Blogging in the Edusphere: A Beginner’s Guide

blogging


What is a blog?
Who are the bloggers and why do they blog?
Blogging for Educational Purposes
The Educational Blogosphere
Tips for writing a successful blog in education
How do I get started with blogging?

It has been some time since I touched based with my blog and I have missed it.  I had planned to write a post on the complexities of pedagogy but I need to unravel that one when I have more time and patience. Since I am developing a blended learning programme on Web 2.0 technologies I started to think about how I should introduce blogging to those educators who are unfamiliar with the practice, so after a bit more digging around I have compiled this beginner’s guide which may be of use to the uninitiated. The content is not very “blog friendly” and breaks all the rules of a blog post in that it is too long, too formal and not punctuated with multimedia. This is because it has been written for a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) and therefore  will be divided into more manageable bite-sized chunks making it more accessible. However, having it here, all in one place, will enable me to find things more quickly when I need to reference material and isn’t this one of the advantages of a blog?

So below is my harvest after a few days toil.

What is a blog?

A blog is an online space in which an author can easily publish content to the web. The word originated from the term “weblog” which, as the name suggests, means a journal entry and this is generally how blogs started their life, as self-publications of personal musings. They are now, however, far more varied in purpose and design. This short video clip by Common Craft sets out to explain the concept of a blog in very general terms.

In a blog a series of posts are written and appear in reverse chronological order with the most recent post appearing at the top of the blog. One of the advantages of creating a blog is the ease with which multimedia content such as videos and images can be incorporated. The inclusion of hyperlinks to other relevant complementary resources can flesh out a blog and make it more interactive and engaging to the reader. The driving force behind an author writing a blog is perhaps the fact that it is in the public domain, although some blogs can be set to private or a limited number of authorised readers.  A blog gives a reader a “voice” to share thoughts and opinions to a wider audience. What makes blogging a collaborative, participatory Web 2.0 practice is the ability for readers to comment on the posts and share their own thoughts and ideas. Blogs therefore constitute a new and “unique communication genre” (Silva et al. p.56) which offers the author an opportunity to reflect, showcase, advertise and communicate news and ideas whilst readers are invited to participate and join in the conversation. Readers may become followers of blogs and can subscribe to them via RSS (Really Simple Syndication) so that new posts are automatically flagged up. This interchange between an author and his/her readers connects them in a “hyper structure known as the blogosphere” (Fessakis et al, 2008, p.199). This situates blogs within the context of the “expressive internet” that Tufecki (2008) defines as one of the hallmarks of the Read/Write Web making it more personal, social and collaborative.

“Blogs engage readers with ideas and questions and links. They ask readers to think and to respond. They demand interaction” (Richardson, 2010, p.18).

The surge in self-publishing on the internet is largely due to the socio-cultural climate in which technological advancements have facilitated the opportunities for people to express themselves and socialise through this new media ecology. Watch Wesch’s interesting lecture on How the Machine is Changing Us for more on this subject. Another reason why blogging has become so popular is simply that it is so easy to set up and maintain. Popular sites like wordpress, blogger,  tumblr and edublogs allow users to register and start writing their blogs easily and quickly. The majority of blogs are free to set up although for education and business there may be service agreement costs depending on the level of support and enterprise required.   So who are all these bloggers and what is their motivation behind their practice?

License: Some rights reserved by alamodestuff from Flickr Creative Commons

Attribution: Some rights reserved by alamodestuff


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Who are the bloggers and why do they blog?

Technorati is a useful website which monitors the state of the blogosphere and has been collating statistical data since 2004. The number of blogs have been rising significantly since then which is testimony to their appeal. Approximate figures suggest that there were only 4 million blogs in 2004 rising to 181 million for 2011.

Technorati divides bloggers into several categories: the hobbyist, professional full-timer, professional part-timer, corporate blogger and entrepreneur.  The so-called hobbyists contribute over 60% of all blogs in the blogosphere.

The backbone of the blogosphere, representing over 60% of all bloggers are “hobbyists” who “blog for fun” whilst expressing their “personal musings”. 60% indicate they spend less than three hours a week blogging, yet half of hobbyists spend time to respond individually to comments from readers. The main reason 72% of hobbyists blog is to “speak their minds” and their main success metric is personal satisfaction (61%).

