Blogging as reflective practice or vanity publishing?

Why do I blog? What is its purpose? Am I engaging in a monologue or a dialogue and why should it matter?

These are questions I often ask myself and after reading Marcus O’Donnell’s excellent journal “Blogging as Pedagogic Practice: Artefact and Ecology” (2006) I feel I need to clarify a few things to myself and in doing so I believe I am having a conversation with self. This blog is predominantly a tool to help me critically analyse and shape my own ideas based on the wider research I am undertaking into learning technologies and practices. Secondly it is a narrative, recorded moments in time, of my current thoughts and feelings on specific topics and interests which I can refer to in the future. The links to other resources, websites and blogs and my comments on them act as an aide memoir. It is my harvesting of relevant information whilst sorting out the wheat from the chaff. By writing about these carefully chosen resources (amongst so many) I am more likely to remember them and make thoughtful and measured connections between them. It is the building of these connected ideas which shapes my learning into something tangible and real. Isn’t this what Papert refers to as constructionism, which is a step further from Piaget’s theory of constructivism, in that I am constructing an artefact with my new-found knowledge and applying it to the real world – scaffolding my knowledge and experience into this thing, this blog? Another reason why I blog is that I am able to refer others to specific blog posts which contain relevant links and ideas, thereby saving me some time in the long run. All pertinent reasons for keeping a blog and nothing to do with the “vanity publishing” (O’Donnell, p.6) that critics of blogs dismiss. For those who do use blogs to advertise or market themselves, their companies, their professional expertise then good luck to them. That is the power of the “expressive internet” (Tufecki, 2008).

My reasons are more humble. To quote O’Donnell, “Part of the freedom of blogging is its immediacy and its flexibility: it is a space where anything from brief notes, first thoughts and links, to more worked-up essay style postings can live together. However, deeper dimensions are discovered if the blogger actively mines this archive gradually shaping it through addition and juxtaposition.” (O’Donnell, p.9).

It is strange however, that this blog started its life as a conversational blog within a network of peers (learners on an MSc programme) who wanted to create a community of practice. This dialogue with others is undoubtedly an asset of blogging and central to the success of many a blog and something I need to build on if I wish my colleagues to share good practice through blogging. I have steered away from this approach lately because, for me personally, it is my own stumbling forays into the unknown that count – the treasure hunt at the end of all the ramblings. I agree with O’Donnell’s assertion that the concept of deeper learning has become a bit of cliché. It brings to my mind the vision of the exploratory diver floating on the surface of the sea, looking down into the dark depths of the ocean and then swimming down to find the hidden, buried treasure at the bottom. O’Donnell points out that this lacks any “sense of horizontal connectivity” (p.14) which resonates with Siemens concept of connectivism. I played with this metaphor a bit and came up with my own which makes more sense to me. Learning is not a vertical journey (made in isolation) nor a horizontal one, it is a higgledy piggledy eternal cycle, both horizontal and vertical and that is why I prefer to think of my own learning as movement within a spider’s web. I scurry along a bit on the outer edges and then delve in a bit where I see an interesting connection which may lead somewhere exciting. I then scoot around a bit more, diligently side-step along a horizontal tangent and then vertically transcend just that bit more and the cycle continues. This fits in with my understanding of situative learning and active, problem-based learning. So my treasure, that nirvana of knowledge and understanding, is centred at the heart of my web and my blog epitomizes the scurrying around this web of interwoven, tenuous connections. This is how I see it. I wish I could draw it.

Attribution: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos from Wikimedia Commons

Attribution: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos from Wikimedia Commons

I like O’Donnell’s ideas on blogging as “Relationship and Conversation”. There is the conversation with self (the monologue) and the potential conversation with others (the dialogue) when comments are made and then relationships forged into future reciprocal exchanges. Somewhere in the middle lies the magic, or the motivation that drives bloggers  to continue.

“Unlike other tools that support conversations, weblogs provide their authors with a personal space simultaneously with a community space. As a result, at any given time a blogger is involved in two types of conversations; (1) conversations with self and (2) conversations with others” (O’Donnell, 2006, p.8).

My understanding of blogging as a conversation with self and others

My understanding of blogging as a conversation with self and others

One of the issues I am undoubtedly going to have to consider is how to encourage peers and learners to find their own voice when they venture into this unknown territory. Blogging is not for everyone and at first it can be very unsettling. However, I do feel that there is much to be gained from making that first leap into the public domain, into that Web 2.0 whacky world and now I need to develop a strategy to provide the relevant practical and pedagogical guidance to those learners who wish to make those first daunting steps into the blogosphere.

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