How does blogging fit into your academic life on a daily/weekly/monthly basis? That was one of the framing questions that Joe had asked us to think about, and it was one that really got me thinking about the importance of accountability. As professors, we are of course accountable to our students every time we walk into our classrooms, but we also know how easy it can be to go on autopilot. Sometimes we are trying to keep up with a new prep (or several new preps). Sometimes other demands (research, writing deadlines, committee work, tenure decisions, life) come up and it’s easy to rely on the lectures and assignments that have worked in the past. I hate feeling like I’m on autopilot, so without a doubt, the greatest benefit for me personally as a scholar in writing for TUSH has been that the blog is on my calendar and thus puts reflective thinking about my teaching on my regular to-do list. Once a month, I know that I need to have something to say about my teaching that will not embarrass me in front of my colleagues and anyone else who stumbles across this website. It is public accountability in the extreme. This has meant that I am consistently a more thoughtful professor. When I think about what I want to write about in any given month, I generally shift my thinking about my classes from what happened last session and what I have to do for the next session to slightly more long-term and big-picture thinking. How does this assignment fit into what I want my students to learn? Are there major issues that my students or I have been struggling with? How can I approach these issues in a creative way that will make for a good post?
When asked about the downsides of blogging, some of the discussion was about the awkwardness (and worse) that can ensue when our online writing is read by different audiences: Ben had a great story about an offhand comment about “Mormon tea” leading to an impassioned discussion in the comments by Mormon readers and Becky had a horrifying story about hate mail and threats that she received after some posts on the Texas school board. I have not had either of those experiences here, but the question of publicity has hung over my writing. We don’t know who’s reading our words, and that is as scary as it is wonderful. For TUSH, I think it could offer us an opportunity. I had a great encounter with a student this spring, in fact, after he had done some online research for one of the assignments in my class and came across my post talking about it. I don’t know what it says that he only realized that I was the writer after he had read it, but he seemed really happy to know that so much thought had gone into the assignment. He seemed, frankly, a little surprised that professors care enough about teaching to have a blog where they write about it. I don’t think he’s alone in that assumption about professors. It breaks my heart a little that this should be a surprise, and so I love that we have a place where we can show the world that we care about teaching and where we can talk about how important we understand it to be to teach U.S. history to our students.
The panel as a whole agreed that writing had been productive to our individual lives as scholars, but the important questions had to do with what blogging does for the larger academic community. We talked a bit about the ways that academic blogging does and doesn’t count towards annual review and tenure files at different institutions and out of that discussion came to the question of peer review. Since this is a teaching blog, obviously we are less concerned here about how comments relate to the peer review process, but the larger discussion does have some something to say about what we’re doing here at TUSH. I am always amazed to see the conversation going on in the comments at some of the other history blogs. Becky even said that some of the comments she’s received have in fact been more substantive and helpful than reviews she’s received from journal article submissions. That seems to point to the ability of the online academic world to facilitate the growth of our community beyond what happens at annual meetings and occasional workshops. Every day we can read new work by our colleagues about ongoing research, new books, the connections between history and the present day, and yes, teaching. And we can respond to that writing, too.
Let’s do more of that here at TUSH.
Coming out of the panel, I’ve decided that my goal for the coming year is to be a more active commenter on this blog, and I hope that others will join me. Let’s try to make this more of a conversation. Let’s engage with each other’s ideas a bit more. I know that when I read a new post here, I think about it a lot. Sometimes I incorporate those ideas into my own teaching. I’d like to be better at saying as much, and about doing the good work that blogs can do in encouraging scholarly discussion online.