Monday, May 25, 2009

Publishing For Dummies: Blogging as Research/Teaching/Service?

My friend Stephen over at Hypotyposeis has begun an interesting conversation around one of the points raised at NAPS -- come T-Day (... tenure-decision day, that is ...), how should one classify one's assiduous daily or monthly forays into the wonderful world of biblio- (or: patro-)blogging?*  Moreover, how will one's tenure committee regard those efforts in the context of the three crucial rubriks of "research," "teaching," and "service"?

When pressed on this issue, David Brakke of Indiana University noted that, as a department head, he tended to view blogging as "service," alongside committee attendance and similarly stimulating opportunities.  Brakke was quick to note the need for well-informed bloggers writing on the subject of Early Christianity, as well as the ever-changing world of academic publications and tenure decisions.  Given that, at IU and similar institutions (... frequently categorized under the category of R-1 ...) a candidate for tenure needs to achieve an "outstanding" in research, but merely attain to "adequate" standing in teaching and service, the message is nevertheless clear -- keep on blogging, but be prepared for your committee to wonder whether all that time could not have been more productively spent hammering out a couple more articles.

As for the question of where blogging ought to fit into the three-fold scheme, I find myself hard pressed to come up with a blanket answer.  After all, "blog" hardly equals "blog":  While my disquisitions upon the artistic merits of the most recent Star Trek movie may delight all and sundry, I can hardly expect my tenure committee to assess my value to the university on the basis of what I thought of Chris Pine's ass.  A number of long-standing and prolific bloggers keep thus personal and professional blogs alongside one another -- Mark Goodacre's NT Gateway blog and personal family blog being the prime examples thereof. 

Even within the realm of purely academic blogs, moreover, different labels apply.  A blog may thus reflect upon the nature of academic life (... Rate Your Students is just one instance of such a venture ...) without commenting upon a particular field.  Such a blog could easily be qualified as "service," I think, as it provides commentary helpful to the academic community without necessarily advancing the status of scholarship.  Most Biblioblogs, on the other hand, provide a trickeir scenario, and one that benefits from contextualization:  After all, "service" encompasses not only the weighty task of serving as pizza-bringing-chair for the departmental liaisons' support group, but also tasks like writing dictionary entries, authoring longer, commissioned encyclopedia pieces, etc.  While these may qualify as "publications" in the more traditional sense, they nevertheless do not constitute research, in large part because they, by their very nature, are synthetic and regurgitative. 

A number of blogs I read fit this description as well:  They bring together in helpful ways a number of scholarly opinions on a particular subject without inserting too much of the author's own views or original conclusions.  Such blogs provide, I believe, an important service to the academic and lay scholarly community -- as such, categorizing them under "service" is, in my view, perfectly justified.  Other blogs, like Stephen Carlson's, Ed Cook's and Mark Goodacre's offer at the very least a healthy dose of analysis and contribution to scholarship. 

For many bloggers who also happen to be academics, their blogs provide opportunities to "test the waters" before unleashing an idea upon the scholarly community at large by way of a lecture, article or monograph.  As such they foster scholarly dialogue that ultimately improve these bloggers' reasearch and enhance the quality of their publications -- but does that suggest that their efforts should be, effectively, counted twice:  once for the initial floating of ideas/dissemination of data by blog, once for the finished product, the article or conference presentation, added to their CV?  Moreover, why not consider at leats the possibility of categorizing one's blog under "teaching"?  While recognizing that the NT Gateway is somewhat sui generis, its being featured on scores of NT syllabi across the country as an essential resource of students surely ought to give Goodacre credit under that rubric! 

I suspect it's high time that blogs be considered in some form by tenure committees, assuming they meet a certain number of minimum characteristics:  For a blog to blip on the academic radar, it ought to be topical, consistent (... knocking mine right off the list ...), public (... and thus engaging its readers in dialogue of some sort ...), and analytical.  Different institutions will want to add or subtract criteria as they see fit -- a Divinity School or seminary might thus find a confessional blog more palatable than a university. 

As for bloggers who also happen to be readers of Opus Imperfectum -- I'm curious:  Where do you see your own work fitting into the mix?  Research?  Teaching?  Service?  Pleasure?   Do tell.

Update:  Mark Goodacre over at the NT Gateway blog weighs in on the matter as well:

* With any luck, patro-blogging will soon take its rightful place in the bloggers' dictionary, right next to biblio-blogging.

Powered by ScribeFire.


Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for the interesting post, Opus. Have you considered making your blog non-anonymous? I'm a bit sceptical about anonymous and pseudonymous blogs given recent developments (e.g. the Raphael Golb affair). Of course, this is directly relevant to the topic at hand because an appointments, tenure and promotion committee would not be able to consider a pseudonymous or anonymous blog.

I came across your post just after writing my own response to Stephen's at .

Thanks for the kind mentions in this post -- greatly appreciated. Note, though, that I have transferred the old NT Gateway blog to the NT Blog at, which enables me to keep the NT Gateway blog for updates about the NT Gateway proper.

Thanks again for an interesting post. It's good to discover your blog.

Opus Imperfectum said...

Thank you, Mark -- I'm updating the link.

The question of anonymity/pseudonymity is an interesting one. I quite like the fact that a blog obscures some of the features by which academics are judged -- starting from "degree status" to "schools attended" to "gender/race/religion/etc."

That being said, "recent developments" are indeed cautionary tales. I may switch to a semi-public or even a wholly public profile. For the moment, let's see if I can manage to write something more than two days in a row ;)

Mark Goodacre said...

Ha ha, OK. Cheers, Mark

Stephen C. Carlson said...

I rather liked this statement from a previous blog post: "The Chronicler sees nothing wrong with sharing reflections, bits of research, etc. with the great wide open that is the internet without being forced to disclose that one is, say, a gay Asian-American middle-aged vegetarian male with a Ph.D. in New Testament from a mid-range conservative U.S. institution."