Krause, "Virtual Mentorship and Blogs," C&W 2010, 1
(Various introductory comments)
! “Mentoring” has always had a somewhat odd connotation for me-- not negative
exactly, but somehow vaguely embarrassing, unnecessarily parental or supervisory.
I don’t think it’s the same as “advising,” and yet it is often equated as such by that
relationship’s participants. I for one saw my MFA advisor, Lee Smith, as at least a role
model (what creative writing student doesn’t aspire to be a well known novelist?) if not
a mentor, and my PhD advisor, Alice Caldernello, deﬁnitely offered mentor-like
professional and life advice that went well-beyond revision suggestions to my
dissertation. *Yet both of these advisors/mentors were also my teachers, institutionally
and ﬁnancially charged to see that I ﬁnished my work and my degree. Somehow,
mentoring as part of one’s job doesn’t seem quite right.
! When I began my ﬁrst tenure-track position at Southern Oregon University, I was
ofﬁcially assigned a mentor, a senior professor I only vaguely remember-- I believe his
name was * “Chuck.” He retired at the end of the 1996-1997 school year, the year I
started to SOU, and what I recall about our relationship now is all he wanted to talk
about was the status of his TIAA-CREF account, which at that time was going through
Krause, "Virtual Mentorship and Blogs," C&W 2010, 2
the stratosphere. Needless to say, this was a less than productive mentor/mentee
! In fact, when I think about my time at Southern Oregon, it occurs to me my real
mentors were of my own choosing, a curmudgeonly old-timer named Ed Versluis and
my fellow comp/rhet colleague, Bill Gholson, faculty colleagues I would routinely meet
for coffee in the mornings and beer in the evenings, all the time gleaning advice and
* So, when my department head told me that I was going to ofﬁcially be Derek’s mentor
in his ﬁrst year at EMU, I immediately felt old and potentially useless.
! In any event, I like to think that our relationship is more than ofﬁcial and that I
have been a bit more helpful than Chuck, but I will not dwell on that now. And I’m also
not going to talk much about my mentor/mentee relationship with Derek, other than to
note that he is as much an absent and accidental mentor to me via his blogging and his
work at EMU than I am ofﬁcially a mentor to him. And we do have good lunches.
! *Let me ﬁrst circle back to how I started this presentation in thinking about the
term “mentor.” *First, when I think of successful mentors in my own life, I make a
distinction between a mentor, an advisor, and a teacher. Arguably, I’m committing the
“distinction without a difference” fallacy, but I’m going to stick with this for the time-
being. *Second, I think mentor relationships have to be discovered and not assigned--
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that is, like my relationships in Oregon with Ed and Bill as opposed to the assigned
Chuck. *When it comes to thinking of the community of academic bloggers as a
mentoring relationship, this seems particularly natural to me. We don’t follow various
blogs because we are assigned to do so; we follow various blogs, academic and
otherwise, because of our own self-interests.
! Third, I think that most blogging mentoring relationships are unintentional and
unknown. In my own academic and blogging life, John Lovas immediately comes to
mind as a mentor along these lines. John died in 2005; here’s part of what I wrote then
on the memorial web site at DeAnza College:
! “I feel like I knew John quite well as a colleague, and yet I met him in person
only once at the Computers and Writing conference in Hawaii last year, and I probably
only exchanged a dozen words with him then. This is how fellow bloggers are: we talk
to each other through our typing.
! “John’s posts at “A Writing Teacher’s Blog” were a regular way for me to start
my day. I found his writing engaging, inspiring, inviting, and, well, useful. John was a
great source of advice and wisdom about the practicalities of teaching writing and it
was so obvious that he loved what he did.”
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! That’s how bloggers are, we talk with each other through our typing-- and this is
a different relationship than the one that comes from reading. Plato or Walter Ong are
not my mentors, but they are (or were) scholars whose thinking and writing I admire.
The bloggers I follow and care about occupy a more ongoing presence and inﬂuence,
even when that relationship is not acknowledged, I suppose because of the ongoing
discussion. John posted almost daily, so, unlike Plato, the conversation was present;
also, I too was and am a blogger, so I felt a relationship with John that was more
“mentor-like” because he was more like me.
! So this interaction is more real than I would have with the scholars who quote-
unquote “speak” to me through their writings, even though interaction among a
community of bloggers is also largely textual and often anonymous. I use the word
community with some caution here, because I think that this is one of the more slippery
and difﬁcult concepts to deﬁne among bloggers, academic and otherwise. * In 2008 and
2009, I conducted a quasi-random survey of bloggers concerning a variety of issues on
blogging. I contacted around 270 bloggers; just over 100 participated in the anonymous
survey. There are obviously limitations with this data and for now, I will mention two
things. First, my study is more about how blogs represent (or not) a “writerly space”
for bloggers, meaning in part how blog writers equate their practices as being a
“writer,” either in the sense that publishing on a blog means they are “published,” or
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how blogging leads to other publishing. Or something like that-- it is very much a work
in progress. But the project isn’t about blogging as community per se, and it isn’t about
blogs as a mentoring space at all. Second,for the most part, I steered away from
academic bloggers-- or at least that was my goal.
