I publish, therefore I am

I’ve been mulling (hat tip to Gardner) this topic for a while.

It occurs to me that, frequently, when talking about how web 2.0/read-write web/pick your tired label can impact teaching and learning, we often talk about how these tools, technologies, and techniques enable students to publish. In fact, at UMW, when discussing UMW Blogs, we’re getting used to referring to it not as a blogging system but as a publication platform.

For me, there is something of tremendous and inherent value in this notion. But I wonder if that’s the case for everyone?

I freequently refer to myself as a frustrated artist (or, when being glib, a talentless artist 🙂 ). I love to create, although I have no great illusions of my talent. That’s okay. I don’t really care. It’s enough for me to know that I can create things and put them out there for others to see.

I still remember back in 1996 when I was a senior in college using the Web for the first time. I was on the debate team that year, and we had discovered Alta Vista as a tool for doing research into our cases. As I was graduating, a few of the younger members of the team started to make noise about building a site for our team. I remember feeling intensely jealous. I was dying to learn how to create Web pages — how to make to make stuf and put it out there — how to publish.

But, I’m someone who likes to be out there. As I child; I acted; I wrote; I sang;  I wished I could draw. But, frankly, that’s not how everyone is wired, is it?

I’m married to someone who isn’t wired this way at all. I’ve been pushing him for years to blog about some of his teaching experiences and techniques. He’s sort of interested, but he says he doesn’t have the time. For me, I’ve discovered that I have to make the time or I don’t feel fulfilled.

As an academic, he values publication. I know he’d like to have more time to do research (and, consequently, writing), but I don’t think publication, in and of itself, is that important to him.

(It occurs to me as I write this that perhaps my obsession with putting myself out there is just a form of narcissim 🙂 )

When I talk to faculty and students about this aspect of what technology enables, I usually assume I may be up against some resistance. But I assume that resistance is founded in anxiety or fear about making public mistakes, being stalked, etc. After thinking about it some more, I wonder if the resistance is more emblematic of a fundamental disinterest in publication for publications sake.

In fact, I was being glib before, but I suppose the joke that blogging is just a form of “naval-gazing” is really a suggestion that it is narcissistic.

I guess I’m wondering if most educators see public presentation of work as a requisite aspect of education?  And, if they don’t, should they? I think they should, but I need to think about why and how I explain that.

In a way, I know I’ve thought about this before (I do talk to faculty and students about why public presentation is a good thing), but perhaps not as explicitly as I should — and perhaps I’m not addressing the real disconnect.

6 thoughts on “I publish, therefore I am”

  1. You’re at the core of some essential questions, in my view.

    1. Why are academics interested in some kinds of publication but not others? What makes some kinds more valued/valuable than others? If the idea of publication itself (constructing, discovering, sharing inquiry and knowledge) were the main driver behind the academic work called publication, why the disconnect? If the idea of publication in this broader sense is not the main driver behind “academic publication” as it’s evolved, what is? These are crude questions the way I’m phrasing them, but they’re important, in no small part because academic publication is where faculty mint their money, where universities track their intellectual capital, make decisions about lifelong employment (i.e., tenure), etc.

    2. Peer review is vital of course, but it’s in the category of “necessary but not sufficient,” and there are many ways to accomplish peer review besides the typical ones that have evolved over time. This is another way of saying that new forms of academic publication, conceived broadly, are not necessarily less rigorous than old forms, though questions of rigor inevitably come up when the discussion gets going.

    3. Scholarly publication has a history. That history doesn’t get taught, in my experience. The Wikipedia article on scholarly publishing is a real eye-opener in this regard. And of course that article itself is a form of scholarly publication, though Wikipedia looks thoroughly outre to most traditional academics (but again, which tradition are we talking about here?).

