) a lot about YouTube, I have found this particular on-line forum to be the most responsive site I've located thus far to accomodate my attempts at multi-modal scholarship, especially as "real" scholarship on paper becomes less and less viable for me because I don't like writing about YouTube without letting it speak for itself. This summer I'm going to try to experiment with the on-line publication of this writing, with help from folks I know at MediaCommons and Vectors, and this publication will learn from the responsiveness, interactivity, and language of video as well as my blog.

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Great discussion! My contribution is grounded in a hope for new directions that academics and their institutions will consider in developing their roles on blogs and Twitter. When we have better discerned how to use blogs and Twitter in a way that aligns with careers and research (I have no dog in that fight so will leave the tenure question for others), I hope that we can use these as tools to satisfy the dire need for accurate expert information injected into the noise of the blogosphere, Twitter, and social networks.

As enw2 mentioned above with the Ashton Kutcher example, much of the energy of Twitterers and bloggers is consumed by attracting attention to oneself. Popular Twitterers and bloggers may not care if they are spreading misinformation about current events, so long as they are gaining readers/followers, and this poses potential problems. This article uses the example of the recent swine flu outbreak to ask whether we are in trouble when it comes to relying too heavily on Twitter for news updates. Obviously that shouldn't be the case and we ought to know to check out our news sources to ensure at least some reliability and authority, but Twitter and the blogosphere are inevitably places where the loudest (or most popular) voice is heard best and too often accepted without question. Some cases of misinformation are so extreme that I doubt they will be believed (including asking Lauren Conrad, Sherri Shepherd, and Ashton Kutcher to spread the word about the pandemic), but others are not as easy to discount (swine flu is not spread by eating pork).

The author, Evgeny Morozov, says:

"The problem is that while thousands of concerned and misinformed individuals took to Twitter to ventilate their fears, government and its agencies were still painfully missing from the social media space; the Twitter of [sic] account of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was posting updates once in a few hours ? and that was probably the only really trustworthy source people could turn to online.

"But what about the rest of the US government or international institutions like WHO? In an ideal world, they would have established ownership of most online conversations from the very beginning, posting updates as often as they can. Instead, they are now faced with the prospect of thousands of really fearful citizens, all armed with their own mini-platforms to broadcast their fears ... "

Here is where I see an opportunity for public health experts from within universities (they wouldn't be alone, of course, but could be strong voices alongside government and other authorities) to step in and offer better and more nuanced information about the topic at hand. I also think this can help improve the strategy of an institution that is focusing on "knowledge in the service of society," as mine is (the name is a chapter title and prominent theme in Duke's most recent strategic plan). This could be a workable model in various social media outlets (and is already present in the blogosphere in some forms) and for a number of news topics (possibly including politics, though I will leave that question for folks with experience in that realm; paging lizlosh!). As for Twitter, I know that FEMA is doing a good job of disseminating important information associated with natural disasters and using information from throughout their organization's pyramid and other offices like the CDC too, but I think we can do even better with more voices added to the mix.

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Hello all.  I'm a Writing Fellow, Instructor of Media Studies courses, and technology blogger (http://thenerfherder.blogspot.com).  Recently, some colleagues of mine held a discussion on whether blogging, for those of us who have integrated it into our curriculums, actually does more to help or harm students' writing.

Most blogging assignments are designed with a low-stakes writing approach, meaning that the purpose is to get students to write more, period.  The assignments typically are not weighted nearly the same as those that are high-stakes, like formal essays and term papers.  Often, they are simply checked off if they were completed.  Some of my colleagues were convinced that requiring students to blog in this low-stakes manner actually nurtured a grading system - rewarding those who simply submitted something relevant and on time - that led to the deterioration of their writing skills over the course of the semester.

I was wondering if anyone out there had an opinion on the subject based on first-hand experience?  Is anyone aware of any research studies that have been performed on the relationship between blogging in the classroom and student writing?

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Do you think that it would be different if the students blogged as a group and used this medium more as a social interactive tool to engage each other in class discussions as opposed to using the blog as a means of evaluating students' understanding of class material?

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