I became interested in blogs as a learning tool back in 2008 when I was working as an e-learning development officer at the University of Bath and embarking on a Masters in Education. I have no idea what actually sparked my interest, but my first ever blog post – on a blog I’d set up purely to explore the impact of blogging on learning (hence the name ‘metablog’) – drew heavily on Vygotsky’s ideas about thought and language.
I was encouraged and inspired when James Farmer – the founder of Edublogs and the author of one of the first academic articles on blogging (there weren’t many in those days) – commented on that first post. My unit tutor Jack Whitehead also commented, asking me some questions about my educational influences that I found quite uncomfortable to answer. But I made a valiant effort for the sake of the experiment and it was probably worthwhile. I have left my response to Jack up there for the sake of integrity, although it still makes me feel sad to read it.
That first blog not only recorded my learning process; it was my learning. My own ideas, connections and meanings around blogging as a tool for learning were formed in the writing of the posts, and in undertaking the project in a holistic sense. Although this work earned me my lowest unit grade on the whole MA, I feel like it was fundamental to my development as a learner and an e-learning professional, and my springboard into academic publishing and presentation.
In 2009 I produced a short video on blogging with students (see above) and an accompanying paper, which led to a keynote invitation for the Future of Technology in Education conference. They had me back this year to talk more generally about online learning design in the post-MOOC era, but blogging for learning remains my core passion. I finally got the opportunity to get my own students blogging on a large scale in 2011 when I took over the leadership of the PG Cert Learning & Teaching at the University of the Arts London – an experience that I have explored, written and spoken about at length (as have my students). It was also the topic of my MA dissertation.
When I enrolled on the EdD I knew I would be blogging to elicit my thoughts, record my learning, make and store connections and direct the learning process. It allows me to consolidate my learning journey as I go; to keep my thoughts in carefully labelled packages that can still be brought out, played with and remixed while maintaining the integrity of what went on before. Van Manen (2007) talks of the role of retention and protention in exploring and understanding the present. I feel that’s what my blog enables me to do – to enhance the present through explicitly situating it in a trajectory – more effectively than keeping handwritten notes or scribbles in the margin.
I’ve just finished reading a short chapter by Theresa Lillis (full reference below) for the WrAP unit, which explored some of the tensions students experience between what and how they want to write, and what and how they are required to write. This may also be described in terms of a tension between who they are/want to be, and who they are expected to be – a phenomenon Ivanic (1995) describes as authority; the ‘what’ and ‘how’ representing authorship and authorial presence respectively. I definitely experienced this kind of conflict when working on my first formal EdD assignment, although not the specific tensions that Lillis’ two students experienced. Up until that point I had been writing how I wanted to write (on my blog), and I felt that the feedback I received on my RRW1 assignment draft demanded a kind of sanitisation. It was suggested that I remove references to emotion, self-reflection, learning conversations with tutors and peers, and my own intentions and next steps. Clearly my writing ‘desire’ is to focus on myself and my own learning, whereas institutional regulation asks for something slightly different. I think the idea of addressivity (Bakhtin 1986) is helpful in understanding what’s going on here. My blog is essentially a diary that in theory I would be okay with anyone reading. It’s not written for other people, but the fact that it may be read by other people makes it what it is; its openness to others means that I am motivated to present things clearly. Formal assignments, however, are written for the eyes of others. While in reality this is often only going to be the unit tutor, there is often a tacit understanding that academic assignments should be addressed to an undefined third party.
The tension I felt while adjusting to assignment-writing is easing now – obviously because I can focus on my blog for now but also – I think – because I am moving towards a natural compromise between desire and regulation. It feels like my posts are becoming increasingly more purposeful in their structure, and that synthesis is coming more easily. This hasn’t been a conscious choice, but I am happy about it.
Something people often say to me is that they can’t imagine how I find the time to blog as well as everything else. Even Ken Hyland said it (in a personal e-mail to me on January 31st):
“I really can’t imagine how you make space for that in addition to teaching and the EdD! Speechless. I would like to blog but really am overwhelmed with writing deadlines, supervision, teaching and running a centre of 70 staff here in Hong Kong. An activity for retirement maybe…”
For me, the writing – the synthesis – is part of the reading. The idea of reading without writing scares the hell out of me; like the prospect of getting so drunk you can’t remember anything. Some people like doing that, but I see it as a waste of time, money and brain cells. And that is why I am blogging my way through the EdD.
Lindsay’s EdD blog is at http://doctored.myblog.arts.ac.uk
Lillis, T. (1999). Authoring in Student Academic Writing: Regulation and Desire. In T. O’Brien (Ed.), Language and Literacies (pp. 73-87). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters