By Joshua Mugg
Research, Teaching, Service. Those are the three areas under consideration when we go up for tenure or promotion, at pretty much any institution. Where does blogging and social media presence fit in? I have benefited from reading blogs and discussing posts with folks online (especially now that I am at an institution where I am the only philosopher!), and I suspect others feel the same way. It is plausible that at least some philosophy blogging should count, but where? I don’t really blog about research, and even for those who do, some reviewers might point out that blogging rarely has any rigorous peer review process (though some blogs do have editors). Most of the blogging that happens here is not direct toward our students. So it is hard to put it into teaching (though those blogging about teaching might be able to). Finally, it is not clear blogging serves our university directly (as being part of a committee does) or can really count as community engagement. So does blogging have to count as a purely extra-curricular activity? Perhaps not.
Yesterday I met with a sociologist colleague (Stephanie Medley-Rath) who is an active blogger (see here) about where blogging should fit on our faculty annual reviews at our institution (which are used to determine raises and, sort of, for promotion and tenure). The American Sociological Association has issued a report on just this issue, which I think philosophers can benefit from (see here and here). The core insight of the review, to my mind, is that all blogging and social media presence need not (an indeed, cannot) be placed into one of above categories. The difficulty is that there are three distinct assessment criteria:
- Type of content (e.g., public communication can include original research, synthesis, explanatory journalism, opinion, or application of research to a practical issue). Regardless of the type of communication, however, an overriding criterion might be whether a given piece is well grounded in sociological theory and research.
- Rigor and quality of the communication (e.g., peer-reviewed, vetted by an editor, or a non-reviewed blog post). The main criteria here might be whether the piece communicate effectively through clear writing, foregrounding of policy implications, and compliance with the format, technology, and standards of effective engagement with public audiences.
- Public impact (e.g., number of readers or views, evidence that practitioners found the work to be helpful, or documentation of the role the work played in policy changes).
The report adds:
“No single measure of reach or impact is sufficient, but solicitation of letters from affected parties outside of academia can be especially effective in conveying impact.”
Even at a single blog (say, the Philosophers’ Cocoon), there are multiple types of content. Some posts here concern teaching (here, here and here), and so those posts could count as scholarship of teaching and learning. Occasionally, there are posts about research (such as the new Philosophical Discussions series). Of course, most of the blogging here concerns the profession. This, it seems to me, should count in the same category as reviewing papers or conferences: it is service to the profession. The upshot is that ‘blogging’ does not fit into a single category. We have to distinguish post by post depending on its content.
One reason I wince at the idea of blogging going into the same category as research is that it clearly is not as rigorous as a peer-reviewed article (my most recent publication went through two rounds of R&R!). The ASA acknowledges this, but points out that my wincing confuses type of content with rigor of content. A post is not equal to a peer-reviewed article, but neither does a conference presentation, which also counts under research.
Finally, blogging and social media has one nice feature over many traditional journals: we can track impact. We can say exactly how many people and how many views our blog posts received.
I am curious if others are having similar conversations at their institutions. Social media is here to stay, and it seems academics need to carefully think about how it should (or if it should) figure into hiring, tenure, and promotion. Let me know what your thoughts are!