INF537 Digital Scholarship Interpretive Report

Blogging and digital scholarship

Introduction

In popular culture, blogs (publicly visible personal online journals) are ubiquitous, from food to politics to fashion, everyone’s doing it, even traditional media outlets now use blogs to connect with their audience. But for academia, blogging is still an emerging technology. As a student in Masters of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) I have enjoyed the challenge of maintaining a blog. But for students in other disciplines the notion of creating work for assessment through a blog is still new. Scholarly blogging is considered an emerging practice (Veletsianos 2016, p.7) and so is not yet fully understood. Is there an ongoing place for blogging in scholarship?

According to Boyer (Scanlon, 2014), scholars discover (conduct original research), integrate (what they learn across disciplines), apply (engage with the world outside academia) and teach. Digital scholars are no different but their practice is transformed because they are open, digital and networked (Weller, 2011). A digital scholar is characterised by their distributed online identity, their personal learning network of online peers, their willingness to publish openly, including both formal and informal (such as a blog) outputs, and their willingness to try new technologies to support their teaching and research. They are not so much defined by their institution as by their online identity (Weller, 2011, p.3). Digital scholarship “is both a profound change and a continuation of traditional practice.” (Weller, 2011, p.3)

This paper will look at the role blogging can play in digital scholarship. Blogging within academia will be examined and then compared and contrasted with blogging in K-12 education by both teachers and students. A discussion of the barriers and enablers to blogging across all sectors will follow, and the paper will conclude with a statement on the applicability of blogging to K-12 education.

Blogging and academia

One way that digital scholars make their intellectual processes visible is through blogging. Blogging is both an emerging technology and an emerging practice of writing that is born of peer-to-peer networking. According to Patrick Dempsey (University of Canberra, 2017) the 8000 word journal article is no longer relevant in form (too long) or timeliness. Blog posts, including those written in a scholarly form and fully referenced, can be published immediately. Peer review comes afterwards, in the form of commentary and dialogue between author and readers. The dialogue generated can also assist in the development stage (McGuire, 2008).

For Weller blogs are an example of a “fast, cheap and out-of-control” technology in action (2011, p.44) and are, by definition, digital, networked and (usually) open.

Blogs are able to facilitate the sharing of thought processes, enable non linear construction of knowledge, and attract multiple viewpoints in response (Weller, 2011). Ideas can be shared, linked and acknowledged in a timely manner (Weller, 2011, p.68). Bloggers tend to be open to feedback and criticism, using the process of blogging to clarify their thinking and move it forward (Weller, 2011) or capture thinking in action (Mewburn & Thomson, 2017, loc.954). Weller found blogging has “unpredictable benefits—such as the establishment of a global peer network that helps me stay up to date with my topic.” (2012) The power of blogging

rests in part with the author or authors who start it; in part with the readers who leave comments; in part with those who link to, cite, reference, or respond to it; and in part with the readers, who may do nothing more than have their presence recorded by a web server. (Thomas and Brown, 2011. loc.642).

For academics, blogging can be part of the structure of a community of practice or even a ‘virtual staff room’ (Mewburn & Thomson, 2013, p.1106). Blogs speed up the dissemination process and are complementary to traditional scholarly publishing (Powell, Jacob & Chapman, 2012).

“‘Blogging helps me work out what is connected, which either helps me realise how to put in my own thesis or that actually, it doesn’t really fit in my thesis but is interesting anyway.’” (Mewburn & Thomson, 2017, loc.964). Mewburn and Thomson found that doctoral students found enjoyment “in blogging as a distinctive form of writing in and of itself.”  (2017, loc.1011)

Researchers use blogging to promote and protect ideas (McGuire, 2008) allowing others to reference them. This facility to rapidly share information creates new opportunities for connection and collaboration, and the ability of peers to constructively criticise and engage in dialogue with the researcher potentially improves rigor (Powell, Jacob & Chapman, 2012).

