Education & Blogs @ Les Blogs

In General on 12/12/2005 at 3:00 pm

How many blogs are about run by teachers and professors? The answer is a disaster

I’ve been hanging in on Ewan McIntosh’s “edublogs” (his blog, no relation to the .org) over the last couple of months and he’s been at Les Blogs, especially as part of a panel on Les Blogs where you can watch his panel presentation (.wmv 72Mb). The recorder could do with a shotgun mic but I have to say I prefer film to audio for this kind of thing.

There are some pretty classic quotes in this, including the above. For example the first panellist is introduced as:

one of the few deans who is blogging

the cyberportfolio, it’s a mix between blogs and portfolios

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m in danger of sounding a bit like an exclusive jerk here, but the total & blanket ignorance of what I might describe as the edublogosphere and of the broad and innovative uses of blogs in education over the last 5 years in these kind of forums does worry me. What I write and speak about is almost entirely developed on the shoulders of the amazing work that’s been blogged, published and continues to be practised all over the world. Bloody hell, I’m sounding like Dave Winer (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing ;), but a lot of people need to stop themselves before running off on these “Gee, we figured ‘why not use blogs in education’, aren’t we unique” spiels.

To quote Peter Ford:

Educational blogging consultants seem to be springing up all over the place, some aiming for the guru-status of being paid for hot-air production about blogs and related technology that they never have used at the chalkface.

….but to be fair ;)

I would like to think though that the majority of blogging consultants are driven by a vision to see teaching and learning transformed because their own practice has been transformed.

Who then says about the most relevant thing that can be said about blogs in education at the moment, something that I’m grappling with day after day:

If a weblog is like a polar bear then the best place to see it is roaming free. I worry though that some people are trying to trap and tame weblogs, the equivalent of putting the polar bear into a zoo where the magnificent beast will live out its days repetitively trudging up and down the confines of its cage. Safer it may be in captivity but it was made to be free. Eliminating every risk from our students’ lives is not the role of education in my view. Our job as educators is to ensure that students are digitally literate and cybersavvy so that they are equipped to weigh up risks for themselves. Weblogging offers an authentic platform for real responsibility to be developed in students. Take away the authenticity and you have little that is of use in the classroom and beyond.

[p.s. I know this is old news but it's been waiting for me to write it forever... thanks for yer indulgence]

  1. But James, there has always been such a thing as a subject called ‘Education’ at colleges and universities which is scholarship about education, the educational process and theories of learning rather than necessarily just about teachers and teaching. Maybe what we see are the educational experts being quickest to market with their edublogs and the teachers themselves, and there are many who blog, following on. But that’s usually the way it goes. In the published literature, the majority of papers about education are by educationalists. Seldom do you get a paper by a high school chemistry teacher who writes about how she just got a great idea about a new theory of group learning.

    “Who then says about the most relevant thing that can be said about blogs in education at the moment”

    Doesn’t it depend upon what you want to hear? If you’re into conversational or informal learning then you’d probably read the weblog of an educationalist (actually you’d probably be reading a weblog by an educational technologist as they’re shouting loudest at the moment but that’s another issue). If you want to get some cool ideas for a chemistry lesson you’d probably seek out other chemistry teacher blogs.

  2. Hmm, James. “Exclusive jerk” is the way you might come across here. I think Les Blogs was a great example of the Long Tail. Incidentally, most of what you have quoted came from my co-panelists, not from me, and what they said was not particularly great, I reckon. However, I still stand by the point that in the UK (and that is the scene I was describing) blogs run by teachers and professors *are* a disaster. Until about five months ago you could count them on the fingers of both hands.

    You seem to really have wanted to be on that panel to “put us all straight”, but I remind you that we were the ones invited to give the situation in our *own* countries. Yes, some amazing work has been done in education over the past 5 years but in the UK it has been – and continues to a large extent to be – ignored. My job, which I am doing with some success, is to get more UK edubloggers out there.

    Is your job not the same? As long as there are “exclusive jerks” bashing them down more educators will be discouraged from entering the blogosphere full stop. I hate to say that Mena Trott is right, but there has to be some degree of accountability in what you write on the blogosphere.

    It’s not some kind of competition, it’s not some kind of ego fest to see who can get on the most panels. It’s certainly not about getting control over others’ blogs or claiming that you were first (none of which I believe I said).

    Is it not a sign of the progress we’re making that Eric and I managed to get SixApart to include a session on blogs in education at all?

    Oh – and I’m a teacher, not a consultant ;-)

  3. Ewan, I’ve been reading ya because I like what you have to say… this isn’t me, um, jerking on you… I actually liked what you had to say but had pretty much written this by then… and y’know how it is… just a more general light hearted whinge!

    Which is, after all, my perogative and I’ll stand by it… not sure I’d take too much notice of accountable, polite Mena though.

    But I do definitely appreciate that the big boys actually took any notice of blogs being used in education, as peter says in the post linked to above, surprising how little so many people care!

  4. And David, I know what you’re saying… heck that’s exactly what I want to facilitate… but if you’re prepared to put yourself up as a panel at an international event on blogs, you’re not, ahem, doing yourself any favours by not frickin googling the history / context a bit.

