This post was originally published on the Educational Technology and Change (ETC) Journal on 3rd June, 2009.
A blog that presents information with little or no opinion is fine if that’s what you want to do. My point to the students was that if you just blog information then you might as well have a website instead where you can organise things better. This is especially pertinent as we were studying a course where the nature of blogging is the subject matter.
When I look at the use of blogging in courses, I often see that instructors don’t fully appreciate the social networking aspect of blogs. They are attracted by the reflective nature of blogs and ask students to record their learning at regular intervals. But the instructors treat the blogs as a private space between them and their students and often use blogs that are built into VLEs (virtual learning environments). I find this a great shame. Why? Well, the social nature and openness of blogs (and anything Web 2.0) is very important. It’s the essence, the lifeblood of what makes blogging so successful. It’s a shame to cut this off.
I don’t mind so much if the educators made an informed choice on this issue, but often it’s a natural instinct to keep thing private. “Of course, no one else will see it,” they say to the students. As if public exposure would be abhorrent to them. Why? What are they afraid of? This is partly a reflection of the insular, controlling nature of education and partly a reflection of their experiences and expectations of learning. Even if a student doesn’t want to blog public facing, it’s worth building in because creating and publishing online in a Web 2.0 setting is an important skill in the 21st Century. I don’t have a ready made study to prove this, but I’m going to say it anyway. At the least, instructors ought to create links between the student blogs to give them a ready made support network.
It may well be the case that blogging has diminished and will diminish due to social networks (at least for the teenagers), but blogging is still a valid and vibrant tool in the adult world. It’s not important for people to learn about blogging for blogging’s sake, but it’s important they learn about the ethos and the spirit of blogging, which is the essence of Web 2.0. It’s important they learn about collaboration, self-direction, independent learning, and networking. The new CLEX (Committee of Inquiry into the Changing Learner Experience) document Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World characterises these as “soft skills” which are desirable in the new job market.
When it comes to using blogs for your own learning as part of your CPD (computer professional development), the plea I would make is don’t do it in isolation. Instead, immerse yourself in the blogosphere. In my context, this is true because reading others’ blogs is a really good way to keep up in my area of interest, learning technology. But this is true for any subject. Maybe not to the same extent, but it’s still true. It’s quick and easy and, most importantly for me, bitesize. With bitesize, I can knit things together much easier (tagging is very important here). The concepts can stick to my brain much easier, and I can make links better. I also approach it with less dread than I would an academic paper or book although my motivation might be different to yours. You can do all this without having your own blog, but this is where the knitting occurs. Well, some of it anyway. Also, one of the things that drew me to blogging was it’s conversational nature although this might be more my style than a rule.
To feel part of the blogosphere or a network of bloggers may be difficult if you don’t know anyone directly who blogs on your subject and if no one visits your blog. Just because you publish a blog doesn’t mean anyone is going to read it. You need to be okay with this, otherwise you’ll get disappointed very quickly.
My motivation for blogging is to capture my learning for myself. By making it public facing, I’m forced to be coherent, and it’s in that process where the learning happens. Quite often I end up in different places than I expected. So for me, if no one reads it, the blog is still valuable since it serves my purpose.
I’ve used Blogger for mine with the presentation Learning from Blogging: Creating Your Own and Learning from Others, by Tracy Hamilton, as the starting point. WordPress is the other main player but there are many more. The best way to start is to spend an hour browsing the blogosphere (not my favourite term) on Technorati or Icerocket. However, if you are reading this, you probably know all that.