The Importance of Academic Blogging Part II: Dr. William Howe shares his story

William HoweDr. William A. Howe, author of  Becoming a Multicultural Educator: Developing Awareness, Gaining Skills, and Taking Action, is an adjunct  professor of education at the University of Connecticut, Quinnipiac University, Albertus College and an education consultant for culturally responsive education, multicultural education, gender equity and civil rights at the Connecticut Department of Education. Dr. Howe is the founder of the New England Conference on Multicultural Education and Past President of the National Association for Multicultural Education.

Dr. Howe is also a successful academic blogger, managing several blogs including, Bill Howe on Multicultural Education. As a follow-up to an earlier post on the importance of blogging for academia, we asked Dr. Howe to tell us his blogging story. This was his reply:

Dr. Howe’s Blogging Story

I entered the Internet age, like many people of my generation, puzzled by this new gadget that looked like a television attached to a typewriter. Since then, I have become a self-professed computer geek. Although I do not play video games, watch movies on my computer, or listen to Internet music, I have become enthralled with the power of communication through websites, blogs, and other social media. This is how we communicate today. For those of us who teach in academia, we have most likely been introduced to Blackboard, Moodle, and other frightening tools of the teaching trade. For someone who remembers the fascination of the introduction of yellow chalk, it seems we have come a very long way.

Beginning in the mid-1990s I had the pleasure of being the List Serv moderator for the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME). Eventually I created the association’s first website.  Throughout this time I came to several realizations. First, there is an abundance of information on the Internet, perhaps overwhelmingly so. Second, people do not read anymore.  Even executive summaries have become burdensome to some. We live in an era where people want information in bullet points.

My experience as a scholar has been very similar to anyone who has ever held an office in an association – extensive training and teaching, and extensive writing in the field. For 13 years I served on the board of the National Association for Multicultural Education in various roles including President and now as Past President. In the 30+ years I have been an educator, I have taught thousands of individuals and conducted numerous keynote presentations and workshops. Like many of my colleagues, my notoriety has increased with the publication of journal articles and textbooks. My recently published textbook, Becoming a Multicultural Educator: Developing Awareness, Gaining Skills, and Taking Action, attracted the attention of talk show hosts even before it came out.

Because we live in an era of instant and ready communication via the Internet, I became increasingly deluged with telephone calls and emails requesting information regarding multicultural education. These requests came from researchers, individuals working on graduate degrees, teachers, reporters, policymakers, preservice teachers, and even middle and high school students. As an educator, although I am happy to share information and promote scholarship, these requests became time-consuming and burdensome. It was not uncommon for a reporter to call asking for an explanation of multicultural education over the phone, on the spot, with the urgent plea that a deadline was looming to go to print.

After spending a great deal of time responding to these requests, it dawned on me that it might be more efficient to simply place these documents and resources on the web. Fortunately, the ability of anyone to create a website has been made increasingly easy. No longer does an individual have to learn a complicated software program to create a website. In fact, many websites are actually blogs created through free, open blogging tools such as WordPress. As websites involve a number of aspects and are heavy with images and links, for those individuals who are not technically savvy, website creation of a website is prohibitive. Indeed, many resort to hiring individuals to create websites for them. With the popularity of free blogging software, anyone can create a website in the form of a blog and this is what I did.

Blog Names and Domains

My most popular blog is Bill Howe on Multicultural Education which was created using WordPress. It took less than 30 minutes to create and postings to it can be done in virtually seconds. Another popular blogging software is Blogger. Both of these blogging tools are free to use but are restricted when it comes to creating urls or names for your site. Because I wanted to create brand recognition for my site, I decided to buy my own webspace and register a personal domain name. This means that you are renting space on the Internet that is yours alone which is equivalent to having your own personal office that is identified as yours, versus sharing office with several other people. It is essentially copywriting the name of your site and can be done for as little as $10 a month using numerous companies that offer the service.

Blogging for others, and blogging for yourself

Think of a blog as a virtual file cabinet. Articles that you write can easily be stored on the web for retrieval by anyone. Links to articles of interest can also be stored and links to organizations and other websites can also be added. Not only has my blog made it easier for me to store and retrieve information for my own use, but as individuals make requests of me for information, I simply direct them to my blog.

Another important element of creating an academic blog is of course promoting your work and your scholarship. It is not uncommon for a professor teaching a class on multicultural education to assign the students to subscribe to my blog. And it is flattering to know that many noted educators and scholars in the field also subscribe.

Notifying blog followers of new posts

As articles of interest come to me I immediately post them on the blog. I have my blog set up so that those who subscribe to it get an email alert after every five postings. Bloggers can also set their blogs to send out emails every time you post something to your site, weekly, or at any other interval you like. Personally, I try not to send out too many emails and I also try to only publish significant articles that are not trivial. This way, my subscribers know that I do not publish junk nor do I spam subscribers.

What about site stats?

I have also placed a piece of software on my website – SiteMeter. The free version lets me know how many people visit my site on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. It lets me know where in the world the visitors are located, how they got to my blog, what pages they went to, and how long they stayed on it. I find it fascinating to know that people read my blog from all over the world.

To comment or not to comment?

To date, my multicultural education blog has been used primarily as a virtual file. With the publication of my textbook, there is an increasing need to write more editorial posts –like a newspaper column. I have avoided this in the past because with traditional posts like those on newspaper Internet sites, there is the opportunity for individuals to submit comments. Unfortunately for those columnists who write about sensitive topics such as race, politics and of course multicultural education – it attracts some very unsavory opinions and even some very nasty comments. Because multicultural education does talk about bias and discrimination and because many students use my site, I did not want them exposed to hateful comments. Therefore, I do not permit comments on my site. This restriction however, does not prevent people from contacting me directly.

Bloggers may also set their sites up to allow moderated comments. The downside of this is that you must read each one and approve or disapprove it. My plan, with the publication of my textbook, is to create a dialogue on my blog about the text and how people are using it. As I do so, I will be moderating the comments.

Some Additional Words of Advice

For those individuals who are interested in creating an academic blog, please allow me to share some advice.

  1. If you are going to create a blog, make sure you can commit enough time to keep it current. Blogs or websites that are not updated regularly will quickly lose subscribers and visitors.
  2. Because of the relatively inexpensive services available, I recommend getting a personal website with a personal domain name. This will make it easier for people to find you and can be done for less than $150 a year.
  3. Many professors have websites on their university system. You can create a link from that site to your personal site, but keep in mind that your students and fellow colleagues want access to it, so think carefully of what you post and the links you offer to other sites.
  4. Try to focus on one area of scholarship or several of related topics. This will help you keep your postings separate but also help attract dedicated subscribers who may be interested on one particular topic. For example, while my most popular blog is Bill Howe on Multicultural Education, I started a separate site – Bill Howe on Title IX – with the targeted audience of Title IX Coordinators. Although there is some overlap as multicultural education also embraces issues of gender equity, I felt that having a separate site with be less confusing for subscribers.
  5. Be diligent about spam. Any posting on the web can attract unwanted attention. Make sure you install any of a number of free software programs that can fend off unwanted comments. Just the use of the word “sex” as in “sex equity” can attract computer robots that scour the web for such words and then bombard your site with unwanted advertisements and comments.

Academic blogging can be an extremely useful tool to help consolidate the various types of information related to your area of expertise. It has been a particularly gratifying experience for me to be able to reach so many individuals who appreciate the information and resources.

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