Tuesday, May 29, 2007

How blogging affects the academic ecosystem

Leverett, T. (2007, May). How blogging affects the academic ecosystem. Presentation at 2nd Webheads in Action Online Convergence, including chat at Tapped In, static web site, and weblog with notes.

This presentation was very interesting to me in many ways. I overcame my timidity, knowing I was over my head with the technology that is routine for the online education crowd- and, being somewhat rushed in preparation, had to pull together the notes and the writing linked above in somewhat of a hurry. The presentation was meant to deal with the implications of people like Daniel Drezner and Juan Cole, or even small nobodies like yours truly, who muscle out a public presence (in the form of a blog) in a world that otherwise has a lot to say, and many control issues, around delivery of information and image presentation. Not that I ever experienced any of this pressure from above (I haven't), but, doing research on those who had helped me to some degree face the inevitable perils of embracing public dialogue and public fame (notoriety), should either ever come to fruition.

Like others, I came into blogging from the point of view of feeling that it would be useful for my students; I started doing it myself and got drawn in by the do-it-yourself, personalized media aspect of it, and loved this enough to find out what I could about the perils. I have parallel blogs too- a work one, a personal one, a writing one, etc. which I keep separate and which don't cross each other's paths much. I try to keep personal stuff personal and not hold it out as a model to my students- but nevertheless have been drawn by the power of the ability to speak- at any time, to whomever.

The text chat transcript I have put on the web here as I find myself rereading it for ideas which it is full of. Some of the visitors had read what I prepared and had comments about it; others read it as I delivered it; others no doubt never read it or even looked at it, but stopped by for a chat nonetheless. 11pm our time was rather inconvenient everywhere except CA and here; nevertheless I got visitors from as far away as Australia, Maryland, Phoenix, Sacramento (ever heard it called "Sacratomato"?) and Oregon, and possibly a few others. The online crowd is an interesting community, with a definite perspective and sharp comments about my choice of text-only (positively medieval, said one), no audio, video-cam or whiteboard. They notice the effects of different media on the communication of an event, and mine stood out for its low-tech nature. Later this commenting blossomed into an interesting discussion on the nature of the relationship between speaking and writing- which is definitely something I'm interested in; I may explore this more later in another post.

Sticking to the blogging professional (which we didn't, not at all times), we covered some interesting issues: blogging encourages transparency, and is part of a worldwide transparency movement, which can be seen in many realms. Because nothing is truly anonymous (as one person said, and, as was pointed out later, even erased posts can be recovered (in the wayback archive), bloggers are truly brave (sticking your neck out - part of the turtle syndrome...(though the clever turtle) knows when it is time to pull his head in)...which brings up one of the main themes: although they seem transitory, temporal, blogs are in fact quite permanent....the beauty of a blog is its permanence, said one discussant, though I don't know if I agree. Another said, It's scary to google your name and get homework from a year ago come up...one more mentioned that we should definitely stress this with our students, but, though I agreed, I was more interested in effects of personal blogging, professional out into the world. The permanence of blogs and what is written in them is something I'd like to explore more.

The blog, it was pointed out, is conversational in nature, and therefore straddles, to some degree, the different worlds of speech and text (this brought about the aforementioned discussion of the different nature of each)...And, it was pointed out, learning how to hypertext appropriately is an art in itself- it's a different way of writing entirely...and, there is a different 'voice' required to engage the reader online...though it's like e-mail: it's not more private than a postcard, i.e., NOT private...so, in the end, I was in awe of the utter bravery of those of us who, like Drezner, put ourselves out so often, so regularly. One job applicant was reconsidering earlier posts: I pictured myself as a job applicant who, unlike Drezner perhaps, had not got enough fame out of blogging to raise my own desirability or price as an academic. All this transparency can, in fact, bring up all kinds of emotions, much like the high-school bathroom where they'd ripped out all the stall walls for security reasons. Several disagreed with the assertion that true transparency was occurring or washing over the universe (Everyone is hiding SOMETHING, said one; another said, "I don't see things transparent...indeed...I see things as amazingly atavistic. You can't talk seriously about blogs when half the districts in this country filter them"...). I'm not sure exactly what he meant, but I did notice at one point in my research that someone had commented: some people use them to put forward a false, pretentious front; others, like the ones I'm more interested in, are more seriously committed to speaking to the public about their field of expertise- speaking bluntly, honestly, with a sense of activism and desire to affect change. One only does this if one has an agenda, of course. Or if one is seeking the truth from a kind of collective wisdom.

Several of the discussants had used blogs for various purposes- and willingly shared them. They mentioned collabrative team reflection practice, mentoring and coaching, organizing and saving notes, and digital storytelling as different functions of their own blogs. It brought up a dilemma I have- namely that my personal reflections and creative writing, though also public, are not necessarily appropriate for my students or necessary to put in front of them at every moment. One person mentioned that this has caused a lack of transparency within herself; another, more active online with chat etc., has a gulf between online self and professional self. A third commented on what it's like when so many people know you from your online writing before they meet you- how writing is now the gateway through which we build relationships.

Some of the interesting blogs shared: Ms. Mercer's reflections; Carole's Baranduda; Nina's blog about blogging and reading blog; Grail action research; Nicholas elementary blog; Monica's class blog.

Which brings up a final point- like the most recent TESOL, and the ILTESOL-BE, this online conference had more than a few k-12 educators with distinctly k-12 views. While most online practitioners agree about a lot of things: that online education is a wave of the future; that the young should learn how to communicate in many environments; that we educators should stay abreast of changes, etc.- in weblogging at least, our experiences are so different as to defy understanding, on my part, sometimes. We talked about using voice-to-chat software in educating the young, allowing them to speak into the computer, and have the computer do the writing (which will be sooo easy, sooo soon)- the movement to get tech standards throughout the schools- and to agree on them- the teaching of keyboarding to the young, etc. I just don't live with these challenges, don't even consider them on a daily basis. Yet I now see people who spend so much time online, who chat and/or text more than they talk, more than they read, more than they do anything else, really. People meet people through text now, hear voice in it, that they might not have, before. And see sides of us that, hey, if you were to meet me, f2f, and only f2f, might be hidden forever.

Some other links coming from the presentation:
Keyboarding in elementary schools
learning.now- Could wikis help achieve consensus on EdTech policy? Jeff Cooper encouraged us to read this and join in the discussion.

The entire transcript of this presentation can be found here.

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At 9:59 PM, Anonymous A. Mercer said...

Hey Tom, great discussion even if it used "medieval" technology. Thanks for the links, I typed in the wrong link to the Nicholas blog. It should be http://nicholasfifth.edublogs.org Any chance of a change?

At 2:46 PM, Blogger tom said...

change is done, Alice! Thanks for stopping by!

At 2:07 PM, Anonymous A. Mercer said...

Tom, It seems that my blogging helped in my job hunt. I was offered a position teaching computer lab in grade 1-6. A big part of it was my blog for my class, and my portfolio blog, BUT I never publicized my reflection blog. I don't know how that would go down?


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