Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Obstacles in the Path of a Blogging Initiative

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Sept 02, 2004

Light look at some of the obstacles faced as a fictional history professor decides to start a blogginitiative for his class. Summary of a presentation by Trey Martindale at ITI in Logan, Utah.

I will be talking about the pitfalls of introducing blogging to your university course. All the names have beenchanged, all the bodies have been buried.

The question about blogs: who do you want to hear from, and who do you want to talk to? Are there people you know you would like to be in contact with, people you may find funny. The idea is having an audience and knowing who you want to write for.

What kind of blogs do you read? Me, I read the chronicle section. (Audience) I now use something called PubSub and do a keyword search and associated RSS feed. I access the NSF grants page. OLDaily. Journals, you should know when an issue comes out, but I forget, it would be nice to have them have an RSS feed.

Blog affordances: automatic archiving, time stamps, easy interface, auto-formatting, syndication, interaction via comments. Note - there is an issue with comment spamming.

Now for our melodrama...

Bill the history professor learns about blogging and decides it is useful. I'll start my first blog; I have a friend with a server that has Movable Type on it. So Bill starts blogging. And, he goes to his first faculty meeting - and his faculty members are not impressed. Bill has become a blog evangelist. The department chair murmurs, that's very interesting, but we haveour hands full with online courses. You need to start teaching and stop wasting time with these toys.

Gary, the willing but busy server administrator, hears from Bill. "Do you think we could do something like that?" Gary says, "We have people looking into that (translation: I don't know what that is)." Bill says, I have heard of Movable Type. Gary looks into it and finds Movable Type, but Gary is a Cold Fusion expert, and sees things through a CF lens, and says he will install a blog, but it has to be CF based. So he installs an Italian-language CF blogging system.

Bill introduces the blogging to the students. Some students are eager, others are talked into it. So Bill assigns some readings and has students respond via their blogs. The students can't change the look of their blog, so they all look the same, and they can't get any support, but it generally works. The system produces RSS, so the professor subscribes to the student blogs. The posting averages 1 per week. The comments average that students make on each others' blogs totals 0 for the entire semester. The professor received exactly one comment from a student.

gary eventually loses interest. Bill complains about the Italian CF software - Bill only knows Movable Type. Gary says he'll try Movable Type. May goes by, June, July. Gary writes, sorry, we're not going to do it. But meanwhile, Christina the instructional technologist drums up support, and Margaret the university programmer is assigned to this project. But the server environment is a completely Microsoft shop. Margaret tries to install Movable Type. It doesn't work. She tries to get help from Christina and Bill. They try to figure out licensing issues - how much do they have to pay? Bill then realizes he hasn't thought this through. What happens if CS pulls the plug? What happens if a student writes about his cat, and I'm requiring students to read it. Or what if the student posts something really offensive.

Bill, trying to be helpful, dound a blog about how to install Movable Type. He passed it along, thinking it would be helpful. It wasn't. Bill has a friend named Francine, an English professor, who says I'm going to have all my students create accounts on - I can't wait for admin. But now the university doesn't own the blog, it can't control it. But suppose there's a rogue student who posts the most ridiculous things that have nothing to do with the course. It's nothing offensive, it's just boring. And trivial.

When you start a blog, you assume you have some kind of audience. In the case of a blog, it could be anyone. That's very exhilarating. "The power of positive narcicism." But as you're writing, it's hard not to let your words and thoughts be shaped by who they think is reading your blogs.


- Dan Pontefract: Open Thinking, Sept 11, 2018

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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