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Different models of feedback: Academia and the blogosphere May 13, 2008

Posted by Raul in academic life, blogosphere, personal life, random thoughts.

I embarked in academia because I was puzzled by questions and liked the answers. I also started an academic career because I figured it would lead me to the world of international environmental affairs (after all, I did want a job with the United Nations). Finally, I dabbled in academia because that’s the family business. My Mom is a professor, a couple of my brothers are professors, I’ve been a professor, etc. These past few months, I have given serious consideration to leaving academia altogether (which is regrettable because I do love teaching and I think I’m very good at it – ok, lack of modesty here, but I am indeed a very good instructor).

Today I was reflecting on how different the models of feedback are in the two worlds where I now live. In academia, the feedback tends to be both on the process and the final product, more than the process. In blogging, I find that the feedback I’ve received is on the content. Let me try to give one example. Whenever I receive feedback on my blog, it usually comes in the form of “oh, I love your blog” (so far, nobody seems to hate it) or “I find your content funny/interesting/refreshing“. I have never heard anybody say “oh you should structure your posts as follows – first, an introduction – then offer the main body of the post – close with a summary“).

In academia, I’ve been subjected to extreme duress. My seminars/talks/papers have been torn/ripped/picked apart/criticized all the time. I have seen my papers covered in red ink. In the blogosphere, this has never happened (yet). I wouldn’t say that my posts may not receive criticisms (so far I don’t think I’ve received any, but I am sure that the longer I blog, the more I’ll be criticized). I may have been criticized as Twitter-Spam, but those comments have never really reached me in person (nobody has told me to my face “you are Twitter-spam“.

There is one other Vancouver blogger that I know (and that I had the pleasure of having coffee with today) who can relate very well to the questions I ask myself. Our lives are somewhat parallel (I’m talking about the lovely Dr. Beth Snow). We both lead academic lives and we both lead blogger lives. Our blogs are both personal. In both cases, her students and my students have read each one of our blogs, and have found them refreshing.

While this idea of comparing the models of feedback didn’t occur to me until very late tonight, I figure that this is one of the reasons why I am addicted to blogging, to social media and to my blogospheric friends: within this crowd, I am just me and nobody is judging the outcomes of my work. I can just go and have a beer at the Kingston (NerdCamp Patio Edition) or play Rock Band, or have a post-Third Tuesday drink at Steamworks. But I don’t feel judged, neither on the quality of my posts nor on the relevance.

The more I blog, the freer I feel. Most of the time, I find myself in a virtuous circle: I get a lot of positive feedback on my blog, and I try to also be reciprocal and provide encouragement and positive reinforcements. I don’t sugarcoat things, if I tell you that I like your blog or I loved a particular post, I mean it. I am a very, very, very diplomatic man and I can weasel my way out of having to pay a “fake” compliment or be “kinda sweet”. My sweetness comes to me naturally, and if I provide you with feedback, it will ALWAYS be having what I think is your best interest at heart.

I have to say that the more academic friends I have, the better I feel whenever any of my papers/talks/seminars receive harsh criticisms. None of those harsh criticisms come from the academics who care for me. My academic friends always try to provide their feedback in a positive, nice and kind way. But not everybody is my friend in academia and thus sometimes I do receive rough treatment. However, in the blogosphere, 99.999% of the feedback I’ve received is positive, and I think that’s the nature of social media. Hence why I am addicted to the social media model of feedback: it’s much kinder on my soul.



1. marjnilorbie - May 13, 2008

yeah. i do agree with you raul. this phenomenon of worldwide blogging provides a kind of escap, much like writing a diary, and having everybody read it without making you feel ashamed of yourself. I haven’t had a bad experience here and really. i don’t think it would matter if I did. i know my blog is my sphere and i’d do whatever i want with it.i made it to express myself and that’s exactly what i intend to keep doing 🙂

2. Beth - May 13, 2008

I think in the blogosphere, you get your “negative” feedback in a more indirect way – if people don’t like your blog, they don’t read it. If I write a blog post and it gets no comments (either on the posting itself or in person), I consider that similar to “you need to do better next time.” I think you also bring up an important distinction – this is a personal blog, so you get to write it however you want – you are writing for yourself and people who enjoy it will join in. In academia, you have a different goal (to convince people of your idea, to move the field forward, to get a degree or a job or tenure). Thus, you *need* different kinds of feedback. I’m of the belief that feedback shouldn’t be “negative,” even when it’s corrective (I even mark papers/exams in green pen rather than red, because red pens have such a negative connotation). Criticism should be constructive and it should be written with the intent of helping the learner to improve, not to put them down or to prove that you are smarter than them. That’s just my 2 cents.

It was really nice meeting you in person yesterday too!

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