on blogging, tweeting, professional & course web sites, and tenure

Today marks the 3 year anniversary of my first blog post, preparing for classes, a small post that speculated on readings for two collaborative class I would be teaching in fall 2007. In honor of this occasion I’d planned on discussing how I am locating my use of blogging, tweeting, and professional and course Web sites in my tenure and promotion packet (due this September). Coincidentally, this morning I see that Cathy Davidson at HASTAC is addressing this very topic in her post, “Should Blogs Count for Tenure and Promotion?

Cathy begins her post by describing how a colleague at a conference asked her if blogging should count toward tenure and promotion. Cathy’s answer: Yes. My answer: Yes. The colleague then asks her if blogs should count the same as referred publications. Cathy’s answer: No. My answer: No, not with the current construct of what counts as valued writing. Finally, her colleague asks her if electronic or online publications should count the same as print. Cathy’s answer: Maybe. My answer: Yes. Cathy then discusses why she thinks blogging is valuable and where she thinks it should be located within the tenure and promotion packet: Service. My response: It depends on your college, university, and department guidelines.

Let me step back a bit. All colleges and universities require faculty to succeed in four general areas:

  • Teaching effectiveness
  • Scholarly and creative activity
  • Contributions to university community
  • Contributions to the wider and professional community

The type of university you are at will determine how much each area counts toward your being recontracted, tenured, and promoted. Colleges, four-year universities, and Masters-level universities, such as Rowan often put the emphasis for recontracting, tenure, and promotion, on teaching, and as a result faculty tend to teach more classes. Research universities put their emphasis on scholarly and creative activity, and, appropriately, faculty tend to teach less often but are required to publish a significant amount of work. The last two items in the list above count toward Service, which is always emphasized third.

Each college and university also has different processes for recontracting, tenuring, and promoting faculty. At Rowan, for example, probationary faculty (those who have yet to be tenured) submit recontracting packets their first year of service (application for second year), second year (application for third and fourth year), third year (application for fifth year), and fifth year (application for tenure). The tenure and promotion process are separate—tenure packet due in September, promotion packet due in January—though university documents were just rewritten (and departments are scrambling to catch up; this summer I’ve been on a committee that is composing our new guidelines) to align tenure and promotion guidelines so that faculty only have to compose one packet. Once tenured faculty submit thorough review packets every 5 years.

Okay, back to my “it depends” answer about where blogging should be discussed in the packet. Tenure packets are rhetorical constructs. The faculty member’s goal is to make the case for why the university should grant them tenure (which in and of itself is a gesture of good faith that the faculty member will continue to perform at at or above the level they showed during the probationary period). To make the case for why one should be tenured and/or promoted, faculty must provide evidence that they have met or surpassed the criteria as described in university, college, and department guidelines. At Rowan, university criteria are laid out in the Memorandum of Agreement (so named, I think, because it is an agreement between the faculty union, administration, and New Jersey). There is one memorandum for Tenure and Recontracting and one for Promotion. Colleges within the university compose Promotion codicils that elaborate or expand upon the university guidelines. Departments compose their own criteria for Tenure & Recontracting and Promotion that elaborate or expand upon the university guidelines. Faculty include college and department guidelines at the front of their tenure, recontracting, and promotion packets. The University Tenure & Recontracting and Promotion committees assess each candidate against the department, college, and university guidelines and criteria.

When Cathy Davidson writes that she thinks blogging should be counted as Service, I can see her point. But her argument is made without considering Yale’s tenure and promotion guidelines. Rather, her argument is located within a framework of what counts as valued writing within the academy: something that is peer reviewed. Blogging has, I think, very different rhetorical goals than does a peer-reviewed article. For me, blogging is about reflecting—reflecting on my classes, teaching practices, assignments, and so on.

As such, when I consider where blogging should be discussed in my tenure and promotion packet, I look for places where I need to provide evidence of reflection, especially about teaching. In the Memorandum of Agreement, within the bold-printed section “Criteria and Documentation for Evaluating a Candidate’s Excellence in Teaching,” under the heading “The candidate must demonstrate excellence in developing as a teacher,” it reads “1. Reflecting on one’s instruction and classroom to benefit the teaching-learning experience.” My blog posts about teaching with Twitter, YouTube, the Flip Video Camera, about how to help students learn how to tag, and so on, are evidence of reflection. As such, in my packet I discuss blogging under the heading “Excellence in Developing as a Teacher” and point to several blog posts as evidence of reflection.

Under the same heading, I make a similar argument about Twitter:

Twitter has provided an unparalleled opportunity for me to expand and develop my professional, teaching, and scholarly community. We share syllabi, discuss assignments, think about pedagogy, point to important articles and blog posts, and support each others’ efforts to become better and more creative teachers and learners.

As an example of that engagement and reflection, I point to and discuss a recent exchange between @kellimarshall, @samplereality, @billiehara, and I, in which we discussed possibilities for how Kelli might implement Twitter in her classes. As a result of Twitter, I write, I am in “a consistent state of reflection about my courses, my assignments, and the development of the field.”

I locate my professional Web site and course Web sites in a different section: “Excellence in Developing Learning Activities.” This is because in the Memorandum of Agreement, within the bold-printed section “Criteria and Documentation for Evaluating a Candidate’s Excellence in Teaching,” under the heading “The candidate must demonstrate excellence in developing learning activities,” it reads “3. Developing teaching materials, manuals, software, and computer exercises.” The operative phrase is “developing teaching materials.” Course Web sites are teaching materials. Because my primary responsibility as a faculty member at Rowan is teaching, I created a professional Web site that showcases teaching-related activities. As a result, the Web site itself is also an example of a “teaching material.” In this section I discuss the evolution of the site, how many course pages and sites I’ve created, and site statistics—all as evidence in excellence in developing learning activities.

You can download a rough draft (.pdf) of my “Excellence in Developing Learning Activities” and “Excellence in Developing as a Teacher” sections. Please note that this is an in-progress rough draft that needs revision; the final draft isn’t due to the department until September 10th-ish. Once the new department guidelines are approved, I’ll upload the guidelines for these sections so you can get an idea about how they’d be assessed.

It is important to note that in my department’s guidelines, in the section for Service, under the heading “Contributions to the Wider and Professional Community” it reads “managing, creating, or maintaining professional web sites or discussion groups.” Though I am managing and maintaining my professional Web site, I do not think the site itself works as well as evidence of service as it does as a teaching activity. It I maintained, for example, techrhet or CompPile or an important Twitter list, I’d discuss it in depth here.

So, looking back at Cathy’s colleague’s question about where to locate blogging in the tenure packet, I’d locate mine under Teaching Effectiveness. Looking to your university and department guidelines, where would you locate your blogging, tweeting, and Web sites?

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