Thursday, December 29, 2005

Great advice

Thank you all so much for your input. It's really, really helpful. I'm enjoying watching this thing take shape. I'm shifting some things around based on my own perceptions of things and on some your comments. I'll update you soon.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Proposal thoughts

I've been writing my proposal offline. I'm about 6 pages in. I have no idea how long it should be, but I'm thinking 10 pages or so. I'm struggling with what order to put stuff in. The parts I have are: history and current state of blogging, pedagogical theories, structure of the specific class I'm focusing on, a lit review of what's been written on teaching and blogging, and my own research question. My thought is to put it in the following order:

1. My own research question--why I want to write this thing
2. Lit review
3. history and nature of blogging
4. pedagogical theories (which will reflect back on part 3)
5. structure of the class
6. outline of chapters
7. bibliography

Parts 3 and 4 are where I'm really getting bogged down because I see them as connected. I want my readers to understand what blogging is so they can see how it fits with the pedagogical theories. Structure of the class comes after because the way we set up the class had everything to do with what we knew about the nature of blogging and our pedagogical goals, i.e. what we knew about theory.

I think this gives me something to work with. Things were beginning to feel a little unwieldy and I felt I need to take a step back for a minute and see the big picture.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Thoughts

Okay, I've decided to write the introductory paragraph last. I have a lot to say about blogs and a lot to say about writing instruction and I know in my head how they relate. Until I see the results of the meat of the proposal, I can't really put the introduction on it. Funny, because this is a strategy I tell my students to use all the time and yet, I didn't follow it myself.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A small plea

To the 3 people reading this blog, I'm earnestly trying to construct a real draft in the post below. I would very much appreciate any feedback you could offer. I'll put you in the acknowledgements. :)

Friday, December 09, 2005

Proposal: Real first attempt

In this dissertation, I propose to examine the practice of blogging in writing courses. I define blogging, as many frequent bloggers do, as both the act of writing in a blog and of reading other blog writing and responding to it. Both activities are important components of blogging as a successful practice in a writing classroom. Though blogging has been around for almost ten years, no one has yet fully placed blogging within a theoretical context as it relates to the teaching of writing. Using a writing course I taught that fully incorporated blogging into its curriculum, I will situate blogging within several theories of teaching writing: cognitive, epistemic, and the writing/reading connection. Further I will examine blogging in the context of broader, but related, educational theories such as constructivism, emergent pedagogy, and connectivism. Since blogging has evolved from other forms of online communication and publishing that composition teachers have implemented in their teaching practices, I will examine the extent to which some of these practices have been successful in achieving the curricular goals of writing classes. In addition, I hope to explore future possibilities and practical applications of blogging in writing classrooms and as a tool for writing in the disciplines. It is my contention that blogging can facilitate the kinds of learning expected in a writing class not just because it involves writing, but also because it can encourage the kinds of processing, thinking, analyzing and critiquing required of student writers.

History and Nature of Blogging

In order to fully understand the impact that blogging can have on a writing class, it is important to understand a bit about the history of blogging and to examine the nature of blogging as it exists now, especially the way connections are formed and the communities that emerge around blogs. It is imporant to understand that blogging did not spring fully formed out of the ether (or ethernet). It has predecessors in personal web pages, forums, and online news sites. Knowing these predecessors can help teachers and students explore the many possibilities of blogging and understand more fully the potential it has for improving writing skills. And it is equally important to understand the relationship blogging has between other types of online communication. Students will be eminently familiar with email, instant messaging, text messaging, and perhaps forums; therefore, one must help them distinguish between these types of communication and blogging. It will increasingly be a challenge to get students to take online writing seriously as online communication continues to proliferate among young people, but armed with a little knowledge and building on the online skills students already may possess, a writing teacher can successfully use blogging to help students learn to write more proficiently and move away from their typical forms of online communication.

