Saturday, March 17, 2007

Blogging woes

As I mentioned previously, I have felt that my reflective habits have been unravelling lately and I have found it hard to blog. But I am inspired by reading the blogs of others. Just last night reading Crib Chronicles by Bon who reflects on her mommy blog I felt touched by her openness and a sense of fellow feeling. Bon mentions blogs that inspire her and tells how much comments mean to her. That's the problem with easing up on blogging. The interaction slows down and it slumps into a vicious circle. Reading Jeff Utecht's latest article in Techlearing: A Problem with blogs eloquently explores the meaning of blogging: it is not about writing; it is about conversation. For me this is true and although his article is about students and blogging, it is no less true for teachers and others. Another day, another insight.


  1. hi Jo...

    glad to know that the rambling is connecting somewhere out there. :)

    you're quite right...blogging quickly can descend into loneliness when you get used to a certain level of input (what i was calling 'mommy crack'..."ooh! an adult who wants to talk to me!") and then find yourself unable to find time or energy to sustain those connections.

    it's no fun to talk to the imaginary friends anymore after you get real ones, i suppose. but i think there's some loss in that too...which is why i try to keep some sense of the blog as a journal as well as a conversation.

    glad to have found you through the link. :)

  2. I've been going through the same thing, Jo. I can't seem to find my stride right now. Sometimes I wonder if I ever will again. But I keep reading - and hoping I can get back in there again.

  3. (Also posted as a comment to Utecht's article; we'll see it it makes it through comment moderation):

    After returning from a writing teachers’ conference with sessions on blogging, Richard Long, a professor at St. Louis Community College, explained the issue this way: "I’m not convinced, however, the presenters who claimed to be blogging are actually blogging. They’re using blogging software, their students use blogging software, but I’m not convinced that using the software is the same as blogging. For example, does posting writing prompts for students constitute blogging? Are students blogging when they use blogging software to write to those prompts?"

    After three years of experimentation with his Weblogg-Ed blog, Will Richardson also expressed his doubts: "By its very nature, assigned blogging in schools cannot be blogging. It’s contrived. No matter how much we want to spout off about the wonders of audience and readership, students who are asked to blog are blogging for an audience of one, the teacher." When the semester ends, "students drop blogging like wet cement." Richardson wants to teach students to write with passion, but he notes: "I can’t let them do it passionately due to the inherent censorship that a high school served Weblog carries with it."

    It seems clear that although blogging can and does have a significant and worthwhile educational impact, this impact does not come automatically and does not come without risks. As many writers have noted, writing a weblog appears in the first instance to be a form of publishing, but as time goes by, blogging resembles more and more a conversation. And for a conversation to be successful, it must be given a purpose and it must remain, for the most part, unconstrained.

    One of the criticisms of blogs, and especially student blogs is that the students write about nothing but trivia. Examples can be seen all over the Internet. And how many students, when facing the blogging screen, feel like "Matt," who writes: "Now each time I warily approach writing a blog entry, or start writing it, or actually write it, I end up thinking ‘what is the point?’—and, after all, what is?" When given their own resources to draw on, bloggers, especially young bloggers, can become frustrated and may eventually report having "committed the ultimate blogging sin of losing interest in myself."

    As Richardson says, blogging as a genre of writing may have "great value in terms of developing all sorts of critical thinking skills, writing skills and information literacy among other things. We teach exposition and research and some other types of analytical writing already, I know. Blogging, however, offers students a chance to a) reflect on what they are writing and thinking as they write and think it, b) carry on writing about a topic over a sustained period of time, maybe a lifetime, and c) engage readers and audience in a sustained conversation that then leads to further writing and thinking."

    Good conversations begin with listening. Ken Smith, an English teacher at Indiana University, explains: "Maybe some folks write flat, empty posts or bad diary posts because they don’t know any other genres (they just aren’t readers, in one sense) and because [they] aren’t responding to anything (that is, they aren’t reading anything right now)." It’s like arriving late to a party: the first act must be to listen, before venturing forth with an opinion. Smith suggests, "Instead of assigning students to go write, we should assign them to go read and then link to what interests them and write about why it does and what it means."

    The jury is still out, but as Richardson suggests, "It’s becoming more clear just what the importance of blogging might be." As Smith writes, "It is through quality linking . . . that one first comes in contact with the essential acts of blogging: close reading and interpretation. Blogging, at base, is writing down what you think when you read others. If you keep at it, others will eventually write down what they think when they read you, and you’ll enter a new realm of blogging, a new realm of human connection."

    But it is more than merely assigning topics to blog about. As Jeremy Hiebert, a Web designer and graduate student in Canada, comments, "I’ve seen evidence of this in courses with required e-portfolio or reflective journal elements. . . . As soon as these activities are put into the context of school, focused on topics the students are unlikely to care about much, they automatically lose a level of authenticity and engagement. These disengaged students (non-writers and writers alike) won’t get the main benefits of true reflective learning no matter how good the instruction and tools are."

    Despite obvious appearances, blogging isn’t really about writing at all; that’s just the end point of the process, the outcome that occurs more or less naturally if everything else has been done right. Blogging is about, first, reading. But more important, it is about reading what is of interest to you: your culture, your community, your ideas. And it is about engaging with the content and with the authors of what you have read—reflecting, criticizing, questioning, reacting. If a student has nothing to blog about, it is not because he or she has nothing to write about or has a boring life. It is because the student has not yet stretched out to the larger world, has not yet learned to meaningfully engage in a community. For blogging in education to be a success, this first must be embraced and encouraged.

    From time to time, we read about the potential of online learning to bring learning into life, to engender workplace learning or lifelong learning. When Jay Cross and others say that 90 percent of our learning is informal, this is the sort of thing they mean: that the lessons we might expect to find in the classroom work their way, through alternative means, into our day-to-day activities.

    Blogging can and should reverse this flow. The process of reading online, engaging a community, and reflecting it online is a process of bringing life into learning. As Richardson comments, "This [the blogging process] just seems to me to be closer to the way we learn outside of school, and I don’t see those things happening anywhere in traditional education." And he asks: "Could blogging be the needle that sews together what is now a lot of learning in isolation with no real connection among the disciplines? I mean ultimately, aren’t we trying to teach our kids how to learn, and isn’t that [what] blogging is all about?"

    from: Educational Blogging
    by Stephen Downes
    EDUCAUSE Review, September, 2004