Archive for the ‘Blogging’ Category

A framework for blogging

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

Blogging frameworkBrian Kelly has a couple of posts from people who attended the blogging workshop that Brian and Kara Jones ran recently, which reminded me of some interesting work which was has been carried out over the past year led by Cindy Kerawalla and Shailey Minocha. They evaluated a range of student blogs as a means of then considering how this information might be used in teaching. They came up with a really nice framework.

Their analysis gave a flavour of the different ways in which students are using and structuring their blogs and the framework consists of four main themes:
• Audience: who is the blog for (ranging for intraspective, personal reflection through to promotion/dissemination)
• Community (what community does the blog belong to)
• Comments (to what extent does the blogger want active discussion with others)
• Presentation (what is the style of the blog, how formal or informal is it)

Cindy and Shailey have lots of interesting publications coming out of this work; one example was a research paper at this year’s ALT-C. Unfortunately I can’t find the full research proceedings anywhere on the ALT website :-(, but here is a link to the abstract and the presentation which was given by Gill Kirkup on behalf of the research team.

Blogging: a health warning!

Sunday, November 4th, 2007

The blog title ‘Blogging is like crack for academics’ certainly got my attention! It was referring to an article about the pros and cons of blogging by Bellman. Here are some of the main points:
• Blogging enables virtual communities but erases the social restraints enforced by real ones.
• The boundaries between reading and writing in the blogosphere is blurred
• There is a pecking order but it’s an abstract, intransitive kind of authority
• There is an inherent community based form of self regulation and peer validation commons-based peer production (CBPP) (Benkler)
• The argument against blogs for some: “easy kicks, fun in the short term and personal ruin in the end”

I am finding blogging useful on a number of levels: as a means of reflecting on things I am involved with - presentations I see, articles or blogs I read, but also as a mechanism for consolidating a lot of my work (my blog is increasingly becoming my central repository). When I was a Chemist, my central repository was my lab book – usually navy blue and A4 – it went everywhere with me. I used it to record data from experiments I was doing, jot down observations, annotate references, etc. Well my blog is becoming my modern digital equivalent.

Lorcan Dempsey adds to the argument about blogging vs. other forms of academic output. He refers to Dani Rodrik arguments in favour of blogs. Dani definitely feels that the time investment is worth the effort. He talks of a blog as a type of ‘intellectual journal’ but also notes the social benefits of blogging – being part of a community and as a means of extending the audience of your work.

One of the unexpected scholarly benefits of having a blog is that it is like keeping an intellectual journal. You get an idea, you jot it down in your blog. Some months later, you vaguely remember having had the idea and you google your own blog to recover it. I am not kidding: I google my own blog all the time…

I know others feel the same way – Tony Hirst said much the same when I was talking to him about this at the OpenLearn conference. Martin Weller as part of his one-man mission to ‘blogify’ the OU (keep at it Martin your doing a good job and have certainly converted me big time!) ends a recent post with:

…increasingly I’m finding that I prefer the blog for all my output. I may have been over-converted.

And it’s great to see more and more PhD students keeping reflective blogs as part of their evolving research practice, developing their own ‘intellectual journal’. It also provides them with an important dissemination channel for their work and an additional form of dialogue with their supervisors. It was great to see so many of our research students furiously blogging away at the OpenLearn conference, many of them are available from the Open Content Holistic Research Environmnet blog.

So if we accept the argument that blogs are a valid and important form of academic output, how safe is that output in the longer term? Lorcan ends his post by posing a question about curation

What, if anything, should the Open University or Harvard be doing to make sure that this valuable discourse is available to future readers as part of the scholarly record?

Hmmm haven’t got the answer to that one – but I think it’s a really important question that needs addressing.

Blogging on a roll

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

I am really enjoying the active blogging which is going on alongside the presentations at the Open learn conference. It really brings the conference alive. There are three parallel sessions but keeping an eye on the conference blog is enabling me to feel as if i am almost attending all three parallel sessions!! Isn’t technology great?? ;-) Openlearn conference Of course there is always a downside - how much did i really take in of that last session, whilst simulataneously blogging and reading the conference blog? Of course multi-tasking is one of the key characteristics supposedly of the ‘new generation’… I stil don’t know the answer to the question of depth (concentrating on one thing) vs. breath (focusing across a number of things) - my suspicion is that both are appropriate in different context - the trick is to match the appropriate one to the right context! I think this has become increasingly important as our environment and associated abundance of resources and tools has become more complex.

The paper vs. blog argument…

Monday, October 29th, 2007

My post ‘the nature of academic discourse’ seems to have hit something of a nerve, viagra which I thought was worth summarising here. Not surprisingly the issue of traditional academic output (such as published papers or books) vs. blogging comes to the fore. Sarah Stewart and Leigh Blackall challenge the current predominant norm of not counting blogging, arguing that it has an in-built quality assurance mechanism – through peer commenting and referencing and through ratings like technorati. Karyn Romeis points out that blogs report on ‘what’s happening now’, whereas peer reviewed papers are ‘old news’ because of the lead in time for publication. She thinks this time lag is particularly difficult for those working at the cutting edge. She also agrees with Sarah and Karyn:

Considering the readership of the blogs I would be likely to cite, I would contend that the level of expertise represented and the willingness to refute, rebut, challenge, defend, revisit, question etc. etc is far more rigorous than the peer review process. Sadly the assessing organisation does not agree.