The term web log was coined in 1997 by John Barger, proprietor of Robot Wisdom, essentially a literal web log, a log of links to sites he found interesting (Blood, 7). Other sites began adding commentary to the links, a practice that has as its predecessor Slashdot and other news sites that commented on events of the day. Most of these early web logs, like Robot Wisdom, were maintained manually using straight html coding. New items were time-date stamped and placed at the top of the page. Eventually this practice became one of the key defining characteristics of blogs (Blood, 8). In this regard, blogs are distinctly different from the static web sites of the early web which only offered basic information and rarely changed. In addition, blogs allow commentary and feedback in a similar fashion to email lists and forums, but with one key difference. Typically, blogs are run by a single person (though group blogs exist and are growing), creating a kind of one-to-many atmosphere versus a many-to-many atmosphere. As I like to describe it, a blog is a benevolent dictatorship while an email list or forum is a democracy. Thus a blogger's words are the key focus of any particular feedback while in a forum, many people's words may be circulating around for discussion, and in fact, the words may become disembodied from the person who wrote them quite quickly.

At the same time that blogs were evolving from static web sites and online communication, online journalling was gaining a foothold. Unlike blogs, journals were personal diaries or reflections and usually do not involve links of any kind. In 1996, Xanga, a web-based interface for creating online journals began. A few years later, other blog and online journal tools began to appear. In 1999, both LiveJournal and Blogger launched. Both tools made it easy for people to start and maintain what was now simply becoming called a blog, regardless of its specific format.
The technology behind these blog tools is important for several reasons. One, it allowed people without html skills to publish on the web. Two, most blog tools generated RSS feeds, a technology that allowed blog posts to be picked up by readers or included in other web sites, facilitating quick distrubtion of blog content. Third, these tools, especially LiveJournal and Xanga, allowed communities to be created by allowing bloggers to list links to friends' journals and blogs. All this combined to create highly networked content.

From the very early days of blogging, then, bloggers have connected to each other. So while I offer the benevolent dictatorship as a metaphor for an individual blog site, the entire blog world, or blogosphere, leans more toward the democratic1. Early bloggers created lists of other bloggers. Since there weren't that many of them, this usually was a list of all known bloggers. (Blood, page ?). Currently, however, with 14 million blogs and counting, individual bloggers usually connect only to blogs they actually read, or as Blood puts it "the tribe to which they wish to belong." Bloggers make these connections in two ways: 1) by linking to individual posts by a particular blogger that they like or 2) by adding them to a list of links along the sidebar, what has become known as a blogroll. There are two important things about this practice in terms of writing. First, linking is a way of obtaining an audience. Generally when a blogger discovers they've been linked to, she will at the very least visit and comment on the post where the link occurs. In addition, she may send her readers to read what the linking blogger has written. This drives visitors to the site who might provide additional feedback on the blogger's writing. The second important aspect of linking, specifically blogrolling, is that it helps establish the community the blog is situated in; it creates an ethos of sorts for the blog.

These characteristics of blogging create an environment in which student writers participate in an authentic writing experience. Unlike a forum where their voices may be lost, the blog gives them an opportunity to develop that voice. Through the connective nature of the blog, they can receive feedback on their writing and soon gain a better awareness of what it means to write for a real audience and in an authentic rhetorical situation. There are other aspects of the composing process that blogging lends itself to. One important one is the framing of a question or discovery of the rhetorical situation. At first, students may struggle to figure out what kinds of questions work, but through feedback from readers, they quickly learn what topics and questions are more interesting than others. Because we asked students to use their blog posts as rough drafts, the blog also contributed to the revision process. More than half the students, according to an end of the semester survey, used the comments on their posts to help them revise. I will look more closely at the results of this process in the full project, but I can say that the results look encouraging so far.

Writing Pedagogies and their connection to blogging

Separating writing pedagogical theories and practices from more general ones is a somewhat artificial endeavor since many of the trends in the teaching of writing have emerged from those more general educational theories. Having said this, however, there are some specific strategies that blogging seems to have the most potential for exploiting. In the sixties, writing teachers began implementing strategies that took into account a student's cognitive development. This lead them to focus on writing as a whole process rather than as simply a product that could simply be corrected. Thus, the teaching of writing now involves ways of improving the process at all stages. For example, Flower and Hayes in "The Cognition of Discovery" examine the differences in the way that expert writers construct a rhetorical situation versus novice writers. Flower and Hayes note that "poor writers were concerned primarily with the features and conventions of a written text" (99). The implications for the writer teacher is that he or she needs to find a way to help students get beyond the simple conventions of a writing assignment and to construct a more complex rhetorical situation. I will argue that blogging can help achieve that goal. Other goals put forth by a cognitive-developmental theory of teaching writing include dealing with audience awareness and egocentrism, seeing other points of view, distinguising between speaking and writing, planning and goal-setting. There are ways in which blogging can be used to assist students with these steps along the cognitive developmental scale.

