“According to a survey of over 1,900 higher education faculty conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group and Pearson, over 40% of faculty surveyed have assigned students to read or view social media as part of course assignments, and 20% have assigned students to comment on or post to social media sites. And in total, 80% of faculty report using social media for some aspect of a course they are teaching.”
Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University
If there’s one thing we really like to write about, it’s the use of scholarly blog posts in academic assignments. Scholarly blogs offer students a wealth of information and insight from the experts and thought leaders in the field in which your course operates. We’ve given tips on how to get started with using academic blogs in your college or university curriculum. We’ve given some really awesome examples of how some faculty instructors are already successfully using blogs in course development, and we even developed a Chrome extension so that university libraries (and individual researchers) can more easily access content from scholars and experts on any given topic, in any given field, anytime they search in Google. And, of course, we’ve developed some really cool tools and features to help you get started now.
So while not all academics are blogging (yet!), more scholars are joining the blogosphere every day, and more faculty are successfully using them to enrich their students’ overall learning experience. If you haven’t made the move yet, here are just a few reasons why incorporating scholarly blogs into your course assignments is a really, really good idea.
Scholarly blogs aren’t replacing peer-reviewed journals.
We know you know this. But just in terms of course development or student readings or activities, incorporating credentialed blogs into your classroom doesn’t mean you’re pushing out the other stuff. Valuing a scholar’s contributions made through the blog platform isn’t devaluing the traditional research outputs or the importance of peer-reviewed publications. Adherence to standard research protocol and the process of peer review itself – while individual elements of those processes may be debated – are as crucial and valuable as ever, and absolutely necessary for student learning and achievement.
However, blogs can often be a great supplement to those peer-reviewed readings. Their inclusion doesn’t undermine the published research output students are accessing, but, rather, it allows them to build on a fuller understanding of a topic – for increased comprehension of the subject itself – or of the issues associated with that topic – for a more comprehensive (or even multidisciplinary) understanding of that issue’s scope, perspectives, or potential application beyond the confines of one article or one field of study.
Bias in blog posts doesn’t detract from its scholarly contribution.
Some scholarly posts will present information on a given topic in a relatively straightforward, factual way, with no subsequent analysis, conclusions, or reflective commentary on the issue or information given. Other posts also present that information in the same relatively straightforward, factual way – and then also provide commentary in addition to that. And there are posts that present the author’s unique perspectives or commentary as the whole of the post. But all of these hold value, because they’re all based on credentialed opinion. The years of research and study, and the untold hours any given academic pours over his or her chosen field, holds an enormous amount of value in and of itself. Whether that opinion is heavily or hardly supported, or is debated or meets consensus, isn’t indicative of its value; in fact, encouraging your students to seek out, and read, posts by scholars with conflicting or contradictory conclusions or opinions might be extremely valuable for your course objectives and goals for student learning.
An assignment that permits one or more sources from newspaper and/or magazine content is probably a good fit for the exploration of scholarly blogs.
While most course assignments require peer-reviewed publications as cited references, many also permit a limited number of other sources – like magazine or news content… and therein lies your opportunity. For the most part, newspaper and magazine articles present information on a given topic that is supplemented (supported) by quotes from – or references to the research of – those actually involved in that research or discipline.
Scholarly blogs are authored by those same people. Scholarly blog posts offer amazing access to the ideas, reflections, and thought processes of the same academic background that gives those newspaper and magazine articles currently permitted as part of that scholarly review their heft to begin with.
Which leads us to the next point…
For every one expert referenced in those newspaper and magazine articles, there are thousands more with valuable insights and solid contributions to those disciplines.
Statistically-speaking, a relatively small pool of academics are quoted in newspaper and magazine articles (you’ve never heard of Steven Pinker, right? or Oliver Sacks?). So while those more publicly-familiar experts are valuable, your students aren’t reaching the commentary and credentialed opinion of many thousands of other scholars and professors who’ve also built their lives on their knowledge of, and a strong dedication to, that topic or area of study.
Scholarly blogs are a valid platform to the scholarly record, as they allow scholarly blog readers to access updates, commentary, and reflection by the experts and thought leaders involved in those fields. The incorporation of scholarly blogs into your curriculum will not detract from the rigor of your course, but it will add to the quality of your students’ learning experience. It will offer a broader, more comprehensive view of the information, issues, and insight from those most entrenched in the topics they’re studying or the fields they’ve chosen to pursue.
“Blogs are just one of many technologies that can help facilitate these four factors of academic success. They are part of what Randall Bass and Heidi Elmendorf, of Georgetown University, call ‘social pedagogies.’ They define these as ‘design approaches for teaching and learning that engage students with what we might call an ‘authentic audience’ (other than the teacher), where the representation of knowledge for an audience is absolutely central to the construction of knowledge in a course.'”
Center for Teaching, Vanderbilt University
“One of the recurring themes (from many different contributors) on the LSE Impact of Social Science blog is that a new paradigm of research communications has grown up — one that de-emphasizes the traditional journals route, and re-prioritizes faster, real-time academic communication. Blogs play a critical intermediate role… [I]n research terms blogging is quite simply, one of the most important things that an academic should be doing right now.”
Patrick Dunleavy, LSE Impact Blog
“Through a comparative content analysis of over 2,000 private reflective journal entries and semipublic reflective blog posts, I find that both practices produce distinct forms of reflection. I argue that these differences can be understood in terms of the risks that students take in their writing. Journals, which do not incorporate peer readership, appear to compel students to take more personal risks and engage in emotional labor to process assigned materials. Blogs, which do incorporate peer readership, enable students to take more intellectual risks and engage in logical mental endeavors.”
Drew Foster, Teaching Sociology
“Blogging is a wonderful opportunity for academics to fill a niche that conventional academic writing ignores. Academic journals are full of facts and ideas that are bound to be interesting to many non-academics, but that potential readership only rarely delves into journal articles or monographs, because, from a layperson’s point of view, academics take forever to get to the point.”
Christopher Leo, Why the academic world needs blogs: A personal account