Landing : Athabascau University

Documenting scholarly blogging for promotion and tenure

When I applied for promotion and tenure I made a note to myself that, if successful, I would post the application's documentation of scholarly blogging,which I included as its own section (since this work doesn't clearly fit teaching, research, or service ... yet). This work doesn't figure prominently in the promotion committee's report, which maybe alludes to it in mention of an "energetic approach to developing learning resources appropriate to the digital environment" and "success with various forms of creative expression." But such work is more commonly reported now, so I thought I'd share my version (as is only fitting reciprocation and thanks to other online samples of such reporting, listed at bottom, from which I gleaned a few ideas as cues for some of my own statements).

Scholarly Blogging

Given AU’s mandate, the open access movement, and my research interests in copyright, I would like to supplement my description of teaching, research, and service work with a discussion of my scholarly bogging; AU hired me partly on the strength of my interest in digital media and their use in teaching and research. In practice, scholarly blogging doesn’t neatly fit into the categories of teaching, research, and service, but rather encompasses all of them, in different ways.[1] My scholarly blogging has made tangible impact as a complement to my conventional research publication, in part by communicating research to a wider public audience. I also use social network systems (SNS) for teaching, with a concrete impact on student learning and “virtual campus” community-building. And service-oriented scholarly blogging has made an impact in network-building, consciousness-raising and institutional leadership.

As my publication record and research plans show, I am committed to conventional modes and forms of research production and dissemination. I also believe that, as a scholarly researcher, I have a public intellectual duty to support initiatives that enable public access to scholarship, such as Open Access, and tools that enable public engagement with scholarship, such as SNS technologies. Different audiences and occasions require different ways of speaking, so my blog sometimes attempts to communicate complex scholarly insights in plainer, non-specialized language. Scholarly blogging, then, is not intended to replace conventional scholarly publishing, but to complement it as publicity, public engagement, and professional networking.[2]

I have been blogging since 2006; I began a dedicated scholarly blog in early 2009, and adopted use of the Landing on its launch in early 2010. In this time, blogging and social media have begun to attract and command serious scholarly attention, pedagogical deployment, and institutional adoption. On the Landing, I blog and comment to share and discuss research; to teach, supervise, and mentor students, in part by modelling and teaching the use of communication and technical skills that transfer readily to the workforce; and to strengthen collegiality and a sense of community among students, staff, and faculty.

Scholarly blogging is a valuable part of my research process: I use it to pose tentative questions and theses, to document and make notes on research materials and references, and to maintain a regular writing practice (by posting at least once a week). Sometimes blogging provides the kernel of a larger project; I recently revisited and expanded an Oct. 2010 blog post for one of my forthcoming book chapters (“Little crimeworn histories”; see p. 18, below). A couple of specific instances highlight the significance and impact of my scholarly blogging.

On 13 May 2010, I posted to my scholarly blog the draft of a paper about SNS and Canadian science fiction that I presented at that year’s Congress. Following my e-mail contact with two subject authors, Cory Doctorow and Peter Watts, both of them blogged about my paper (for a screen capture of Doctorow’s post, see Appendix 3, p. 318). Following this publicity, the post drew 1,259 views that month; it has received a total of 2,575 views. In 2011, I learned that my essay had been independently translated into Spanish and re-blogged at several Spanish-language sites (see Appendix 3, p. 319).

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post about the Canadian Intellectual Property Office’s free online copyright quiz, which included a question to which an incorrect answer was designated the correct answer. I submitted the post to BoingBoing, a widely read culture and technology blog co-edited by Doctorow and other writers. BoingBoing featured my post on 21 Apr. 2012 (see Appendix 3, p. 320); 22 Apr. 2012 was the single busiest day for my blog, with 928 views. By the the day after, 23 Apr., the erroneous question had been deleted from the CIPO quiz website.

Scholarly blogging has opened opportunities for research networking and impact, as well as collaboration. Last month, I was invited to present a talk at Congress by a U of Toronto colleague who thought me a suitable speaker for his panel on the basis of my blog. Scholarly blogging also enhances my commitment to open-access (OA) scholarly publishing. Of my twelve refereed research articles, six were initially published in both print and OA digital formats; since starting at AU, I have secured OA release for three other articles first published only in print and paywalled digital format; I blog about each release to publicize its availability. Furthermore, personal correspondence with contacts at other universities and a search of online syllabi indicate that these articles have been taught in US graduate courses.

Scholarly blogging figures in my teaching and service. I have used the university’s SNS, the Landing, to write courses, both independently and with a team. The Landing is also an excellent instrument for supervising graduate students and research assistants. I have used the Landing to draft research grant proposals, and invited my GRA to review, edit, and proofread these; this process afforded concretely meaningful mentorship, in that the student has since written a successful research grant proposal for AU’s Graduate Student Research Fund. I also use the Landing to develop and share education resources for my undergraduate courses, such as primers on protocols of literary study, and sites featuring audio and video performances of plays assigned in our drama courses, and commentaries on them (see Appendix 3, p. 317).

