I wrote an early post in the life of this blog about trying to come to terms with my blogging identity (and my newly acquired professorial identity), still feeling the twinges of the transition from graduate student to professor. Things feel more settled now, but I’m still thinking. Today’s entry by Elouise on “virtual fraternization” prompts me to wonder if any students of mine (ir)regularly read my blog. Conversely, do any of them keep blogs that I don’t know about? If you’re out there, speak up. That’s what the comments are for. A student from last semester mentioned in an email that he’d read my blog, but he hasn’t commented. A couple of colleagues have mentioned coming across it, but no comments.
Well, Heidi has a blog, and she’s a student at UMKC, where I teach. We read each other’s blog, but we’ve never met. Jenny took my “Introduction to Humanities Computing” course at the University of Maryland (I wrote about it when I found her blog, and she commented on the entry). And Eric took my “Print, Literature, and Social Transformations in Eighteenth-Century England,” also at UMD. I was a grad student when I taught both classes, however, so is it more accurate to describe them as former students or as fellow students? Or both? Eric and I were also coworkers at MITH. The boundaries are not so clear, and they never have been.
A famous cartoon says that, online, nobody knows you’re a dog. But you and I both know that sooner or later you’re gonna start woofing and give yourself away.
Flying back from New York at Christmas, sitting in the airport bar, I see a UMKC student, one I don’t yet know too well, though she later takes my spring graduate seminar. What are the odds? I don’t go up and talk to her because … well, I don’t know. I feel like a dork; she’s got tattoos and sits with hip-looking friends. I’m also sort of hungover and not feeling my best.
In April, I blog about my intent to investigate the Buddhist temple in my neighborhood. Well, mid-summer I do, and who do I run into there but one of my students from spring semester, both of us now sitting in on a class on Buddhism. From professor-student to student-student again.
I discover that a student from my Milton class works at a local video store. I peruse his picks in the “staff recommendation” section. We talk over the counter about an exhibit at a local museum.
I attend the UMKC spring graduation ceremony, sitting with grad students because I’ve been asked to lead them where they’re supposed to go (as if I know). When the speaker asks the faculty to stand up, I look around blankly until one of the students nudges me and says, “That’s you.” Oh. Right. Two weeks later, or so, I attend the UMD graduation ceremony where my dissertation advisor has generous things to say about my work as his student. I seem to be a character in a novel that’s doing confusing things with time. Student? Professor?
But I don’t know if anyone here keeps their own blog. And people are often more candid in their blog than they are online. And people often don’t know their readers through venues other than their blog. And as CNWB acknowledges, many of us write blogs as an outlet to say things we otherwise feel we can’t say, even to our friends: “I wouldn’t want to subject them to my uninhibited ramblings, just as I wouldn’t bail them up in real life and crap on about the things I discuss here. The greatness of blogging is that if people want to listen to me, they’ll come, and I don’t have to worry about boring anyone.”
I haven’t explicitly promoted my blog to my non-blogging acquaintances. It came up at a party, and since then, some of them have found it, most haven’t looked (or if they have, they didn’t mention it). But if you google “george h williams”, guess what the number one hit is? Sooner or later, people are gonna notice, right? And some (many?) of those people are gonna be students. What then? I’m not too worried, frankly, but maybe I should be … ?
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot this week because of my course blog gaining attention. I reflected on some of these anxieties in my personal blog, and now I’m glad that I did. I’m not sure how many students have read my personal blog, but I think my expression of mixed feelings allowed them to get a sense of the consequences of public writing.
Alongside of that, I’ve been reading Richard Ohmann’s latest book, “The Politics of Knowledge,” specifically his suggestion that academics sometimes “forget” that students are real people who come into our classes with clearly established value systmes and agendas.
Having these two “discoveries” occur more or less together allowed me to realize the potential of blogs for helping students to find an active voice, one that might be grounded in tangible political concerns. In that sense, I think it’s almost beneficial for them to see my blog, to see me as a concrete person.
Still, there are the risks that you describe. But I think those risks exist regardless of my blog, and in most cases people can be trusted to leave it alone and move on (after all, jilted lovers learn to ignore their former partners’ blogs). I’m not sure about that, but I hope using blogs proves worth the risk.