Technorati’s sample survey of active bloggers provides some quantitative data on why people blog and how they measure the success of the blogs. Listed below are just the top 6 responses.

Why do you blog?

  • To share my experience and expertise with others
  • In order to speak my mind on areas of interest
  • To become more involved with my passion areas
  • To meet and connect with like-minded people
  • To gain professional recognition
  • To advance my career

How do you measure the success of your blog?

  • Personal satisfaction
  • Number of unique visitors
  • Number of posts or comments on my blog
  • Number of people who are sharing my content on social media sites
  • Number of links to my blogs on other sites
  • Number of RSS subscribers

Source: http://technorati.com/social-media/article/state-of-the-blogosphere-2011-part2/ (this website is no longer available)

This data suggests we are increasingly changing the way we produce and consume information online. Web 2.0 tools and practices pivot on the dynamics of co-creation and redistribution of knowledge. People want to share, they want to express themselves and they want to connect with others and be rewarded with feedback as “the thirst for making connections, for communication, is insatiable and that is why hundreds of new communities form every day” (Preece, 2010).

Edublogs is a service dedicated to students and educators who are blogging for teaching, learning, and professional purposes. Exploring blogging through a theoretical lens we can ascertain that it promotes authentic, situative and collaborative learning which supports social constructivist and constructionist pedagogical principles. Blogging can also promote communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) and extend personal learning networks. New theories of collective intelligence and connectivism (Siemens & Downes, 2005) give credence to online practices like blogging. So why are educational practitioners and so many learners immersing themselves in the blogosphere?

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Blogging for Educational Purposes

It is generally acknowledged that there has been paradigm shift from teacher-centred learning to student centred learning based on the social constructivist theories espoused by Vygotsky.  McLoughlin stresses the need for educators to expand their pedagogical vision “so that learners are active participants or co-producers rather than passive consumers of content, so that learning is a participatory, social process supporting personal life goals and needs” (McLoughlin, 2007, p.664). The practice of blogging can facilitate self-directed learning, increase metacognitive awareness through critical reflection (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2011) and support the construction of knowledge through collaboration amongst peers. Both educators and learners can benefit from this.

Downes highlights the fact that blogging gives “students a genuine and potentially worldwide audience for their work. Having such an audience can result in feedback and greatly increase student motivation to do their best work. Students also have each other as their potential audience, enabling each of them to take on a leadership role at different times through the course of their learning” (Downes, 2011, p78).

Blogs can be both monologues (having a conversation with self) reinforcing theoretical perspectives on reflective, problem-based, situative learning or blogs can be dialogues (conversation with others) in which communities of practice develop, (O’Donnell, 2006; Yan, 2009).

Will Richardson’s book on Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms (2010) advocates the use of blogs, as “the most widely adopted tool of the Read/Write Web so far,”(p.10) and goes on to list some practical recommendations. I have modified this list substantially to summarise the main points and have included some of my own ideas.

Teacher Blogs – Reflective / Journal / Community of Practice

  • keep a log of successful lessons and practices
  • explore pedagogical issues whilst experimenting with different methodologies
  • critically reflect on teaching practices and experiences
  • plan strategies for future lessons
  • share teaching ideas
  • ask followers for advice, recommendations, research material, lesson ideas
  • reflect on observations of other teachers’ practice and lessons learned (vicarious learning)

Class Blogs

  • post information on news and events, homework, assignments
  • publish students’ work to showcase good practice
  • communicate with parents on a daily/ weekly basis to let them know about the learning topics
  • post photos and videos of classroom activities
  • incorporate multimedia exploring other Web 2.0 technologies to make the site more interactive and engaging for example embedding voice-thread, podcasts or creative art
  • provide links and resources to support assignments and homework
  • request learners to  harvest useful resources on a given topic and share them on the blog
  • post prompts for further reading and research
  • build a class newsletter incorporating all student content
  • link your class with another class in the world for cultural exchange
  • encourage learners (and parents) to use the comments feature to give feedback on classroom activities

