Blogging in Academia

Blogging in Academia Session 1:30: I know what the five regular readers of this weblog are asking, “Why, Rex, would you be attending the Bloggercon II session on “blogging in academia”? Well, I am at Harvard for the day. I was inspired. I also have spent lots of time thinking about this topic in relationship to Hammock Publishing’s work with this worldclass academic institution.

Anyway, here’s what’s going on:

Michael Watkins, a professor at the Harvard Business School is leading the session.

He asks, “If we didn’t have the academy today, would we invent it?”

What does it do? Arts, Sciences, Professional Schools – Teaching, Researching, Accreditation and Connection functions.

In many ways, the core of what distinguishes an academy today (where it derives its “brand”) is the functions of accreditation and connection.

Academy is basically a “medieval” institutions.

>Tenure system, journals for sharing of knowledge, conferences

Paraphrase – Egos and ideas are closely meshed w/ each other. The conjuntion of ego and idea is a the core of the academy.

There was a day when this system was important to protect academic freedom…other institutions would quash them…has become a self-reverential institution.

Watkins, “worries”…in a society where freedom is protected by other institutioins, does the academy “retard” rather than encourage advancement of research…or does the academy supress challenge against conventional wisdom.

Academy as “knowledge creator” is being challenged by weblogs (and similar)

“Creative destruction” — Didn’t catch the name of the origin of the term.

Watkins gets a little personal by explaining what has happened in the past few months because he has blogged his reaction to not getting tenure at the Harvard School of Business.

“If I didn’t have my blog, I could never have ‘gone public,'” he says.

(I think you can find links to the relevant posts on his weblog here.)

Someone suggests, there is a history of employees protesting their employers…strikes, for example.

“I am raising fundamental questions about the institution…the academy,” says Watkins.

Someone says, “Feeback systems were crucial to Socrates. That has been squeezed out of the academy.”

Someone from a prep school says, “We are trying to teach students how not to judge a university by its “brand” — by the research.”

Watkins says, I would like to see “the results” of institutions that have faculty which (I paraphrase) focus on research rather than on teaching.

Watkins says, if you’re a professor stuck and a “non-branded” institution and you don’t have a traditional means to get the message out (well-read scholarly journals)…you can now have a voice via blogs.

Someone sitting beside me says (really), “I’m a physician and a professor at the Harvard School of Medicine” and I have to blog annonymously due to patient confidentiality…I don’t know what else she said, I was too impressed with that self-introduction.

Watkins now commenting on Harvard not allowing Business Week to have access to records for their ranking statistics.

Acadmic blogging shouldn’t be completely unrestrained, says Watkins.

David Winer, says: “There are only two Harvard professors who that I know who blog: and you’re one of them.” So the challenge is not to keep from using blogs irresponsibly, it’s getting people to blog that’s the challenge.

“Academic freedom is alive and well…but how do you get people to use it (be free).” (paraphrase)

Watkins to Winer: “You tried to get people to blog, but they didn’t. Why don’t you think they did?”

Winer: (Paraphrase) My failure to convince them…he humbly admits. And perhaps an intitutional aversion to innovatioin. Also (I paraphrase), the people at the bottom of the ladder don’t want (to mix metaphors) to stir up the pot and the folks at the top of the ladder don’t need to blog.

Watkins: The academy has (compared to other institutions in society – business and govt.) very few checks and balances. Perhaps blogs can provide those checks and balances.

Weblogs as “workflow” and “inquiry” accelerator…great snippit of an idea that I didn’t quite follow (but Watkins used Mark Bowden’s use of online tools to research Blackhawk Down to allow annonymity to interviewees…again, I paraphrase.)

Connection between blogging and homeschooling in “subverting the system” — Participant says, “Bottom up…going mainstream.”

Watkins: If you see home schoolers sharing lesson plans, accreditation, “then you have distributed education.”

A professor from Univ. of South Florida: I make my students contribute to a group blog rather than turn in a paper.

University prof. from Wisconsin says: I

Middlebury prof. says: I’m one of the few faculty members who blogs (fear of tenure issues)…but people don’t want them in their classroom. It subverts hierachy. My colleagues don’t want to do that. They think I’m mad to want to do that.

Watkins, “And you are.”

Someone asks, “Shouldn’t weblogs be the place to prepare for the class…to test theories. Like, peer-review?”

Watkins: “Fear is that you put your raw ideas on your weblog, then others can “steal them.” Weblogs, however, display that you “created, own” them….(Sorry, that’s a really weak paraphrase of what was said.)…

Person from a public school: “I have teachers who have weblogs. I don’t have any teachers who blog. They want to keep their classrooms closed.”

Watkins, “I think bloggers (typically) have problems with authority.” “So do entreprenuers. I think personality profile of a entreprenuer and the personality of a blogger are similar.”