Writing is part of a professor’s life. We write books, articles, lecture notes, emails, and more. At many schools, writing is such an important part of the job that promotions are tied directly to your ability to write. “Publish or perish” as they say. Writing is part of the job.
But blogging? For many, blogging seems like something else entirely. It’s more like a hobby. Professors don’t blog because it contributes to their work as a professor. They blog because…well, why do they blog? Wouldn’t they be better off writing in peer-reviewed academic journals or publishing lengthy and career-advancing scholarly monographs?
I’m sure everyone who blogs does so for different reasons. So I won’t claim to know why other teachers blog. But at least one reason worth considering is that blogging can make you a better teacher.
For the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about whether blogging is worth it. In my last post, I explained why I think blogging has made me a better writer. Today our focus shifts to five ways that I think blogging has helped me be a better teacher.
1. Developing communication skills
Scholarly books and academic journal articles are great for working out complex issues and sharing the results of your research with other academics. But they’re not necessarily great for developing your skills as a teacher. The problem is that unless you’re teaching in a doctoral program somewhere, you’re not writing for your students. You’re writing for other academics.
And you can certainly approach blogging this way as well. But I’ve decided that I want this blog to be accessible to non-specialists – people who are interested in biblical/theological issues, but who have not studied them at the doctoral or post-doctoral level. And coincidentally, that’s precisely where my students are.
So, for me, blogging is an extension of teaching. It’s about taking what I’m thinking about as a specialist and coming up with good ways of communicating that information to non-specialists. And, since that’s exactly what I do in the classroom, blogging helps me develop as a teacher who can communicate effectively with a diverse range of people.
2. Staying sharp
One of the things I enjoyed the most about my doctoral program was the constant interaction with other doctoral students. Discussion, debate, dialog – it was great. You’d think that would just get better when you become a professor. It doesn’t. The professorial life can be so demanding that it’s often difficult to find opportunities to interact with your colleagues in the same way that you used to with your fellow doctoral students.
For me, blogging has been a great resource for this kind of interaction. Rather than relying solely on the occasional conference or water cooler conversation, blogging provides a regular opportunity to share my ideas and hear what others think about them. That can prove frustrating when the occasional troll ventures forth from under his bridge and begins swinging his comment club at everyone in sight. But normally the interaction is cordial and challenging, offering me a regular opportunity to sharpen myself.
3. Finding good resources
This one is largely a function of my regular Flotsam & Jetsam posts. Since I began that feature on the blog, I’ve gotten in the habit of keeping an eye out for good resources that I can pass along. I’d hoped that this would be a good resource for my readers. I didn’t realize that it would also improve my teaching.
Maps, charts, infographics, news stories, pictures, controversial issues, videos – the list is endless. And they can all be used as good resources in the classroom. There’s enough out there that we have to be careful how we use them. Too many of these can overwhelm a class and become a distraction. But sprinkle them in at the right moment, and you have an effective tool for engaging the class and helping them connect with your material.
4. Fostering creativity
Over time, teaching grows stale. Like yesterday’s bread, the nutrients are still there, but it’s not very appealing. And, unless they’re made desperate by an impending exam, students won’t eat it.
That’s always a danger when you teach the same classes repeatedly. There’s a temptation to rely on what you did last time, allowing your lectures and discussions to grow a bit stale. That’s why the best professors are always reading new books and talking with other teachers, looking for new ways of connecting with students and helping them engage with the material.
For me, blogging has been a great resource for fostering this kind of pedagogical creativity. Writing the blog forces me to come up with new and creative ways of conveying my thoughts, which directly contributes to creativity in the classroom. And reading the blogs of other creative communicators has been an incredible benefit as well. I’m sure my students still get bored on a fairly regular basis, but I’m trying.
5. Writing for the classroom
One benefit that I hadn’t considered when I started blogging was that the blog itself would end up being a resource for the classroom. But, now that I’ve been writing for a couple of years, I’ve accumulated quite a list of articles across a broad range of topics. That means that I’m now able to refer students on occasion to my own blog posts when they ask what I think about certain issues. I haven’t gotten to the point where I’m requiring students to read my blog posts, though I have required students to write blog posts for a class, but I have referred students to them as supplemental resources when it seemed helpful.
Every good teacher needs to find ways of staying sharp and improving as an educator. And there are many different ways of doings this: books, seminars, conferences, other teachers, and so on. So blogging certainly isn’t the only resource for helping you grow as a teacher. But it is a great one.