Friday, May 09, 2008

On blogging Blogs and Wikis and 3D, Oh My!
But even if it is unusually well-known, Volokh has the characteristics of most successful academic blogs: Its contributors are scholars and experts in a given field, and they use that expertise to provide on-the-spot analysis and running commentary on issues that matter. They interact with readers who comment on posts and build on (or push against) each other’s insights. Not unlike peer review ... except on a potentially wider scale, and in public.

“I do think it facilitates a sort of discussion, exchange of ideas, that one would hope you’d generally have in academia,” Adler said of the academic blogging world.

The column is mostly devoted to law blogs, but there's a lot of crossover, obviously. The tewo paragraphs above hit the nail on the head. With reader comments enabled -- and even with the possibility of reader email coming in -- you can get an immediate discussion on issues with both other professionals and with an interested lay public. As he says, it generates the kind of exchange of ideas that academia is supposed to be about.

Besides providing breadth, and an outlet, for scholars’ extracurricular interests, blogs can also quicken the pace at which serious questions get considered. Commentary can be instantaneous, “which certainly in legal academia,” Adler noted, is the “polar opposite of the rate at which things get published in academic journals.” And that can open the door to pursuits that scholars wouldn’t otherwise expend time and energy on, given the constraints of peer review.

Also a good thing, I think. It keeps said bloggers human and lets readers know that the blogger is not just a brain vacuum-packed inside a skull. Besides, most of us that do this sort of thing are kinda OCD anyway, so it gives us something else to pound on our keyboards about.

Yet some (or even most) in academe view blogging commitments as a distraction from scholarly work. “There is some tension between blogging and academia in certain disciplines. Many academics view blogging with suspicion,” Adler said. “It is often assumed ... that it is time that one could and should have been spending on one’s scholarship.” He disagrees, arguing that it all comes down to “free time.” Still, before he earned tenure, he blogged under a pseudonym.

Also true, which I've gone into a few times around here. Really no different than any other extracurricular pursuit that involves public writing or speaking; what you say outside the halls of academe will have some impact on what your peers think of you. Blogs are a bit more extemporaneous though, so there's more possibilities for paper trails of your thoughts. Plus, "the internet" sort of garnered a rep as a wild west sort of place, full of crackpots and losers (ahem) so there's also the general negative image you have to work against.

I think an even better function for an academiblog would be class-related. Sort of an adjunct to lectures where the prof could add anything he/she left out in a lecture and answer any student questions that come up outside of class. That way everyone could see the answers and you could do it without formal office hours.