Thursday, September 14, 2006

Some thoughts on my purpose here (Vol II)


Okay, so I know the crickets have been chirping here again (thanks, Jim). The chief reason for the inactivity here continues to be the rigorous ongoing adjustment to our new lives here in Ontario; but I also started teaching this week. I am delighted to share that I have *thoroughly enjoyed it, and look forward to a terrific year, if not career, teaching the bright students here at Queen's University.

Indeed I've been bursting to write about my experiences in the classroom, but have serious reservations about doing so, wanting not only to protect my students' privacy, but also to preserve their sense, to which they are entitled, that they have their own unique forum in our classroom (without their prof going off and blabbing about it to the ether . . . ). Also, even prior to this week, I had been mulling over how my blog forms part of my "brand," and how being on faculty now -- i.e., assuming another, quite distinct, public persona -- might be complicated or affected by my posts here. Again, I am thinking of the best interests of my students, and, as all professors do, about how I conceive myself as a representative of my discipline (others might call it how I "conceive my authority").

I have no answers on these topics yet, but that's what's been on my mind here. In truth, I have been considering launching a group blog for some time (i.e., long before The New Republic claimed to have invented it), in the interests of dialogue as well as to keep myself out there, but less frequently (i.e., less onerously), and so as not to lose my valued readers (and perhaps to gain some). As David Greenberg was informed, to his chagrin, there are several vital and valuable academic blogs online (as you know, I chiefly subscribe to Language Log). And I know there are teaching blogs, but (in my cursory search, I could be wrong) they appear mostly to concern primary and secondary school teaching. I am curious whether an academic blog on college and university teaching might prove a valuable resource -- if not recourse -- for interested writers and readers.

Academia has been in want of new models and protocols for some time: might this vehicle offer new, and fruitful, avenues for exchange, in a way that might also benefit our students? Is there a way in which the essentially provisional quality of an online post -- its status as a response to a fairly immediate stimulus, its expectation of other responses in turn -- could prove valuable not only to instructors, but also to students (who might see in the dialogue the way we weigh the stakes in our choices, aka "teaching moments"), and perhaps, ideally, a reading public increasingly skeptical of the quality of teaching in colleges and universities, indeed our dedication to that craft?

Of course, the beauty of the academic blog is that it allows scholars to engage one another both swiftly and directly. That is, the primary mode of scholarly exchange is publication, but the length of time from draft (to acceptance, to revision, to publication, to review) to widespread conversation is considerably protracted. Academic conferences go some way towards expediting the transmission and receipt of new work, but the academics among my readers know how ungratifying such conferences can occasionally be as well.

On the other hand, the flip side of academic blogs -- as with those blogs that pretend to journalistic integrity -- is that they remove from the transaction the various stop-gaps in place to ensure the veracity and integrity of the academic product. Editors and peer reviewers are there (ideally) to preserve the value and legitimacy of the discipline, if not of scholarship itself.

And, as stated, I worry myself that the directness and swiftness of the blog as a medium -- really, I'm dying to write about what happened in lecture today, and get feedback on it -- somehow compromises the integrity of the classroom itself, in that my students (some of whom, as I know, have already googled me and discovered my blog) are not empowered to speak for themselves. I believe it's not fair for me to write about them, even anonymously, as, even when speaking laudably about them, I might misrepresent their views. To me, that's an abuse of power I do not wish to commit.

Of course (other academics are thinking), I have my department colleagues to turn, or crow, or cry to; and my university has followed many others in establishing an excellent teaching center (here it's centre, of course). But is there a way in which the group blog can become a reputable and responsible resource for college and university teaching (and, one would hope, scholarship on that topic)?

Think think (said Pooh, as he scratched his head, in his thinking spot). Comments welcome (from both my academic *and non-academic readers, who might identify more with students), in whatever way you see fit.

For the time being, I will keep my posts here related to more personal developments and observations. . . have I mentioned how beautiful it is here? (Indeed the crickets are chirping. . . how lovely . . .)

1 comment:

Jim Lang said...

I'm glad your back online--I've been missing the posts! Surely there must be a way to pose questions about teaching without compromising the identities students or classes. My suggestion would be to start it and see what happens. If it gets a little momentum, I may be able to link to it in my December Chronicle column, which I have planned as a review of teaching resources.