Academic blogging

Kate, from our ITD department, wrote a little about blogging on the new ITD News blog, and mentioned my blog. She also dropped the subtle hint to me that perhaps I could post some more about academic blogging?

So, here’s a few points from a handout I did for a workshop a little while ago.

Given that academic life has traditionally valued, at its heart, lively discussion and debate, it is not surprising that many academics have adopted blogging, both as a part of their own academic work, and also in their teaching programs.

The following outline just some potential uses of blogs by staff and students.

Staff (individuals)

    • For teaching – eg, supplementing WebCT through general discussion of issues, references to links, modeling blogging for student assignments
    • For reflection on teaching practice, and networking with other teachers, students etc to develop teaching practice
    • For research – exploration of issues, drafts of papers for feedback, networking with other scholars internationally
    • For building professional identity within a community of practice
    • For community involvement – commentary on issues, interaction with the broader community, sharing/publication of research
    • For professional development – reflection on practice

Staff (discipline/research groups)

    • For collaborative teaching and research
    • For community engagement
    • For publication and scholarly activity

Postgraduate students

    • For research – exploration of issues, drafts of papers, networking with other scholars internationally
    • For learning – formal course work, informal exploration of issues, reflection on learning

Undergraduate students

    • For learning – formal class work, informal exploration of issues, participation in scholarly and broader community, learning about effective web interaction and responsibility.
    • For building a professional identity – presenting their professional learning and journey as part of a community of practice
    • For collaboration – encouraging conversation and embedding ongoing learning in a social, collaborative experience – part of the ‘e-commons’
    • For community building – college activities, other UNE activities, the UNE experience, the student experience whether on-campus or off-campus

Our ITD area has now set-up an installation of WordPress MU, so UNE staff or students who wish to have a blog for their teaching, research, professional work, or community involvement can go here to sign up for one.  The process is simple and only takes a minute. I’m currently talking with ITD about adapting some resources to develop a guide for using the WordPress installation – more news as it eventuates.


Emerging formats – interactive commentary on documents

Yes, the blog has been quiet lately – not because there’s been nothing to discuss, but more because there’s been too much – so many ideas, thoughts, happenings and interesting things I’ve come across that I haven’t had time to focus on one or two enough to make a coherent blog post!

I love the blog, if:book from the Institute for the Future of the Book. There are always fascinating and challenging projects and ideas being posted and discussed, pushing the boundaries – or sometimes operating right outside them.

One of their recent projects is particularly interesting:

Last month we published an online edition of the Iraq Study Group Report in a new format we’re developing (in-house name is “Comment Press”) that allows readers to enter into conversation with a text and with one another. This was a first step in a creative partnership with Lewis Lapham and Lapham’s Quarterly, a new journal that will look at contemporary issues through the lens of history. Launching only a few days before Christmas, the timing was certainly against us. Only a handful of commenters showed up in those first few days, slowing down almost to a halt as the holiday hibernation period set in. Since New Year’s, however, the site has been picking up momentum and has now amassed a sizable batch of commentary on the Report from a diverse group of respondents including Howard Zinn, Frances FitzGerald and Gary Hart.

While that discussion continues to develop in the Report’s margins, we are following it up with a companion text: the transcript and video of President Bush’s address to the nation last night where he outlined his new strategy for Iraq, presented in a similarly Talmudic fashion with commentary accreting around the central text. To these two documents invited readers and other interested members of the public can continue to append their comments, criticisms and clarifications, “at liberty to find,” in Lapham’s words, “‘the way forward’ in or out of Iraq, back to the future or across the Potomac and into the trees.”

It’s worth a look at the site, not just for interesting commentary on a significant current issues, but the format may well be a useful one in an educational context. I can see a lot of applications for this sort of interactive structure in our teaching programs, particularly in terms of policy or text analysis.

Online learning blog links

I had the pleasure last week of working for a day and a half with a group of staff from one of our academic departments, planning a significant project that will see two full programs redeveloped for online teaching over the next two years. The energy, enthusiasm, and openness to ideas of the group was inspiring, and a delight to be involved with.

I promised that I’d put a few links here for them of interesting blogs to do with teaching and learning online:

Wiki of academic blogs

bgblogging – Barbara Ganley uses blogs extensively in her teaching, and reflects in that in this blog.

2 cents Worth – David Warlick’s ‘Occasional thoughts about education teaching, learning & the 21st century’

blog of proximal development – Konrad Glogowski’s blo on ‘teaching.blogging.learning’

EdWired – a weblog devoted to the teaching nad learning of history online

Blogging Pedagogy – ‘a blog about pedagogy and English studies’ from the University of TexasETC @ BMC – Education and Technology at Bryn Mawr College

Christopher D Sessums :: Blog -Teaching, learning, and computing
While Christopher works in the schools sector, his thoughtful and reflective posts are often relevant to all levels of learning.

Tama’s eLearning Blog – ‘an eLearning blog with podcasting & blogospheric inclinations’
Tama Leavy is a lecturer in Higher Education in the Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning at the University of Western Australia.

academhack – TechTools for Academics

Teaching Carnival 16

The 16th Teaching Carnival is up over at Ancarett’s Abode.

The Carnival has links to recent posts in the educational blogosphere on student blogging, syllabi,  student-centered learning, coping in the classroom, group work, assessment, learning, the profession, and much, much more.