    All these questions engage questions of research, graduate education, undergraduate research, communities of inquiry, disciplines, the whole shebang. I think one reason emerging forms of scholarly publication get a cold shoulder in academe is because this emergence is a symptom of much more deeply-rooted problems, or at least even trickier and messier questions that most of the academy has simply decided to ignore or evade so we can go about our business. But which business is that? Should higher education be more robust than *that*? Honestly, sometimes I think the unspoken fear is that our current models of higher education are houses of cards that will simply collapse if we do much innovation (much REAL innovation) in any one area. In my darker moments I suspect that’s true.

    So much to mull over here. Wow.

  2. Gardner,


    Publication solely for the sake of professional advancement seems to be one of the unspoken but sad truths about higher education. That’s difficult for me to say, since I’m not faculty; I don’t live by the sword of “publish or perish,” and I’m not sure how I would feel if I did. But, just the fact that the rich tradition of academic authorship and publication is regularly reduced to this cynical catchphrase is sad. And it also means that the word “publication” is stuck in this unevolved place — making it difficult to challenge its forms and suggest progress and evolution.

    But, you’re right — if within our own institutions this is what publication as a concept has come to represent, how can we necessarily expect it to be embraced and valued as a vital aspect of education? And yet, if we pull apart our understanding of this concept, we risk, as you say, collapsing the whole shebang.

    My title was meant to be a bit glib, but there’s a whole lot of truth in it for me. Publication or “public utterance” is how I (ex)claim myself. I leave my mark. I put myself out there. I hope to hear something back in return — and in that return I am realized by another, so I am real.

  3. Well, I think the whole shebang needs rethinking at least, in the process of which we may find the shebang alive and well and living somewhere we don’t expect.

    And what is a “shebang,” I wonder idly? Never occurred to me to ask that question before….

    This article is directly and gloriously relevant to your post and mulling.


    Mull on, oh Martha! Mull on!

  4. I don’t really know how to untangle all my thoughts about this right now, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Academic publishing has entangled higher education in a way that I find baffling and sad. Faculty feel the need to publish a) in order to keep their jobs; b) in order to feel valued by the academy; or c) to find a better job. Although I’m sure some are interested in publishing simply to share their ideas, I think many would rather not publish. I think colleges and universities have gotten so caught up in comparing themselves to each other, mostly based on publication records of their faculty, that they’ve lost sight of the reasons to really do research in the first place–to make them better teachers. I believe there are some people who just want to discover new things (and maybe write about them), but have no desire to teach. I believe there are people who conduct research in order to be better teachers, to keep up with the latest trends, and maybe to make some forays into putting forth their own ideas. And then there are people who just want to teach. They will keep up with research, but not with an eye to finding their own niche, only with the idea of updating their courses. And there are probably all kinds of other types of faculty out there. The problem is that “publish or perish” has become the model for almost every school out there.

    The whole system frustrates me because I feel like it’s holding us back from making some great discoveries and having new forms of innovative thinking. As it is academic publishing is so slow and arduous. By the time anything has been released, it’s way old news.

  5. You know it’s funny but when I wrote this post, I really wasn’t thinking about publication in terms of academic publication. It’s interesting that both of you immediately went there, and I didn’t. It makes perfect sense, of course. Within the world of academia that’s the load that the word “publication” carries. It’s impossible to talk about it as a concept without considering that load.

    One thing I will disagree with you about Laura is the idea that the reason to do research in the first place is to make faculty better teachers. Perhaps my opinion is unpopular, but I don’t think that’s true. I think faculty should do research to make them better practitioners of their discipline. I’ve always had a (perhaps Pollyanna-ish) belief that faculty who are excellent practitioners are just more likely to be excellent teachers. Passionate people inspire.

  6. I didn’t immediately jump to academic publishing because I tend to read everything through the lens of an elementary school. I read your post thinking about why we require fairly young children to publish things, to put their work and thinking out there. For me, there are two reasons we do so. The process of publishing pushes one’s thinking to a higher level. It’s one of the reason many of us like to blog. It requires us to hone and perfect our thinking. The other reason is that publishing invites dissent. To really take ideas to the highest level we have to get input from others. I’m not sure if this follows your thinking at all, but I appreciate the chance to mull it over.

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