Fostering Blogging

We’re a little more than half way through a semester’s work with this year’s TLT Fellows. For those of you who don’t know, the Fellows program brings together five faculty members at UMW to talk about and work on projects that use technology to transform teaching and learning. Since early September, this year’s cohort have been meeting on a weekly basis, and we’ve been having conversations about a variety of topics and technologies.

High on the list of goals for this program is to foster a conversation about the potential of technology to transform the work we do and to narrate the process of working through these issues. To that end, the first thing we do with the Fellows is get them set up with their own blogs, and for the last several weeks we’ve been encouraging them to think of that space as a place to reflect upon and record their progress.

As is often the case with blogging, some of the participants are a bit reluctant to dive into the deep end. I understand that, and I see part of our role as modeling what this activity can mean. So, I was a bit chagrined this afternoon when I realized that I should really be using my own blog as a space to work through these ideas for myself. Perhaps, in doing so, I can encourage the Fellows to consider the potential benefits of this activity for themselves.

First, I have to say that I wish we could rename “blogs.” Let’s face it: it’s just a silly sounding word.  More often than not, when people tell me that blogging isn’t for them, I wonder if part of the turn-off doesn’t have to do with what that word feels like. That said, I encourage people to get past a word that may just sound dissonant and try to focus on what a blog really is (or could be):

  • A Web site — that you can easily publish to and that has features that allow other people to easily read what you publish.
  • A space for you to reflect, share, connect, vent (within reason, of course 😉 ), explore, test, and narrate.
  • A home for your online presence

Second, YOU DO NOT NEED TO TALK ABOUT YOUR CAT!!! 🙂 Okay, that’s sort of a joke, but it still may resonate with some. The point is, a blog doesn’t have to be a place for cat diaries or political rants. The best way for me to think about my blog is as a place where I can jot down thoughts that I regularly have that I don’t want to lose. Sometimes those thoughts are connected to something else I’ve read. Other times, they’re just lose threads that I’m trying to weave together, and my blog just offers me the space to try.

Third, you get to decide how often you blog. Think you don’t have time? Well, that depends entirely on you. Sure, there are people out there who post three or four times a day, but that doesn’t mean there is an expectation that you will. You only have to blog when you think it makes sense to. If you’re like me, you’ll go through periods of time when you’ll have so many ideas in your head you’ll feel like you always have something to write about; then you’ll go through a dry spell when you simply have nothing to share. I’ve noticed this pattern in myself, and I suspect it matches a natural ebb and flow to the way my brain works. Another model is Barbara Ganley’s “slow blogging” method. The point is, there is no right way to blog, there is just the challenge of figuring out the way that works for you.

Fourth, if you think you’re not a blogger, I challenge you to stop for a moment and ask yourself what that means. See, I have this theory that, as a tool, blogging offers us the opportunity to explore the very values that are at the heart of higher education: intellectual curiosity, intellectual identity, conversation, community, a faith in process not just product, and rigorous debate (I’m sure that list could be much longer — feel free to add on in the comments below). If these are values that you care about and that you care about for your students, then I would suggest that a blog could be the place to explore them.

Fifth, even if you’re not writing in your blog all the time, it still doesn’t mean you aren’t blogging. Blogging is about being in a conversation, and that conversation isn’t just about your voice. Part of what will make blogging meaningful to you is if you seek out others who are talking about things that interest you. So start off by listening. Find people whom you like to listen to. Leave them a comment or two. Start there and see what happens.

To that end (and since we’ve asked the Fellows to come to this week’s meeting armed with links to 2-3 blogs in their disciplines), I want to end by talking about how you find those other voices. I remember when I first started blogging not being sure where to find other blogs. There weren’t a whole lot of blog search engines at the time, and I didn’t really know any bloggers personally. Now, I have the opposite problem. There are more blogs out there that I find interesting than I could possibly keep up with. I have to regularly cull my reading list, and I have to accept that even with that culled list, I’m bound to miss a few items.

The way you find blogs is by reading blogs. As you enter into the conversation, you will hear more voices, and you’ll become better at determining which voices you want to keep listening to.

But, recognizing that everyone needs to start somewhere, here are some resources:

  • Google Blog Search: A tool for searching blogs, brought to you by the folks who know how to search. Keep in mind that, as with most blog search engines, you’re going to get results that reflects posts about the topic you’re searching for, not necessarily blogs about that topic. In other words, if you’re searching about “basket-weaving” you might get a post from my blog about that topic, even though my blog isn’t all about basket-weaving.
  • Technorati: This site indexes all things blog and then allows you to search the results. Results are broken down into categories (posts, blogs, videos, and photos), so you may have better luck finding a blog about a particular topic this way.
  • delicious Given the challenge of finding something on the Web, I usually find that delicious has answers. Try this: search on a topical tag and the word “blog” in delicious and see what you find. For example: http://delicious/tag/blog+economics. The advantage to this technique is that delicious users tend to be pretty blog-savvy, so they’ll likely have done a good job finding and tagging useful blogs (in other words, there’s some human intelligence behind this approach as opposed to Google and Technorati’s automated indexing).
  • The Academic Blog Portal: I just found this resource. It looks to be a pretty robust wiki-fied index of blogs organized around academic disciplines. (If you find a blog that’s not on the list, add it to the wiki. Or, better yet, add your own!)

Okay. I think that’s it. For any Fellows reading this, come armed on Wednesday to talk briefly about what you found. Bonus points to those who blog about it!! If anyone else has any other thoughts or resources to share, please add the below.