David McQuillan celebrates the ‘stream of consciousness’ nature of blogging, suggesting that it is a valuable ‘route to publication’ and that by making thoughts public as they happen they are there and accessible for others to review and provide their perspective on. However Martin Oliver (a friend and someone I totally respect academically) suggests that there is potentially an information overload issue with blogs:

Please, don’t condemn me to having to wade through pages of peoples’ blogs in order to find the one or two good ideas in there!

He argues in favour of the traditional method, which he describes as ‘slow publication’ (reminds me of the ‘slow food’ movement and also Peter Goodyear’s call for more ‘slow learning’). Martin says:

It [blogging] has its place, but so does the discipline of shaping ideas in a format that can take a year or more to come to fruition. Distance brings its own perspective, and can help discern what’s of lasting value, rather than momentary excitement.

Which I do think is an important point.

My own view? Actually I think I agree pretty much with all these comments. However we need to be careful – I don’t think a direct comparison of journal papers and blogs is appropriate; people blog for a whole range of reasons not just for academic recognition and institutional ‘performance ticking’. I think what we are seeing is a confused transition, whilst we try and work out the co-evolution of tool use and our own working practice (both as individuals and as a society). Similar arguments are being raised of course about email (I haven’t dared open my email yet this morning having not looked at it since Friday…) but I think Patrick McAndrew pretty much sums it up and comes up with some nice lateral thinking on the issue of email overload!!

The nature of academic discourse

Saturday, October 20th, 2007

Doing this blog has really got me thinking about the nature of academic discourse. It particularly hit me yesterday when I was checking the proofs of a paper that will be coming out in Computers and Education soon on our LXP learning experience work. Whilst reading through the paper a number of things came to mind. The paper took a particular stance on the work – weaved a specific narrative – which is of course what papers are supposed to do. It grounded the work in the wider literature and fore grounded certain aspects of the data to support the chosen narrative. It presented a coherent story (well at least I hope it did!). This was in stark contrast to the reality of the research process. In my mind I could remember the messiness of the real research process, the various blind alleys we went down as a team, the panic at different points (will the technology work? will we be able to recruit any students to the study? will the data generate anything useful in terms of our research questions?). Another ‘view’ on the LXP project is through various conference presentations – these also weave a particular story, for example for a lifelong learning conference I considered the implications for lifelong learning, whereas at EUROCALL 2007 I concentrated on the findings from the Language learners. So although presentations, like papers, weave a narrative, because the medium is different (i.e. a slide presentation with pictures, audio and video alongside a verbal presentation as opposed to a textual paper) the message is different too. I have also blogged about aspects of the work and blogging seems to offer an alternative style of voice, one which is much more reflective and ‘of the moment’. So the function and nature of the three media seems to be:

  • Academic paper: reporting of findings against a particular narrative, grounded in the literature and related work; style – formal, academic-speak
  • Conference presentation: awareness raising of the work, posing questions and issues about the work, style – entertaining, visual, informal
  • Blogging – snippets of the work, reflecting on particular issues, style – short, informal, reflective
  • Which of these is a true representation of the research? Which is real academic discourse? In the old simple world, academics were recognised and rated primarily by their textual output – ‘the seminal text’, ‘the paper published in the best journal in the field’. And indeed that of course is still the primary mechanism for the Research Assessment Exercise (don’t get me started on that one again). But now increasingly the blogosphere is offering an alternative style of academic discourse, which you could argue is potentially a counter-culture to mainstream academic publishing. It has its own federated peer-reviewing mechanisms, such as cross-referencing between blogs and indicators of esteem such as the technorati authority. Increasingly academics are taking note of this new communication space – however one could argue that the uptake is sadly slower than it should be, I can’t believe it has taken me this long to recognise the value of blogging. In welcoming me to the blogosphere George Siemens wrote

    It’s great to see research-focused academics entering the blog space. We need a edublog ecology which runs the full breadth from practical application to theory and research.

    I wholeheartedly agree with him and hope that in time, more researchers take the plunge and communicate their findings and thinkings through blogs as well as via papers and presentations.

    Coming back to the question of which represents academic discourse – to my mind it’s all three – in different ways writing a paper, giving a presentation and blogging all help me to formulate and take forward my thinking on a particular topic, a means of meaning making and transformation of the raw ‘data’ to new understandings – surely that’s one of the cornerstones of what being an academic means?

    Taking the plunge

    Thursday, September 27th, 2007

    So far i have hovered at the edges of the blogosphere world; lurking around various sites, watching and reflecting on the ways in which blogs are increasingly entering into academic discourse as a means of communication, a mechanism for sharing and in some cases a form of expert filter. I have had mixed views about the value of blogs; ‘who are they actually written for?’, ‘isn’t it an extreme form of arrogance to keep a blog and expect people to be interested in what you write’, ‘who the heck has the time to read, let along write blogs anyway!!?’ However recently I have begun to see some ways in which keeping a blog might be useful. So… here goes. I start this blog with some trepidation and have no idea at the moment how it will shape up or what its purpose will be. Finally i have severe doubts as to whether or not I will have the tenacity to keep it going. But heck its worth a try isn’t it?