Monday, February 14, 2005

The Impact of Blogs

I just wrote and sent this message to the Writing Center discussion list, and figure it's worth sharing here as well:

Mary Wislocki posted to wcenter wondering "why the impact of blogs on higher ed
is 'huge.' Maybe someone can enlighten me."

I don't want to make any claim to enlightenment on this, but let me tell you why I think blogs are having --and will continue to have-- a huge impact on higher education.

The secret thing about blogs are that once you get one set up and established, which is fairly easy to do, they're easy to use. Ease of use and desire to use and ubiquity of use, those three things have combined to make blogs a killer-app, a technology that has arrived with a bang and is having a relatively immediate and profound impact. Email did the same, as did the World Wide Web.

Now it's tempting to say that blogging only has an impact if you blog or read blogs, but that's not the case any more. It used to be true that blogs only affected you if you dipped into the blogosphere as reader or writer, but the dynamic has shifted. Blogs are part of the intellectual and cultural fabric of higher education now.

Scott Mclemee, writing in Higher Education (which itself uses blogging technologies as content delivery, management, and participation system) noted in his first Intellectual Affairs article for Inside Higher ED ( one important way blogs are having an impact. They're changing the place and ways that intellectual thought and capital can be expressed and shared. And this is significant.

So maybe a paradise of the unfettered mind it [it = cafeteria
intelligentsia, aka scholars meeting informally to talk outside the
academy] wasn't. Still, in reading academic blogs over the past couple
of years, I've often wondered if something like the old style might
not be rousing itself from the dustbin of history.

For one thing, important preconditions have reemerged -- namely, the
oversupply of intellectual labor relative to adequate employment
opportunities. The number of people possessing extremely sophisticated
tools in the creation, analysis, and use of knowledge far exceeds the
academic channels able to absorb them.

Furthermore, the self-sustaining (indeed, self-reinforcing) regime of
scholarly professionalization may be just a little too successful to
survive. Any highly developed bureaucracy imposes its own rules and
outlook on those who operate within it. But people long subjected to
that system are bound to crave release from its strictures.

For every scholar wondering how to make blogging an institutionally
accredited form of professional activity, there must be several
entertaining the vague hopes that it never will.

So there's an opening up of scholarly exchange, one that extends beyond the kinds of things we do in email lists such as this, conferences we attend, articles we write and read for and in journals we publish and receive. There's a dynamic a work that is both subterranean but also increasingly visible and likely to be more fully embraced by the academy.

The implications of the math on scholarly time and attention --there are only 24 hours in a day still -- are astounding when you think about it. When I read,,,,,, to name a few of my regular stops, I'm making time for them. When I write a response on those places or post to my own blogs, I'm making decisions about where to write and where to publish. The time I spend doing these things leaves less time for working on traditional articles or books.

One of the reasons I work for Bedford/St. Martin's and not as a full-time, tenure track professor type any more is that I have a job which values more fully the kind of reading/writing outlined above than I was able to find (and keep w/out completing my dissertation) as an academic. Blogging (and email lists such as this) contributed to a personal shift for me in how I do intellectual work in the composition community.

But it's also shifting how people in the academy work. Blogging technologies are emerging as tools for publication --Inside Higher Education is an example, but so too is something like Into the Blogosphere (, a peer reviewed "book" on blogging published as a blog.

More and more, blogs are becoming sites of individual (Krause, Ratcliff, Edbauer, Rice examples from above list of urls above), collaborative (Writing Center Journal, Community College English), and professionally peer reviewed (Into the Blogosphere) intellectual work.

In so far as these sites simple take up scholars professional time and energy, they impact the shape of there work not only in how blogs present and frame their thinking, and not only in the teaching and scholarship that follows from blogging, but also in the other kinds of scholarship those folks have less time to do.

But beyond time and place, they also impact the ways scholarship can be engaged by those who aren't in the academy. And that's the bigger potential impact I think -- these technologies, as MacLemee suggests, can bridge the scholar in the academy with intellectuals living and
working in other places.