Saturday, May 31, 2008

Will this be on the test? (Is blogging a worthy academic exercise?)

True confessions here...
I started blogging over a year ago just to figure out what this blogging business was about and whether it had any value for my teaching. As I continued blogging, I found that I have been focusing on a number of areas:

  • Bible software: I've tried to compare the capabilities of some of the programs available, but I am most familiar with Logos (48 entries) and BibleWorks (36 entries). I have tried to identify ways that one might tackle various tasks. I have tried to note significant updates in the field. I have tried to provide something of a survey of online resources as well as those designed for desktop and portable devices.
  • Digital resources for biblical mapping (24+ entries): I got started on this for my classroom presentations, and then I got serious about it for a presentation for BibleTech08. I am continuing to work on this stuff, because I will be doing another presentation on it at the SBL Meeting in Boston in November, 2008.
  • Visualization of data: I think it is important to get the 'big picture' as well as the details. A lot of these entries deal with OpenText.org manipulation of texts.
  • Greek and Greek instruction: Since I regularly teach Greek at my seminary, this has been a particular area of interest for me.
  • Pedagogy: The previous bullet on Greek instruction fits here, but I am also reading a number of education blogs, particularly ones that deal with pedagogy and technology. In a broader sense, many of my entries are ones to which I will be able to refer students, not only to learn about something but to learn how to do or think about something.
  • Research resources: This blog has been a place for me to highlight resources I am using to conduct my work: things like Zotero, library management, and issues related to the use of Unicode fonts needed for biblical studies work.
  • (Multi)media: Another interest of mine is the use of PowerPoint, graphics, photos, animations, video, music, etc. in my classroom presentations. Scan the "Labels" sidebar to see the various ways I've addressed such matters.
  • Syriac Tools and Resources: I really only had one post on this topic, but it was a lengthy one that tried to provide a comprehensive survey. It has turned out to be one of the most read posts.
As you can see from this survey, this blog is not really intended to be a discussion-generating blog, but it has been a neat way to make contacts with a number of others in these fields. I am grateful that Tim Bahula has provided some guest entries. This blog has also provided connections for me with people like Tim Bulkeley at SansBlogue, Todd Bolen at BiblePlaces.com, David Barrett of BibleMapper fame, the remarkable James Tauber (the person behind MorphGNT), Rick Brannan and others at Logos, the BibleWorks wizards Michael Hanel and James Darlack, and many others.

NOW, for the point of this post: As I mentioned in the
anniversary survey post, I have been keeping up this blog as part of my sabbatical work. I have developed an unsustainable lifestyle of posting about 4 times per week, so once I am teaching again, that will have to be cut back.

BUT, does this blog 'count' for real academic work? My seminary has been very supportive of my technological interests, but at the same time, my postings on this blog are not valued in the same way as if I had been busy instead writing articles and publishing books (though I am trying to do that too!). Take a look at this section from our faculty handbook that describes one aspect of how faculty performance will be evaluated.

The following sources and criteria for evaluating a faculty member's professional development shall be used:
  1. Publications and their reviews.
  2. Research and projects in progress
  3. Participation in professional societies.
  4. Appropriate sections of the Annual Report.
  5. External peer review
  6. Evaluation by the members of the Review Committee on such items as:
  • Keeping abreast of developments in his/her discipline.
  • Participation in the work of his/her professional society.
  • Contributions to research by means of publications.
  • Sensitivity to current theological trends.
  • Demonstration of a high level ability to interpret theological issues affecting the life of church and society.
Does this blog constitute acceptable "publication"? Does it count as "research"? Do the interactions with other scholars who read this blog serve as "participation" in the scholarly community? Do the few comments my posts generate function as "peer review"?

I suspect that those of you who are even of the sort to be reading a blog like this (and reading this far into a blog post like this) are fairly sympathetic to my hopes that this blog 'counts' as real research and publication. I don't know what kind of numbers publishers hope to attain when they publish a book or journal, but over the last month or so, this blog is averaging about 100 visits per day and about 2 pageviews per visit. A blog entry may be a rather shallow form of engagement, but that readership seems fairly wide to me.

Bottom line: When I write up my post-sabbatical report, how much emphasis should I place on the work I've put into this blog? What are the rest of you doing when asked to give an account of your work?

9 comments:

  1. I am not sure how your institution will view your blogging activity, but in my opinion your contribution is helpful in many ways. As a student the collection and overview of Bible related tools is a great resource to weed through the mountain of products out there. Your tips on bibliography software was a blessing and has solved an issue I have had for years.

