Although I am an enthusiast for information technology and educational technology, I do realise that there is, in some quarters (or even in many quarters), a feeling that IT and edtech sometimes go too far, and that terms like blog, blogging, and blogosphere could constitute a kind of IT overload last straw. Do academics really need yet another 'new technology', another 'killer app', etc, that they have to know about and perhaps even use?
One way (there are lots of other ways) to consider this question is in a very academic way. What is appearing in the academic research literature about blogs and wikis? How does that relate to the interests of typical members of HERDSA, in contrast to the interests of techno-enthusiasts? To begin, an excursion into definitions. Brief definitions of blog and wiki are provided by Wikipedia:
A weblog, web log or simply a blog, is a web application which contains periodic posts on a common webpage. These posts are often but not necessarily in reverse chronological order. Such a website would typically be accessible to any Internet user. (Wikipedia, 2005a)The Merriam-Webster Dictionary spiced up its definition by naming blog as its "#1 Word of the Year for 2004" (based on numbers of online lookups):
A Wiki or wiki ... is a website (or other hypertext document collection) that allows users to add content, as on an Internet forum, but also allows anyone to edit the content. "Wiki" also refers to the collaborative software used to create such a website... (Wikipedia, 2005b)
Blog noun [short for Weblog ] (1999) : a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer (Merriam-Webster, 2005)A 500 word encyclopaedia style definition by Jill Walker begins with the paragraph:
A weblog, or blog, is a frequently updated website consisting of dated entries arranged in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first.... Typically, weblogs are published by individuals and their style is personal and informal. Weblogs first appeared in the mid-1990s, becoming popular as simple and free publishing tools became available towards the turn of the century. Since anybody with a net connection can publish their own weblog, there is great variety in the quality, content, and ambition of weblogs, and a weblog may have anywhere from a handful to tens of thousands of daily readers. (Walker, 2003)Readers in pursuit of definitive definitions will find this elusive; there is usually no precise distinction between blogs and wikis, and often you encounter imprecise qualifiers such as 'typically'. Furthermore, some writers on blogging take issue with the concept of definitions, because they may constrain the purposes and visions that underlie blogging. From Torill Mortensen:
If blogging can be defined within the known genres and boundaries, it can also be restricted and controlled according to known rules and made to submit to already predefined aesthetics.Torill Mortensen identified positively with Walker's (2003) definition, "...a definition written from observing the practice of a large community generously...", and also sought to put the technologists firmly back into their boxes, by criticising an "... eagerness to define weblogs according to the software through which it is published..." (Mortensen, 2004). Furthermore:
...In the quest for a voice, for power and influence and a way to define themselves in the upper middle class, or even among artists of the avant-garde, the blog can be a tool. The question is: will it be a tool for strict socialization and cultural oppression, with tight limits, or will it remain open for redefinition, for the individual expression and, not the least, for celebrating diversity and tolerance online?
... Defining weblogs should allow for the users' experiences, not just for technical or overly formal typologies. (Mortensen, 2004)
... in some definitions of weblogs these technical aspects are prominent, in the way art forms are defined by the sophistication of materials and techniques. We can understand this as another expression of the need to define weblog form rather than weblog intent or sensation. Defining weblogs through the software and technical solutions creates instant exclusion through terms that appear to be neutral and obvious, but which also work as constructions to exclude those without a certain level of technical skills or the understanding of the significance of these different software tools. (Mortensen, 2004)Nevertheless, the same writer acknowledged a creditworthy role for blog and wiki technologists (is there no need then to worry about "a kind of IT overload last straw", as I did above?):
Weblog software and blog clients are tools to meet the needs and interests of users with a low amount of specialised knowledge of how to communicate online, and are often used by a wide range of users with little communicative sophistication. The simplicity of these tools, however, also make them very useful for specialists who have much knowledge of certain areas, but little time and opportunity to learn about online publishing - such as scholars. (Mortensen, 2004)The brief illustrations above suggest to me that standard definitions are not sufficiently illustrative. Adopting Mortenson's (2004) preference for defining weblogs by "intent or sensation" (quoted above), I compiled Table 1 to summarise a few illustrative examples of academic writing and researching about weblogs, attempting to cite key emphases ("sensations") and main purposes ("intents") or context features in the authors' works.
