Blog Pile

The Dissonance of “Blogs in Education”

It’s only been a few days since a number of fabulous presentation as conversation sessions on blogs, social software, and education here in Vancouver (I am still lingering at chez Lamb). D’Arcy has already posted a superultimate summary that distills the summaries quite nicely, and I am one of many where at our UBC and Northern Voice sessions with a new sense of wonder at how we move forward.

From the words, experiences of colleagues here, I have a nagging ring about the phrase “Blogs In Education”, something I likely have used myself and of which are countless conference sessions, journal articles, PhD theses… It’s the “in” that bugs me. The disconnect for me is this phrase presumes that blogs can be something that lies solely within the confines of education, excluding the personal nature of blog writing, the personal ownership of blog writing, and the connectivity in our lives that naturally does not stop at the edge of campus.

So maybe I am just throwing darts at words, but the symptoms are ones I heard about just this week- where institutions decide for not so bad reasons, to set up a blog system for all their employees, students, even before they have a plan or notion as to how it will be used. Said systems are set up with boundaries, fixed templates with official logos, and likely can be visualized as nice store fronts with tumbleweeds blowing by. Or other cases, where we heard of schools where individual course blogs are set up, only to require students to log in/ post to 4 or 5 different blog sites (who owns the writing there?). Or where blogged course content evaporates because the course does. Some people have the notion that its a great idea to plug in blog functionality to a course management system where content has a life span of one semester (which as Brian aptly notes is about how long many bloggers take to develop their writing style and voice).

How arcane is it going to sound when the MySpace generation crashes on the shore and we ask them to write just their Chemistry notes in Big U’s Official Blog That Allows Only Lab Notes? This notion that an educational blog is something unique and separate from our whole experience is jarring to me. Our lives are strung together from an array of overlapping experiences that transcend boxes, yet we continue to advocate these boxes for learning experiences.

More than one educator has noted the significance of writing that is owned by the writer not the people who give them a pad of paper.

So the notion of “blogs” being something separate and alone inside “education” is a bit doomed for me to dismality (okay, there are some splendid exceptions or more than just some). To swing the opposite way is also not exactly all enticing, to rely solely on external hosting, or the notion of just pure aggregation into a SuprMyEduGluGlob all the disparate pieces from elsewhere. Technically possible yes, but real implementation? It needs to be more than just a pile of glue.

This would be something where there are filtering aggregation tools that can gather content by collecting information from tags or keywords. So a learner can be using many different internal or external tools and use the glu-like stuff to create different and dynamic reformulations. It is pretty vague and conceptual (but do-able).

I buy the concept, and even advocate it, but it seems so nebulous a construct totally devoid of design and structure, that I envision a giant blob of content that is hard to decipher. Again, that D’Arcy guy is got some good ideas flowing on the not so mythical EduGlu and is even plotting a forge for it. I think just for the sake of creating new tools and approaches to using aggregation, I am all for it. In fact, I have a huge amount of techno success by seeing which way the D’Arcy moves as far as looking at new technologies. Blaze on.

On the other hand, institutions have rightfully placed concerns about privacy (especially k-12) and needing by legal requirements to document student work used for asssessment (cache it baby?).

So the notion of blogging completely internalized to education makes me very cautious as does the ultimate disaggregation external, and the more vexing problem is sorting out where the middle ground lies. And there will not be singular answers or Laws to Blog by.

And even this discussion of blogs as single entities rubs me wrong– many people I know and respect have not a single blog but several, and blogs are not the whole enchilada anyhow. The ways many are using blogs to be just a piece in the ecosystem of disaggregated content (images at flickr, bookmarks at delicious, goals at 43things, documents at Writely, brainstorming at PBWiki, aido at OurMedia etc), that there is a whole lot more to this than just “blogs” in or out of education. And it is going to get more fragmented as we go.

So in the end here, I have no answers, but many, many more questions to flesh out, a la the blog as outboard brain. It is not as simple as just talking about “Blogs in Education” so please send me a crate of canned spam if I let that phrase slip out again. We need an integrated approach to all of this, not a bolt on one.

I wish I had a big prophetic statement, but I am blogging it as one of those things that is processed via my blog not pronounced. I just don’t know.

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. These ideas are moving in a very interesting direction. I think one key is to imagine the educational aggregator/portal/whatever as one that makes the most of the sense of occasion and possibility that exist within the experience of education. The EduGlu will be one (but only one) focused, powerful, and helpful way of envisioning oneself in relation to the world (just like education itself). The power will come from the creativity and inclusiveness of the interface and the digital opportunities it invites and elicits and inspires.

    Today’s thought, anyway. “Lifebook.”

