Teaching and Learning in a Net-Centric World

Reflections on Blogging

Glen Groulx’s question about edu-blogging are inspiring a little Labour Day reflection on my own blogging. Glenn is a prolific and quite exception scholar of educational blogging and it is pleasure to respond to his questions, in small response of the many valuable posts he has distributed on educational blogging.

I started my first blog after returning from a conference in Australia where I presented some ideas on the pivotal role of social networking in distance education (see Social Networking: Distance Education’s Killer App). It became apparent that there was only so much academic pontificating one could do, without actually experiencing social networking. So I was ready to take the plunge. In 2005 edu-blogging was still relatively new, with mostly only innovators/early adopters participating. Still, I remember at the time thinking I was a bit late to the party, but time rolls on.

One of the nice things about staying with one blog host is that a single archive accumulates, allowing for some reflection and trend spotting. I’ve been with edublogs.org, a service run by my Australian friend James Farmer for these five years. Edublog.org has provided thousands of free accounts to teachers or students, and I’ve chosen to contribute a few bucks now and then and as result get “premium service”. I spent about 2 minutes thinking about a name for the blog before settling on “Virtual Canuck” – a name I probably wouldn’t pick again, but it has grown on me! Incidentally, I am a real Canuck – as well as a virtual one!

During the 5 years of publishing the Virtual Canuck, I have posted 141 times and received 388 comments or backlinks. This equates to about 2 posts a month- I’m not prolific and very rarely post about personal activities- do you really care what I had for breakfast??. The quantity of my posts has been quite consistent. I don’t feel a compelling need to publish often, so I wait until an idea hits me over the head, or some event drives me to reflect or just want to distribute my thoughts.

Over the past two years (since I turned Google Analytics on,) I get about 225 readers a week, with a spikes after I post – and especially if the posts get re-tweeted or picked up by more well read edubloggers- notably Stephen Downes or George Siemens.

My style hasn’t evolved too much from early days. I usually blog about work related activities and my interests in network tech. So a typical post might be about Online Privacy – ReThinking Disclosure and Surveillance, a commentary and link to slides used in a key note (Sloan-C Keynote) or an article about the IRRODL– the Journal I edit (Journals as Filters and Active Agents)

Since I’m in a Publish or Perish type academic profession a number of my blogs have morphed into journal publications or made their way into a class or conference presentations. I also wrote about Blogging as Academic Publication, trying to sort out in my own head where distributed (often widely on the net) but not published (as having gone through a publishers or a peer review) fits into academic life.

The listing on the side of this blog counts the topics and frequency of posts in each topic over these five years.

Blogging has become an important, but not overwhelming part of my work and personal life. The blog gives me an outlet that I control and allows me to write almost anything to anyone. However, I keep in mind my intended audience – mostly educators or students who are interested in distance education and networked learning. My blogs are more personal than my academic papers- I often summarize a trip or a conference, whine about pet peeves or otherwise move into a slightly more personal and self referential style.

Besides being fun, I am convinced that my blogging has advanced my professional career. During the five years I have been blogging, I’ve done at least 40 keynotes talks and had expense paid trips to six of the 7 continents (still waiting for that invitation from the University of the Antarctic!). I’m sure that some of these invitations relate to my web presence and contributions, not the least of which is the Virtual Canuck.

Most recently, we are working to develop an elgg based semi-private social network for members of theAthabasca University community. I used to be able to automatically import the Virtual Canuck into an earlier version of elgg, but now I must cut and paste to move content  across the two blogging environments. I sometimes blog directly in the elgg environment, if the content is focused directly on the Athabasca community. But I appreciate the opportunity to share across contexts, and hope to get the import/export working automatically in the near future.

I haven’t done much video or audio blogging on the Virtual Canuck or elsewhere. Perhaps this is because of my non-mediated youth- I just turned 60!, but like many of my students, I find editing in audio or video takes much more time, and I’m not highly skilled at it- so I usually revert to the familiar text only – though I have learned to embed YouTube and author media into posts.

In summary, blogging has been very useful for me both professionally and personally and it is a pleasure to get comments or links in which I see my ideas moving outwards and across networks- hopefully making some small contribution to our human understandings.

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  1. September 9, 2010    

    So what do we get from the Canucks’ blogging: insight, connections, ideas, provocations. What does the Virtual Canuck receive from blogging: venting, opportunity, draft publications, free trips, accolades, networking. The blogging exercise seems rewarding all around. Do we need sound and video – only as amplifications, not replacements.Sometimes the message can be overshadowed or reduced by the medium. By the way septuagenarians are the fastest growing demographic – so the Virtual Canuck has many years of blog time left!

  2. netizenship netizenship
    October 18, 2010    

    Thank you for talking about your blogging within an academic context. I have been blogging within the learning community, AU Landing, and have had a different starting point and motivation for blogging, and appreciate your perspective. I have been transitioning from being entirely in “student mode” over to being more and more in “professional mode”.
    I think that there are very different standards for edublogging in academic environments than in professional(consulting)settings, depending on the perspective of the blogger.

    I think that staying with one host over the years simplifies matters, and makes it easier to keep a focus with the edublog. I have been toying with using different blogs for different purposes, but they are hard to coordinate and it is a constant challenge to keep them separate in terms of scope.

    I agree that the edublog provides an effective outlet to report on conferences, papers, presentations, and works as an idea incubator for drafting and polishing ideas before preparing them for publication in journals. I have often found myself working through my ideas using the blogging tool.

    With edublogging, there seems to be a need to be quite selective about what to reveal. Academic (edu)blogs tend to have a focus on conferences, articles, presentations, etc. I have realized that the type of decisions one makes about what to post (and what not to post)depends on the role (of mentor, reporter, commentator, etc.) we assume.

    I like the idea that you choose to keep comments open, and allow your audience the option to comment on your posts. I think a combination of both the backlinks and the comments work well. I know that some edubloggers have chosen to discontinue the commenting option, for their own reasons.

    It is interesting that you describe your prose as less formal, and more personal, with a self-referential style of writing.

    I have noticed other edubloggers split their virtual presence into several parallel streams, each with it own unique focus. Stephen Downes, for example, has several blogs, and writes on many different things intended for different audiences.

    In the Landing at Athabasca University, I have begun looking into using blogging as a tool for lifelong learning. I have noticed that the blog can be a useful tool of transformation during life transitions.

    I think that during these transitions, many bloggers shift focus, engage in more critical self reflection and meaning-making, particularly those who move from professional life to student life and back again, or who move on after finishing graduate work, or who move on after a career change or after they retire.

    The challenge with this is that the “covenant” or relationship established between the blogger and the readership,or the original audience, changes and morphs into something else entirely. I think that blogging does help us solidify and strengthen our ties with the community we are a part of.

    The best thing I like about blogging is the chance to have an extended dialogue and interact with others.

  3. November 3, 2010    

    Very pleased to see the development of a teacher here. In my country, Indonesia, teachers rarely use the internet as a means of learning and teaching. Pathetic

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