    Am not sayiong it’s a bad thing fr peopl not to use blogs outside of our theoretical bubble, just that if you’re gonna put yourself out there as an expert…

  5. I’m beginning to wish I attended Les Blogs as it sounds like those who didn’t missed a lot of excitement (also been reading about Mena Trott taking on Ben Metcalfe in the backchannel).

    There will always people who come to a subject late but claim it to be the next best thing when all along others have been striving hard throughout all the formative stages, and why should edublogging be any different? Glad you invoked Dave Winer, witness the brouhaha about podcasting. History will be written and rewritten many times and maybe weblogs will make interesting historical documents. Dave recently used his to trace the origins of the word ‘weblog’ itself.

    One of the challenges with weblogs is that everyone becomes an expert just by using one. And to some extent why not, in terms of informal learning we are all expert as most of us get our knowledge and skills (and also many attitudes) by teaching ourselves. With edublogging in particular it seems to be the education technologists who currently have the loudest, though not the only, voice. Gradually though edublogging is reaching a wider academic educational audience as well as with practitioners (teachers) themselves. I’ve been to some ‘proper’ education meetings myself this last 12 months and even been on a panel or two but it’s still largely a fringe activity, it has to be said.

  6. I think it’s safe to say that the edublogosphere is at a critical juncture right now: thanks to the efforts of educators and edtechs there has been a definite and noticeable joining up of the terrain, and also a shift towards activist allegiances around censorship, open source & standards, personalisation and learner-centred learning.

    James has been a pretty central figure in all this, and I don’t think that pointing out the panel missed some of the central concerns of edubloggers as a constituency make him sound as though he’s being exclusive, just well informed. I’m very glad for the work that Ewan has been doing in making edublogging more accessible and understood. I’m afraid though that it is completely laughable suggest that James is in anyway inhibiting other people from becoming edubloggers.

    & of course whatever ‘blogging in education’ is, is contextual. But it is also community based and building. So regardless of the specific aspect an individual is interested in, edubloggers are actually agreeing priorities amongst themselves. Is it ok to ignore what’s going on at a global level? I guess if you’re not interested it is. If you are on a panel representing edublogging at a National level, then no, it’s probably not that acceptable.

  7. It’s worth pointing out the context of the conference and the context of my invitation to be on the panel. I think edubloggers can run the risk of looking at ‘their’ medium as something different from others’ ways of blogging. I found more similarities between business, marketing, social networking, DLA-ed type blogging and edublogging than differences. They already know the history – some of them helped write it. These people are less interested in the theoretical, historical past of edublogging, more in understanding why it’s a good thing and why they should invest more in marketing to that group. I want more people blogging in Scotland, so I want the social software makers to see why this is an important market for them. Therefore, in the already limited time that we had, it wouldn’t have been worthwhile going into history – we were looking at a different angle.

    Also, it’s a panel – not a preprepared presentation. I aimed to interact with the audience, the questions they had, the questions I had had during the panels that had passed previously. Look at the whole thing together, from 9am until 5.30, when we started, and you will see some of the key questions of the day tackled in the education panel. Which is why the discussions that night were all about education and how the ‘bizblog’ world could accommodate and integrate better into the edublog world. As a result I and my colleagues have managed to get some pretty cool social software designers building in educational function to their tools: keep an eye on my blog for more info on that.

    Finally, we weren’t ignoring things at an international level. In the course of the two day event we tackled blogging (edu- and other-) from China to the USA, via Africa and Europe.

    Does that sound fair, competent and suitable for the context?

  8. I was at this conference and really enjoyed Ewan’s speech.
    It’s true that he didn’t spoke about the *whole* edu blogosphere and I was glad of this. Don’t forget that the conference room was full of experts. It’d have been a mistake trying to explain them the history of blogging and what’s “been blogged, published and continues to be practised all over the world”. Shel Israel & Robert Scoble did it (even if I liked their talk because I didn’t read the book) and they apologized (http://redcouch.typepad.com/weblog/2005/12/post.html).
    I really liked when Ewan shared his own experience and didn’t just talk like a consultant… ^_^

    Maybe some other people would have been better in explaining how everything started, what the goals and aims of all of this are, but maybe the backchannel would have say “bullshit” :)

  9. [...] Now meeting face-to-face doesn’t solve these issues either but I’m sure that it does provide you with pieces of the identity jigsaw that you can’t get online. I have enjoyed meeting Ewan McIntosh and James Farmer on separate occassions over the last months. I’ve drunk beer with them and waxed lyrical about the educational benefits of social software with them. They both have that welcome combination of vision, enthusiasm and realism, inspiring enough for me to begin blogging again after a long layoff. It was initially a real surprise therefore, when I read of their recent spat, particularly as I was quoted in the midst of it all. I reckon that they could have had a similar discussion face to face and after a few slurps of the amber nectar the blank pieces of each other’s jigsaw would have been filled in and they would have moved on. [...]

  10. [...] My quotes about blogging consultants in James’ piece were originally in the context of writing about the awakening of corporate interest in blogs and not specifically about the LesBlogs education panel. [...]