« The Coming Change in Humanities Publishing: A Blog Series | Main | Podcast #001: Welcome to the Academic Evolution Podcast »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Ravi Sagar

Having a personal website or blog is definitely going to help students where they can have their resume, and possibly a blog. I have seen students these days mention their blogs in their CV.

HR people also google the candidate's name to check his/her online presence and activities.

BTW I really appreciate your hard work in putting this words together and present a wonderful article.


Kyle Mathews

Hilarious post (and spot on). Reminded me of a post by Paul Graham, "After Credentials." Why suffer through the inanities of college when credentials matter less and less? The moment I decided to do a start-up, my motivation to get good grades dropped precipitously.

"In a world of small companies, performance is all anyone cares about. People hiring for a startup don't care whether you've even graduated from college, let alone which one. All they care about is what you can do. Which is in fact all that should matter, even in a large organization. The reason credentials have such prestige is that for so long the large organizations in a society tended to be the most powerful. But in the US at least they don't have the monopoly on power they once did, precisely because they can't measure (and thus reward) individual performance. Why spend twenty years climbing the corporate ladder when you can get rewarded directly by the market?"


Ralph Barnum

Let me say first that the only reason I’m commenting on this is that I'm so shocked at how vague it all is. More importantly, I’m surprised that none of the grad students have taken Gideon to task for his general lack of insight and original thought when it comes to the explosion/evolution of new media that our generation gets to excitedly watch unfold in new and fascinating ways.

First off, no one has identified this rant (I won’t call it an argument or a discussion, because, as I will show, it’s not insightful enough to be considered as such) for what it is. Briefly, let’s boil this blog post down (cue Gideon):

“Gee, I want my students to know how cool and connected I am. Did you guys know I have a cell phone and a blog? You can call me. I’m progressive.”

This rant lacks two important things I learned in high school: clarity and specificity. For example, let’s take a look at a couple of quotes that seriously make no sense (we understand what he’s getting at, but he seems to have constructed some other campus with which to prove his points):

"And here comes the triple whammy for college students. Once you are in the machine, clutching the sacred syllabus in one hand and shelling out Benjamins for textbooks with the other--once they have you on that semester cycle of credit hours and midterms and pressure deadlines that keep Rock Star and Prozac both in business--you simply can't squeeze in time for extras."

What are we supposed to understand by “extras”? Are you really trying to tell me that I’m studying/working/living/learning on a campus of students who are so unrealistically busy that they don’t have time for “extras?” If we judge by Gideon’s post, he’s talking about blogs, facebook, youtube, twitter, flickr, etc., all those incredibly thought-provoking activities that seriously stimulate critical thinking. I live and work with my generation, which wastes obscene amounts of time posting updates on facebook and posting photos of (not all the academic work they’re doing [gasp!]) but the parties they went to last weekend. Another quote:

"Don't buy the rhetoric about inviting students to play a greater role in their education if that education is the walled garden of the status quo."

First, Gideon creates a campus where students are too busy for facebook and other web developments, then he tries to convince me that professors aren’t teaching me to think independently or to create original art/scholarship. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t rewarded/praised for presenting an idea no one had presented before, or using powerpoint in hitherto unexplored ways, or incorporating new media into my assignments. Another quote that, as a student, bothers me:

"Hey! Don't believe what the system preaches by its structure! You can graduate to engaging with the world right now!"

The system? What is this the Sixties? Professors aren’t exactly circling their students demanding they shut down blogs and terminate facebook accounts. I’ve written plenty of letters to the New York Times and other news outlets. I’ve made plenty of comments on websites. I’ve even sent carefully wrought emails to writers I respect and admire. I have even gone so far as to use my spare time to write short stories, read nonrequired reading, research literary journals, and submit my work for consideration. But, I’ve never had a professor appear at my door demanding that I stop “engaging with the world.” I’m an English major, but I also give a lot of my time to my photography. You could call that an “extra,” sure. The point is, I’ve devoted more time to photography in the past two years of college than at any other period in my life. I keep a detailed portfolio of my work. I also spend many Saturdays in the library. I spend my free time researching literature. In other words, I'm working to ameliorate my brain so that when I do publish something--be it online or elsewhere--it's actually worth something. Why is Gideon suggesting that facebook and a blog are paramount for my generation’s success? And where are these professors who stop students from engaging with the world? Another quote:

"A diploma is deadness, a sort of gravestone marking your time. A nice memorial, hopefully, but it isn't a living thing. But blogs are alive. They show your thinking and developing and working."

