• Creative freedom. Part of a blog’s allure is its unmediated quality. “For a working journalist, there’s no luxury like the luxury of the unedited essay,” she says. “I’ve been an editor longer than I’ve been a writer, and I know the value that an editor brings to your copy. Even so, there’s an enormous freedom in being able to present yourself precisely as you want to, however sloppily or irrationally or erratically. I don’t have an editor to pitch the story to, or a copy editor who decides he’s not happy with my syntax… You think it, you write it, you put it out to the world.”
• Instantaneity. “Even when you’re writing for a weekly magazine, it seems like it takes forever to see your work in print,” Branscum says. “With a Weblog, you hit the send key and it’s out there. It’s the perfect disposable journalism for our age.”
• Interactivity. “It’s a kick to get feedback from people you’ve never heard of who stumble on your Weblog,” she says. Branscum estimates that 30 readers might surf her blog on a slow day and 900 might read it on a busy day, with pointers from other sites and other bloggers often driving traffic to archived material.
• Lack of marketing constraints. “The people who are interested in your perspective find you, instead of you having to find a publication that reflects their interests,” she says. “You don’t have to necessarily tailor your work for a certain readership or demographic.”
Among the many interesting points he makes is one on the question of quality:
Quality emerges in weblogs largely as a result of the web of hyperlinks that is weaved by the community of editors. Although it is true that there is no review process prior to publishing, one definitely occurs immediately after publication.
As people read others’ weblogs, they link selectively to the content that they find interesting. Content that has been referenced more often directly obtains more visibility….
Note that these dynamics mirror those of academic publishing: articles that are cited more often are more visible and are read more. This is useful in two respects: it encourages quality, and it makes it more likely that people will find the most relevant documents.
One study, by Jeremy Williams and Joanne Jacobs, which does provide an empirical evaluation of blogs as a learning experience comes from the MBA program at the Brisbane Graduate School of Management in Queensland. The results are general but quite encouraging. In the six week course students in the course were encouraged to participate in a class blog. Although it was optional five “meaningful” posts in the six week period earned five marks for the course. About half the students in the course participated in an online survey. About half of those who responded (24) indicated they had not taken part in the blog. The major reasons were “For the marks available, it wasn’t worth the effort.” (33%) and “I would have liked to participate, but I wasn’t sure I’d have anything valuable to contribute.”
Of those who did contribute (27) the response was very positive: “some two thirds of blog participants either agreeing or strongly agreeing that the MBA blog assisted their learning (only 12% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing).”
On interactivity: There was stronger endorsement for the view that the MBA Blog increased student interactivity, some 77% of students either agreeing or strongly agreeing that the MBA blog increased the level of meaningful intellectual exchange between students (only 3% or one person disagreeing with this statement).
Even more encouragingly 69% of the students said they would participate in a class blog again even if it had no marks attached. 57% said blogs should be used in all or most MBA units and a further 37% said they should be used in some.
I think some of the student comments are even more interesting than the numerical data:
‘Even though at first people were afraid to take the risk and blog, I found it a good way to discuss concepts and participate in further discussion. It also allowed the sharing of up-todate information that would not have been possible in lecture time.’
‘I spent time prior to each blog constructing an entry. To do that I did need to have a good understanding of what I wanted to blog about. I also spent time reading and considering the blogs of other students and found their comments and perspectives thought provoking.’
‘Students could put forth their ideas on topics after a little thought. The only other avenue available most of the time is in-class comments, for which you do not have much time to really think about them in detail. When new to a subject, the extra thought time that blogging provides can really help students sort through some of the issues in our own head, before providing them for all to see.’
These students are full-paying MBA students doing an intensive six week course so they are likely to be fairly highly motivated learners. But I think the comments are interesting in that they indicate that blogs can provide a new and different mode of reflective learning that is different to class discussion or private assignments.
Some of the dynamics of this “learning space” emerging from the student comments include,
– it provides up-to-date, real time commentary on a week to week basis
– participants need to take a “risk” to really become involved
– it encourages focused thinking in that participants feel they have to think about what they want to say before making their comments public
– reading and thinking about other contributions is as important as posting comments
– it encourages extra “thought-time”
Download paper here: Exploring the Use of Blogs as Learning Spaces in the Higher Education Sector
Traditionally, research and publication have been kept separate. Research blogs are not a final product but an indexical sign of the research process itself.
