Thoughts on Blogging and Academia: One Political Science Student’s Perspective

I’ve found that the proliferation of academic blogging and tweeting has been beneficial for my own development as both a student and lecturer in the past few years. I’ve been curating a few lists of academics from fields related to my research over the past few years and it has provided a wealth of information that had not been easily accessible through things like journal articles. For an aspiring political scientist, the information generated on twitter or in personal or professional blogs is almost always more relevant and more timely than waiting for journal articles to be published.

In particular, I am a huge fan of the site “War on the Rocks” in which policy practitioners, academics, and other topic relevant individuals write posts about important topics and unfolding events in the national security field. It offers a public outlet for academics, graduate students, and others to publicly discuss and disseminate ideas and thoughts on national security issues that may go on to find homes in academic journals but without having to go through a 2 year process to get those thoughts out there. That type of collaboration and access to information is extremely beneficial for students and faculty alike, given the open exchange of ideas and the easy (and generally free) access to those concepts.

Finally, I think there is one other media that could be helpful for students attempting to improve their discourse and communication skills, one that has already been widely adopted by the academic community: podcasting. I’ve encouraged my students to listen to podcasts focused on issues related to their studies (such as national security, or foreign policy) and have assigned student projects that require them to produce their own podcasts. Podcasting gives students an opportunity to develop their oral skills with conveying information without having to have them stand up in front of 40-110 person classes. I think a combination of these techniques could be beneficial to students as they proceed through their academic careers.


  • Jon LLoyd

    I enjoy your assessment of the benefits of blogs over journals as well as your outlining the benefits of podcasting as a student tool. I’d like to ask for more details regarding how you integrate podcasting into your curriculum. Is there any set format students follow? Do they work in teams? How are the podcast episodes distributed?

    • admin

      Hi Jon,

      Thanks for your comment. I provided the students with some topics from class that they could research elements in which they were interested. I set some other guidelines (12-15 minutes, should be in .mp3 format, etc) but I left how they wanted to approach it up to them. Some chose to take an informal approach, others essentially began with formal intros like mainstream podcasts do. I also left it up to them on if they wanted to work in teams or discuss research on their own and the final result was uploaded to canvas for myself and others to listen.

  • Cindy Klimaitis

    I totally agree about the staying up to date in your field. I’m sure students enjoy the podcasting too, especially since this is their expert area. What method do you use to seek out the most relevant podcasts to your field?

    • admin

      I started out my listening to podcasts produced by relevant field publications (in my case the magazine “Foreign Policy” created their own podcasts). After listening to some episodes and really enjoying that format, I looked to see if other places I read articles in produced their own, or had recommendations. I slowly expanded to other relevant things like the War on the Rocks podcasts/Rational Security.

      I’ve also cultivated my own twitter lists of relevant scholars/figures/politicians related to my work/interests and they often promote others, or mention ones they have been guests on.

  • Connor

    I had never thought about podcasts being a tool to discuss current information in the field. In dairy, we normally have to rely on scientific publications, which can be complex and difficult for every student to “digest.” Hopefully I can find some good podcasts to incorporate next semester!

    • admin

      Given my field, a lot of researchers do have publications but the publication process often means that their articles are slightly out of date from up-to-the-minute news or events. Thus, a lot of top scholars comment regularly on current events through things like podcasts. I think that might be particular to fields like political science, or economics, etc, but you never know!

  • A. Nelson

    Podcasting is a great idea! I’d love to try that. How would you compare the time investment to other kinds of authorship (papers, blogs, case studies, etc)? It’s definitely a great asset for students.
    So many fans of War on the Rocks! Thanks for this.

    • admin

      I think the time investment is somewhere between blogs and papers/case studies. I encouraged my students to do research ahead of time, similar to what they would do with a paper and I also pushed for them to create outlines to guide their conversations when they are recording the podcasts to make them flow more easily. I usually gave the the topic a week in advance and then we got together after the podcasts were released to have an in-class discussion of the issues/topics raised in the podcasts. I think that takes more time than blogging, but they don’t necessarily have to spend the same amount of hours writing that a paper would entail.

  • Tim

    Interesting perspective on blogging and twitter posts. As a political science student would you be worried of bias in these blogs, podcasts, or social media in general? Are there vetted facts pointed too when information is spread? While the journal looks to be a 2 year process — is the rigor put forth in those journals outweigh those perspective? Or merely complement them? I hope to hear your input on this!

    • admin

      Generally a lot of the people I follow on twitter tend to be scholars in the field and not actively associated with particular political parties. They tend to be people who have published before through respected academic journals and institutions. I try to avoid just straight political commentary and focus on interesting research being done in the field. There is of course, some fact checking and editorial oversight on submissions to thinks like War on the Rocks/Foreign Policy/Foreign Affairs and on Twitter there are always discussions about the evidence or potential bias. Podcasting is a little more loose and informal, but many do provide citations or links to research when particular points are made and when people give they opinion rather than presenting facts, they tend to highlight that those statements may only be conjecture or a personal opinion.

  • Sara

    Hi Raymond,

    I am going to chime in on podcasts with several others. While I’ve known about them for a while, I hadn’t gotten into them until recently. I find that they’re really great for when I’m working around the house and I can have it going in the background. It’s such a relief to my system to be absorbing information without having to stare at a screen!

    • admin

      Thanks for your comment Sara! I couldn’t agree more with you about the ability to be absorbing information without staring at a screen. I originally started listening to podcasts in my field while driving or taking walks in order to keep up with events and research while still getting out of my office/house. Its nice to break away from screens for a while and still get to be engaged with similar material.

  • Aislinn McCann

    Hi Ray,
    I think that the addition of podcasting to our class’s conversation on blogging as experiential learning is very useful. It not only gives students a way to work on their presenting skills through a fun technological platform, but it also allows students who may have a lot of anxiety about presenting to practice their skills from the comfort of their own home (or other soundproofed space). While I think that students should be pushed out of their comfort zone a little bit, having students work on their verbal skills through a podcast is a really good stepping stone for presentations skills. It also is a way for students who are confident in their speaking skills to polish their final product to a higher level. Do you think there are any lessons you learned from assigning podcasts that will result in changes to your assignment in the future?

    As a fun addition, they could maybe even post a link to their podcasts on their blogs!

    • Ray Thomas

      Thank you for your comments. I do think the idea of combining the two approaches is an interesting one. I think the biggest take away is that it did result in a better discussion in class than papers otherwise provided, and made people much more likely to speak up. On the other hand, I think I would be even more free form with what the students research and could present in their podcasts. Even within the broad topics I gave them, I still ended up with a lot of overlap, which is difficult to listen to 30-40 times.

  • Andrew

    Excellent post. To begin, I am still searching for my voice in the digital world. This is because I (correctly) fear the permanence of posting on the internet. Nevertheless I believe it is possible to find or create a set of “rules for posting” to keep myself from posting something regretful. Even if nobody reads my posts I believe it is important for own benefit to organize and outline my thoughts in a way that others would understand.

    On the topic of podcasting, I love the medium of podcasting. It is hard to imagine not having the podcasts that I listen to every day/week. I believe it is a great way to communicate ideas clearly and effectively. I hope that big academia embraces podcasting formats and incorporates them into future curriculum. Thanks again for the comment!

    • Ray Thomas

      Thank you for your comment, I completely understand the anxiety of the permanence of posting on the internet. I am always engaged in an ongoing struggle about whether to edit twitter posts, delete old posts, have a public or private account, etc. I think the idea of a set of “rules for posting” is a good idea and I’m glad you also enjoy the idea of podcasts in academia!

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