Man, all these essays I’ve written in which I’ve carefully constructed and supported arguments just don’t really express what kind of thinker/writer I am. Neither does all this creative writing. If only I had a blog to really show me thinking and working, then I would be a true thinker of the 21st century. Sure, a blog is great. But, just because it’s technologically “savvy” doesn’t necessarily mean it suddenly endows quality thinking. Another quote:

"How many facebook updates had Candace's students posted just during the time of that conversation? Which of her students might have had a more meaningful experience if his education and her research were a two-way conversation that he and she both dared themselves to engage in?"

This is just one embarrassing instance where Gideon compares popular websites to the more important work a student should engage in at a university. Let’s be honest as English majors: who cares how up to date your facebook profile is! We’d rather be discussing Huckleberry Finn or Donald Barthelme or Modernist contributions to literature. Or, we’d rather be taking what we’ve learned and creating our own literature/scholarship. And we don’t want to do it on facebook, that’s for sure. Professors don't need to convine us of how cool they are because they use the internet like we do. They just need to be engaging on multiple levels. They need to make us think in compelling ways. Let’s be honest, serious students of literature (and I assume we’re only speaking to serious students here, because we’re not here to make excuses for the people who just don’t want to do the work) don’t view facebook as a viable platform for discussing literature. One major obstacle my generation now faces is overcoming the sloth-inducing torpor of countless websites that give nothing and demand nothing. My point is the following: did a university professor purporting to be serious just proffer that facebook plays a vital role in our college experience?

I also can’t seem to recall the last time I visited a professor who said, “Well, I’m just not here to have a meaningful experience with you. I’m not interested in two-way conversation. If only I had a facebook account or a blog, then you and I could really get into it.” I mean, come on, this is the brunt of Gideon’s rant, just as we boiled it down in the beginning. He’s simply not describing the university we attend. I’ll try to move through these quotes faster:

"Speaking for yourself is what the new media is all about. And you don't have to raise your hand to be allowed to speak. You dont evin haf to spel rite, though that doesn't hurt. The credentialing system of college will ultimately prove less important than whether you use your college years to generate a body of visible and durable online work, openly accessible to the world, shouting who you are louder than any "graduated with honors" certification on a transcript one must pay to see."

University professors aren’t discouraging us from speaking. Gideon is being vague and unclear. (Come on Gideon, as an English professor, you’re not really expecting anything progressive or important to come from people who can’t spell. This isn’t about the warm fuzzies of self expression that the internet provides to so many people. It’s about important things like art and literature in the 21st century.)

And who says that I can’t use my college years to create a body of visible work? I could email plenty of unassigned work to Gideon from my portfolio. I could also send him a list of young authors who have published during their university years—many to critical acclaim, O Henry awards, book deals and all that. So, the question isn’t whether college is a waste of time (as Gideon puts it). The question is, are you taking advantage of your college-age years to be productive, whether you’re a student or not? We all know it doesn’t matter how many papers you write or books you read, just as it doesn’t matter how many blog posts you write or photos you upload to facebook. What matters is the quality of your work. If you’re smart and devoted then you’ll land a job at the New York Times or The New Yorker or a university or wherever you want. You’ll get published. Your ideas will circulate because they stand on their own. You can spend hours and days dressing your work in all the latest trappings of the internet, but if it’s not good work it just won’t matter on a large scale. And this is what we’re talking about. We know that college degrees don’t matter when you possess mass talent. We know Shakespeare’s story and it’s not a new one. Sure, Gideon is right. Yay, we have the power to connect ourselves with the world and soar like birds or whatever with all this technology. But unless you convince smart people that you’re doing smart work, you’ll just have friends and internet strangers skimming through your blog, to which you contribute from Happy Valley after 8 hours at whatever wonderful job you managed to land. Gideon doesn’t realize that he’s talking about two different things: 1) the critical thinking that education develops vs. 2) the changing ways in which people promote themselves in the 21st century (something for which he offers no new ideas).

