Beyond Blogging and Towards Relevant Interactions

This entry in the ERADC blog states that many of the presently most talked about technologies, such as electronic portfolios or blogs, have a lot in common and that they all focus on social interaction. This made me think of how rarely I use the term "blogging" when talking about my classroom blogosphere which, ironically, consists of individual student blogs. I rarely use the term "blogging" when talking about my approach and my curriculum to parents or administrators. I certainly do not rely on it exclusively. Instead, I have been using other terms which, in my opinion, more accurately reflect the nature of the electronic environment that my students participate in. I have referred to the classroom blogosphere as an online community of writers, a collection of linked individual electronic portfolios, a discussion database, an online writers' workshop.

This is primarily because having a blog is just a small part of what the electronic community entails. In addition to their blogs, my students have electronic portfolios and engage in asynchronous threaded discussions. They compose shorter and longer pieces of writing. They respond to and critique each other's work. They learn to manage their information. Does the term blogging encompass all of these aspects?

I've decided to investigate. I looked at a list of 20 definitions of blogging. The ones that apply to my classroom landscape are listed below:

1. A form of unedited, authentic self-expression.

2. An instant publishing tool.

3. An online journal with freshly updated content.

6. A way to create community with your [I would insert students and writers here instead of what follows] voters, er... readers (think 2,200 comments posted to the Dean for America blog in one day)

8. A tool to teach students how to write. [Yes!]

10. A new form of knowledge management [used in a classroom setting to teach students how to take ownership of their knowledge].

Is there anything else that these definitions do not address? Yes. They do not focus on a very important aspect of blogging, that of social networking. Let's take a look at an excerpt from one of the most comprehensive definitions of blogs and blogging:

Most weblogs use links generously, allowing readers to follow conversations between weblogs by following links between entries on related topics. (Source: jill/txt)

I think that the reference to "conversations" is crucial. Within a classroom blogosphere these conversations acquire great importance. They motivate students to see themselves as writers, they foster the development of individual voices, they connect ideas and comments into a web of correspondences.

Whenever I talk about my classroom blogosphere I steer away from the word "blogging." The reason is quite simple. I am convinced that most people associate the term with

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. (Source: jill/txt)

I find that those who are not familiar with IT tend to look at blogs as online journals. That, at least when used in education, is a fairly basic definition, one that seems to trivialize the technology which many of us use successfully to foster the development of strong writing skills. And so I think that the entry I referred to at the beginning makes a lot of sense. These new technologies we are currently embracing move beyond blogging, beyond electronic portfolios, beyond discussion forums. They allow us to build learning landcapes and to focus on social interactions, making connections, and creating rich communities of learning where students embrace each other's voices while developing their own.