Just because blogging is something that suits my nature and has allowed me to go from closet diarist to blogger doesn’t make it any less a lonely exercise, indeed perhaps students who are introduced to blogging need to have their expectations lowered – blogging is not social networking, it is not even a conversation, unless you count reflection, holding up a mirror to you day or events, as a conversation with yourself. Nor does it help to insert yourself on a student, education platform through whatever alter ego you have created for yourself in a diary elsewhere; you must engage with the platform as offered.
A blog can be many things, contemplative, formative and so on but there are better ways to interact online in educational terms, such as the asynchronous conversation in a forum, or better still the synchronous conversation using Skype or Sync.in. Better still the tutorial or tutor group with a tutor acting as guide and catalyst, taking more time with some students if needs be. Time is the operative word, while we students are spending, the Tutor is a cost and time is money.
Den and Yuen (2011) have gleaned from their research, with 384 teaching students, that the blogger’s indirect desire is for recognition and acceptance, that there is an underlying wish to self-promote and that the feelings of reduced isolation come from the joint and regular participation, rather than getting comments. Better, fuller statistics would reveal to us how our blog pages are read, which pages are favoured, where people click from and so on. i.e. it makes you aware of the ‘lurkers’ who do read, but chose not to comment. Perhaps we read blogs like magazine articles? This was the interesting outcome for me, that people do read each other’s blogs.
With so many choices students should be enabled to aggregate their thoughts in other ways, without the self-conscious exposure that comes with a blog. This is why there are e-portfolios. There is the ‘private’ button on the OU blog I use, but who knows who and how that is used. I do, but then think if it is so private it ought not to be online if it risks revealing something about my thinking or mental state. Yet it is these deeper, private, often passing worries than later translate into more meaningful insights.
Keeping a journal, as we know from literature and social anthropology, (and the current Radio 4 series on Teenage Diaries) is common-place. We are mistaken to equate the blog with such journals. My own take on the medium is the share experience over a decade with one, perhaps two other bloggers. For me, any component of sharing, of feeling isolated as a human being, comes from finding one or two other like-minds. The game of chasing the statistics as if I were selling a newspaper undermined everything, what was written about, how it was expressed and how often and ultimately turned the thing into a piece of fiction. I’m just one blogger amongst millions though.
Blogging, as ‘Blogging for Dummies’ (Gardner and Burley 2010). suggests it should be done little and often.
The value comes as you accumulate ideas and content and as the years, not days or weeks, pass. As I said, I think the OU and tutors are mistaken in using it as a place to expect comment or a community spirit. That said, the way your OU blog is put onto a virtual bulletin board like rolling news means there is some ‘passing traffic’ as it were with regards to readers – the distinct, personalised diary is surely even more isolated? My suggestion to the OU would be to aggregate student cohort and tutor group student blogs so that the collective thinking is more apparent, even to set up a variety of more sophisticated blogging templates akin to Edublogs, WordPress, LiveJournal, Blogger and Diaryland. This would increase readership, but as we know, it is unlikely to stimulate cohesion or comment. I came across a case of an OU PhD student being paid to blog to develop interest in the medium; I think there is a role for this kind of thing, having a blogger as a catalyst, to blog and comment, to show how it is done, to indicate best practice.
I’ve found ideas on keeping a journal or blog from entries I wrote in 1992, 2000 and 2003. The terminology in the early days of blogging was more indicative of what it is … a diary (diarist.net, Diaryland), a journal (LiveJournal). Whereas blogging has become commercialised, and somewhere split between the online magazine essay (professional, corporate, syndicated) and Twitter (the Net equivalent of an entry in one of those Five Year Diaries)
I’d like to promote the idea of blogging, and doing so privately, as a form of piano practice, of transferring thoughts from head, through the QWERTY keyboard (a barrier), and onto the page. A blog is but an eportfolio assembled on a regular basis and done so in public? Well tagged it becomes a rich pot of hubble-bubble that can deliver the twisting, changing way your thoughts develop as you disagree, then agree, then change your mind.
You end on the need to better promote blogging. It is less ephemeral than it may appear, far more personal than it seems, prone to disclosure, and exposure and misunderstanding. I remind myself all the time that there is only one reader that matters, me. Some blog entries, as an entry in a traditional diary, are so yawningly esoteric that it is akin to trying to tell someone about a dream you had. It isn’t their brain, it’s the contents of your mind. Reading New Scientist article ‘Dear e-diary who am I really? ’ Alun Anderson (25 December 2010/1 January 20011:36-37) suggests there is a good deal of serious thought going into the value of storing digitally what we do all day. I’m inclined to write to the New Scientist as it misses a vital point, it isn’t the record of what we do that ultimately matters at all, though such events matter for the record and to pinpoint the moment, but it is what you think and felt at the time … and I’m yet to come across a device that can do that for you.
Gardner, S Burley, S. Blogging for Dummies. 2010. 3rd Edition. Wiley Publishing.
Deng, L Yuen A.H.K.(2011) Towards a framework for educational affordances of blogs. Den and Yuen. Computers & Education (2011) 441-451. Faculty of Education, The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong
Anderson, A (2010) New Scientist 25 December 2010/1 January 2011. Pp36-37.