Here’s perhaps one of the worst quotes. The logic makes no sense:

"Think about that the next time that you pull an all nighter for a term paper that will get thrown in the trash within the month. What you do online will last and will accumulate; much of what you do in college will disappear …"

Dude, just because I post a paper online doesn’t make it more legitimate (kind of like Gideon’s rant). As noted above, it doesn’t matter if you put it online or write it on a legal pad: if it’s quality, it’s quality regardless of the platform.

An absurdly brief list of notable college work:

Google (Stanford)
Yahoo (Stanford)
Microsoft (Harvard)
(Not to mention all the artists who have published or produced groundbreaking work while still young and precocious. There are countless examples. I just don’t understand what he’s getting at. Once again, unclear.)

Perhaps Gideon is saying that we shouldn’t just throw our work away. (We already knew that.) Perhaps he’s saying that we should get out there and publish important stuff online and do our best to work the avenues that the internet provides for us. (We already knew that, too.) Which is why Gideon’s rant (not argument) fails to offer any insight. This is not a thought-provoking discussion about the challenges/opportunities facing college students in the post industrial media age. In other places, Gideon looks to Aristotle (“the unexamined life is not worth living,” or whatever he says) and Descartes, who devoted his entire life to examining thought before he offered some insight. All Gideon has done is pointed out the obvious, without examining anything. He has merely pointed out things we could examine, like what it means to learn and develop in the 21st century, without offering any examination.

Well, okay, there’s nothing wrong with pointing out things that need to be examined. The problem is that Gideon has set himself up as an arbiter of necessary and well-thought-out change in how we as students approach education. He’s not trying to point stuff out. He’s trying to offer solutions. But, he doesn’t. He needs to spend more time examining and less time ranting.

I will now try to deftly throw down some quotes from Gideon’s own rant in order to show the embarrassing lack of insight:

"But the biggest danger of the Internet in your generation is that people are keeping themselves from taking advantage of it. And I don't mean skimming some profits on eBay! I mean profiting from the social-intellectual matrix online. I know you get it, but do you get it all the way? Why are you holding yourself back? Students, you digital natives shouldn't put on the thinking cap of those digital immigrants who think the Internet is mostly a DANGER ZONE"

“Digital immigrants who think the internet is mostly a danger zone”? I need to know if there are any students out there attending this place Gideon describes. I’ve never heard anyone say to not blog or be on facebook because it’s a danger zone, much less to a college student. No one talks like this unless they are promulgating half-baked arguments. Not to mention that what Gideon mentions here is also entirely unrelated to what a university does. The most important part of my degree is not the “social-intellectual matrix.” This sort of talk belongs on the docket for some community/self-help lecture on how to profit from the internet.

"But the old guard just makes you feel guilty about it, as though every text message were a drug deal you were recklessly thumbing while driving a carload of toddlers without seat belts."

Succumbing to hyperbole, another classic convention of half-baked arguments. I’ve never been lectured on the seething evils of text messaging. Not to mention all those “old guard” professors lurking around, encouraging me to not use cell phones. (Does text messaging play any relevant role in my lifetime learning experience?)

"Turn your cell phone off in the theater, but not in the theater of learning!"

Phrases that read like sweeping declarations but really mean nothing, yet another symptom of half-baked arguments (not to mention high school composition). Did I already mention the vagueness of this rant …?

"I give my students my cell phone number so they can text or twitter me right from mid-think, and you know what? It's great to be part of this dynamic system of learning that these new technologies enable. Are you going to trust your education to those scaredy-profs that won't let you in on what they are doing in their closed-science lab or won't deal with you except when you are in class or during office hours?"

