talk at brown
My talk at Brown today is titled “Weblogs: Learning to Write in the Network” and is going to be mostly about using blogs with students. I’m going to stress network literacy and how blogging is not simply keeping an electronic journal, it’s distributed and collaborative; it’s learning to think and write with the network. I’ll also talk a bit about the ethics of insisting students blog in public.
Weblogs are good as learning journals (searchable, writing practice, catching thoughts, intellectual workout, valuing one’s own opinion, discovering interests, even recommended as therapy) but all these things could be done in a paper notebook – though the knowledge that other people are (or can be) reading is important.
What’s more important to teach our students is network literacy: writing in a distributed, collaborative environment. Weblogs are the first native web genre. Serial, unstable (ethics: edit? annotate? delete? change your mind? – compare net journalism, post-editing), networked.
Obviously blogs use hypertext. Formal sides of the genre pretty standard (my weblog definition) Personal web diaries have less links, usually; topic-driver weblogs link, comment, crosslink and reflect. Some blogs break with the standard list of half a dozen entries. Diveintomark is a mostly technical blog with some personal things. First post in full, rest just excerpted list. Surftrail has each entry on a separate page and uses different layout for different kinds of post: Vivaldi Weather; Hypertext Rhetoric; Typography. Lots of different ways of organising an individual weblog, though some dominate
Weblogs, on the other hand, are distributed and individual, though there are of course hosting services, templates, systems. Weblogs cluster together (Bernstein: a-life) manually using links and blogrolls, and dozens of different systems interpret these linsk to show larger connections. Rather than relying on one central infrastructure, new exostructures are developed continuously to give different views of the blogosphere. Trackbacks, comments, blogrolls, referrers, Blogdex, Technorati.
Bringing network literacy to the classroom means jolting students out of the conventional individualistic, closed writing of essays only ever seen by your professor. Here’s how I tried to do that, using blogs in my web design & esthetics class last spring: concrete tasks, in classroom; set up tasks where students linked to each other, feedback, link good or interesting posts from main course weblog, encourage feedback and editing of posts, reading and linking to other weblogs. In future: teaming up with another group of students elsewhere, crosslinking? Encouraging linking is key.
Overturns conventional power relationships – who defines who? The story of the blogger who blogged a date, his date, who googled him, her friend the journalist, who wrote an article about it, how it hit the top of
Blogdex‘s list, the bloggers at Metafilter who researched the background, Todd the journalist’s response. Parallel in academia: Henry Jenkin’s article, his response to disgruntled bloggers posted in a student’s blog. The person or people written about talk back and are more powerful – on the web – than the traditional authority. Collective voice, power of the link.
Best learning experiences unplanned: L. and the web diarist; the way students started teaching each other, connections between students and others.
How empowering is it to be forced to blog? Privacy concerns, some universities might worry about IP – everything we did in class is on the course weblog. Blogging isn’t for everybody (student reactions: anger, playfulness, frustration. Some take off, and are still blogging their studies and lives, a semester later (see blogroll for course) This semester: freer, less structure, no assessment. Still many who’ve used it. Both groups: students help each other. Useful links or explaining how to do something.
Liz Lawley found that
quality of student blogging was much more divided – some very good, some very bad, none in the middle – than most other student work. Some take to blogging, some can learn to appreciate it, while it just doesn’t work for others. Ditto for most other workforms.
Alternative: the closed model of Livejournal – but for students? A different way of creating community.
- My definition of “weblog” for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory
- Torill Mortensen and my paper on using weblogs as research tools (pdf).