Related to cognitive model of teaching writing is the relationship of writing to thinking and knowledge more generally, sometimes called the epistemic model of writing pedagogy.


1 I say this a bit cautiously as there are many arguments out there about the power laws that obtain in the blogosphere. (See, for example, Clay Shirky's "Power Laws in the Blogosphere"). However, for the purposes of class blogging, I think it's important to emphasize as least the potential for an equal playing field.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What comes first-the introduction

A writing class is never just about learning the mechanics of writing. For decades now, the field of rhetoric and composition has espoused a number of practices embedded not just in learning grammar and paragraph structure, but also in theories of learning. As writing is closely linked with thinking and learning, writing becomes a way to represent how one thinks. The process of writing involves much more than simply getting some words onto a page in a certain structure. It requires reflection, analysis, and synthesis. Teaching this process is much more difficult than simply teaching grammar rules, and composition teachers continue to struggle with ways of teaching writing that take this complex process into account.

[here, I need a brief overview of research in comp. pedagogy; i have something lying around somewhere.]

At smaller colleges like Bryn Mawr College, first-year writing classes purport to do more than simply teach writing. In a way, they put this concept of writing as learning and thinking out front and emphasize critical reading and thinking as much as writing. Writing is more a way to learn than something that is learned. Two quotes from the College Seminar web site illustrate the way that the writing for the course is closely tied to reading, thinking, critiquing:
"To make sense of the ideas, stories, arguments and images we encounter in readings and discussions. 'Making sense of' means explaining and connecting what we read and see and hear with our own response. This kind of writing is what allows us to enter the Grand Conversation that defines us as thinking human beings."

"The purpose of the writing is to give students the opportunity to respond in creative and critical ways to a variety of texts and to develop their own writing voices (a process inseparable from their development as thinkers, readers, and listeners). We want students to develop fluency with expected modes of academic discourse but also learn to be present, creative, and engaged."
The second passage parenthetically states that the process of writing is "inseparable" from thinking and reading. [something more here]

Blogging, or the process of writing in a web log, can facilitate the kinds of learning expected in a writing class not just because it involves writing, but also because it can encourage the kinds of processing, thinking, analyzing and critiquing required of student writers. [maybe this last sentence, a kind of thesis?]

[Introduction to what blogs are--add to what's below, ending/transitioning to blogs in education]

A class blog, then, provides a rich environment for students to explore the process of writing and learn how to write authentically, to develop their voice and thus, their ways of thinking. In this dissertation, I will examine the writing of two sections of a freshman writing class at Bryn Mawr College who used a blog to develop their writing skills. I will look at how the writing developed over time in the blog and how the blog writing was transformed into more formal assignments, exploring the way the revision process works when students have a wide range of feedback. I will also examine whether the educational theories which formed the foundation of the structure of the class were worthwhile and what aspects of the class might need to be revised. Finally, I will suggest ways that blogs might be implemented in other kinds of classes to encourage more writing across the curriculum.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The emergence of the blog

(the following is strictly from memory without referring to any sources; structured thinking out loud)

Blogs, short for web logs, did not appear overnight. Instead, they evolved from other forms of online publishing and communication. They began, according to Rebecca Blood, in the late 1990s with sites such as Robot Wisdom run by John Barger. These sites were simply logs of links that the author found interesting. Other sites began adding commentary to the links, a practice that has as its predecessor Slashdot and other news sites. Most of these sites were maintained manually using straight html coding. New content appeared at the top of the site, bumping older content to the bottom of the page. Posts were time-date stamped and archives of posts were often created by week or month. This practice of reverse chronological posting is still a key practice in current blogging and is one element that separated the web log from static web pages that had been profilerating since the advent of the web. Unlike static pages, web logs drew more of an audience, since visitors returned to find new information. Though static pages were updated occasionally, there was no regularity to the updating. They also often posted no date, so it was difficult to know how current the information on the site was. Blogs also differ from static sites in their ability to allow feedback from readers. In this regard, they take a page from early forms of online communication such as newsgroups, email lists, bulletin boards, and forums, all of which are heavily interactive.

