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Blog reading and other thoughts

Inside Higher Ed features two point/counterpoint articles about academic blogging, one by Adam Kotsko (the skeptic) and the other by Scott Eric Kaufman (the enthusiast). It should be said that Kotsko has extensive experience blogging, so his skeptic's take carries more weight than the likes of Ivan Tribble's.

Kotsko brings up some very good points, particularly that attempts to centralize (as in form a group blog) and, as he puts it, "quasi-institutionalize" blogging tend to silence discussion (perhaps for example, as much as I hate to say it, MediaCommons) or polarize it. As evidence for the latter, Kotsko provides the best analysis of the Long Sunday v. The Valve rivalry I've seen.

I think the best group blogs are those that seem more accepting of not Having Discussions and are more like collaborative commonplace books with notes and clippings, such as The Long Eighteenth, 3 Quarks Daily, and (okay, I'm biased) Kairosnews. These blogs are kind of like the Ron Livingston character in Office Space -- as in, okay, I'm going to post a link to this article and some of my thoughts about it because I think it's neat. I'm not going to try to throw in some provocative bait for discussion; if you want to leave a comment, great; if not, that's cool too.

There's good stuff in Kaufman's article as well. He makes a strong case for the benefits of academic blogging, especially the ways blogging can help an academic join a community and write for an audience. Two quotations:

I’m talking about a regular engagement with each other’s intellectual concerns — everything from the pains of preparing for the job market to the theoretical implications of an interpretive move you’re not sure you should’ve made — all communicated in a medium able to accommodate everything from idle chatter to earnest manifesto.
[. . .]
There’s no reason our community needs to consist solely of people we knew in grad school. Why not write for people who don’t already how you think about everything? Why not force yourself to articulate your points in such a way that strangers could come to know your thought as intimately as your friends from grad school do?

Okay, shifting gears here a little: I haven't talked about this much on here, but my blog reading habits have changed quite a bit in the past few months. I don't know if it's Google Reader or what. I still read many of the same blogs I always did, but now I read a lot more lifehackery blogs and frugality blogs, like the sites affiliated with LifeRemix. One nugget from these I'd like to share is Unclutterer's Unitasker Wednesday. If you like product snark (I have Collin and a few others in mind here), you'll love Unitasker Wednesday. Even if it is a little sad -- to my mind, anyway -- sometimes.

A final random note. I've decided that the best clothing fabric for the climate in southwest Louisiana is really thin cotton linen, as close to draping yourself in a few strips of cheesecloth as you can get:


So I think I'm going to try my hand at this post every day during the month of November thing. We'll see how it goes.

Today is November 1, and I wore a sleeveless shirt, skirt, and sandals. Gah.

I am so tired, I think I really could just sleep until Monday morning.

A Visual History of This Blog

I will now give you a tour of this little online exhibit I've curated: mastheads for this blog over the years.

Circa 2003-2004

When I first started blogging (here, not at my Blogger blog I had in late 2002-early 2003), I had one of the standard Drupal templates, but Charlie graciously offered to change it to a color I wanted, and I requested pink. Then a dear friend of mine from college, an extremely talented professional graphic designer, Adam Howard, created these three mastheads for me. I'd bought some old children's books that the Florence, AL public library was selling for 25 cents each and picked out images I wanted to use.




I never used that third image as a masthead for my site, as it was a little too tall. Now that I know CSS a little better, though, it could work.

The difference between these images designed by Adam and the ones that follow is absolutely jarring. 2003-2004 was definitely the heyday of this blog's design. From here on out, it's amateur DIY all the way.


I had this next one for a while; I designed it and the one underneath it (an outtake) from Creative Commons licensed photographs of cats:



And then I thought, why does it have to be so literal, with the whole cat thing? I can put a picture of anything I want up there. I made this one but never used it:


Then I made this one and did use it:


I made this next one and had it for a long time -- still one of my favorites:


Then this one, which I also love, but mostly because of the font, which is called Beauty School Dropout:



Then the most recent erstwhile masthead:

Former Masthead


And the one now -- you can see a difference now that I've started using ComicLife to make the images:


I also made these two, which I didn't end up using:

Roxanne Masthead

Josie Masthead

In Stores Now

A couple of projects I've worked on are now live:

1. My article "Attracting Readers: Sex and Audience in the Blogosphere" is now live in the new issue of Scholar & Feminist Online. The issue has a companion blog for discussion of the articles.

While I stand by what I wrote, I am somewhat concerned that Daniel Drezner comes off sounding like a bad guy. That isn't actually true at all; he is very nice and collegial, and I reference a couple of posts on his weblog simply as examples of discourse.

