Blogs as process not solution

I’ve been following the interesting comments on a post over at kairosnews about “falling out of love with blogging“.

I have discovered that my honeymoon with blogs is over, mostly because there really is no room for spirited interaction between my students and myself in the blogs. Yes, I can require that they respond to another person’s blog, but one student said that, compared to a discussion forum, leaving responses to blogs felt more like leaving a note for someone who is out. The discussion forum, she said, felt more like an ongoing conversation which was more fun.

It generated quite a bit of discussion with people saying they were relieved to be able to suddenly discuss their doubts about blogging in education. The complaints from teachers seem to be:

– blogs are not good tools for facilitating discussion
– students find the technological hurdles an unhelpful barrier
– assigned blogging ends up being forced writing
– blogs focus on the personal and can be “an unwholesome celebration of one’s ego”

It seems to me that any of these complaints could probably be made against any other technology such as discussion boards. And there has been a similar discussion going on at Just Tenured about the difficulties of getting some student’s involved on discussion boards.

I think Charlie Lowe’s comment gets to the heart of the issue when he points out that there are at least three aspects to blogging that make it an interesting tool:

– the personal mode
– the knowledge management mode
– the community/social mode

The real challenge for edublogging, it seems to me, is to find ways that encourage students to make use of blogs in an integrated way which takes account of these different modes. It is at that point that blogging becomes a really interesting tool that has particular pedagogical impact because, used in this way, it begins to provide a technological scaffolding for an integrated method of practice.

In another post and series of comments metaspencer, myself and others have been discussing what he calls the visual rhetoric of blog “hotspots” or the indexical elements that indicate blog “validity” and/or “affiliation”. These indexical elements may be as simple as the date header, which immediately tells you something about the freshness of the blog. Others include:

* links
* comments and track-backs show reaction and connectedness
* number of visits
* the archive, which dates the blog and signals longevity or “experience”
* the blogroll: “who does this blogger hang with/aspire to connect with”
* the sidebar links functioning to contextualize “the writer and their position in the blogosphere”
* listed categories as scannable text that then maps linkable content
* and then there is the site’s name and tagline working to locate attitude
* RSS feed –
* author names – In a weblog billed as a community blog
* Foaf document
* url: does the blogger “own” the address? What’s the domain category, country code?

All these may seem like they are surface elements to a blog but they are actually critical elements in defining the feel, purpose and functionality of the blog. Blogging becomes a central part of the course philosophy not just a method fro completing an assignment, it becomes a way to talk about the way we learn, the way we write, the way we interact as a learning community and the way we develop a personal learning archive.

If teachers are finding it difficult to get students to become involved in blog basics it may seem like a tall order to get them to think about all these other elements. But maybe not. If we help students explore the full functionality of blogs maybe some of the problems disappear. Functioning RSS feeds to an aggregator might immediately help increase the communal aspect of class blogging by providing an easy form of access to each other’s blogs, functioning categories and effective sidebar link lists immediately open up aspects of the knowledge management mode.

Also if we foreground the different aspects of personal expression, group interaction and knowledge management, we are given an opportunity to foreground a pedagogical framework and assist students to become more self reflective learners.

In an old but still very relevant set of postings on blogging in the class room James McGee suggests that there are four aspects of blogging:

There are four hurdles to pass to move from willing volunteer to competent blogger: learning the technology environment, developing an initial view of blogging, plugging into the conversation, and developing a voice. These are not so much discrete phases as they are parallel tracks that can be managed.

I think that teachers often focus on the last two aspects without due attention to the first two.

It seems to me that it is an exciting time, we have passed the initial euphoria of blogs as a solution and we can now start focusing on them as part of a larger process.

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