Blogging: Combining Scholarship and Service

Sunday, 29 November 2009, 18:42 | Category : Education Technology
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I have spent the last two weeks deeply immersed in conversation centered around digital literacy.  As a member of the National Writing Project and the technology liaison for the Chippewa River Writing Project, I was fortunate to have been invited to attend a new event this year held as a precursor to the annual meeting.  Digital Is…Convening was held on Wednesday, November 18th in Philadelphia.  It was an incredibly intimate event, only about 150 attendees, all interested in the ways the digital world impacts learning.  What’s interesting about being involved in an event like this is the ability to engage in meaningful conversation.  Many times at conferences, those of us interested in educational technology find ourselves first defending it’s place in education before we move into any discussion about pedagogical practices.  We spend much of our energy convincing those that don’t believe that there is, in fact, solid, convincing reasons to pay attention to the ways in which technology is/can/will/should change our teaching practices.  We tire from the effort it takes to convince those that don’t engage themselves in the use of digital learning and often get distracted.  Coming to an event where those in attendance already believe in the importance, engage in the practice and and understand the potential of digital learning and the field of educational technology was both energizing and peaceful and thought provoking all at the same time.  The conversations that took place between the Tuesday evening social and the events held throughout the main event on Wednesday were rich, thoughtful and caused me to pause and think about the diverse ways in which this “revolutionary” shift is impacting, not just our schools, but our communities, our country and the world as a whole.

As you can imagine, the opportunity for blog topics from this experience was limitless.  There are several important take-a-ways that I would like to share and I kept a running list from the conference and will hopefully blog about them separately very soon.  However during my drive to the U.P. for a holiday celebration with my family, I listened to three podcasts from Steve Hargadon’s Future of Education series: Larry Cuban, Henry Jenkins and John Seeley Brown. If you have never taken the time to listen to any of these interviews, I highly recommend pausing to do so.  Hargadon is an insightful host, asks engaging questions and keeps the conversation focused.  While all three of these men have a great deal to say about digital learning, new literacies and the integration of technology into our teaching practices, the interesting part in each of these podcasts, for me, was their views on blogging.

Larry Cuban’s blog is a collection of wonderfully written posts focused on school reform, specifically ways in which policy impacts practice.  Cuban, in his interview with Steve Hargadon talks about the practice of blogging and the ways in which it has impacted his own thinking and learning.  He has three rules for his blog: 1. Write in a clear and concise manner.  2.  Keep the topics focused on the issues he is passionate about and 3. Limit the entries to 800 words.  He said it has been a good practice from both a writing aspect (he writes more often) and from a community perspective (enjoys seeing the comments, getting emails, connecting with people).  Cuban, at the age of 75, has studied technology’s impact on education for over five decades.  While not willing to concede an educational  revolution, he does admit that the ability of the tools available today are different than previous technologies and that their impact on education remains to be seen.

I’m going to digress a bit and offer up some additional perspective that frames my recent thinking.  In my prosem with David Wong, we  just read an article, David Labaree  (2003) The Peculiar Problem of Preparing Educational Researchers. The discussions in our online environment have centered around the disconnect between the thinking of practicing teachers and the thought processes needed for becoming an educational researcher.  In addition to this article, all three of my courses this semester have raised the issue of a potential gap that seems to exists between teachers in the field of K-12 learning and those involved in educational research at the university level.  The combination of conversations, articles and these podcasts has led me to think that in fact, blogs might be a way to bridge that gap, make a pathway for connections between the university world and the field of K-12 education.

In John Seely Brown’s podcast, he talks about the “depressing number of people who actually read articles published in journals”.  Journals cost money and accessibility is limited unless you are associated with a university. Brown continues an offers up blogging as a way to communicate and share emerging ideas.  He says blogs distribute information to a much wider and diverse audience than has ever occurred within the traditional publishing industry.  Jenkins, in his podcast interview,  suggests that all teachers and professors should engage in the practice of blogging. The problem (as any blogger or one who has attempted to blog will tell you) is that it takes time, which means time away from something else.  Jenkins suggests that until it is recognized by the academic community as a meaningful practice, ie. recognized in the tenure track, then it won’t become a prolific part of a university community.  Both Jenkins and Brown suggest that blogging is a type of service as well as a practice of scholarship.  Jenkins suggests that in addition to the problem of “counting” in the tenure system, there is a fear among researchers when it comes to sharing ideas.  The idea of putting yourself out there and the possibility of someone taking credit for your work is scary to some people.  Jenkins proposes that blogging in the academic community is a practice that will allow for discourse across disciplines, and that is, in and of itself, a frightening practice for some, especially those that are used to writing, sharing and holding conversation within their own fields.  Brown adds that the in the past we defined ourselves by what we wore or what we owned or how much money we had; today we are defining ourselves by what we have created and what we shared as well as what others have taken and done with those creations.  For example, it’s not enough that you write a blog and post it,  but that there is interaction among the community with and in the information the blog contains.  It is the links, the comments, the engagement in conversation and the possibility for debate and enlightenment that makes blogging a worthwhile form of scholarship.  Brown references Andrew Sullivan’s article, Why I Blog and describes the ways in which Sullivan’s learning is transformed by the interactions in the community that he has created through blogging.

I am throwing all of this out there because it really has me thinking.  In what ways can we support and encourage blogging in the academic community?  How can we properly introduce the idea of blogging as both scholarship and service?  As we engage in this collaborative blog, what are the issues we can raise here, amongst ourselves, that can be shared with the K-12 community in order to begin to “bridge the gap”?  I’m wondering about the possibilities and the future of academic journals to allow subscribers to manage and organize the flow of information with the tools at our fingertips…RSS feeds for research topics designed to expand across journals, key-word searches that allow us to quickly gain access to all of the current trends surrounding our interest areas (much like the TPACK stream found here).  There seems to be powerful tools in existence that allow us to create, manage and share content.  As leaders in the educational field, perhaps we need to take a look at the ways in which we have traditional communicated and expand that to include the tools available in the 21st Century.

These thoughts cross posted at EPET collaborative blog, http://ideaplay.org/?p=126.

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