A blog is published continuously, systematising information chronologically. Dissertations and other forms of research publication is ideally thematically organised, or based on causality. While the actual research is bound by the passage of time, thought processes cross from topic to topic. Blogs are a technique for revealing these process, while allowing greater searchability and openness than a conventional research diary.
Blogs are a new and as yet untheorised phenonomen. They question traditional boundaries between academia and the general public, allowing the researcher to be seen as an individual rather than as a distant authority. Blogs encourage linking and clusters of related blogs tend to evolve, often producing a cross-linked discussions including both academic and non-academic blogs. Unlike edited books and peer-reviewed articles, blogs are personal and reveal the searching and uncertainty of the research process.
I found another more recent teaching site for one of Adrian Miles’ classes in Network Media. This class seems to working very well with many students producing interesting weblogs.
This post is a very interesting example of Miles assessment notes with links to the student sites and how students in this course combines site construction and a related online academic essay.
He also links to Into the Blogsphere a collection of commissioned/reviewed academic essays on blogs which look fascinating. All set up as a blog with a comment function for each essay. Can’t wait to take a deeper look at some of these essays.
Tanja’s comments about “theorising” our educational blogging practice raise some interesting questions:
It seems that there are tips and techniques, and descriptions about blogging – I guess I’m interested in hearing about how this field of blogging and journalism education (and practice) is being theorised? Are there any empirical studies that have been done (perhaps where a particular development has been tested to see what happens) and then analysed? in the field of journalism, are theories just being applied or are they being tested to see if they hold up – am just interested in how theories in a particular field might also be generated as new technologies become available to do and think about things we may not have before
Let me unpack this a little as I see it:
tips and techniques, and descriptions: yes these abound and there are now many places to go for practical help. But because the field is still young sometimes it is in working out the technique that we begin to theorise.
theorising the field: I think this is beginning to be done. Certainly there is theorising about online learning and networked learning – Tanja’s own reference to the marvelous notion of “learning swarms” is a wonderful example of this. Certainly there is the beginning of theories about blogs in higher ed and about blogs in journalism. All this needs to be brought together more clearly in regard to blogs in journalism education.
empirical studies, testing and analysing how theory (practice?) holds up: in a traditional sense, as far as I can find, there is almost none of this. However I would make an argument for projects like this blog as a different kind of empirical research.
Blogging is linked, cumulative, open-ended research. It is grounded in our empirical experience of writing and reading, linking and surfing, thinking and responding. It is action research, grounded theory.
Sites like edublog are marvelous examples of a deeply reflective mix of open-ended theroising about online teaching practice.
Sometimes with a very practical bent:
We also talked about the strangeness of making assignments in a blogging course. I want people to leave the course more skillful and confident as researchers, having built a lively and substantial site that is of real service to others, and made up of well-crafted sentences and paragraphs reflecting a good command over the choices a writer faces line by line. So, what should be assigned for Monday, then? Write anything you want? Yes and no, I’d say. A week of wandering among possible topics and interesting sources might be just the thing for one student to be doing right now, as she starts to come to a focus for her inquiry, while another student might need to be attending to the particulars of a theory that animates a field, in order to build a vocabulary for the writing to come. It’s hard to say with confidence that everybody ought to be doing the same thing, so we’re trying an experiment: I’m asking everyone to make their own decisions about content and quantity of writing for the week, knowing that quality is the main short-term goal and that those things above are the long-term goals. We’ll talk over how that went on Wednesday.
Other times from a more explicitly theoretical perspective:
So maybe here’s my point: blogging is not democratic only because it gives each person a place to publish — it is also democratic because it is a body of practices that help each person invent something worth reading. It is as if freedom of speech is not valuable only or even mainly for its freedom, but rather it is valuable for the social practices that it helps a society cultivate, for the internal and social work it helps individuals do, and for the quality of the speech that results from those things. Not to mention the quality of listening.
Here is an excerpt from one Melbourne student’s blog that seems to indicate that blogging can challenge students to new ways of learning.