2. A Conversation: From "They Call Me Doctor?" to Tenure is live in the Professional Development section of Computers and Composition Online. Cheryl Ball and Kristin Arola composed the piece, but I am one of the people interviewed. My contributions can be found here and here, but I encourage you to interact with the whole thing.

Light blogging ahead, continued

Off to New York for CCCC. I have a lot of writing (not so much the conference paper, which is under control), grading, and networking to do, so blogging will take a backseat. I hope to blog at least a couple of sessions, though. I might post some pictures too, but I'm not sure whether or not I remembered to pack my camera's battery charger and USB cord, though. Gah.

Blog Overload [in the Chronicle]

You should all read what Kara M. Dawson has to say about using blogs in her teaching. I agree with much of it; in fact, I'm using Moodle instead of blogs in my classes this semester for some of these same reasons. I'm particularly interested in others' responses to the article, and I'll keep an eye on Technorati for posts about it. How about this passage (her very first recommendation for teaching with blogs):

Keep a Blog Yourself

I have a blog. I just don't use it. I am too busy reading other people's blogs, responding to student postings, and writing for outlets that may one day secure me a full professorship. How can I expect my students to devote time to something that I don't find important enough to do myself? So if you're going to require students to create a blog, you should probably have an active one, too.

Why is it that a lot of us have been thinking and saying this for years, but back in 2004 it was controversial, shaming, alienating, what have you? (Blogging is a clique!, etc.) Yet it sounds so sensible when Dawson says it here. Of course, I thought it was sensible in 2004 too, so maybe I'm biased, but I am interested to see how this statement goes over now.

Oh, and this is simple brilliance: "All students were responsible for demonstrating their interaction with class content from week to week and sharing the results." They could do this, she argues, with concept mapping, podcasting, blogging, digital video, or who knows how else. I like this plan.

Light blogging ahead, continued

Expect more light blogging until around the end of the week...the battle of the holiday bulge, Zadie Smith's White Teeth, preparing for next semester's classes, and a few other business items demand my attention at the moment.

Blogging: The Semester in Review

The comp class blogs didn't go so well this semester. It wasn't a disaster by any means; it's just that the participation was a lot more forced than I would have liked. I attribute this to a couple of factors:

1.) I was teaching three classes, all of which had (group) blogs, and what with my adjustment to my new job and all, I wasn't able to be as active on all of the blogs than I had been before, when I was teaching a 2-1 load. In fact, the semesters I've used blogs in my teaching before had been the ones in which I'd taught only one class. I didn't leave as many comments under posts as I probably should have. I did, of course, leave comments and post to the blog, but not as often as I had before.

2.) Facebook and MySpace. The way I have used blogs in my teaching has been as a type of community-building writing space; that is to say, community building was the primary goal of the blogging activity. I had worked to achieve this goal by suggesting topics for blog posts, but encouraging the students to blog about other topics they were interested in instead, if they chose. The class blogs were, in practice, a very expressivist environment. This worked out pretty well because the major writing assignments were research-oriented, so the blog was a space for personal writing. However, the class blog became superfluous in terms of social software; Facebook and MySpace are the killer apps for that. It bears mentioning that the last time I taught using blogs was Fall 2004. In Spring 2005 I taught speech and only had a blog for making class announcements, and I had a dissertation fellowship in academic year 2005-2006. Needless to say, Facebook and MySpace have really taken off since 2004.

So next semester I'm going to try something different. I have Moodle sites set up for the two classes I'm teaching, and while I'm still definitely going to have a once-per-week posting requirement, it's going to be much more oriented toward the course content. In composition classes, the content is often chosen by the students (depending on how one does it, of course), so there may not be the kind of shared content you'd have with a literature course. The classes I'm teaching next semester are content-driven, so it'll be easier to write weekly prompts that are tightly integrated with the content of the course, with posts consisting of reading responses for the most part.

At least for next semester, then, my course discussion spaces are going to be spaces for discussion about the course topics specifically. Many of us have talked about blogging's becoming domesticated as more and more instructors start using it in writing courses. I think that's probably inevitable. The writing context (the university, the classroom, the GRADE) is, of course, going to determine to some extent the attitudes of students and of instructors in the blog space. That's not at all a new observation. I guess my point is that as long as the writing on course weblogs is going to be determined somewhat by the institutional context, it isn't necessarily bad to go ahead and make it a Writing Space for This Class. There is a writing-to-learn rationale for that approach, after all, and it does help students hone skills in adapting their writing styles for different occasions and contexts.

Making a class blog as much like a regular old blog in the 'sphere as possible, the way I've done before, is fine, but whereas the writing may be more "real" and done with the student's "authentic voice," (quotes definitely intended to scare) the exercise may not really teach them much. Writing for an audience besides the teacher, perhaps, but they learn this through Facebook and MySpace.

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