Through a Glass Lightly

January 19, 2010

 

Image:  ‘Kaleidescope’ © Jane Sherwin

I received some useful feedback from a friend via email, which I thought was worth reflecting upon further. She said:

“I’m not sure whether the purpose of the blog is to merely report on your learnings as to which teaching methods work and which don’t; or to actually use the blogging medium as part of the teaching process. In other words, is your audience fellow teachers or the students? Sorry to be so thick. But I’ve read it through a couple of times now and I’m still not sure. I see elements of both, so perhaps it’s designed to serve a dual purpose.”

My first reflection is how incredibly helpful it is to keep holding one’s ideas up to the light in search of clarity. I think I have crystal clear thinking – but with each gentle question I am reminded that my grubby fingerprints are still smudging the glass!

The second reflection is how complex it is to make one’s ideas public: who indeed is my audience?

I jumped on-line to look up some ideas on this subject and found some useful ideas on the purpose of a blog, see: http://www.myuniversalfacts.com/2006/08/definition-and-purpose-of-blog-what-is.html, and http://lorelle.wordpress.com/2008/05/24/a-clear-blog-purpose-will-make-or-break-your-blog/ . There’s a nice introduction to blogging on the WordPress site: http://codex.wordpress.org/Introduction_to_Blogging (I’ll add these links to the sidebar). I like the definition from the Blogger site http://www.blogger.com/tour_start.g which says:

“A blog is a personal diary. A daily pulpit. A collaborative space. A political soapbox. A breaking-news outlet. A collection of links. Your own private thoughts. Memos to the world. Your blog is whatever you want it to be. There are millions of them, in all shapes and sizes, and there are no real rules. In simple terms, a blog is a web site, where you write stuff on an ongoing basis. New stuff shows up at the top, so your visitors can read what’s new. Then they comment on it or link to it or email you. Or not…A blog gives you your own voice on the web. It’s a place to collect and share things that you find interesting— whether it’s your political commentary, a personal diary, or links to web sites you want to remember. Many people use a blog just to organize their own thoughts, while others command influential, worldwide audiences of thousands.”

In terms of my purpose, I’m clear what it is not.  It is not a site FOR students. There is an electronic site within the university called BlackBoard which is an internal site detailing course content, assessment, grades etc. It’s very formal and official and part of the UQ infrastructure. I’m not seeking to reproduce that. This blog is a reflective tool for my role as course coordinator of SWSP7123. If I start posting recipes or gardening tips or trying to convince people to save sea turtles then I know I’m way off track. I am deliberately keeping this narrowly focused upon a single teaching space for now. I often think of it as a trade-off between breadth and depth. I’m keen for deep learning.  

I think my purpose is fourfold:

1. The first and primary purpose is for myself. My intention is that this blog is a place for me to plan and then reflect on the usefulness of my teaching interventions.  I usually keep journals and reflective logs on the work I do. This is the first time I’ve tried making those reflections public and already I’ve proven to myself that it improves learning. So right away I know this is something I’ll be recommending to students. It will also probably influence the assessment items I set up for them. It is part of the plan-do-review cycle I will be using throughout my teaching. I’m inviting feedback from anyone to help me refine my ideas. I”m also conscious that working as a teacher in academia is an isolated and lonely experience. I haven’t been able to find a community of practice to share ideas. So this is my attempt to create a reflective space and to invite others to share their ideas. I’m not expecting to command a worldwide audience of thousands. But I welcome thoughts and ideas from friends, colleagues and students. I’m willing to bribe them with dessert if necessary.

2. The second use is for the benefit of my students. If I’m asking students to do things I need to be able to assure myself that I’m not asking for anything unrealistic. I want to know how difficult this is.  I figure if I can work it out without tears and tantrums then my students definitely will be fine. So, for example, I wanted to find out how time consuming it would be to set up a blog and then how long it takes to learn a few tools of the trade to improve layout (the answer is that it’s super easy to establish but then takes probably a day in total of mucking around and trying things if you want it to look pretty and then it’s a breeze – except for the Sticky Post application which I still haven’t found). I’ve uploaded photos to find out how challenging that is. I’m about to try a Quicktime movie – just using a little digital camera, to see if that will work. I’ve actually spent all morning setting up the BlackBoard site for this course and I find it MUCH harder than the open access technology on the web. I’ve had to ring the helpdesk twice and bother three other colleagues already.  Setting up a blog was a breeze by comparison.

3. Thirdly I’m hoping this will model to students the kind of behaviour and language that is useful: for example, weaving in theory, linking to other sites, testing ideas, taking on board comments and criticism etc.  I’m also trying to model good behaviour around copyright and permission seeking for images, avoidance of plagiarism etc. I’m trying to be transparent with my students: this is the process I’m using and this is why. I’m also modelling the notion of embracing things we aren’t comfortable with. People who know me well know I struggle to find – let alone use – my mobile phone (in all truth my use of a regular phone is pretty dodgy too). I don’t SMS, I don’t have a Facebook site, I have never used Skype, I have never blogged until now or used a video camera and don’t even own a digital stills camera. My understanding of RSS is purely theoretical at this stage and I think a Wiki sounds like some sort of tropical parasite.

4. Fourthly, at this stage this is a personal project, but as indicated in the attached pages my aim is to turn it into something more formal. If I am successful in this then this site potentially lends itself to support documentation and data collection. (For example, the “about the project” page may be the start of my project information page for the ethics application).

I can’t wait for the feedback on that!

Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of Jane Sherwin: sherwinconsulting@gmail.com

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One Response to “Through a Glass Lightly”

  1. Phillip Long Says:

    There’s a rich literature on the topic ‘why blog’? Most recently a post on this topic was tweeted by @heyjudeonline who shared the link to the site `Tame the Web (http://tametheweb.com/) and specifically a posting about why librarians blog entitles ““Why Do You Blog?” A survey of Early Adopting Librarian Bloggers” (http://url.id.au/74750/).

    Part of the reaction of stunned silence you experienced when you asked your DP friends for some reaction to the content on your blog, after they generously reinforced your exploits as a blogging newbie, is certainly associated with lack of clarity or precision in the ideas you’re trying to express. But I wonder how much is also attributable to the fact that you’re spending time thinking deeply about the topic as a consequence of the reflective practice that is expressed in good blogging.

    You may be finding one of the truly exciting aspects of blogging – that there compatriots who are thinking along lines similar to you, they’re just scattered across the world. So how do you encourage them to comment on your posts? Comment on theirs! (and look into the ‘track back’ feature we talked about when we spoke in the office).


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