Many prospective students look to AU expecting either to be able to use a range of SNS and similar learning technologies - or to learn how to use them. I feel a pedagogical obligation to address both sets of expectations; they will only become more prevalent as the digital milieu becomes increasingly integral to everyday life and work. Scholarly blogging, in the context of distance education, has value for projecting an engaged and responsive personal presence to students, and sometimes for recruiting students as well. The day I started at AU, I announced my new position on Twitter, and three days later a prospective MAIS student replied: “was about to take another stab at my MAIS application, decided to search twitter and found a pirate instructor. I'm sold.” (See Appendix 4, p. 326; the “pirate” comment referred to my profile picture at the time, in which I wore an eyepatch.) At my recommendation, MAIS now operates a Twitter account (@AU_MAIS). I also relay news-related blog posts and research announcements to prospective students and AU alumni on Facebook, by liaising with Michael Shouldice, who manages AU’s Facebook page. And just last week, I learned I have won this year’s AUGSA Outstanding Distinction Award for AU Faculty; in its notification letter, AUGSA cited my “participation in social media” and my “efforts to develop a strong sense of community at AU” - two activities I see as vitally linked.

Scholarly blogging also furthers my service in part simply as a means to develop distributed community, but also as a means to raise consciousness about current issues, like copyright (see Appendix 3, p. 314). In April, I collaborated with senior AU faculty to launch a public Facebook page to raise awareness and share resources about the fraught situation between Canadian universities and Access Copyright; the page is followed by 156 Facebook users from postsecondary institutions across Canada. Blogging about copyright issues has put me in touch with major Canadian copyright experts, policy-makers, and stakeholders; followers of my Twitter microblog (@sonicfiction) include CAUT, Tony Clement, Michael Geist, the Edmonton Public Library, and the MLA. This blogging work has also afforded an institutional leadership opportunity, as it led to my invitation to serve as Faculty Representative on the university’s copyright committee.

Taking a broader view, we now see bigger, traditional universities starting to adopt SNS tools and sites; I'm proud to recognize AU as a vanguard leader in this trend, and to have taken part in its leadership on this front. In addition, the culture of university research is increasingly receptive to scholarly social media use: it makes publicly funded research more publicly accessible; it serves granting agency “knowledge mobilization” criteria; and it's an increasingly important way to practice research, develop professional networks, and pursue lifelong learning. Scholarly blogging has significantly raised my scholarly profile - and, in the process, it has raised that of AU as well.[1]

Works Cited

1. Cf. Brooke, Collin. "We'll see how this flies." Collin vs. Blog 26 Aug. 2006.

2. Cf. Mittell, Jason. "Online Publishing and the Tenure Question." Just TV 9 Sept. 2007.

Works Consulted

Highberg, Nels P. "Talking about blogging in tenure and application documents." ProfHacker 6 Oct. 2009. 

Jones, Miriam. "What I told the tenure committee." Scribbling Woman 17 Sept. 2004 (archived crawl).



  • Are you allowed to think outside the last millenium ?

    Steve Swettenham January 23, 2013 - 11:17am

  • For me one of the really interesting things I have found when applied to blogging (including for many Landing participants) is what seems a to be a preference for one way broadcast communication often to the wider audience but sometimes to a specific subgroup (eg. cohort). As such a blog post sets the opportunity for engagement with members of a distributed community rather than actual engagement. Do you have any perspectives or thoughts on metrics or inclusion of engagement levels that might be appropriate for promotion and tenure? Do you feel it would be appropriate to seperate out social media impact (eg. blogging, wikis, social bookmarking etc) versus blogging as concept exploration tools which is much more personal.


    Eric von Stackelberg January 24, 2013 - 5:13pm

  • @Steve: I leave the last millennium with no regrets.

    @Eric: Great question - on the reflection it prompts, I see that some of what I've written to describe scholarly blogging implicitly legitimizes it in terms of "broadcast," as you say, that is, in terms of the priorities of "impact" and "mobilization" according to which more traditional scholarly work (e.g. peer-reviewed publication) is assessed for promotion and tenure. I do touch on the uses of scholarly blogging for teaching and service work, but the majority of it focuses on scholarly blogging's uses for research production and, more emphatically, research communication. If I were to revise the statement, I might detail more of its teaching uses, which are diverse and important - just maybe not as flashy as, say, a BoingBoing nod. Thanks for the critique.

    Mark A. McCutcheon January 24, 2013 - 10:25pm

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