Individual Student blogs enable students to

  • step into the world of Web 2.0 safely and securely under the advice and support of the teacher providing opportunities to discuss digital identity
  • express themselves and showcase their work (art, poetry, photography, creative writings)
  • personalise learning through the look and feel of their blog which they have ownership of
  • improve literacy skills
  • evidence group or individual project work as portfolios for assessment
  • collate relevant resources pertinent to a topic and discuss the significance of each whilst promoting digital literacy
  • self-reflect on learning experiences or classroom activities
  • develop self-directed, autonomous learning improving study skills and life-long learning skills
  • learn how to interact with others respectfully and respond to comments appropriately
  • explore the interactivity and collaborative nature of Web 2.0 and the sociality it engenders
  • extend the confines of the classroom, learning takes place flexibly meeting the needs of the learner.

Collis and Moonen stresses the importance of the “contributing student” pedagogy by emphasising the difference between an acquisition model of learning in which a learner comes to possess new knowledge and a participatory model of learning when learning is integrated into the learner’s world (Collis & Moonen, 2006).  Blogging ticks all the boxes for active, authentic, problem-based learning.

These are just some of the activities that you could pursue by employing blogs for teaching and learning. Watch this short YouTube clip on Blogging with students: How and Why before exploring some of the blogs listed below.

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You might also want to read Blogging in the Classroom: Why your students should write online and also a Reflection on the benefits of Classroom Blogging by primary school teacher who has been blogging since 2008.

So now we have established what blogs are, who the bloggers are and what blogs could be used for in education let us find a sample of blogs that could be of interest to you.

The Educational Blogosphere

It seems unfair to pick out just a few blogs when there are millions out there in the blogosphere. No exact figures can be traced for the number of blogs in existence but Tumblr states it has 193 million blogs (as of 3rd July 2014) and WordPress has its own statistical analysis which you can track for up to date figures. However, I have selected a handful which will hopefully demonstrate their wide and varied use in education for both learners and educators..  However, I have selected a handful which will hopefully demonstrate their wide and varied use in education for both learners and educators.

  1. First off, here is Neverseconds, a blog that started off innocently enough by a primary school student, Martha Payne as part of a school project which focussed on her school meals. Within a few months it reached international acclaim and secured hundreds and thousands of pounds for charity enriching many people’s lives. The power of the web! Listen to Martha’s story to find out why.
  2. This case study from JISC RSC includes a video explaining how a Geology Tutor set up a class blog to promote further enquiry and research amongst her learners. One student took up the mantle and even though she has since moved on to university continues to use her blog for reflection, analysis and synthesis of her own learning. See What I learnt in Geography this week.
  3. TeachNorthern’s blog post on criticality deserves a mention for three reasons. Firstly, it highlights the way in which, by penning her post with such an enquiring mind, the author is unravelling her ideas and thoughts in search of answers. She is undoubtedly on a journey. Secondly it characterises the nature of many blogs that wend their merry way from being both a conversation with self (monologue) and conversation with others (dialogue) and this is evident with the linguistic shift from the personal pronoun “I” to phrases like “you get the picture”. Thirdly, this post is personal and readable. It is informative, yet it is also a narrative in which you can clearly hear the author’s own voice. This is one of the joys of writing a blog, with “honesty, integrity and meaningfulness” (Downes, 2011, p.72) which is apparent when  she reflects on her reaction to a problem, “I had an emotional response to it which combined denial, connection, fear, recognition, anger…a whole bag of feelings, but I still don’t know what I think. Sometimes, finding out what you think takes time. And that – really – is OK too” (Technorthern, 2012). I agree!
  4. http://cathywint.posterous.com/a-video-tastic-lesson .This is a different type of blog altogether because it is evidently written for reflective practice and Continuing Professional Development although it is nevertheless described as a “personal space” by the author. Other ESOL teachers would no doubt learn a lot from all the various classroom activities she is willing to share.
  5. Learning with e’s is updated regularly and has many followers who are interested in emerging technologies for learning and teaching. Steve Wheeler is a thinker who likes to share his ideas, thoughts and feelings on education. See his pertinent blogpost on 7 Reasons why teachers should blog . Note that his blog posts are listed under the Creative Commons licence so “sharing” knowledge and experience is important to this author.
  6. Dave Foord’s site is another wordpress blog http://davefoord.wordpress.com/ which focusses on technology for learning and teaching. He is a consultant who uses the blog to share his experience and to reflect on his own practice. He has been blogging consistently since 2007.
  7. Edublogs has over 1 million sites blogs dedicated to teaching and learning. This blog entitled Integrating Technology into the Primary Classroom has almost everything you need to know about introducing blogs into the classroom and has won accolades from edublogs hall of fame. Kathleen Morris is a primary school teacher in Australia and has a wealth of experience in using blogs with learners.
  8. Metafilter, described as a “community weblog” is a different kind of blog altogether and is worth a mention because it is a unique community in which members share a variety of interests, news and ideas. A $5 fee is charged for membership and there are specific guidelines ensuring members contribute with respect and courtesy to others whilst at the same time promoting constructive controversy and active debate.

