December 18th, 2013

Why I Blog


I recently read an article in Studies in Higher Education titled “Why Do Academics Blog?” It got me thinking about this blog and why I do it.

Actually, I don’t just do it, I quite love doing it, despite the ever present, “what should I write about next” question. Sometimes I have topics lined up for several weeks in advance. Other weeks, there’s nothing. I brainstorm possibilities with Woodie Weimer (the beagle who takes me for walks) as we make our rounds through the woods. Some weeks the post almost writes itself (I wish that happened more often); other times it’s a struggle, and when I finally send it off, I’m disappointed that it’s still not quite right.

But I love what the writing does for my thinking. It cleans it up, brings focus to the key issues, raises new questions, and stimulates more thinking. It’s such good exercise for an aging mind. Maybe that’s a selfish reason for writing a blog —I’m doing it for my benefit —but I know darn well that if the blog didn’t have readers I wouldn’t keep it.

I’m also motivated to blog because I’m convinced that journal articles on teaching and learning aren’t always the best resources for busy teachers. Yes, we need them. They advance knowledge, sometimes they apply and integrate knowledge, and in some places pedagogical scholarship helps with promotion and tenure. But is scholarly work on teaching and learning improving teaching? Yes, some articles surely do. I love being able to share these great resources, usually written for those in a discipline, yet relevant to a much larger audience. But the vast majority of articles I would not describe as great resources.

Academics are committed to scholarship with high standards. The work must build on and cite other relevant content. It must be thoughtful and logically coherent. It must use the forms of inquiry and specialized language accepted by the discipline. The stance taken toward the subject is objective, rational, and reasoned. Generally, the work is written assuming an audience, but most authors don’t make much effort to connect with readers. When you’ve taught all day and finally get a chance to put your feet up, no matter how interested you are in learning more about student motivation, a journal article on the topic is almost guaranteed to make your eyelids droop.

I do endorse the move to make work on teaching and learning scholarly, to make it intellectually rich, to hold it to high standards, but are journal articles and books the only acceptable forms of scholarship? Even living where I do, out here in the sticks where we still don’t have cell phone coverage or reliable access to high-speed Internet, I see technology making all sorts of new things possible. And we’ve only begun to explore its potential. Have we even started talking about the best way to shape and form these new ways of communicating so that they meet our needs for information, ideas, and inspiration and still uphold the high standards we all endorse?

I love writing the blog because I don’t have to write it like a journal article. I can be friendly, engaging, occasionally try a bit of humor. I can reach out to readers. I can ask questions I don’t know the answer to. I can make recommendations—say that I think something is good and suggest that you try it, read it, or think more about it. Can a blog do those things and still be scholarly? Can a blog be a useful resource with the potential to improve instructional practice? I have my thoughts and opinions on that, what are yours?

This has turned into more of a polemic than I intended. During this season when greetings and gifts are exchanged, I want to thank you for the gift of your readership, for “liking” a post, for sharing it with others, for taking time to comment, for occasionally disagreeing. I want to say how much I enjoy our conversations and how deeply I hope that this blog helps us find our way to learning that grows us as teachers and to teaching that grows our students as learners. Thanks again and may this season be filled with what brings you happiness, hope, and harmony.

  • I loved this great post. Your statement, "I love what the writing does for my thinking. It cleans it up, brings focus to the key issues, raises new questions, and stimulates more thinking," reminded me why blogging is important, especially in higher education.

    • Andree

      I feel exactly the same way, having had to blog for one of my distance courses. Often I would start a blog and find that it had gone in a totally different direction – obviously there was something I needed to think about that came out. I really enjoy Dr. Weimer's blog. Please keep blogging. It is easier to read than most journals and just as, if not more, pertinant to my practice.

  • svenaake

    Exactly. Keeps my mind alert and focused. I teach environment and development, and my students use the blog to keep updated on the main issues. (They know that I am likely to give them exam topics from the blog). The blog makes me stay updated as well.
    I encourage all university teachers to do the same.

  • Amanda Le Rougetel

    I really enjoy your blog for all the reasons you mention – it's accessible and engaging, conversational in tone, short enough to read when I have only a few minutes between classes, and practical. I have printed out many of them and filed them in my 'useful teaching tips' file, and I have put a good handful of the ideas you've discussed into practice in my classroom already this term. Thank YOU for having the ideas and taking the time to write this blog! Happy holidays to you and Woodie Weimer!

  • Dennis Elam

    I started blogging in 2006. I am preparing to do a survey on professors who blog for students. We are undergoing a renaissance in the methodology of communication. A refereed journal article is at least a one hundred year old idea of evidence of scholarship. But what is a blog that attracts thousands of readers a year, is that not some evidence of at least popular scholarship. Thanks for Maryellen for her prodigious output.

    As others remarked I very much enjoy blogging, it is the equivalent of having my own business magazine but with myself as editor and publisher.

    If any one reading this comment would like to participate in my survey please e mail me

    Dennis Elam Phd CPA
    Texas A & M University – San Antonio

  • Steve H – WSU

    A wonderful post. Thank you! And thank you for all the ones that have come before. I think you're meeting your goals and many, like myself, smile when we see your name in the by-line.

    • Rui Jesus

      I feel exactly the same 🙂

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  • Kopano

    Dear Maryellen, keep on blogging! Your post provide valuable information. It has been helpful for me as an academic and for my students at large. Regards, Kopano. Pretoria, South Africa

  • Kathleen Laurenzo

    One thing I love about your blog is the summary of journal articles. Many of us do not have access to all of the journals, or the time to keep up to date on all the latest research on teaching and learning. Your summaries bridge that gap, and if a paper is of particular significance to our own subjects, it is possible to find that paper because you give the original reference.

    Please keep blogging. I, for one, appreciate it.

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