There’s some great reading, and I’ve already added several new links to my bookmarks.

OpenLearn – the way of the future?

The Open University in the UK has recently launched its OpenLearn website, which makes ‘educational resources freely available on the internet, with state of the art learning support and collaboration tools to connect learners and educators.’

They already have quite a range of modules available across a range of discipline areas, using Moodle as their LMS.

What may also be of interest to some is the associated LabSpace site, established to share and reuse educational resources. All the content from OpenLearn can be downloaded, adapted, and used and adapted versions uploaded to the site.

Both sites are worth a look. I’ve been experimenting with Moodle a little lately, and it’s interesting to see it in action in a major site. It’s also interesting to have a look at the approach they’ve taken to the learning design in the various modules – the ones I’ve glanced at are more structured and step-by-step than we normally do here, but that’s probably appropriate for the open access nature of the project.

Developments like this and MIT’s OpenCourseWare , plus other projects such as Google Scholar and the trends to make academic journals freely accessible, do challenge us to consider what the future of higher education is – if the learning content is freely available, why should students enrol in our institutions, for an expensive three-year or more degree? What is it that we will be giving them? If we’re going to be about more than just assessment and awarding formal qualifications, how do we make the learning process more engaging and rewarding for our students?
What are the implications for our future?


The following are a few snippets from posts around the blogosphere that I’ve noted in the past few weeks. Each one deserves a thoughtful blog post, but for now I’ll scatter them here for your interest.
The wonderfully reflective Barbara Ganley discussing visual literacy:

As students become more comfortable thinking visually, and thinking critically about the visual, they begin to see how stepping away from language for a moment to think about their ideas in image can help the preciseness of their diction, the development of their points, and the depth of their ideas.

A particularly effective and rewarding exercise easily adaptable to any grade level is to have students post stories-without-words on their blogs. We are, after all, naturally drawn to stories from the moment we understand language. Creating compelling narratives with clear beginnings, middles and endings solely with images teaches visual literacy skills while revealing the arc of a narrative, transitions, the structure of an argument, and the importance of the carefully chosen word.

And expanding the visual to virtual worlds, Angela Thomas has reports, images and podcasts from the NMC’s 12 day symposium on the Impact of Digital Media – held in the VR environment at Second Life. (Which I’d love to explore further, but my current computer doesn’t have an adequate graphics cards apparently.)

On the authority of sources

David Warlick commenting on David Weinberger’s keynote at the SETT conference in Glasgow:

His address was pretty much the same ideas that he shared at NECC a couple of years ago, but about 2/3 into the presentation he pulled up Wikipedia. Again nothing new. He flashed through a number of the warnings that appear on many Wikipedia articles: the neutrality of this article is disputed, factual accuracy is disputed, this article contradicts another article, etc.

Then Weinberger asked…

Why is it that you will never ever see these warnings in authoritative sources. You will never see it in Britannica. You will never see it in the New York Times. And you have to wonder why. Is it because they’re never wrong? No!

He described the New York times reporting prior the the U.S. invasion of Iraq, that they were reporting information that was wrong — without warning.

Weinberger then asks,

Why can’t they acknowledge their weaknesses…the only and reluctant answer I can come to is that they are more interested in protecting their own authority than helping us to the truth.

I sat back in my chair, thunder-struck, “Wow!”

Wow, indeed. When you consider that the discussion pages behind each entry on Wikipedia usually outline many of the issues and diverse perspectives on entry topics, in addition to the clear statements when articles are in dispute, it’s really quite a good resource.

Email is for us old folk…

Is e-mail only for the old? That’s the contention of a string of articles published in the last four months, the most recent appearing today in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle says that in a study last year, “teenagers preferred new technology, like instant messaging or text messaging, for talking to friends and use e-mail to communicate with ‘old people.'” The Mercury News says, “For those of you who have just figured out how to zap spam or manage your inbox, prepare for the bad news: E-mail is, like, so yesterday.” And then there’s USA Today, which makes the claim that “E-mail is so last millennium.”

ETC@BMC commented further on this:

Our colleges have come to view email as our primary way of communicating with students but it’s not 100% effective. Another symposium attendee shared that after they released a new webmail service they discovered that within a day over 100 students had set filters to send all email from the help desk to the trash automatically. And we all struggle with getting our students to set up the forward to the email address they really check.

It seems to me the lesson in all of this is not whether or when email is going to become obsolete. The first lesson is the different attitude that young adults have to email and other communication methods. They don’t want to hear from you unless you are relevant to them. They view email as a way of receiving unwanted communications and are less patient in sorting through it than those of us who view it as a huge improvement over waiting a week for a letter or calling back endlessly because there weren’t answering machines.

(Oh, dear, I remember those days… before answering machines, before email, even before faxes…)

See Bron’s brain explode…

It’s been quiet in here again. That’s because it’s currently very noisy inside my head. As well as my full-time, busy job, I’m currently:

All of the above need to be done by mid-November. And did I mention work is busy, as well?

I haven’t yet responded to Jim’s comments about methodology and philosophy in course structures, although I intend to, as soon as have a brain cell or three to spare 🙂
I’ve also noted a few interesting things over the past week but haven’t had the time to work them into a coherent  blog post, so in my next post I’ll just put a few snippets for consideration.