  2. Alan, great recap!

    I’m not thinking of the mythical EduGlu as being The One True Way, but as an intermediate step to “institutionalize” external content sources. One of the things that I heard in the conversations is that schools need to keep records, and need to associate stuff with a Class. I’m intending the Glu to serve primarily as a sandbox to provide a concrete example of harnessing a person’s relevant bits from around the ‘net. If it goes anywhere, so be it. If all it does is point out another blind alley, then it’s still a success 🙂

    I’m working through a lot of “I just don’t know” moments myself. I figure there’s only one way to get through that, though…

  3. So I guess one of the questions (and it’s been raised elsewhere, I think it was Graeme Atwell musing on this) is whether there is a role at all for institutions in this, especially given the plethora of free hosting options?

    I don’t know, but I think there still is; but the ‘institution’ wouldn’t be the individual college or university, it would be the state or province, much in line with the ‘eportfolio for life’ initiatives trumpeted elsewhwere. I know, this will bring on a strong and immediate reaction by many people in terms of privacy and control issues, state paternalism, etc., and I really do respect these. I am no fan of being dictated to. I am just thinking out loud here.

    But I had an interesting conversation at NorthernVoices with an attendee who was from Norway (I think, I apologize if I get this wrong, maybe Sweden). We were talking with others about the issue of identity management’ and the fellow from Norway said, somewhat surprisedly, what, you mean your government is not involved with this? And I think he was right, not that the government *should* be involved, but that inevitably, they *will* become involved, and so instead of taking a retroactive approach to policing this after the fact, why don’t we steer the boat towards getting governments to provide services in a fashion that still allows the individual to protect their rights, make different choices if they want, but also outlines the base requirements we have for safe and civil interaction online. (sorry, this should have been a blog post of my own, didn’t mean to fill up the comments area).

  4. Eventually I am going to have to address this at more length, but I agree and disagree. I agree with the philosophical intent, bit disagree on the simple practical application of language. We can’t always (or ever) be addressing topics fully, completely, and thoroughly. Often we are talking about specific mechanics or concepts and the pragmatics of language win.

    One of my approaches to blogging (I think there must needs be many) is to look at parallels with journalling– getting at the Zen-like aspects of “practice” and personal space and reflection. Like many approaches, there is a lot that “goes without saying” in the discussion else we fall into a solipsistic hole of qualifications and explanations.

    Using “blogs in education” is like that. There’s a lot that has to go without saying in particular instances because it would take volumes to say every time! Of course the blogs in question shouldn’t be *only* for a class, shouldn’t be time limited to an academic term, the efforts should be integrated into the “social life of students,” whatever those things are that monolithic CMS vendors are creating shouldn’t be called blogs at all, my students are really then being taught how to “use their blogs as part of an education” etc.– but shouldn’t that all go without saying sometimes?

  5. Chris, I think the point is that by leaving this assumed/unsaid, it gets forgotten. In talking with teachers, students, and staff, it sounds like the majority of “blogging in education” initiatives involve installing a Blackboard course-centric building block and figuring that’s all it takes. We see this stuff as obvious and intuitive because we’ve been living it for a few years now. Most teachers (and most students) haven’t – and they are being spoonfed simple IT-based solutions rather than this stuff, which is what is needed to make these activities truly successful.

  6. Thanks for the wonderful comments and distributed conversation.

    Please, please keep in mind that this is NOT definitive and is my outloud thinking, subject to derision, change, mileage may vary, batteries not included, void if the tag is ripped off….

    Also, note that this is the first time every I used a high falutin’ word like “Dissonance” which is right up there with “penultimate” none of which are words I use in normal conversation 😉

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  8. Thanks for the outloud thinking, Alan. Afterall, isn’t that one of the best things about the blogosphere? We don’t have to have everything figured out before we publish our thoughts.

    It seems, from conversations I’ve observed and participated in both on and offline, that we’ve come to a point of overload. I cringed with your list of Flickr,, 43things, Writely, etc. because thats exactly what I’m struggling with both personally and with Learning Circuits Blog. On one hand, I almost feel like screaming STOP. I need some time to get used to the toys I already have before you give me more. But then again, each new application that’s launched is so exciting (well not every new application) that I find myself diving into it and exploring it. (My latest favorite toy is cocoment.) Hopefully efforts like D’Arcy’s EduGlu and others will help deal with this crazy whirl of content and applications.

  9. Dave,

    Keep the cringe on– the rate of chrun is only increasing. Either throw up yout hands and say Woooooooo or get off the roller coaster 😉 Seriously, give up the mastering of the toys, as the technology becomes more and more disposable…. but if you look very closely, at the bottom and interstices of this is much RSS and that is the true Glu.

    Hey Brain! Edward Abbey said no such thing; that’s just a joke in the footer of my template and the number of students is actually the number of database processes to display this mess,

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