Blogging allows academics to gain large audiences and be found by new audiences, and their impact can be quickly measured in views, comments and tweets (Weller, 2011; Ayers, 2013) but Mewburn and Thomson found evidence which “suggests that blogging is still not seen as a mainstream research practice.” (2017, loc.904) The doctoral students they surveyed expressed uncertainty about the acceptability of blogging in the academic environment. There is strong support for the notion that blogging promotes interdisciplinarity within academia (Weller, 2011) and knowledge sharing and collaboration outside academia (McGuire, 2008; Mewburn & Thomson, 2017; Powell, Jacob & Chapman, 2012; Weller, 2011). Lupton notes that blogging is a means of communicating outside paywalls, further promoting the openness of the digital scholar (University of Canberra, 2017).

Blogging and K-12 teachers

Ayers suggests that the activities of digital scholars are as beneficial to those working in K-12 education as tertiary (2013, p.32). In the K-12 realm teachers who use technology to break down physical barriers in order to connect and share with a global community are called Connected Educators (Nussbaum-Beach & Hall, 2012; Wheeler, 2015). A connected educator (as described by Nussbaum-Beach & Hall, 2012) has many similarities to a digital or open scholar as described by Weller (2011).

Veletsianos (2013) found that scholars who embraced social media including sharing online through blogs spoke very positively of the experience. Constructivist theory puts sharing knowledge through dialogue at the heart of effective education (Schunk, 2004) and yet both K-12 and higher education “has generally lacked a culture of sharing.” (Veletsianos, 2013. p.647) “Sharing should be treated as a scholarly and educational practice.” (p.648)

It is reasonable to expect that teachers might find similar enjoyment in reflecting through public writing and gain satisfaction in blogging as an “act of self-exploration, self-care and self-cultivation” (Mewburn & Thomson, 2017, loc.866) as academics.

Swanson is a strong advocate for blogging for reflection by teachers, noting that a blog is a dynamic space where beliefs and practices can be both affirmed and challenged (2012, loc.280) and knowledge constructed through dialogue with educators from around the world (loc.786). She says the ability to leave comments on another author’s blog and have them respond gives added credibility to what they have written (loc.480). Additionally, teachers who blog about what happens in their classroom help to create a culture of openness with their community (loc.695).

Wheeler encourages teachers to reflect through blogging as a professional practice, believing that the process of drafting and redrafting for blogging improves critical and creative thinking, helps to move thinking forward and improves writing skills. Blogging can connect the teacher with a global audience and find other educators interested in the same topics giving unpredicted benefits such as opportunities for collaboration (2015, p.141). As George Couros recently wrote “The beautiful thing about our world today is that any teacher can find other teachers, doing their job right now, and learn from them.” (Couros, 2017)

Blogging and K-12 students

For K-12 students, blogging can be a means to make the construction of knowledge publicly visible. Just as “blogging provided a liminal space through which doctoral researchers could explore their emerging understandings” (Mewburn & Thomson, 2017, loc.819), so too can students. Active participation in learning through reflective writing for a blog then gaining additional perspectives through comments from peers is a powerful learning experience (Wheeler, 2015, p.53, p.86). “The learning that happens through blogs, social networks, and other new media may be deeply grounded in experience and personal expression, but it also arises from the contributions of multiple people and voices.” (Thomas & Brown, 2011. loc.924-925)

Blogging is a vehicle through which students can learn digital citizenship skills and behaviours such as online safety habits, respectful communication when commenting, and acknowledging and attributing sources (Weller, 2011, p.67; Waters, 2017). Blogging also improves students writing, reading, critical thinking and motivation, and opens them up to the power of a global audience (Waters, 2017; Wheeler, 2015). Blogging is a powerful example of the use of social media for informal learning (Wheeler, 2015, p.50). Wheeler notes that blogging encourages students to become independent learners as they realise they are able to explore knowledge for themselves. “When a learner starts to blog, they start to think for themselves. They have to consider an audience of more than one (the teacher) and they are required to be masters of their own journey.” (Wheeler, 2015, p.51)