For more of the best blogs in education (from the principal to the primary school student visit the Edublog award site at: http://edublogawards.com/).

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Tips for writing a successful blog in education

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lapideo/198046070/sizes/m/in/photostream/

Attribution: Some rights reserved by lapideo Flickr Creative Commons

There is plenty of advice out there in the blogosphere on how to write a good blog post but context is key. Much of the advice focusses on how to entice, engage and maintain a reliable following of readers but this is not our main interest. See Downe’s critique of a journalist blogger’s tips for successful blogging which he dismisses, “the point of a blog isn’t to gather a loyal cadre of readers around you dutifully writing comments” (Downes, 2011, p.73).  This type of “vanity publishing” (O’Donnell, 2006, p.6)  and narcissistic pride is certainly evident in many professional blogs and is the motivation behind many blogger’s activities but it is of less importance for the learner or teacher trying to improve learning outcomes. However, it should be acknowledged that writing in the public domain can be a powerful incentive, “this public context encourages a unique calibre of thoughtfulness that does not typically happen in private journals” (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2011, p.110) and as such can be skilfully harnessed by teachers to motivate learners.

If you are writing a class blog for learners (and parents) this will be significantly different in substance and style than if you were writing on a more personal level to develop skills in self-reflection. However, since we are concentrating on blogs as both channels for reflection and communities of practice we will focus on a few characteristics. Let us remember one of the main benefits of blogging:

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, 2006, p.9).

If you are writing for critical reflection then lay down the foundations by following one of the various reflective cycle models  such as Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (1984), Gibb’s Reflective Cycle (1998) or Schon’s Reflection Model (1983). Remember to be analytical not just descriptive. Your “blogging voice” will develop over time and will improve once you start to read and follow other blogs. These are my own personal tips on blogging based on experience and some extensive reading around the subject. However, you will undoubtedly find your own strategies for successful blogging. These tips are simply a starting point if you are stepping into the edusphere for the first time.

  1. Have a clear purpose and focus for your blog or you will struggle finding your voice. What do you want to gain by undertaking the practice and how best can you achieve this?“Students need to identify and define a focus for their blog, establish goals and objectives for how and when they will contribute to their blog; identify, find, use and critique content and ideas to include in the blog; appropriately share content and ideas to an audience via their blog; and critique the effectiveness of their blog posts to meet their goals and objectives for their blog and the needs of their audience” (Dunlap, 20011, p.7).
  2. Be analytical rather than simply descriptive and back up your arguments by referring to relevant theory, journal articles, or other sources.
  3. Include live links to other resources  by hyperlinking text (the danger is that eventually some of these resources will become unavailable so for important posts which have a wide readership you might want to revisit these and do some spring cleaning).
  4. Incorporate multimedia to enliven the blog and make it more aesthetically pleasing although be wary of using imagery simply as “decorative eye candy” (Clarke and Lyons, 2004) which doesn’t serve a purpose.
  5. Reference all your work.  You do not need to use the full Harvard Referencing system (unless your blog is being included for assessment) but do make sure readers have enough information to find the relevant resources. This is useful when you return to your blog posts and want to avoid having to rummage around to find resources.
  6. Proof-read. We all make mistakes when writing online due to the spontaneous nature of blogging. The odd spelling and grammar mistake is inevitable but if your work is to be showcased to a larger audience or used for assessment purposes then be more careful.
  7. Personalise your blog so that your own voice can be heard, this makes your blog posts more readable. Read this short blog post on naval gazing about blogging which highlights this. Include narratives which draw the reader in but do not get side tracked by writing extensively about the cat playing under your feet if you are trying to make an important point.
  8. Make sure you are familiar with your organisations policies in relation to social media if your blog is directly related to your work. You may need to inform other colleagues within the organisation (they will no doubt be interested to read your blog anyway).
  9. Be mindful of your public persona even. Your personal musings and ramblings are evidently useful for yourself (and perhaps other readers) in helping you to unravel ideas and concepts but ranting and raving online may elicit negative responses and become known to your employer.
  10. Invite other readers to comment. “Constructive controversy” is useful, Ryman et al (2009, p.32) and gives us the opportunity to extend the boundaries of knowledge and shift our perceptions. Web 2.0 tools and the practice of blogging present the opportunity to “learn, unlearn and relearn” (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2011).