! Having said that, I do think there are a couple of interesting results about
community and collaboration that are applicable to this discussion of mentoring here.
! * One of the few open-ended questions I asked in the survey was “How would
you complete the sentence ‘My primary/main blog was about...’?” Contrary to the
assumption that blogs are largely about the blogger-- that is, they are journal or diary-
like-- * most of the answers to this question suggested a particular topic of interest-- art,
literature, food, the shipping industry, music, marketing, personal ﬁnance, etc. In
response to the question “How would you describe the main audience of your blog ?
(check all that apply)” a very clear majority-- 79.3%-- responded “People with any
interest in the main subject of my blog.” The next highest responses were pretty much
tied: “friends” at 43.7% and “people looking for reliable information about the main
subject of my blog” at 42.5%. Only 9.2% said that they didn’t know how they would
describe the audience of their blogs.
! * Now, to me, these results say that a lot of bloggers see themselves as being
rather mentor-like. They blog about a topic, one that is probably tied to their “selves,”
but also one which is not exclusively about themselves. I also think these bloggers
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believe people are reading their blogs as a result of that topic and their insight on that
topic, often because they think that their audience believes them to be a reliable source.
Even the high percentage of “friends” acknowledged by bloggers seems connected to
the equally high percentage of readers looking for “reliable information,” because in the
end, isn’t a big part of ﬁnding a mentor about ﬁnding someone you trust (e.g., a
“friend”) who can tell you reliable things on a particular topic of mutual interests?
! Still, there are other parts of my survey that suggests that the interaction between
bloggers within a particular “community” is at best indirect, which to me indicates an
interaction that is analogous to “parallel play.”
I am no expert on early childhood development, but anyone who has had small
children in their lives knows what I’m talking about: toddlers typically play next to
each other rather than with each other, and that play is often related only by proximity
and similar toys. Two or three kids both digging in the same sandbox, for example, or,
in the case of what I’m talking about here, two or three bloggers writing about the same
topic: in both cases, the kids or bloggers don’t interact, but their proximity is in itself a
sort of acknowledgement of each other.!
! “Parallel play” is what a lot of the interaction in blogs looks like to me, and I
think some of my survey data aligns with this. * Forty-two percent of all respondents to
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my survey said they received fewer than ﬁve comments a week on their blogs, which
doesn’t exactly suggest a lot of interaction of a vibrant community of participants
treating the blog space as place for conversation and exchange.
! The responses to questions that are more directly about community are also
relevant here: * In response to the statement “I view my blog as a community for my
readers,” participants sided on the positive, as you can see here, though the difference
between “strongly agree” and “neither agree nor disagree” is small.
! In contrast, responses to the statement * “I see my blog ﬁtting into a larger
community of bloggers with similar interests” are much more clearly toward the
“strongly agree” or “agree” spectrum of things. I interpret this as meaning that most
bloggers don’t see their blog as a “community space” in and of itself, but they do see
their blog as ﬁtting into a larger community of bloggers, ones that are writing beside
each other on presumably similar topics and concerns. Again, parallel play.
! I think it’s worth noting here that parallel play is a healthy thing, a normal and
natural stage of children’s development. But it’s also something that children grow out
of, and I wonder if this kind of parallel play is something that a lot of academic
bloggers-- at least the ones I have followed over the years-- have also grown out of.
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! This isn’t exactly a happy conclusion for a talk on the value of blogging as a form
of mentoring-- or at least being analogous to mentoring-- but it’s something that
obviously needs to be mentioned. *Kairos started the John Lovas Memorial Weblog
prize in 2004 to honor the “best academic weblog,” and of the six blogs that have
recognized, * only the most recent three are still regularly updated: Edbauer publicly
gave up blogging a few years ago, and Brooke and Ratliff’s updates have been rare.
! Mind you, I don’t blame any of these people, and *I don’t want to go down the
whole “blogs are dead” discussion, *though I will point you to Alan Levin’s blog
CogDogBlog, where he talks in some detail about the “blogs are not dead yet” issue and
a presentation he gave recently. It is interesting how all the “blogs are dead”
discussions seem to take place on blogs.
! It’s disappointing-- and I guess a little depressing-- to me that a lot of the
academic bloggers I used to read don’t blog at all or as much anymore, but in the
context of mentoring, I suppose this makes some sense. * Neither blogs nor mentors are
forever. At some point, just as bloggers run out of things to say, mentors run out of
mentor-like advice, and it also seems to me that the need for mentoring wanes and
changes. Not unlike blogs.