Every Wednesday in March and April, Teaching Matters will examine a different aspect of blogging as part of the Academic Blogging mini-series. Here, Anne-Marie Scott, Deputy Director of Learning, Teaching and Web (ISG) introduces the series by looking at what has been done recently to enhance the profile and support available for blogging at the University…
As someone who blogs (semi) regularly, I have found it to be an invaluable way for me to develop my professional identity and practice. I enjoy writing my way through a knotty issue to make sense of it, having an archive of my thinking over time, and sharing my thoughts openly as “work in progress” to elicit feedback.
Blogging also offers a number of pedagogical benefits within a University context (Kerawalla et al., 2007; Deng & Yuen, 2011), particularly reflective writing (Hemmi, Bayne, & Land, 2009), and learning to write for particular real or imagined audiences (Ross, 2014; Gogia, 2016). Writing online can make explicit a thought process, demonstrating the development of an approach and understanding over time. Sharing blogs (particularly on the open web) functions as a form of networked participatory scholarship (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012), and can help build professional identity, community, and create contact. They are particularly important in contexts such as our online Masters degrees, or where we want to participate in wider communities of practice beyond our institution.
Over the years, we’ve developed expertise in how to use blogs to support learning and teaching, engage audiences with our work, build communities, and underpin professional development. But, until last October, it’s probably fair to say that our central support was lagging behind what our users needed. While we have had blog tools in the VLE and ePortfolio for some time, there is a general feeling that they are aligned to quite specific forms of activity. They can be hard to use beyond this specificity, and don’t lend themselves well to working in the open or to some of the more creative uses that students and colleagues are keen to pursue.
So, to address these issues, last October Information Services launched a new “Academic Blogging” service, building on some existing foundations, plugging some obvious gaps, and aiming to remove as many barriers to blogging as possible. Working with academic colleagues, we took a broad view of the different uses of a blog. This included individual reflective writing, writing for public audiences, group writing, showcasing project/research work, and multi-modal blogging. Multi-modal blogging can include activities such as students collaborating to curate collections of non-text artefacts (image, video etc.), or annotating text or other digital artefacts. As far as possible, we wanted to support the range of reflective, creative activities that encompass the breadth of subject areas across which we work.
The new service brings together a range of technologies into a coherent support framework, including:
- Existing VLE and Pebblepad blogging functions.
- Existing self-service and custom developed WordPress blogs.
- A new centrally-supported Blogs.Ed site (WordPress).
- A new student owned/operated externally-hosted Domain of One’s Own pilot offering (for academic year 2019/20).
There is guidance online covering which option is most appropriate for different types of activities, and links to simple setup / getting started information. By better defining the range of options available, and including support for a free-to-use WordPress service (integrated with our VLEs), all teaching staff should have the ability to design courses that incorporate blogs alongside the other learning technologies that support innovative and creative practices. There are also the knock-on benefits of learning a digital skill on such a ubiquitous platform. Most of us are likely to see WordPress again in our online life after the course.
Following up on the theme of what happens beyond academic courses, we also worked with colleagues on the new University Web Strategy, developing the “Influential Voices” theme to recognise the potential and impact for students and staff having an online presence for their work:
Staff and students are free to make their blogs completely public if they choose, and we want to ensures that staff and students have the opportunity and are well supported to develop their online academic identities. Alongside the new Blogs.Ed site, we’ve developed a set of training workshops and will be kicking off a face-to-face seminar series to foster a community of practice. This will allow staff and students to share their experiences, and influence and steer the development of the service going forward. You can get a flavour of what’s happened since October by browsing Blogs.ed.
Over the next few weeks in this mini-series you will hear more from colleagues and students about the many rich and varied ways in which blogs are being used to support the full spectrum of University life.
Deng, L., & Yuen, A. H. K. (2011). Towards a framework for educational affordances of blogs. Computers & Education, 56(2), 441–451. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2010.09.005
Gogia, L. (2016, March 8). Why Students Should Blog in Public. Retrieved 3 March 2019, from https://googleguacamole.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/why-students-should-blog-in-public/
Hemmi, A., Bayne, S., & Land, R. (2009). The appropriation and repurposing of social technologies in higher education. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 25(1), 19–30. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2008.00306.x
Kerawalla, L., Minocha, S., Conole, G., Kirkup, G., Schencks, M., & Sclater, N. (2007). Exploring students’ understanding of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education. Retrieved from https://core.ac.uk/display/231
Ross, J. (2014). Performing the reflective self: audience awareness in high-stakes reflection. Studies in Higher Education, 39(2), 219–232. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2011.651450
Veletsianos, G., & Kimmons, R. (2012). Networked Participatory Scholarship: Emergent techno-cultural pressures toward open and digital scholarship in online networks. Computers & Education, 58(2), 766–774. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2011.10.001