  11. If you want a wider audience send your links via twitter, facebook or email. It is a good idea to put links to other blogs on your own blog via the blog roll. You can also subscribe to other blog posts via RSS.
  12. Be respectful and courteous at all times. Allow other people to voice their opinions.
  13. Mutual coherence. Make sure your comments to other blogs or your reply to readers is “mutually coherent” (Yacci, 2009) in that you are responding in a useful and constructive way avoiding inane comments and platitudes. Simply stating that you agree with a post is not enough, why do you agree and can you add anything further to the conversation. Watch this super little video clip of primary school learners providing their own tips on commenting on blogs. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDVSw54VU1A

  14. Reciprocity. When blogging to facilitate a community of practice post comments on other blogs and reply to your own comments. This “socially mediated metacognition” arises from the “reciprocal process of exploring each other’s reasoning and viewpoints in order to construct a shared understanding” (Gunawardena et al, 2009, p.14).
  15. Social capital (Tufecki, 2008) and the affective benefits. The driving force behind any kind of online community is the social aspect. We engage in social networking to redefine ourselves in the eyes of others, shape our identity and bond with others. The affective benefits of belonging to an online community, that is how we feel, is pivotal in motivating us to engage in our endeavours. Honesty, trust and respect glues a community together. Taking this into account, above all, when you start blogging, remember it is a social process in which you may re-establish a relationship with yourself and others so enjoy it! G&T anyone?

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References

Clark, C. & Lyons, R. (2004) Graphics for Learning. Jossey Bass Willey

Downes, S., (2011) Access: Future. Practical Advice on What to Learn and How to Learn [online] Available at: http://www.downes.ca/files/books/Connective_Knowledge-19May2012.pdf [Accessed 12 November 2012]

Dunlap, J.C., Lowenthal, P.R., (2011) Learning, unlearning, and relearning: Using Web 2.0 technologies to support the development of lifelong learning skills. In G.D. Magoulas (Ed.), E-infrastructures and technologies for lifelong learning: Next generation environments. Hershey, PA: IGI Global

Gunawardena, C. N., Hermans, M.B., Sanchez, D., Richmond. C., Bohley, M., Tuttle,  R., (2009) A theoretical framework for building online communities of practice with social networking tools. Educational Media International, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp.3-16

O’Donnell, M., (2006) Blogging as pedagogic practice: artefact and ecology, Asia Pacific Media Educator, Vol. 17, pp.5-19 [online] Available at: http://ro.uow.edu.au/apme/vol1/iss17/3 [Accessed 21 September 2012]

Ryman, S., Hardman G., Richardson, B., Ross, J. (2009) Creating and Sustaining Online Learning Communities: Designing for Transformative Learning. International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning, Vol 5, Issue 3, pp.32-45

Tufecki, Z., (2008b) Grooming, Gossip, Facebook and MySpace, Information Communication & Society, Vol. 11, No.4, pp.544-564

Yacci, M. (2000) Interactivity Demystified: A Structural Definition for Distance Education and Intelligent CBT, [online] Available at: http://www.ist.rit.edu/~may/interactiv8.pdf [Accessed 24 October 2011]

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How do I get started with blogging?

