Friday, September 24, 2004

Academic Blogging

Starting this website has got to be one of the best things I've done this year. Blogging is fun, intellectually stimulating, and unimpeded by geographic boundaries. I really can't recommend it enough. If you enjoy discussions, thinking, and writing, then go to and create your own weblog - it's quick, easy, and entirely free.

The Guardian has more on the topic of academic blogging (via Crooked Timber):
Academic researchers are drawn to blogs because they're useful knowledge management tools. MacCallum-Stewart says that her site quickly became a kind of "mind gym", a place to test out and develop ideas and to hone her prose style. The social networking side of blogging became very important here, she says. Her blog helped her build links and share ideas with researchers in the area at other universities.

There's also an old post at Crooked Timber that suggests some uses for blogs in the classroom:
(1) Standard class web pages. This is the least exciting way of using blogging software, but also, for many purposes, the most practical.[...]

(2) Professor-written blogs which cover interesting developments that relate to the theme of the course.[...]

(3) Organization of in-class discussion... Set a discussion question every week, and have people debate it in comments.[...]

(4) Organization of intensive seminars where students have to provide weekly summaries of the readings. [...] By making them authors of a group blog - and posting their summaries on the blog - it becomes much easier for the professor and students to access the readings for a particular week - and if you make sure that people are organized about how they do it, the summaries will effectively file themselves.[...]

(5) Requiring students to write their own blogs as part of their grade. [...] This would obviously involve a moderate chunk of technical assistance at the beginning - but would have a relatively quick and easy payoff for the students.

I think the most exciting use of blogs though is to facilitate extra-curricular, general-interest, philosophical discussion. Group blogs are especially useful here; examples of which can be found on my Links page. For instance, Brown and Arizona have very interesting and successful philosophy blogs for their graduate students.

But group blogs are not just for students either. Perhaps the most promising recent development in philosophy blogging has been the advent of topical group blogs, authored by experts in their respective fields. Again, my links page has the full list, but it includes specialised blogs for ethics, epistemology, and several others.

I look forward to new group blogs arising to fill the following gaps: metaphysics, philosophy of mind, political philosophy, phil of science, logic / phil of mathematics, and perhaps phil of language (though there are many linguistics-focussed blogs that I don't know much about).

Update: Crooked Timber has more, suggesting that blogs will eventually displace courseware systems (such as Blackboard and WebCT).

Update #2: Jason Kuznicki discusses what bloggers and historians could learn from each other:
Imagine, for instance, a historians' wiki, modeled on Wikipedia... No longer would a historian go into the archives, get something wrong, and let it stand for twenty to thirty years. In the wiki future, historians would be rewarded--this part is crucial--on the basis of their fact-checking, not merely on how many articles they manage to turn out in a given time...

It would be an enormous task, of course. But I suspect it would prevent a lot of errors from cropping up in history to begin with and would mercilessly prune out the ones that are already there.

Update 19/11/04: Another interesting post from Crooked Timber on this topic:
There are two main points I want to address and thought I’d discuss here a bit. I welcome your feedback. First, I want to talk about blogs as a great medium for debate of all sorts that does not always seem possible in one’s immediate physical surroundings. Second, I would like to consider how the material posted and discussed on blogs relates to published material and whether there is any potential for such contributions to count toward one’s academic achievements and service.

1/12: Tyler Cowen has more: "Don't focus on the single post. Rather a good blog provides you a whole vision of what a field is about, what the interesting questions are, and how you might answer them."

6/12: From The Becker-Posner Blog:
Blogging is a major new social, political, and economic phenomenon. It is a fresh and striking exemplification of Friedrich Hayek’s thesis that knowledge is widely distributed among people and that the challenge to society is to create mechanisms for pooling that knowledge. The powerful mechanism that was the focus of Hayek’s work, as as of economists generally, is the price system (the market). The newest mechanism is the “blogosphere.” There are 4 million blogs. The internet enables the instantaneous pooling (and hence correction, refinement, and amplification) of the ideas and opinions, facts and images, reportage and scholarship, generated by bloggers.

I'd also like to highlight an excellent old post at Fake Barn Country, where John Turri suggests that blogging fosters "Greater productivity and circumspection in our written work, increased interaction with our professors and fellow graduate students, an additional forum to interact with philosophers and graduate students from other institutions — that all sounds pretty good from the perspective of the discipline as a whole."

What I personally find to be most helpful about blogging is that it encourages me to follow through on stray thoughts that would otherwise likely just evaporate. So I very much agree with John's comments about improved "productivity". The same goes for "increased interaction": I've had many interesting and enjoyable discussions develop in the 'comments' to my posts here - many involving philosophers and students from the other side of the world! Overall, I've found blogging to be extremely worthwhile and rewarding.


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