Reflecting on blogging.

I’ve recently read two posts – one from Su White and one from AJ Cann – both of which I agree with. Su was discussing the difficulties of getting students to reflect (at a course level) while AJ Cann was thinking about students blogging at unit level.

In many ways, I agree with them; so why have I just asked my students to keep a unit level blog? (when generally I think that a single blog per student is preferable) and why am I going to mark it? Well, firstly, I’m not going to mark it – I’ll mark a reflective (oops … bad word?) report based on the contents of the blogs.

Am I seeing a “blog” as what the students are recording, or just how they’re recording them? I think it’s important to stress that a blog is, quite simply, a tool. That’s all. It allows users to easily create a chronological record. Just like a diary. Unlike a diary, though, it’s much easier to search; to categorise (or tag); to allow visitors to access parts; to keep other parts private. There are, however, a few diary features that aren’t in a blog – e.g. the ability to update in a power cut/ away from a PC (for luddites like me that have mobiles that can just text & make phone calls!); to insert a drawing (well, have you ever tried to draw freehand with a mouse?!); to stick in tickets/mementos, etc.

So, I started to think about how diaries are used. Many people have more than one diary; the appointment type (perhaps one for home, one for work); a personal diary … though that might get as far as

Jan 3rd.
Got up. Hangover finally gone. Ate breakfast. Walked dog. Went to bed

We might also keep a log for particular projects at work.

Most diaries aren’t written for public consumption; yet we have some famous diarists.
Samuel Pepys has given us a fascinating insight to life in the 1660s – ranging from major news events to his personal sex life. It’s now being gradually republished as a blog. Genevieve Spencer is rather less known, though her depression era diary is now being republished as a twitter feed.

Other diarists have kept meticulous notes on their observations of the natural world – Darwin’s diaries are well known, while many of my age will remember the publication of Edith Holden’s Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady in the ’70s. Having spent several years living in Alton, Gilbert White’s diaries are also of personal interest.

Moving to younger diarists – we have, of course, Anne Frank’s gripping description of a life that many of us can only imagine (though perhaps all too real to some in Darfur, Burma, Gaza & Zimbabwe) [oh, and Happy 100th to Miep] Perhaps easier to identify with, despite being fictional, are the teenage worries of the 13¾ year old Adrian Mole.

What many of these diarists have in common (other, probably, than Anne and Adrian) is that they are not really known for having reflective entries in their diaries. Rather, as in the case of Darwin and White, the reflection came later in the books they subsequently wrote. For the rest, it is their descriptions of every day life that are fascinating, the records that can help us identify (if not find a cause for) climatic changes – or whatever.

Perhaps, then, I can justify asking my students to use a blog, as a tool, to keep a record of the development of their software, so that they can create a report at the end. This, then can reflect on the decisions made, changes of direction etc., (i.e. all those things that we expect Computing students to write as they’re developing software).

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Reflecting on blogging.

  1. Pingback: PhD » Reflecting on Blogging.

  2. I understand what you say about the blog being a tool, and the fact that there are a whole family of tools which can be used across a (sort of hierarchical/virtual) range of reflective activities.

    Where I have a discomfort is in a sort of heisenburg uncertainty artefact – the fact that when we legislate for the use of a ‘reflective tool’ in an education context, the emerging product will no longer be the spontaneous reflection which it might have been if it was unobserved, or its observation due to happen-stance rather than prescription.

    Furthermore, being something of a free spirit, I believe that the true power of various reflective devices, lies in their ability to turn us all into modernist style Woolf’s and Joyce’s (should that be Wolves and Joyce’s??) out flows of consciousness being of most value to our selves, but offering insights to those privileged to observe.

    So I feel a little discomfort in having the temerity to imagine that I might be able to ‘mark’ a student’s reflection – imagining that the power dynamic of judgement, and external evaluation can be the dead hand of free thinking.

    Furthermore, it might be a little rude for me to intrude and offer my uninformed external view of someone else’s reflections (here I am reminded of the protocols for established counselling, and the traditions of the barefoot psychotherapist)

    I do spend time explaining to my students that I will not be looking at their reflections in a judgemental way. I ask them to trust me, and I assure them that I will respect their privacy, and treat the contents of their reflective logs as confidential. But I am aware that the meaning of any communication can be that understood by the person who receives the communication, and that any kind of mark, is necessarily a communication; and a communication which we, the educational establishment (or the pedagogic gerontology as I saw it described today) might expect to be judged and moderated to ensure that it falls within a particular and expected mark distribution for the purposes of quality assurance.

    If the reflection is to have value, maybe it should be like all those other tools, and in the hands of the author/user to decide whether the reflections are individual, for my eyes only, shared with a few friends, never shared or revisited, or published for the whole world to see. I know that what I write will vary according to who I imagine will read it, and I have often experienced a writer’s block, because of trying to imagine what the audience of some piece of writing might be. I am trying to put that particular idea out of my mind at this second. But at this point I will put a stop to my comments.

  3. The diary element was an important part of the original blog metaphor, but it’s one we have tended to move away from recently in the move towards the “blog as a portfolio” approach. This reflects the increasing sophistication of blogging software and the introduction of features such as tagging which allow the creation of a more coherent entity from a series of “small pieces loosely joined”. Certainly I tend to treat my blogs as scrapbooks, aide memoire and a place to store stuff I’m trying to mentally process or understand.
    I’m fairly sure that this move away from the chronological approach is off-putting to new bloggers, who have already been severely beaten about the “what I had for breakfast” style of blogging. The diary metaphor offers an important scaffolding element which should encourage rather than discourage an eventual move to a truly reflective style of blogging, so I feel that you’re on the right track, and I look forward to reading the outcomes of this work in your blog.
    I have to warn you that in my experience, blogging is a long term gain, so don’t expect the students to like it (or you 🙂 immediately, but with time, if you have that luxury, I believe both you and your students will benefit.

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