12 March 2006 - Sunday

Undergraduate bloggers

One thing that bothers me about the blogosphere-as-academic-tool concept is the apparent absence of undergraduates from the scene. I can name plenty of teachers, grad students, and interested laypeople who spend a significant amount of time blogging in academic ways (I can't think of a better catchall description), but most undergraduate bloggers don't seem to participate in the same conversations, even when they have related interests. To me, this seems like a wasted opportunity.

If I am right about this problem, I can think of lots of reasons for it. We undergrads are quite a bit less knowledgeable about ... well, everything, really, so it makes sense that we would find it difficult to follow the shoptalk of our elders. We don't really have our own research to contribute; our school work isn't generally the sort of thing that leads to interesting, original writing. Also, undergraduates are more or less obligated to maintain social lives that have nothing to do with our studies, so perhaps undergraduate blogging doesn't meet the same cultural/social needs that it does for graduate students. Undergrad blogs, in my experience, usually look a lot like high school blogs; they reflect our being in school but demonstrate clearly that we do not have our own academic identities yet. It's not just that the level of the writing is lower.

Apathy is always possible, of course, but I don't think apathy by itself explains the problem. Quite a few graduate students blog; where are the blogs of the people who plan to become grad students? Or rather, why do so few of those blogs have an academic focus? Undergraduates are probably more likely than anybody else to blog, but I don't see many of them talking about their academic interests much.

Here's my theory. Blogging generally requires a writer to do much more than hold up one end of a conversation; the academic blogger must be knowledgeable enough (and have enough free time) to present self-contained discourses, whether or not readers provide any feedback. Furthermore, specialized blogging tends to discourage comment from uninitiate readers like undergraduates. So on both ends of the discussion, most undergraduates have no way to get involved in the academic blogosphere, even if they would like to.

I wonder whether an old-fashioned Web forum approach could help. Bulletin boards might be able to nurture an academically-oriented community among undergrads without requiring the same kind of specialized knowledge from them. Such bulletin boards, though, ought to be publicly viewable and integrated as much as possible with the resources available at the academic blogs; they should involve input from professors and grad students.

The trick would be getting undergrads involved in these online communities -- which, I admit with some chagrin, takes me almost back to where I started. How can we coax undergraduates into discussing their academic interests in public?

| Posted by Wilson at 23:59 Central | TrackBack
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