Why Blogging Matters

Image by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon strip and prolific blogger, wrote: “blogging is like work, but without co-workers thwarting you at every turn.” Adams has identified the affordances of blogging, writing to reach readers but without the parameters of traditional published work.

This blog was started as part of my SBOSE course and so, we do have some parameters: to reflect on online education and supporting online learners both professionally and as students on the course. Looking over my classmates’ blogs, I’ve observed how differently we have each approached the brief. We are operating in a community of practice, debating the same wider issues, but with our distinct personalities and perspectives. Unlike academic writing or even our class discussions, these posts can be conversational, more personal and less bound by academic tone and structure when stating an argument or opinion.

Rather than attempting to encapsulate what I have learned in class in one academic essay, blogging allows me to reflect piecemeal and across a long period of time. Furthermore, as an online learner seeking to support other online learners, it is another method of initiating myself into the use of digital tools for learning firsthand.

Luehmann (2008) noted several benefits for educators in blogging for professional practice. Participants become “knowledge brokers” within the blogosphere, forming connections to other bloggers’ arguments while becoming a springboard for the connections other bloggers make in turn. Bloggers must also negotiate between audiences – both the audience of the self and the public audience – when considering both the content and position of posting. When starting my own blog, I sought inspiration from others. Part of starting a blog is entering this community of bloggers, where debates are constantly circulating around your areas of interest.

Blogging has clear benefits for the online learner as well. A recent study (Pilkington, 2018) highlighted that blogging can encourage active learning in the online classroom, particularly for resistant students or those who are new to and grappling with online learning. Blogging facilitates a scaffolded approach to active learning, allowing learners more freedom of expression than might otherwise be permitted within a traditional writing assessment yet effectively structured enough by topic or prompts to ensure they are guided to meet learning outcomes.

Furthermore, blogging can bolster students’ investment in their course, fostering the characteristics of a successful online learner: motivated, self-disciplined and open-minded (Palloff & Pratt, 2003). By giving students the ability to formulate their own space for discussion, instructors create opportunities for students to develop confidence in their writing, experimenting with tone and structure incrementally.

The point from Pilkington’s (2018) study which resonates most strongly with me, however, is the ability of blogging to take the learner beyond the confines of the classroom or LMS. Online learners (at least, before COVID) are often balancing multiple commitments, including work and family responsibilities. In addition to reflecting on professional practice, blogging represents an opportunity to share the learning journey with family, limiting the compartmentalisation of a distance learner’s life.

Committing to my studies has divided my time, making it difficult to commit time to my son. There is a sense of guilt as a mother, by undertaking something selfish I decided to include him in my blog by asking him to create an image for my bio page. Seeing his own image online and alongside my words made him feel invested in my experience as a student. This gives him some evidence of what I am doing during this time away from him.

While blogging affords new ways of blurring the lines between academic and personal, it also creates new conflicts. Blogging is potentially problematic with regards to professional practice. The institutional issues that are central to my own experiences in education and professional practice do not feel wholly mine to divulge. The topics I choose and the professional context for those topics must be considered against this backdrop.

There are also individual considerations. I am a fairly private person with a limited digital footprint and little inclination to share on social media. This feeling of surveillance that students might experience as they participate in online communities of practice is not unlike a virtual version of Foucault’s panopticon (Waycott et al, 2017), where prisoners are observed by an unknowable, all-seeing watchman. Asking students to reveal thoughts in this forum can instil in them a feeling that their writing is connected to the wider world. This can be extremely empowering, but it can also intimidate students.

Foucault’s Panopticon

When thinking about new ways of reaching online learners, blogs are a potential outlet for creativity, improved communication and a less formal, VLE-free outlet to debate with peers. I’ve started following other bloggers in addition to my classmates, and I appreciate the immediacy of this forum as well as the ability to enter into a community of knowledge brokering. It’s important to recognise that some privacy is sacrificed in order to be part of this community. Blogging supports more free-flowing thought but words should always be shared with consideration and care. This is a valuable lesson for students, professionals and anyone who decides to broadcast their words to an unseeable audience.

Luehmann, A. L. (2008). Using blogging in support of teacher professional identity development: A case study. The Journal of the learning Sciences17(3), 287-337.

Palloff, R. M., & Pratt, K. (2003). The virtual student: A profile and guide to working with online learners. John Wiley & Sons.

Pilkington, O. A. (2018). Active learning for an online composition classroom: Blogging as an enhancement of online curriculum. Journal of Educational Technology Systems47(2), 213-226.

Waycott, J., Thompson, C., Sheard, J., & Clerehan, R. (2017). A virtual panopticon in the community of practice: Students’ experiences of being visible on social media. The Internet and Higher Education35, 12-20.

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