My bit for “AU Landing EduBlogging Pioneers”

Glen Groulxis surveying the Landing’s more frequent early bloggers to find out what makes them tick. It’s a good idea! Here are my responses to his questions…
  1. When did you begin blogging. What were your reasons?
    It depends what you mean by ‘blog’. I have shared my thoughts via the Web since around mid-1993 (around the time the Cello and Mosaic browsers were released) but until the mid-late 90s only on static web pages. I did it for the same complex of reasons that underpin most sharing I do with the world. I want to make a difference, gain social capital, give something back rather than simply consuming, archive my thoughts, share ideas on an open stage, it reminds me I am part of a bigger community, establishes a social identity (of a sort) etc. My first blog of that name was probably around 2000 – by that time I was using blogs in teaching as they are a great way to create an idea-centric dialogue, share easily, connect disconnected learners and are wonderfully motivating (until the spammers hit) so it seemed churlish not to do the same as my students. Before that I had created and used my own collaborative bookmark system (CoFIND) that was very blog-like in many ways, including comments, RSS feeds, tags etc, and that continued to feed into my blog until a couple of years ago. Part of the motivation for doing that was to use the system to see how it behaved and performed, and to encourage others to use it. I also really like to play with toys and technologies. It’s a curiosity thing.
  2. Has your blogging changed over this time? How? (topics, focus, frequency, etc.)
    Very up and down indeed at multiple timescales. My blogspot (formerly blogger) blog has 9 whole posts starting from 2001, an average of one a year. I would post to my various CoFIND systems many times a week in the early 2000s, and have had flurries of activity, latterly on this site and formerly on my old Elgg site at the University of Brighton since around 2006. I still have phases of rabid activity, punctuated by pauses of a month or more. Sometimes the ideas flow and I have the time and/or motivation, sometimes they don’t and/or I don’t. The vast majority of my blogging activities relate to my research and/or teaching, and they nearly always have. 
  3. How has blogging helped you with learning?
    Any writing that involves creating, analysing, constructing ideas and knowledge offloads the cognitive process and extends one’s capability to think: we don’t have to hold it all in our heads at the same time and can connect and organise many more ideas than we could without it. I often don’t know what I think until I write it and writing it encourages further thoughts. In that sense, because a blog helps to motivate the writing process without the same strictures of an academic conference or journal paper, it definitely helps me to learn on an ongoing basis.
    Blogs are a long way from being unconstrained in form and content – the simple fact that they are mostly public ensures that – but they offer liberties that more traditional academic forms exclude. They let me think and behave more like a journalist, which is fun as I can explore ideas that I might exclude from an academic paper because of justified fears they would be shot down in flames. The fact that it is for public consumption forces me to be a bit more careful about what I write and to reflect more, analyse more, correct more. That’s a learning process.
    The dialogues that sometimes ensue also help me to co-construct a shifting view of reality with others. Being able to get different perspectives, being encouraged to re-formulate and adapt ideas to explain them better, to argue, to clarify, all helps me to learn. It’s a bit like teaching which, as we all know, is the best way to learn.
    I also like the ability to easily flick through old ideas, comments, sites I have found that easily get forgotten and link them to new thoughts and ideas: it’s a variation on the same theme of cognitive offloading, and of course is an explicitly reflective process that helps both cement ideas and inform metacognitive introspection.
    Blogs also give me permission to sit back and think: it’s a bit like the value of going to a class or a conference, a large part of which relates to the simple fact that you have explicitly put time aside to think about something and engage with it. If we don’t have such formalised ways of making space to learn then we tend not to do it so much.
    And, naturally, I have also learned unbelievably large amounts from other people’s blogs – a major source of inspiration and a good source of information.  
  4. What are the main reasons you have persisted in blogging?
    I research social computing systems for learning and use them in my teaching – it’s a recursive motivation amplifier for me with positive feedback loops all the way down the line.
  5. How do you think your blogging activity will change in future?
    Greater connection and greater contextualisation. Here on the Landing I often bookmark things that I find interesting in a blog-like way as well as blogging. I also Tweet things that catch my eye pretty regularly, post things to the Wire, update things (rarely) at acadmia.edu, blog at Brighton and much more. Pulling it all together is a challenge, not because it is technically hard, but because of my increasing awareness of the need and want to provide different things for different audiences or the same audiences in different contexts. One of the major tools being developed for the Landing is based on this idea – that we have many different social, academic, work and personal contexts that we need to switch between very regularly and constantly. We already have the ability to choose who sees what: the next step is to allow people to select what is seen, how it is seen, according to context.
  6. How has the Landing influenced your blogging?
    I am strongly aware when blogging here that I know some of the people who will read it very well, some quite well, some a little, some not at all. I am more aware than usual of the effects it will have on those I do know. Not that this always makes me sensitive or diplomatic! In some cases it actually gives me wicked pleasure to know that I will irritate some people and stir up hornets’ nests. In fact, I’m sometimes a bit disappointed when people I expect to have a contrary opinion don’t take up the bait. Contrariwise, I am also very aware of how supportive this community can be and both give help and receive it in many ways, academically, practically and emotionally. In both the stirring and the soothing there is an underlying dynamic that makes this very different from other social sites I participate in, and it is down to implicit trust, I think, brought on by explicit membership in this community. This is a shifting community of groups and networks with some shared goals, ideals and purposes and a shared sense of belonging and support, even amongst those we barely know, which binds in a way most social networks of a more general kind fail to manage. It is partly because other social networks are more commonly based on affinity and connection – we choose who we connect with in a very explicit way. That can be true here as well of course, but selected from a subset of the world that is that AU community. We have deliberately set default permissions for posts on this site (logged-in users) that mean we are mostly also connecting with others who we have *not* chosen to connect with but who are part of this closed and trustworthy community. This gives two big gains: the first is that we get diversity of beliefs, opinions, interests and so on that would not happen if we were only deliberately connecting with individuals via a personal network of friends. We would get more diversity if things were entirely public but what we would gain in diversity we would lose in trust (on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog). The second big gain is therefore that we know we are sharing with those we can trust and, in sharing, helping to further increase the trust and connection between people: to build trust we need to expose ourselves and our vulnerabilities, foibles, quirks and weaknesses. I think I have displayed quite a few of those aspects of myself on this site!
    I have found it fascinating and delightful to engage in dialogue with people from the AU community that I only slightly know or only know online. It’s tangibly binding and connecting. I feel more a part of a rich academic community than I did before, even though we only have a little over a thousand inhabitants so far. If I didn’t contribute something to that, I don’t think I would feel the same way. Contribution builds connection. And that’s another motivation to blog.

 

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology and teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems, of which I am the Chair. I am married, with two grown-up children, and live in beautiful Vancouver.

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