At the same time that blogs were evolving from static web sites and online communication, online journalling was gaining a foothold. Unlike blogs, journals were personal diaries or reflections and usually do not involve links of any kind. In 1996, Xanga, a web-based interface for creating online journals began. A few years later, other blog and online journal tools began to appear. In 1999, both LiveJournal and Blogger launched. Both tools made it easy for people to start and maintain what was now simply becoming called a blog, regardless of its specific format.
The technology behind these blog tools is important for several reasons. One, it allowed people without html skills to publish on the web. Two, most blog tools generated RSS feeds, a technology that allowed blog posts to be picked up by readers or included in other web sites, facilitating quick distrubtion of blog content. Third, these tools, especially LiveJournal and Xanga, allowed communities to be created by allowing bloggers to list links to friends' journals and blogs. All this combined to created highly networked content.

Currently, there are about 14 million blogs. The number increases exponentially almost every month. Blogging has taken on many forms. There are still those that are simply recommended links, but many are of the link plus commentary variety. And online journals are also still popular. Blogging communities now have a tendancy to revolve around topics and interests rather than type of blog, much like forums and newsgroups of the early internet. There are political blogs, knitting blogs, academic blogs (sometimes further divided by discipline), and pet blogs. For whatever topic one might have an interest in, there is almost certainly a collection of bloggers writing about it. Blog search engines have been developed to track and help people find blogs of interest. Technorati and Google's Blogsearch are popular sites for people to turn to. Thus blogs have become a rich content stream to tap into and since they are also often connected to each other, one is not limited to a small set of blogs. Further, sites like Technorati and Blogpulse can help track conversation about a specific article or web site so that one can see all the commentary about a particular item.

More blog tools have emerged, most popular among them MySpaces, a product launched by Microsoft and whose primary users are teenagers and college-aged students. A recent report by the Pew Internet and American Life project found that more than half of all teenagers create content online, often through a blog. Though many of the blogs written by teenagers are diary entries rather than analysis of other articles or blog posts, they are sometimes spaces for reflection and thought as well as a way to keep in touch with far flung friends or connect with teens who share their interests.

[There is much more, of course, but I think I will stop here for now]

, ,

Bibliography

A working bibliography.

Barrios, Barclay. The Year of the Blog. Computers and Composition Online. Spring 2005.

Bartlett-Bragg, Ann. Blogging to Learn. The Knowledge Tree. December 2003.

Blank, Doug, Kim Cassidy, Ann Dalke, and Paul Grobstein. Emergent Pedagogy: Learning to Enjoy the Uncontrollable and Make it Productive. Under Review.

Brooks, Kevin, Cindy Nichols, and Sybil Priebe. Remediation, Genre, and Motivation: Key Concepts for Teaching with Weblogs. Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community and the Culture of Weblogs. Ed. Laura Gurak, et. al.

Brown, John Seely, "Growing Up Digital," Change, vol. 32, no. 2 (March/April 2000), pp. 10–11.

Downes, Stephen, "Educational Blogging," Educause Review, vol. 39, no. 5 (September/October 2004): 14–26.

Ferdig, Richard and Kaye D. Trammell. Content Delivery in the Blogosphere. THE. February 2004.

Glogoff, Stuart. Instructional Blogging:Promoting Interactivity, Student-Centered Learning, and Peer Input. Innovate 1:5, June/July 2005.

Godwin-Jones, Bob. Blogs and Wikis for On-line Collaboration. Language Learning and Technology 7: 2, May 2003, 12-16.

