So, our latest assignment is to research the use of blogs in education, and come up with some categories for them. This has not been an easy task. The scale of the topic is awesome – no one really knows how many blogs there are on the internet but the folks at Blogpulse have a bold and surprisingly specific estimate that there were 181,805,881 when I last looked. A lot, anyway. How many of these relate to education? Well, Edublogs, a popular blog hosting tool for educators and students, hosts 1,152,794 blogs. There are lots of education-related blogs using other platforms (including mine), so we are talking about a number well north of a million. How do you start to categorise that lot?
Furthermore, loud voices have been raised recently saying that blogging really shouldn’t have a place in education. Steve Wheeler, one of the most prolific bloggers on education, has cited a blog post by German academic Gerald Schneider entitled “Blogging is sinful and hampers your research productivity”. This post claims:
“Scholars who write blogs obviously try to avoid the harshness of the peer review system and to air their half-baked thoughts through a less demanding publication channel than a peer reviewed journal.”
This may be an extreme view but perhaps this sort of thinking explains why blogging is still a minority pursuit among academics. As the Times Higher Education Supplement put it:
On a more populist note, Jim Docherty, assistant secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, recently weighed into the controversy over teachers using social media with the following views, giving the BBC his advice to teachers:
That would seem to put the lid on educational blogging, then (as well as finish off Facebook’s business, but that’s another story).
However, Prof Wheeler and others have explained the benefits of blogging for educators very well, and some recent research suggests that use of blogs can increase student engagement with their work. So how can we go about categorising them? What makes sense to me is to divide them up according to who is writing them and the main intended audience. There is a lot of blurring of lines here, but the outline seems to be:
|Educators writing primarily for the public
|A Don’s Life, Mary Beard
|Is this different to journalism?
Lack of recognition in comparison with “academic” publications
Potential to upset an employer or colleagues with public views
|Educators writing primarily for other educators||Jeremy Harmer
|How does this relate to academic publishing?
Lack of peer review before publishing
|Educators writing primarily for students – their own or others||Michael Stout’s blog
|Confidentiality of classroom matters
Time and effort involved for a limited audience
|Students writing primarily for other students||Imperial College London student bloggers
Jaden’s Awesome Blog (winner of Edublog award for best student blog)
|Understanding issues of confidentiality and safety, especially for younger children
Dealing with aggressive responses
|Students writing primarily for educators (assignments)||3081 blogging assignments
|Difficulties in “marking” blogs (see discussion here)
May limit free expression if it is going to be public
I hope that helps a bit although I am still not entirely happy with this. Take my blog, for example. I am a student on the MA course and an educator, teaching accountancy students. Am I writing for other students, other educators or the public? Possibly all three – I am writing what I want to write and I hope that there is someone out there who will find it interesting.
And this perhaps is why blogs defy any categorisation – by definition, they are individual and unique because they are someone’s personal expression. This point was superbly made in a recent post by David Hopkins entitled, “We are all rock stars!”. Drawing an unlikely but powerful comparison between bloggers and rock stars, Hopkins says:
“…the age of self-publishing has given each of us the ability to put ourselves out there on the Internet, and bare our passion or interest for all to see…”
Or, to quote one of those rock stars,
“I am the one and only,
You can’t take that away from me.”
Nor, really, can you categorise me. My blog is unique, and so is yours: that is the beauty of blogging.