Friday, 19 June 2009

Why blogging makes sense

A colleague asked me the other day if I would put together a short piece for students about the purpose and value of blogging. I am thinking about this....

Her reason for asking is that blogging is increasingly being used as an assessment tool for certain learning programmes and in one way I guess I should applaud this as an alternative to marking long reports and essays!!

On another level I find it rather sad that we are in danger of turning something that should be learner driven - and for the purpose of enabling learning - into something that is a performance: no doubt with assessment criteria to judge it by..... *sigh*

So why blog? I can only really talk from my own experience here: I have been blogging for a couple of years - at first I created what amounted to an on line journal that only I could read. Then I created this blog so that I could share what I thought were interesting ideas and links with my students, unrestricted by the VLE and the delays and expense involved in getting web developers to amend learning materials.

Later, other colleagues started to read and comment on my blog when I ventured to share the url on my Twitter profile and with various learning communities I have joined. I welcome the comments and feedback I sometimes get, but I still essentially do this for myself and my students.

I find blogging a way of collecting together some of my random reading and learning from the week(s) past and shaping it into something approximating my current understanding. The point is it is a work in progress; reflection-in-action (Schon); an expression of what I am currently learning and how I am making sense of it.

Here's an analogy (I use analogies a lot in my learning and teaching!): alongside my day job, for some reason now obscure even to myself, I am learning Spanish. I read novels in Spanish, dictionary in hand. I read grammar texts and exercise books. I listen to podcasts and BBC audio programmes. There is plenty of content available. However, the real learning comes from conversation (and correspondence) with other people: preferably native Spanish speaking ones, but other learners too, as I practise the formulations learned on paper and test how they stack up in real life. Can I be understood in writing and speaking the language? My Spanish teacher engages me in conversation: as she says, this is the natural way children learn to speak - by listening and copying, practising and hearing forms repeated back to them.

For me blogging is like practising a new language. I read or hear something in the news or via Twitter, or some new experience at work causes me to stop and think about what I am doing. Feedback from others is useful, but maybe the difference between this and learning Spanish is that here I am mainly trying to arrive at some sort of understanding of myself.

Blogging gives me a pause for some sense-making out of a busy week torn between absorbing and producing.

I guess the point about using blogs in education is not that they are an alternative to assessment, but that they can be a) a dialogue with oneself about ongoing learning and b) potentially - a way of developing a conversation with a guide or mentor about that learning. If tutors are prepared to enter into that dialogue, reflect back what they are hearing, ask stimulating questions, and model good sense-making behaviours themselves, then the learner can grow through their blogging and learn more still.

As the quote above says: its not educational content that is the scarce resource, its the educators who make time to have these sense-making conversations.

Finally - another snippet from my random absorption of content: a report I overheard on the radio that said teachers who themselves write regularly are better at teaching children to be good writers. So yes, lets persuade learners to blog but lets persuade the educators to do so too!!

source: The Open Ed Tech Summit Report 2008. Open University of Catalonia, Barcelona.