What is a Blog? Reprise

In response to my earlier attempt to define blogs, Ernie referred me to Amy Gahran’s very helpful posting, which states:

Weblogs are a kind of web site. They represent an easy and versatile way to publish all kinds of content: news and journalism, education, analysis, humor, personal observation and opinion, and more. … They may be very rigorous and formal, or extremely informal and haphazard. … Quality, credibility, and tone vary widely.

Amy then goes on to discuss the mechanical details of a blog–very useful for someone new to blogging.

Recently, Gardner directed attention to John Udell’s reflections on blogs as a way to ‘narate your work’.

From my perspective, blogs aren’t optional extras that “some reporters” should be “allowed to craft.” They’re essential tools — and not just for journalists, but for every professional person. Collectively we’ll use the blog network to document, discover, and validate expertise.

On your blog, you can document your public agenda better than anyone else can. If you’ve ever been interviewed by a newspaper reporter, you know the drill. An hour of careful explanation may be reduced to a quote that makes you cringe. What hasn’t occurred to most people yet is that you can publish that careful explanation yourself. Or that, when you do, the web’s aggregation engines will surface your words in appropriate contexts, and will help people measure their impact.

What particularly excites me about the potential of blogs is E.W.Dijkstra’s commentary on ‘narrating Your Work’:

If there is one “scientific” discovery I am proud of, it is the discovery of the habit of writing without publication in mind. I experience it as a liberating habit: without it, doing the work becomes one thing and writing it down another one, which is often viewed as an unpleasant burden. When working and writing have merged, that burden has been taken away.

If this is true, if we can get students to regularly write about their studies–notes, comments and questions about what they are reading, connections between a text and the lecture, one text and another text, one course and another course–then, we will be helping students take a major step towards genuine education.

(Note to Self: Is this something the First Year Seminar Committee should be thinking about?)

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7 Responses to What is a Blog? Reprise

  1. Jeff says:

    Interesting ideas, but I have to ask again, is it necessary that students work out these ideas in such a public forum? Couldn’t this take place in a CMS closed space? [In the interests of full disclosure, I ask this despite making plans to broaden my use of public online discussions in my classes.]

  2. Steve:

    Note to yourself: yes indeedy.

    Jeff:

    If there’s a way to make it real, urgent, and rewarding inside a walled CMS, sure, stake out that safe zone and let the work begin. In my experience, however, that safe zone all too often becomes a complacent zone, and then an irrelevant zone.

    Another vital point here, and it tracks what Steve was saying (or maybe implying): we think that encouraging students to put their work out risks humiliation, premature discouragement, arrested development, etc. But what about the chance that students will find their thoughtful contributions are given weight, even credence in the public sphere? What could be more encouraging? (And if classmate x gets 10 responses and they get 0, then that may be something they want to consider.)

  3. Jeff says:

    Gardner,
    That’s a good point and one I’ll have to think about some more.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’m kind of agnostic on this point. I’ve actually done it both ways, with the student commentary public and private. I’m not sure it makes much of a difference. I just want them to write and reflect.

  5. Steve! Where’s your blogroll, buddy?

  6. Amy Gahran says:

    You wrote, “if we can get students to regularly write about their studies–notes, comments and questions about what they are reading, connections between a text and the lecture, one text and another text, one course and another course–then, we will be helping students take a major step towards genuine education.”

    Actually, this is sort of how I’m using a personal wiki on my laptop, as a kind of backup brain. Although I’m not in school, I’m insatiably curious about all sorts of things. My wiki allows me to not only take notes, but make important connections.

    The tool I use is Voodoo Pad, which is inexpensive, but there are many free tools and several good web-based services. You might try recommending these to students.

    – Amy Gahran
    Editor, CONTENTIOUS

  7. Anonymous says:

    Amy, thanks for the comment. Actually, I used a wiki last semester to provide a sort of parallel universe for a seminar I taught. You can check it out, as well as a preliminary presentation I put together about the experience at http://www.jerryslezak.net/wiki/tiki-index.php?page=TheGreenlawWikiArea&PHPSESSID=0fa71c951a6c3af5519a451a03054ad6 .

    While I was generally happy with the way the wiki functioned for my class, I didn’t get a strong feeling that it provided a personal space for the students. I’m hoping the blog I plan to use next semester will provide more of that.

    I’ve never thought of using a personal wiki. That’s interesting. I’ll have to think about that.

    – Steve

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