The Duck of Minerva

Blogging and Teaching — and the Wrongheaded ISA Proposal

28 January 2014

Steve has a nice roundup of many of the central concerns with ISA’s misguided policy proposal to limit those involved in editing ISA journals from blogging.   I’d like to focus on one additional element.

For many of us located principally in the teaching side of the profession, we realize and appreciate the significance and utility of blogs for pedagogical purposes.  Here in the Five Colleges, a key part of communicating with students is through various forms of social media.  My department has a Twitter feed and a Facebook page that features a fantastic daily blog by my colleague Vinnie Ferraro. Vinnie’s blog provides daily content and opinion to support his courses in World Politics and American Foreign Policy.  I have a blog for my course on International Human Rights Advocacy in Theory and Practice and I routinely assign a number of readings from IR and human rights blogs as a key part of the course.  I do this because there is some fantastic content out there that presents and synthesizes materials quickly and more effectively than many peer-reviewed journals can.  This semester my students will watch Kony 2012 and then read several blog posts on Opinio-Juris debating multiple angles of the video.  These posts are an excellent format for undergraduate students — there are multiple views expressed with links to a variety of academic and advocacy literatures.  Given the natural 18-month to two-year delay from an event to peer-review publication, I’m still waiting for some decent peer-reviewed content that provides the range views and analysis conveyed in these posts.

Steve also noted that ISA’s presumption embedded in this proposal is that blogging is “unprofessional.”  To be sure, blogging has its pitfalls — as readers of Duck know.   But, we also know that the peer review process in prestigious journals is not without well-document problems of bias and insensitivity.    Blogging has come a long way and continues to evolve.  It has become stronger and more popular because it serves a very useful purpose in the profession — in both the production and transmission of knowledge.   Last year when Dan developed the idea for an annual awards system for IR blogging — the Online Achievement in International Studies Awards (PLEASE VOTE by the way!) — he noted that blogging has opened up key debates to broader audiences, it has opened up the space for new voices, new ideas, and new forms of communicating with colleagues, students, and to broader audiences.   As the coordinator of this year’s blogging awards process, I’ve reviewed hundreds of blogs and posts and from my perspective, the best of blogging translates complex theoretical and empirical research findings into digestible summaries with links to original tests that allow students to explore, probe, and learn.  Take a close look at this year’s nominees and it’s easy to see the pedagogical utility of these blogs and posts.  I’ve also used many of the contributions made here at Duck — especially last fall during the public debate over Syria when contributions here at Duck and the Monkey Cage engaged in a wide ranging discussion on the issue of  intervention.  That was followed by Duck’s “End of History” symposium in collaboration with the European Journal of International Relations that featured more than a dozen prominent scholars synthesizing and critiquing each other’s scholarship on IR theory.  Blogging has exposed me to a much broader range of ideas and literatures and it has provided me with a much broader range of materials to use in the classroom.

One other benefit from the evolution of blogging is that I routinely require students to write their own blog posts on the class blog. It is a great way to teach students to think clearly (and analytically) and write concisely. There is plenty of strong material out there to provide excellent examples of effective and persuasive writing.

Finally, and perhaps even more importantly, there is an obvious issue on the restriction on academic freedom here.  If approved,the ISA proposal would limit blogs used for instructional purposes and hence, establish a code of conduct to control what editorial team members could do in the classroom.  

All in all, it really is a misguided proposal.