|Authors||Aspect emphasised||Main purpose or context|
|Ferdig & Trammell (2004); Trammell & Ferdig (2004)||online personal journals||strategies for using blogs in the classroom; pedagogical implications of classroom blogging|
|Herring, Scheidt, Bonus & Wright (2004)||content analysis of randomly selected weblogs; genre analysis||weblogs bridge a gap between standard web pages and conventional, asynchronous computer mediated communications|
|Huffaker (2004)||personal journals or diaries||promoting literacy in the classroom|
|Paquet (2003)||personal knowledge publishing||uses in research|
|Raynes-Goldie (2004)||...a social technology that can ... bring order to informational chaos||information management and knowledge creation|
|Smith (2004)||... precursors to new overlay [virtual] journals, or even new forms of journal||scholarly publishing, open access, deconstructed journal, distributed journal|
|Walker (2003)||...a continuum from confessional, online diaries to logs tracking specific topics or activities through links and commentary...||narrative theory, digital narrative, thematic approaches to narrative|
|Armstrong, Berry & Lamshed (2004) (RMIT)||use of blogs by students as learning journals||integrate the personal aspect of a journal or diary that documents the student's journey through the learning with the immediate publishing capability of the web creating ... a collaborative, public discourse on the reflections of learners.|
|Bartlett-Bragg (2003) (UTS)||...integration of blogging into pedagogical practices for educators.||introduction of blogging ... represented as a five-stage process|
|Farmer (2004) (Deakin)||...communities of inquiry in online learning environments||comparing conventional online discussion board tools and weblogs|
|Leaver, T. (2005) (UWA)||critical thinking and peer to peer learning||...compensate for the inward looking nature of WebCT by also using (blogs) [in] unit Self.Net: Communicating Identity in the Digital Age.|
|Leung & Matthews (2004) (UTS)||... students to critically reflect on their technologies of interest weekly through a weblog (or blog)||... emphasise the symbiotic relationship between reflection and good practice.|
|Oliver (2005) (ECU)||... a very simple tool that provides students with private Webspace to record their views and impressions.||... encourage learners to reflect and to think about their learning|
|Segrave, Holt & Farmer (2005) (Deakin)||...[blogs] can excel in facilitating the sharing and celebration of successful praxis, as well as offering opportunities for self organised development||academic professional development for effective online teaching and learning|
|Williams & Jacobs (2004) (QUT)||...reflective journals ... blogs and academic discourse are natural allies||MBA blog for coursework at Queensland University of Technology|
|* Australian authors (last 8 rows) have a university name or acronym appended. Full names in references.|
Table 1 is intended to be illustrative rather than comprehensive, and an avenue into research on blogs in contrast to a summary of research findings. This is due in part to there being "...not a lot of refereed published material on the subject of blogs in general, let alone work that focuses specifically on blogs in education." (Williams & Jacobs, 2004) A similar view was advanced by Mortensen & Walker (2002), "There is a considerable amount of popular writing on weblogs, but there is to date no published research on the topic...". Nevertheless, Table 1 can be used to illustrate three main points.
Firstly, blogs and blogging have attracted attention in a range of academic topics. Whilst these include research (or 'knowledge creation'), scholarly publishing and some others, the main cluster of interests is upon teaching and learning practices relating to critical reflection, for example, 'learning journals', 'personal journals' and 'reflective journals'. These are not new topics, but citing them seems to me to indicate a firm grounding and principal direction for further research into blogs in education. One topic with widespread implications has been flagged by several writers proposing alternatives to conventional, class-only online discussion groups:
Weblogs, it is argued, offer new opportunities in the development of social, cognitive and teacher presence online and should be considered in the development of or alongside established OLEs [online learning environments] (Farmer, 2004)Secondly, Table 1 (and reading of the references!) suggests that the underlying technologies, embedded in weblog software and blogging clients are not matters likely to be of special interest in research into blogs and blogging. Research into blogs is not a specialised domain only for techno-enthusiasts, and in my view weblog software and blogging clients are not revolutionary advances beyond standard website technologies. This may be due to the "...simplicity of these tools" (Mortensen, 2004) or the "... simplicity of the mechanism of blogging" (Williams & Jacobs, 2004). For a quick and easy test of this simplicity, you may like to examine a very basic blogging facility with guest access at Edith Cowan University (Oliver, 2005).
...can students actually learn critical skills regarding the internet and online culture when most of their tertiary education involving the World Wide Web involves one password protected system which is geared toward pointing inward, not outward? (Leaver, 2005)
Thirdly, most of the studies cited in Table 1 are explorations and developments of ideas, or are uses of blogs for teaching purposes. There are relatively few studies on blogs that test research hypotheses by the quantitative or qualitative techniques as commonly used in educational research (therein lies an opportunity!). However, a conference in Sydney in May 2005 will publish a significant number of research studies on blogging. (Blogtalk Downunder, 2005)
Returning to my opening questions about blogs, in particular, Do academics really need yet another 'new technology'?, the short answer is "not really", or words to that effect. However, my longer answer (actually another question, as one often does in academic writing) seeks to outline the real or the more important opportunity: Can we build upon the simple technological infrastructure of blogs, to obtain a beneficial advance in particular applications - reflective journals for teaching and learning purposes, research group communications, scholarly publishing, and others still to be identified? To which the short answer is "yes", though How? is not amenable to short answers.