    As a Bibleworks/Logos user I am also finding your screencasts to extremely helpful in finding powerful ways to use the software I already own. Even for experienced software users there often remains a chasm between the information you want to extract and how to accomplish it effeciently with the software. The screencast on unique Lxx words in relationship to NT usage is a great example of how these tools can be used in useful and practical ways. As a student who uses some of the software you detail I have found your contributions very valuable. Thanks!

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  2. I'm no biblical scholar so they probably won't care what I think. Having said that, one thing I would try and emphasize is the uniqueness of your blog in regards to comparing bible study software. I suppose someone else out there is doing it, but I don't know of anyone myself. For instance, where could one go to get a comparative study of how to quickly survey original language search results in English in the three major bible software programs?
    (I use this technique all the time now).

    Since bible software is the future of theological research it seems to me that you have a pretty good argument as to the scholarly importance of your blog.

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  3. As your institution will hopefully be as most theological institutions a place that has a purpose of supporting the local church then this blog most certainly should be seen as a valuable tool. Through your blog you are helping a church in Valdese NC. That is something your institution would never have had the opportunity to do. As lawyers do pro bono work, theological institutions should as well. And this is your way of contributing to the local church pastor who would otherwise not be touched by your ministry.

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  4. Your blog is certainly worthy of consideration in relationship to professional faculty evaluation. It is especially helpful to those of us who are teaching biblical studies. I also teach at a theological seminary, and I have frequently utilized some of the insights found on your blog (I have been meaning to email my appreciation and to commend your blog; this seems like a good forum to do just that). One of the criteria for evaluating a faculty member's professional development is external peer review. I am more than happy to speak/write to the contribution that your blog makes to the larger community of scholars and teachers. It serves a need for those of us who struggle with the incorporation of technological components into pedagogy. I also have been experimenting with blogging (starting my sixth month). Like you I am trying to discern the role and purpose of blogging in my overall vocation. It is time consuming (both in writing and in reading blogs). However, my teaching has been enhanced by your blog and the others that I read. And hopefully someone has received an insight or two from my blogging.

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  5. I don't know if this fits or not, but as a pastor I continuously remind our congregation that my blog is an extension of my teaching ministry. Those who read it understand me and my passion better, and so are more in tune when I am teaching in person.

    FWIW - I enjoy your blog as a pastor, teacher, and BW7 user. Thanks

    Daniel

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  6. I recently discovered your blog and have been enjoying many of the posts (I don't know Greek). Just wanted to let you know that you have readers and fans out here.

    I use Google Reader to read blog posts, and a blogger friend of mine told me that people reading via RSS feeds are not counted by your blog site's visitor stats. So your actual number of readers may exceed 100 per day.

    Keep up the good work, and thanks for sharing so many interesting thoughts and latest technology with us!

    Peter

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  7. Thank you all for the encouraging words.
    Joshua, you as a student and a BW7/Logos user are probably my audience that would find the most interest in what I blog. There just aren't too many like you out there!
    Murf, Kevin, and David: My institution does care what pastors and laypersons think. One of the grounds for rank and tenure evaluation for me is service to the Church. I'm not primarily writing this blog for rank/tenure issues at all, but it is important to me and my hope that this is doing some good for people like you. Your description of pro bono work is appropriate, Kevin.
    David, I may want to take you up on that external peer review part! I've got another project I'm working on to explore online publication of biblical studies stuff that would solicit peer review and perhaps even collaborative editing. We shall see...
    P & D: I checked, and you are indeed correct that RSS feeds do not get counted. Thanks for pointing that out. Maybe technorati stats are a better indicator of readership.
    Again, thanks to you all!
    Daniel,

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  8. You make some good points above.
    However, I also think that this can be helpful to you:
    Go to: http://www.panix.com/~pro-ed/

    If you get this book and video: PREVENTING Classroom Discipline Problems, [they are in many libraries, so you don't have to buy them] email me and I can refer you to the sections of the book and the video [that demonstrates the effective vs. the ineffective teacher] that can help you.

    [I also teach an online course on these issues that may be helpful to you at:
    www.ClassroomManagementOnline.com ]

    If you cannot get the book or video, email me and I will try to help.
    Best regards,

    Howard

    Howard Seeman, Ph.D.
    Professor Emeritus,
    City Univ. of New York

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  9. Mark, I bookmarked this post a while back to read and comment on, time passed.. I have used online publication including my blog to support evaluations. As research I have argued that doing new things in new media is research of the applied kind (I have pointed to presentations at SBL and other conferences as evidence that this is how the "guild" see it). I have also agrued that this publication is "community service" and pointed to the number of readers.

    That said such work still does not "count" like an article in JBL would :( but it counts like a book with Zondervan ;)

    I think the "trick" is to think "How can I demonstrate the value of what I do to the people who will evaluate me this time?" So I present it differently and stress different measures to the Research Funding exercise to what I stress to my "bosses" at Carey.

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