Huffaker, David. The educated blogger: Using weblogs to promote literacy in the classroom. First Monday 9:6 (June 2004).

Johnson, Andrew. Creating a Writing Course Utilizing Class and Student Blogs. Internet TESL Journal. Vol. X, No. 8, August 2004.

Kenney, Kristen. Writing with Web Logs. techLearning.com. February 13, 2003.

Krause, Steven. When Blogging Goes Bad: A Cautionary Tale about Blogs, Email Lists, Discussion, and Interaction. Kairos 9.1.

Lohnes, Sarah. Weblogs in Education: Bringing the World to the Liberal Arts Classroom. NITLE News 2:1 Winter 2003.

Lowe, Charles and Terra Williams. Moving to the Public: Weblogs in the Writing Classroom. Into the Blogosphere: Rhetoric, Community and the Culture of Weblogs. Ed. Laura Gurak, et. al.

Rodzvilla, John, ed. We've Got Blog: How Weblogs are Changing Our Culture. Perseus Publishing: Cambridge, 2002.

Siemens, George. Connectivism: Learning as Network-Creation. August 2005.

Why Teach Digital Writing?
Kairos 10: 1.


Sunday, December 04, 2005

Proposal Draft-notes and starts

The advent of blogging brings together several important factors in the teaching of composition. First, it has evolved to be primarily text based while still allowing for the incorporation of images, sounds and videos. Second, it is public, whether it is completely public or public only to a select group. Third, it allows for feedback from the public as well as from the instructor and student in the class. Composition pedagogy is obviously concerned with the creation of text, but it has also struggled with creating a more authentic environment for students to write in. The public nature of the blog provides that environment by providing an audience. Additionally, composition teachers are also always looking for ways to provide students with more feedback, from fellow students in addition to the teacher. A blog, through its comment feature allows for that feedback loop. But blogging is more than writing. It is also reading and thinking critically. By encouraging student writers to fully participate in the blogging experience, one can help them take steps toward learning to write for a public audience and to respond to others' writing in critical ways and to always be critical of their sources. Generally speaking, these are key goals of any composition class.

I will be focusing on the first year writing course I taught at Bryn Mawr College, a course that may be similar at many other liberal arts colleges; however, I believe that many of the practices I used in that course can be applied in many other types of courses at many types of schools. In fact, I believe that blogging might be one avenue to encouraging more writing in many other disciplines besides English/Composition. The course that I taught is a required course for freshman whose stated goals include the following:
"To make sense of the ideas, stories, arguments and images we encounter in readings and discussions. 'Making sense of' means explaining and connecting what we read and see and hear with our own response. This kind of writing is what allows us to enter the Grand Conversation that defines us as thinking human beings."

"The purpose of the writing is to give students the opportunity to respond in creative and critical ways to a variety of texts and to develop their own writing voices (a process inseparable from their development as thinkers, readers, and listeners). We want students to develop fluency with expected modes of academic discourse but also learn to be present, creative, and engaged."


Organizational Thoughts
  • Explanation of blogging generally: I'm assuming this still needs to be done and I'm thinking it should go before what I have written above (if it indeed remains).
  • Brief explanation of the pedagogy: cognitive, constructivism, connectivism, emergence(?)
  • Then more specific explanation of class and then our specific goals
  • Broader implications--what I hope these practices can accomplish for others
  • Imperfections in blogging practice--perhaps not in the proposal?
Tomorrow, the bibliography and some writing on blogging as a general practice.

Beginnings

I have decided to finish my Ph.D., which means I need to write a dissertation. Since my dissertation will be about using blogging to teach writing, I thought it only made sense to write the dissertation in a blog. I hope that this will be my only metapost. After this, only drafts of the dissertation will appear.

Feedback is not only welcome, but encouraged. My goal is to finish this disseration by May of 2006. Technically, I have until August, but I always like to have some buffer. My other goal is to finish. Period. Sure, it'd be great to have a book-quality dissertaion. Sure, it would be great to be a pioneer in some small area or another. But those are not my goals. Once I'm finished I can work on those. I have a job that I like. The degree is for me.

All that being said, welcome, and I hope you enjoy the ride.