On Blogging

We’re discussing the purpose of blogging – for both students and teachers – in one of my school’s PLCs. “Why blog?” is an often explored area in circles increasingly concerned with 21st Century Skills. I think one of the reasons this question can be tricky to answer is that the notion of a “blog” is now wrapped up in magical pseudo-edu-myth. It’s one of those things that those progressive “others” do, one of those things that happen in those classrooms that a neo-traditionalist might dismiss as innovative mumbo-jumbo. Exactly what a “blog” is is also hard to pin down because, predominantly, it is a medium, rather than a genre, with a diversity of styles and purposes.

Here’s what a quick google tells us. It’s a standard enough definition:

Google’s definition from the Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current Usage

When you think of other mediums of communication, we rarely need to get to a point where we need to justify the decision to use the medium itself. We don’t ask, “Why do we write on paper?” or “Why do we take photographs?” Similarly, we don’t feel the need to justify “styles” of writing in our educational decision-making. We don’t feel a pressing philosophical need to ask, “Why write conversationally?” or “Why write in an esoteric academic voice?”

So, given Google’s definition, that a blog is a “regularly updated web page” that is written in a “conversational style”, this means when we ask, “Why blog?” we are really asking, “Why regularly update a web page in a conversational manner?” or, even more simply, “Why regularly self-publish?” And the answer to this question depends on the context and purposes of publication.

In an educational setting, whether students or teachers are the authors, there are two ways you might look at the general purpose of blogging:

Personal perspective: To reflect by organising and crystallising your thinking on your chosen topic(s), over time, accountable to a public audience.

Community perspective: To build connections and contribute to conversations with a wider, public audience, over time.

Now, we need to ask, if we are to blog, how might this help our own or our students’ learning? The elements which are of potential educational merit (but please don’t confuse this with some educational magic bullet) include:

1) The conversational style and commenting features of the medium promote socially constructed reflection

2) Positively leveraging the panopticon of social media can promote deliberate practice of these reflection skills.

Facebook: The Panopticon of the Modern Age by joelle l licensed under a CC Attribution 2.0 Generic License

I am no expert in either Lev Vygotsky’s (social constructivism) or Ericsson’s research (deliberate practice), beyond the now ingrained takeaways of which I am probably no longer conscious. However, I will summarise what I perceive to be of practical importance.

The process of learning is social. We understand this implicitly when we take on the roles of teacher and student and believe that by putting people in a room together, learning can happen. And blogging, more so than, say, writing in a notebook, opens up our learning so that it is easily accessed by peers anywhere with an internet connection: it gives you an expanded, flexible, networked learning environment. Furthermore, the very fact that there are many potential readers, separated in both space and time (it could be your employee five years down the line), mean that the stakes for students and teachers writing in this medium are higher – it provokes both teachers and students alike to be practising writing and sharing their thinking that much more deliberately than they otherwise might.

Now, not everything is enhanced by blogging. Students should not be overwhelmed by those higher stakes without first preparing them with an appropriate degree of competence and understanding. The same goes for teachers. However, encouraging teachers and students to switch some of their written thinking to a blogging medium is only likely to enhance learning, rather than hinder it.

And, if you’re convinced, here are three simple principles to help your student blogs flourish.