My Notes on Blogs

4 Apr

I’m on a panel tonight on the “Consequences of Blogging,” sponsored by the Brandeis University Ethics Center. I’m organizing my thoughts in advance. These are my notes.

  1. I blog lightly (you’re reading it) on working in library and IT and higher ed. I tweet, too. I do that more. That’s a kind of blogging.
  2. I used to teach French and Writing. And I tutored writing (a lot: at which I think I was more effective). Both of those kinds of communication (French & writing) require lots of practice. Low-stakes, high-stakes, medium-stakes. And feedback. And more practice. Wouldn’t I have loved blogs or Twitter when I taught, for that reason. We used every analog blog-like, make-communication-diverse-and-accessible device we could come up with: journals, letters to the editor, book reports, you name it.
  3. Blogs seem to get singled out a bit, but they are really just part of a very big (obvious) trend that shifts some of the means of production of information into the hands of everyone (everyone with internet access). So the issues we think of when blogging or Tweeting are on the one hand just part of a slew of connected and generic issues that come with living in a time when your thoughts can be easily distributed–issues that affect and will increasingly affect us in a variety of areas. We see them everywhere from Facebook privacy questions, to the notorious reply-all email mistake. I might note, they’re also issues people who had the means of production of information traditionally (like journalists, like politicians) were used to (being accountable for what you post, getting fired for posted content occasionally, your press release going out before you were ready, etc.). Along with more access to the means of production comes a bit of the related burden, which seems natural.
  4. People probably need training for a world of information profusion. For me, it’s a community thing, like Academic Honesty. It’s probably a mentoring thing, a coaching thing, a co-learning thing, a conversation. Not a punishment thing.
  5. The two big fears of blogging from my perspective: for staff & faculty: “I’ll get fired for expressing my opinions;” for students (or for their faculty or parents): “I’ll ruin my reputation forever.” I have to admit to feeling the former. For both I’m in favor of worrying a little but not so much that you don’t blog. Take it a step at a time. Ask people what they think when you post something. Edit.
  6. In general, in learning, you can’t go from novice to expert instantaneously, even with mechanical supports. Blogs have potential to be a place you can grow into writing, thinking, getting feedback, interacting with the world of ideas; the public nature of them makes them “real,” which means meaningful, which means you’ll care, which means you’ll learn. If students have to make their own meaning, blogs would seem to be one way to get that, among other ways. There is some associated risk; there’s a little bit of the same risk in leaving an angry message on an answering machine. If your blog use is in a class or a community, you can have a great talk about how to minimize risks.
  7. Too much safety may perhaps pedagogically ineffective. I was in a conversation about class blog uses. It went like this: “students might say something that is wrong!” and then shortly thereafter, by the same people, “you might actually need to be able to be wrong to learn!”
  8. About the mix. You can blog or Tweet on a theme, and that seems to make for a good blog. You can talk about yourself, too. I mix these: I talk about various aspects of higher education and movies I like. And books I read. And articles I read. And things I do with my kids. I don’t know if this is good; I intuit it might be. It might be modeling a kind of engaged, active, reflective, cross-functional, open life that is OK. I try to keep personally-identifiable info to a minimum, though.
  9. Connections. I have made innumerable connections through Tweeting and blogging. Professional associations, friends, colleagues. I’ve discovered things, shared ideas, figured out where I was wrong or right, got tips, brainstormed projects, found people to try things out with me, etc. I’m infinitely more engaged in the world of academic technologists, librarians, library schools, and master teachers than I otherwise would have been.
  10. I’m sitting in on a class that used blogs this semester. The blogs became a social support, an inter-student link, a community-reinforcing medium. Students who were constrained by the limits of class time took their ideas to the blog. It was voluntary. Blogs were embraced by people who considered themselves technophobes. It was an advanced class. I do admit that there was too much information in the blog for the professor to keep track.
  11. Principles? There probably are some. My first stab: embrace new media; get feedback wherever you can; show when you borrow other people’s ideas.

My PPT for my talk: https://docs.google.com/a/brandeis.edu/present/view?id=dhj76ncf_133fz5rbqd9

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3 Responses to “My Notes on Blogs”

  1. Bryan Alexander April 13, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    What a fine outline, Dave, with great ideas at each point. How did discussion unfold?

    • wedaman April 13, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

      I was deeply impressed by the student bloggers. One created a blog as the container of a course we don’t offer that he wanted to take (and so took); one created an opinion blog, caused a controversy, blogged about the controversy, thought deeply about ideas-in-community (how you’d get there without social media I don’t know).

  2. Bryan Alexander April 18, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

    Splendid!
    Web 2.0 enables so much creativity – and accessibility.

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