Bartlett-Bragg, A. (2003). Blogging to learn. Knowledge Tree, 4 (Dec). http://www.flexiblelearning.net.au/knowledgetree/edition04/pdf/Blogging_to_Learn.pdf
Blogtalk Downunder (2005). Conference. Sydney, 19-21 May. http://incsub.org/blogtalk/
Farmer, J. (2004). Communication dynamics: Discussion boards, weblogs and the development of communities of inquiry in online learning environments. In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 274-283). Perth, 5-8 December. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/farmer.html
Ferdig, R. E. & Trammell, K. D. (2004). Content Delivery in the 'Blogosphere'. Technological Horizons in Education Journal, February. [verified 10 Mar 2005] http://www.thejournal.com/magazine/vault/articleprintversion.cfm?aid=4677
Herring, S.C., Scheidt, L.A., Bonus, S. & Wright, E. (2004). Bridging the gap: A genre analysis of weblogs. Proceedings of the Thirty-seventh Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-37). Los Alamitos: IEEE Press. http://www.blogninja.com/DDGDD04.doc
Huffaker, D. (2004). The educated blogger: Using weblogs to promote literacy in the classroom. First Monday, 9(6). http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_6/huffaker/index.html
Leaver, T. (2005). Blog this! Weblogs, critical thinking and peer to peer learning. In Seeking Educational Excellence. Proceedings of the 14th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 3-4 February 2005. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2005/abstracts.html#leaver
Leung, L. & Matthews, G. (2004). Learning about technology through technology: Facilitating hard and soft skills development using weblogs and RSS (real simple syndication). Institute for Interactive Media & Learning, University of Technology, Sydney. http://www.iml.uts.edu.au/learnteach/events/abstracts/leung.html
Merriam-Webster (2005). Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year 2004. Merriam-Webster Online. http://www.m-w.com/info/04words.htm
Mortensen, T.E. (2004). Personal publication and public attention. In L. Gurak, S. Antonijevic, L. Johnson, C. Ratliff & J. Reyman (Eds), Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community, and Culture of Weblogs. http://blog.lib.umn.edu/blogosphere/personal_publication.html
Mortensen, T. & Walker, J. (2002). Blogging thoughts: Personal publication as an online research tool. Proceedings of SKIKT-Researchers' Conference 2002 - Researching ICTs in Context. InterMedia, University of Oslo, 8 April 2002 (Chapter 11, ) http://www.intermedia.uio.no/konferanser/skikt-02/docs/Researching_ICTs_in_context-Ch11-Mortensen-Walker.pdf
Oliver, R. (2005). The Blog Tool. Edith Cowan University. http://elrond.scam.ecu.edu.au/ronline/blog.htm
Paquet, S. (2003). Personal knowledge publishing and its uses in research. Part 2: Personal knowledge publishing. KnowledgeBoard. http://www.knowledgeboard.com/cgi-bin/item.cgi?ap=1&id=96935
Raynes-Goldie, K. (2004). Pulling sense out of today's informational chaos: LiveJournal as a site of knowledge creation and sharing. First Monday, 9(12). http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue9_12/raynes/index.html
Segrave, S., Holt, D. and Farmer, J. (2005). The power of the 6 three model for enhancing academic teachers' capacities for effective online teaching and learning: Benefits, initiatives and future directions. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 21(1), 118-135. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet21/segrave.html
Smith, J. W. T. (2004). The Deconstructed (or Distributed) Journal - an emerging model? Invited paper, Online Information 2004 Conference, Olympia Grand Hall, London, 30 Nov - 2 Dec 2004. http://library.kent.ac.uk/library/papers/jwts/OI04.html
Trammell, K.D. & Ferdig, R.E. (2004). Pedagogical implications of classroom blogging. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 8(4), 60-64.
Walker, J. (2003). Final version of weblog definition. http://jilltxt.net/archives/blog_theorising/final_version_of_weblog_definition.html
Wikipedia (2005a). Weblog. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weblog
Wikipedia (2005b). Wiki. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki
Wikipedia (2005c). Creating and publishing weblogs. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weblog#Creating_and_publishing_weblogs
Williams, J. B. and Jacobs, J. (2004). Exploring the use of blogs as learning spaces in the higher education sector. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 20(2), 232-247. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet20/williams.html
|Author: Roger Atkinson retired from Murdoch University's Teaching and Learning Centre in June 2001. His current activities include publishing AJET and honorary work on TL Forum and other academic conference support and publishing activities. Website: http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/ Contact: email@example.com
Please cite as: Atkinson, R. (2005). Technology interactions: Blogs and wikis: What'll they think of next? HERDSA News, 27(1). http://www.roger-atkinson.id.au/pubs/herdsa-news/27-1.html