Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Blogs are Boring! Discuss

Reflective blogging in an educational context is gathering momentum as a learning and assessment tool. Indeed as part of my own independent study learning contract, I have decided that i should be marked on the quality of my reflective blogs (or learning journal as I look upon it).

Why have I done this? It is an opportunity to log my learning and by doing so I hope to understand a bit more about the learning process and to learn more about the usefulness (or is that uselessness) of blogs. I include the brackets previously to make the point that unless the writer of the blog can see some value in the task of blog writing, then blogging can be a tiresome business for all concerned.

Why would you want to blog?

Is there sufficient motivation for students to blog, because let’s face it blogs can be boring. Boring and time consuming to write and probably nine times out of ten boring to read. (ouch)

Do I know this as fact, NO. What has lead me to think of blogging in this way? It began when I started to think I needed for assessment purposes a structured approach to writing a blog i.e. an explicit structure embedded within the blog to indicate for example a learning task, background to the task, how I completed the task and my thoughts on the task. Maybe all this metadata should be included and I have decided to include it as a “My Comment” at the end of the blog.

Obviously an assessed piece of work will sufficiently focus the mind in order for the blog to be completed, but to me the important thing about the blog is the learning, the thinking through of what to write and how to write it, the capturing of knowledge for later reference. In addition the blog is not just a personal diary, it’s meant to be published to an audience. So any blogger should be conscious that they are writing also for the enjoyment and benefit of others. This realization that the blog is for public consumption should I believe help to focus and motivate a blogger.

In writing the last paragraph it made me realize that the purpose of the blog has to be clear (and the way it will be assessed) to the student as this will affect they way it is written. When I wrote “it’s meant to be published to an audience”, the thought crossed my mind that in some cases this may not be part of the purpose of the blog. Then I thought hang on perhaps that is an essential part of the definition of a blog. I’ll think about this more at a later date.

The way my personal blogging experience is going it feels that my early blogs are about me, me me and what I think think think – I don’t feel the inclination to bring in references to back up or refute my ideas or to add too many hyperlinks as I am concentrating on documenting my learning and outlining my thoughts. It seems natural to me that after laying these foundations on various topics that I will revisit my thoughts, assertions and statements with a more critical eye after further reading and practical experience.

Should I be expected to reference and/or link to other material it may make the whole process overbearing and stifling to complete. This leads to me to think that a blog needs to be marked in the whole and not on the basis of individual blogs.

I see the blog developing from initial thoughts and assertions through to supporting and contradictory arguments leading to conclusions about a particular topic.

Non-Boring Blogs?

So what am I saying? I am saying that in order for a blog not to boring:

1. The purpose of the blog, must be crystal clear to the student.
2. The guidelines for the assessment of the blog should be crystal clear to the student.
3. There should be much flexibility on how the student wishes to present the blog.
4. The blog should be marked in it’s entirety and not necessarily an individual blog at a time.
5. The student should be writing to clarify their own understandings.
6. The student should be capturing knowledge, thoughts and ideas.
7. The student should be writing for the enjoyment and benefit of others.
8. The students should be writing for their own benefit.
9. The student should have confidence that the blog is being published in a supportive community of learners.

It is my contention that points 1 and 2 give the student the clarity that they need to study effectively. Point 3 gives the students the opportunity to be creative and show their uniqueness to the world. Point 4 removes the burden of hitting too much criteria on each blog and also I think blogs need to evolve, to let the blogger learn the ropes. Points 5-8 would hopefully encourage the student to adopt a deep learning strategy rather than a surface learning strategy. Finally Point 9 is about laying foundations so that students are not inhibited in engaging fully in the task of blogging.

In addition the student would need to adhere to any criteria laid out in the guidelines e.g with regard to referencing, linking, evaluating etc etc. Once we get into the realms of assessing blogs on the quality of the critical writing then the blogger will need to back up statements with suitable references.

Throw away comment - blogs that incorporate pictures will probably be less boring.

[MY COMMENT: This blog entry has come about from my early experiences in writing a blog and trying to understand how I can learn, share my learning and enjoy the process of writing a blog. Footnote: I have literally gone blogging mad in the last week. I hope I am not all blogged out.]

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