As part of my journalism course I did Hypertext Theory and Practice, which was the basis for om_blog. This subject was a turning point for me because it introduced the learning theories behind blogging – that the ongoing nature of a blog relates to the process, rather than the outcome or product. We had to maintain a blog community in our class and create a hypertext in Storyspace. I know that most of us found it a challenge because the learning methods were radical to what we had been use to. But the real appeal for me was the idea that we could use an exploratory model rather than a conclusive one. For example, the assessment was our blogs and a hypertext rather than the regulatory ‘intro-body-conclusion’, word-limited essay that restricted the amount of problems we could discuss.
Although it worked for this student a quick look through some of the other blogs on the site would indicate that the take up wasn’t great and a number of the students seemed to be just going through the motions.
Adrian Miles the teacher for this course keeps a regular blog and reflects here about assessing student blogs
The idea of establishing an “assessment matrix” is a good one.
An assessment matrix is provided that indicates the sorts of qualities an entry ought to have for each grade level (a high distinction entry would have qualities that …) and a self assessment exercise is held where all students are able to evaluate a nominated entry against this matrix. This lets students concretise the grades in relation to their own work and demystifies what good, poor, and excellent work is
Tanja raises the question of the interconnection and difference between theory, practice, empirical outcomes research and tips in the work on blogging and education. Four blog scholars recently began a discussion on some of these issues. But as the excerpt below indicates this discussion is still in its infancy.
The blogologists admit that their research is only just beginning. OK, they’re not looking for a cure for cancer, but it would be nice to quantify just how much of an effect blogs are having. Trammell, whose doctoral thesis at the University of Florida was on blogs (yes, she’s a doctor of blogs), says that there haven’t been any breakthrough moments yet for researchers.
“At this point there has been so little published research in the academic journals,” she told me via e-mail. “Most of the research that is readily available (Perseus, Pew Internet) is important, but atheoretical. It gives a good pulse of the average blogger, but not much more. I think we are on the cusp of an exciting time where the theoretical research of blogs will begin to emerge. Now that we have explained blogs and understand them, we can start to make predictions and see how blogs fit into theories and compare to other ways of communicating.”
Another great analysis of GWB and the rhetoric of apocalypse, The Gospel According to Dubya, from the fantastic website, KtB – Killing the Buddha. KtB describes itself this way: “a religion magazine for people made anxious by churches, people embarrassed to be caught in the “spirituality” section of a bookstore, people both hostile and drawn to talk of God.”
In the Book of Luke, Christ comes off, in his lust for Armageddon, as somewhere between Dick Cheney and Dr. Strangelove. “I have come to light a fire on the earth,” he announces. “How I wish the blaze were ignited! … Do you think I have come to establish peace on earth? I assure you, the contrary is true: I have come for division.” (12, 49-51)
In these moments, it becomes much easier to see how George W. Bush might view his policy of pre-emptive war as a fulfillment of his savior’s wishes — particularly a holy war against what both he and Christ call “the evildoers.” There is, in both figures, an eschatological hunger. Judgment Day becomes a revenge fantasy.
This is not to suggest that President Bush was eager for the apocalyptic specter of 9/11. But it is quite clear that the events of that day roused in him a sense of mission that had been conspicuously absent during his first eight months in office. He immediately declared a “War on Terror” — an all-encompassing battle between the forces of good and evil — which the press was only too happy to ratify. This artificially constructed “war” (it is more like a series of police actions) has kept his administration afloat by distracting the public from his domestic record. But Bush is not just making political hay; he’s bringing to fruition a moral struggle Christ foretold.
“The son of man will dispatch his angels to collection from his kingdom all who draw others to apostasy, and all evildoers,” Christ says, adding in a most unlamb-like manner, “The angels will hurl them into the fiery furnace where they will wail and grind their teeth.” (Matthew 13-41) It should be noted that while Bush does not have angels at his disposal, he does brag the largest standing army and arsenal in the history of mankind.
The domestic and international outrage his war-mongering has provoked doesn’t bother Bush a bit. Just the opposite, it reifies his connection to Christ: “Blessed shall you be when men hate you, when they ostracize and insult you and proscribe your name as evil.” (Luke, 6-22)
A great list of Blog Research and References compiled by Kaye Tramell who has a blog here and also teaches a course on blogging and online journalism at the University of Florida which has an interesting site and blog. Student’s create and maintain their own blog and contribute to a class blog. She emphasises that “students will not only report through the Web, but report on online society as well. ” This again points to the way blogging in journalism education can provide an integrated model of theory and practice.