I have a lot of late-night pondering sessions. Maybe I should start calling Gideon at 1am to see what he thinks. I mean, he’s so much better than those other professors who don’t give me their phone numbers. (Come on, is this serious?) By the way, I can’t stand all those “scaredy-profs” who publish work in journals I can read. Not to mention those other wussy academics publishing books that I can read. (How many enduring books has Gideon published?) I’ve lost track of all the conversations I’ve had with professors outside class and office hours. This next quote’s important i.e. ridiculous:

"So here's the thing. You can't change them. The system will just roll you if you try. The answer? Don't burn down the campus. No, just treat your classes like you do your CDs--rip, trade, and burn the best tracks, deleting what doesn't fit your playlist."

No specific mention of the “change” he’s talking about. (Note to Gideon: the whole change as your motto thing is so last year.) Students have been selecting and parsing classes for centuries. Nothing new there. (Another note to Gideon: we don’t buy CDs anymore, remember. We download.)

"Don't let them shape you into a drone that believes he or she is not credentialed to think, speak, act, or create unless it is in terms of their syllabus, their "terms," their degrees."

Yeah, the last time I used my spare time to create something I had university Gestapo breathing down my throat and forcing me to conform to what they wanted. Voicing your phrases in uber-dramatic terms, yet another weakness of half-baked arguments.

A few more unclear claims that simply aren’t happening on university campuses:

"Don't check yourself when you have the urge to connect, explore, create, and express."
"Don't sit in the voluntary detention of self-censorship, kept from more involved participation online by worries over whether you will get a good grade in college."

And for the grand finale, the startling climax of this rant that concludes with such soaring insight and keen awareness of life in our bold new media age! Drum roll…

"Trust the ones who give you their cell phone numbers and who light up when you make a blog post tangentially related to that course but something you are passionate about."

That Gideon Burton, PhD really changed my whole college career. When I realized how much more I would be learning and engaging with the world if I only had my professors’ cell phone numbers, I mean, it entirely shifted the ground from under me. What an insight. I immediately started a blog followed by a phone call to a few professors so we could discuss the latest update on my facebook page.

Are college students across America taking advantage of the internet? Of course. Does our generation understand the shifting tides and rising powers of new media? Sure we do. We represent that shift because we’re a part of it just as much as a product of it, all in ways that Gideon or others of his generation never will be. So if you’re going to invite us to consider compelling new actions we should take within the world that we are shaping on a daily basis, you better think it through, because we’ve grown up on this system and helped make it what it is. We have more information than we know what to do with. We have insightful blogs at the Atlantic, The New Yorker, New York Times, Washington Post, Harper’s, The New Republic, The Economist, Time, Newsweek, and so and so on, all just a click away. We’re exposed to the best thinking of our time instantaneously, every day. By the way, we’re a generation of multi-taskers, so between the absurd amount of intriguing information and what we got going on, if you expect us to devote any of our time to your input on what we should be doing, you better make it good.

Gideon Burton

Please see the extended response to this post by Gregory Clark (http://tinyurl.com/bc7nkr)

Gideon Burton

I appreciate Silvia's comments. She makes me realize that in my efforts to bring about change I might be implying that college is not a good option. That isn't true. While I have a lot of criticism for academic institutions, I am also enormously appreciative of what they have been and done for me and so many others. (See the first post of the Academic Evolution blog to see where I express this more fully). I suppose what is happening here is that the digital revolution is getting us to ask tough but important questions about the true value of these institutions (both in general terms and in terms of many specific opportunities, skills, and studies they do or do not accommodate). I hope to draw upon those independent folks who have long advocated non-institutional education in order that we not too readily grant that things like critical thinking or structured learning are only available within classroom settings or standard academic activities. There are barriers to be broken down, and it will be people like Silvia who are both part of the system and critical of it who can build bridges to the future.


Dear students,

Waking Tiger has written an incisive and quite accurate critique of the academic world. I am as frustrated as he is with the "glacial pace of the old school". But I want to tell you why you should go to university.

Here's what I learned in university.

I learned how to think critically. First, I learned how to identify my taken-for-granted assumptions about my world. I learned that what I thought was "reality" was only my reality.

I also learned about the history of ideas -- and about whose ideas get included and whose get excluded. This helped me to understand how most "new ideas" build on the ideas of the past. It also gave me a framework for current ideas. And it gave me the tools to critique ideas.