If you have not read many blogs before I suggest you go to some of the blogs listed in Educational blogosphere to get a feel for how others express themselves.

You might want to find other blogs not related to education and wordpress is a good place to start. They have what is called freshly pressed blogs on a weekly basis which are the most popular blogs. Unfortunately you will need to register with wordpress first to be able to view them all.
Freshly pressed!

An example of freshly pressed sites.

Once you have established your objective for blogging and know what you want to achieve then register with wordpress (or one of the other main blog host providers like blogger, edublogs, tumbler or posterous) and create your first blog. Spend some time personalising your blog so that you are happy with how it looks. Think carefully about the name of your blog as you might not be able to change this at a later date. You might not want to use your own name and prefer to use a blog name which identifies your area of interest. You do not need to name your organisation. When you write your very first post be a bit spontaneous and do not attempt any topic too complex which will stifle your creativity. You might want to start writing about your reasons for blogging and what you hope to achieve on your journey. Put some time aside to get 3 or 4 posts written within a specific time frame to get accustomed to the process and get into the flow.

Russell Stannard has produced some simple video tutorials on getting started using wordpress which may help you get started at http://www.teachertrainingvideos.com/wordPress/index.html

Remember, be brave and bold, you have a voice, express yourself.

References 

Clark, C. & Lyons, R. (2004) Graphics for Learning: Proven Guidelines for Planning, Designing, and Evaluating Visuals in Training Materials. Pfeiffer

Collis, B.A., Moonen, J.C (2006) The contributing student: Learners as co-developers of learning resources for reuse in Web environments. In D. Hung and M.S Khine (eds.), Engaged learning with emerging technologies. Springer Dordrect, Nederland.

Downes, S. (2011) Access: Future. Practical Advice on What to Learn and How to Learn [online]. Available at: http://www.downes.ca/files/books/AccessFuture.pdf [Accessed 16 October 2012]

Dunlap, J.C., Lowenthal, P.R. (2011) Learning, unlearning and relearning: Using Web 2.0 technologies to support the development of lifelong learning skills. In G.D. Magoulas (Ed.), E-infrastructures and technologies for lifelong learning: Next Generation environments. Hershey, PA: IGI Global

Fessakis, G., Konstantinos, T., Dimitracopoulou, A., (2008) Supporting Learning by Design Activitgies Using Group Blogs. Educational Technology and Society. Vol.11, No. 4, pp.199-212

Gunawardena, C. N., Hermans, M.B., Sanchez, D., Richmond. C., Bohley, M., Tuttle, R., (2009) A theoretical framework for building online communities of practice with social networking tools. Educational Media International, Vol. 46, No. 1, pp.3-16

McLoughlin, C., Lee, M., (2007) Social Software and participatory learning: Pedagogical choices with technology affordances in the Web 2.0 era, Proceedings ascilite Singpore 2007

O’Donnell, M., (2006) Blogging as pedagogic practice: artefact and ecology, Asia Pacific Media Educator, Vol. 17, pp.5-19 [online] Available at: http://ro.uow.edu.au/apme/vol1/iss17/3 [Accessed 21 September 2012]

Preece, J. (2010) Sociability and usability in online communities: Determining and measuring success, Behaviour and Information Technology, Vol. 20, No. 5, pp.347-356

Richardson, W. (2010). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools
for Classrooms
. U.S.A: Corwin.

Silva, L., Lakshmi, G., Mousavidin, E., (2008) Exploring the dynamics of blog communities: the case of MetaFliter, Information Systems Journal, Vol.19, pp.55-81

Tufekci, Z. (2008b) Grooming, Gossip, Facebook and MySpace, Information Communication & Society, Vol. 11, No.4, pp.544-564

Wenger, E. (1998) A Social Theory of Learning, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Yacci, M. (2000) Interactivity Demystified: A Structural Definition for Distance Education and Intelligent CBT, [online] Available at: http://www.ist.rit.edu/~may/interactiv8.pdf [Accessed 24 October 2011]

Yang, S. (2009) Using Blogs to Enhance Critical Reflection and Community of Practice, Educational Technology & Society, Vol 12, No. 2, pp.11-21

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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.