Comments open up another area for learning – “good learning occurs when we consider the views of others….even if we don’t agree with [them]” (Wheeler, 2015, p.51). Learning to consider alternative perspectives in order to understand them and to react constructively when an adverse comment is posted to one’s blog is a powerful affordance of blogging. (Wheeler, 2015, p.51)

Projects such as Quadblogging (http://quadblogging.net/) where four classes from different schools and countries are matched and take it in turns to write and comment on each others’ posts have been widely praised for providing literacy-rich independent learning (Fletcher & Nicholas, 2016, p.8; Wheeler, 2015, p.52). The guarantee of an audience for blog posts and opportunity for dialogue through comments encourages students to ‘perform’ their ideas at a higher level (Wheeler, 2015, p.113). Perhaps Howard Rheingold puts this best:

If you write a paper and only the teacher sees it, that’s one thing, but when you write a blog for all the people in the world to see it, I think that’s far more empowering—and better preparation for the kind of world they’re going to live in. (Ray, Jackson, & Cupaiuolo, 2014 loc.162)

Barriers and enablers

“The first, and fundamental, barrier is the recognition of digital scholarship as an activity that is worthy of appreciation.” (Weller, 2011, p.130) But he says educators are duty-bound to examine the possibilities of technology in education for their students. (p.27)

Despite all the positives aspects of blogging, from K-12 through academia, it is still is not universally accepted as a mainstream academic activity. Institutions have concerns over perceived threats from their staff posting uncomplimentary material and many have developed policies that “make continued employment contingent on behaving ‘appropriately’ online.” (Mewburn & Thomson 2013. p.1117). But when an academic blogs, is it marketing or publication? Advocates of blogging maintain it is an alternative form for communicating research. (p.1117)

In secondary education online published material, whether a video, wiki or blog, as evidence of learning is not widely accepted. In particular, upper secondary students are constrained by state-set curricula and external examinations and unfortunately are not able to take Wheeler’s advice to “consider finding a new external examiner.“ (2015, p.140)

The perennial claim of lack of time will always be a barrier to (some) teachers engaging with new technologies. (Conole, 2013, p. 60)

The potential for a high percentage of plagiarism to be found, by plagiarism detection technology, in a formal academic submission after the writer has developed sections of it through blogging is an interesting possibility, but Holland (2015) found it a compelling reason (amongst others) not to use the detection service rather than a reason not to blog.

“Blogs and new media can be used as teaching tools, complementing other pedagogical strategies and techniques to encourage student participation, personal reflection, communication, and the development of critical thinking and writing skills (Joshi and Chugh, 2008; Powell, Jacob & Chapman, 2012). Wheeler wonders if students might be “graded on the quality of discussions on their blogs.” (2015, p.138)

Bloggers should be just as aware of the protection of intellectual property as writers in other mediums (Powell, Jacob & Chapman, 2012). The blogging norm of linking to source material has been compared to the academic practice of citing. A hyperlink in a blog post could be equivalent to a reference in an essay (Wheeler, 2015. p.138) or even be better than a reference as the reader is able to immediately click through to the source (McGuire, 2008).

Conclusion

Blogging is one way that scholars in academia are becoming digital scholars. Teachers who aspire to be connected educators are encouraged to take advantage of the affordances of blogging to enhance their professional learning and connections with their peers.

“Student blogging is powerful and stimulating and enriching.” (Drennan, 2012) Teachers who use blogging with their K-12 students see them develop their skills in reading, writing, critical thinking, and digital citizenship; and create a durable online legacy of their learning. While it is not the only way these things can be achieved, it is an accessible technology with popular acceptance and it is difficult to think any one other single activity with the same potential.

 

References

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