In the process, I figured out where I fit in. And I learned some tools and skills that were presented in a systematic manner, so I saw how they were connected.

Can you learn these kinds of things from the Internet? Some of them. But I know that I couldn't have honed my intellectual skills the way I did without my formal education.

So don't go to university unless you have a good reason. And if you go, make sure you take charge of your own learning. Challenge the structures, let your institution know that it remains in the dark ages. I've seen students create change by taking organized action.

I love being part of a community of scholars. A small number of other academics really challenge the status quo, like I do. Because I have access to special privileges and resources due to my education, I can use them to break down some of the barriers and open new conversations between the new communities and the old institutions.

Jon Ogden

When I look at all my friends in grad school (myself included there) I can't help but think that my peer Ben Crowder, who dropped traditional graduate studies for his digital-aged projects, has the right idea (@bencrowder.net). I'm just searching for a balance that might work best for me, but I agree--the writing I do online often means more to me, affects more readers, and stays around longer than does my academic writing.


Very thought-provoking post! Personally, I think universities will lose out if they don't speed up their process. But all universities (I think) now have offices of new learning technologies, which is a start. A big part of the problem, though, is faculty who have low online literacy. As long as this state of affairs persists (which will be a long time because of tenure), it will be very difficult to make the needed shifts.

I do think universities have great value in teaching students how to critically think and how to evaluate information. They also give students the history of ideas in their field, so they can situate themselves and their thinking. Unfortunately, many students graduate without being able to do any of this.

Mark Varner

I put a link to this blog post from the Facebook presence for my traditional course in the applied sciences. I asked for comments in the discussion area of the FB Courses application. We'll see if I get any.

Alexis Jean

As one who experiences university bureaucracy first-hand every day at work, and also as one who is about to start her graduate degree at a university, I can completely relate to the frustrations felt here. Yet as was already noted, in order to be published in any kind of academic journal as well as to get a job at a university, you have to have those letters behind your name. Outside of academia you're judged on your abilities, but inside academia, you're evaluated on how well you fit into the system. Reminds of Stanley Fish's article "No Bias, No Merit." It's a frustrating profession to be getting into. Fortunately, there are a few innovative professors like yourself out there who have seen the light and are helping things to change.

barbara trumpinski-roberts

Where the heck were you when I started college? (1973...we didn't have the interwebz, we had tin cans and string)

I wouldn't be 18 again for all the tea in China, but I'd love the chance to have a combination of the time I wasted in college and the tools that are available now.

Gerrit van Dyk

This is really a great summation of higher ed right now. Too much fear of/apathy toward student involvement. Your dialog with Candace was exactly right. "Tenure is more important than students...that is, until you GET tenure."

About the letters after the name though...the great catch-22 that is still an issue today is most journals will not publish so much as a paragraph of your writing without those three letters after your name.

As of right now in Academia 1.0 (which is where we still are), alternative publication outlets that you speak about are not even considered viable for tenure evaluations.

I guess your formula for making a name for yourself outside of academia is a great one, particularly for people in business or marketing, but not so much for academics. Why are we so archaic?

Bonnie Atkinson

Provacative. Useful perspective. The exact reason I muttered to myself a lot about the cost of a graduate education, in greenbacks and in time and energy, before leaping in anyway. My domain registration is up this month on an idea I've had for some time, for which I thought I was far too busy. I think I'll renew. I think I'll build it and see who comes. Thanks. Good timing.

Glowing Willow

And you wonder why I wanted to take so many of your classes...

Really good work! This was an incredible post. Very thought provoking. I'm excited for you and your students in this movement forward.

You are a phenomenal professor, who has just somehow managed to get better!

The comments to this entry are closed.

Subscribe to the Evolution!

Mobilise this Blog

Twitter Updates:

    follow me on Twitter

    Search this Site

    • Google


    Flickr Badge

    • www.flickr.com
      This is a Flickr badge showing items in a set called Academic Evolution remixes. Make your own badge here.
    Blog powered by Typepad
    Member since 03/2007