Friday, 6 April 2012

Blogging is…

As those of you who have followed this blog for a while may know, blogging has become the focus of my current MA research. It is now nearly two years since my first ever post and in that time this blog has come to play a major role in my development as a language teacher and my online professional identity. That was the initial reason why I wanted to research this area - to find out more about the role blogs have to play in a teacher’s self-development.

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Individual or part of a group? Image by tkksummers

Earlier this week, I was discussing how my research is taking shape with my dissertation supervisor and I mentioned that my interest was in how individual language teachers use their personal blogs for self-development. In that way that academic tutors often do, she immediately honed in on three words I had used without really considering their weight and meaning: individual, personal and self.

However, as the discussion continued, I began to mention comments, blog rolls, links to posts shared via social media and the relationships that begin to form with between the writer and the readers (who may also exchange roles when interacting on each other’s blogs). My supervisor pointed out that this was taking me away from the individual and personal aspect I had begun with. That got me thinking that perhaps my idea of ‘self-development’ was not quite the right angle to investigate from - maybe the community and connections made with other teacher-bloggers are more important for enabling development.

Blogs are inherently personal in nature - the main body of content, the layout and the links shared are all chosen and composed by an individual. And yet, through this individual space on the web, we are able to connect with teachers worldwide, exchange experiences, ideas and advice and be active as readers as well as authors.

So, my question to all you blogging teachers out there is:

Do you see you blog as your own personal space for expressing and developing your thoughts and ideas about ELT?

OR

Do you see it as part of an active community of practice where shared experiences contribute to something more than just self-development?

Your answers in a comment please. Smile

23 comments:

  1. I think it starts as the first but moves to the second. I read a few books whilst researching using blogs for the DELTA and found that many people say blogging is not about the writing but about reading other blogs and commenting Yet, to get into that you have to 'join the club' ie blog yourself. Then you get blogrolled and crossblog/post/comment and guest post. At this point your blogging platform becomes hybrid. What I mean is that sometimes you do a guest post which will get read by some of your followers but also new ones. Even though it is on a different blog it is still part of your blogging life. For this reason blogging moves away from being centred on you. I much prefer writing comments and responding to them. I learn so much but I only get replies because people know me on certain blogs. This wasn't the case last year and certainly not the year before.

    Phil Wade

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    1. Hi Phil,

      I certainly agree that you can get more out of reading blogs and making connections through the comments than by just writing them. But of course, for that to happen someone has to write them in the first place!

      However, at the same time, it seems many bloggers (even the seasoned ones) often feel there is not much interaction going on comment wise. Comments rarely seem to go beyond one comment from the reader and one reply from the author. Is that enough for a 'community' to be established?

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    2. hear you there Dave, it's not a conversation is it? It kind of replicates that lack lustre classroom interaction of teacher engages / initiates, learner responds, finish....rather than something more conversational. good luck with yours

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    3. and I have a reference for you. Cullen, 2002 Supportive Teacher Talk: The importance of the F turn http://biblioteca.uqroo.mx/hemeroteca/elt_journal/2002/abril/560117.pdf perhaps more relevant to teacher / learner than peer interaction.

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  2. Hi Dave

    Thanks for this post. I'm also researching this topic at the moment, one thing to add here is that you don't need to think of this as self OR community, the two are intertwined. The relationship between the individual and society is really crucial to your way forward here i.e. agency vs structure and all that. Incredibly interesting topic but don't get narrowed down to early on this AND don't forget given your experience in blogging you are perhaps more expert on this topic - use your participant knowledge in your thesis. Feel free to DM me on twitter and we can talk more about this by skype or email if you want. Best wishes. Richard

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    1. Hi Richard,

      I fully agree that the two are inseparable - I was just trying to gauge what people think if forced to go one way or the other. :) As you will know as a researcher, the narrower the focus, the better so I need a little PLN help in deciding whether to focus on the individual or the community side (hmmm, I reaching out to my fellow ELT bloggers when trying to reach this decision - perhaps that's my answer right there!)

      I will most likely take you up on that DM offer soon :)

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  3. Phil's previous comment stated my feelings exactly. My blogging has morphed form something very personal to being part of ongoing teacher - development program. The only problem is that when I try to explain to people what I'm part of they look at me oddly - it doesn't have a beginning and end date and I get no accreditation!
    Naomi Epstein

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    1. Hi Naomi,

      It's interesting how our perspectives shift over time, isn't it? I initially wanted to voice some of my thoughts from my early MA studies before I started to share lesson ideas and then thoughts on education/language learning.

      I've also found it difficult to explain to people who don't blog why I do this and what I get out of it. In that sense, it is very much a personal thing in which you engage with the community and develop your own classroom practice/beliefs.

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    2. Hi Naomi

      I think that's a really perceptive point you are making about blogging / teaching. A blog is like a text that just keeps growing and changing as do our lives as teachers - it seems there is no end game to teaching, a sort of continual apprenticeship, a sense of becoming but never quite getting there, if you see what I mean?

      Best wishes
      Richard

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  4. as richard gresswell has mentioned it's both. they feed off each other. i look forward to when the tech is there to have a truely flexible commenting system that can cross_link to relevant writings that would take a reader on a wild clicking journey. that would really step up the interaction bloggers would have and enrich the community.

    eltbites has some interesting things to say on forming of teacher identity and blogging e.g. http://eltbites.wordpress.com/2012/03/31/identity-and-dance-in-the-classroom/

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    1. Hi Mura,

      You touch on one of the important aspects of the 'community' for me - the links made between blogs either through blog rolls or links within posts. I also often find inspiration for what to write in other people's blogs, either because I want to relate my own experience or express a different point of view at length.

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    2. Hi Mura

      Thanks for sharing this link on identity and blogging.

      Best wishes
      Richard

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  5. Yep, I think that Richard sums it up nicely. As with most things, I'd see it as more of a continuum than a binary opposition. I also think that where you are on the continuum varies from post to post. Sometimes a blog post will be an extension of my private reflective journal, and meant more as a way of developing my own thoughts (I find it helps a lot with clarity of thinking when I'm writing for an audience, even if the aim is self-analysis - another angle here perhaps - the individual in the community). At other times I will consciously write to try to engage with the community - either in response to another individual's post, or an issue currently doing the rounds on Twitter.

    You might also want to look at other social media outside blogging. Recently I've felt much more a part of the community and that has come mostly from an increased use of Twitter. These days I see my blog and Twitter as being inextricably linked, and frequently the strands of discussion overlap between them.

    Hope these rantings are in some way useful,

    Alex

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    1. Hi Alex,

      Thanks for your comment, which gave me plenty to think about. One big difference between a blog and a journal is that a blog can serve many purposes - reflection, sharing ideas and resources, engaging others in discussion, seeking help or clarification... The community plays an important role in many of those things as does social media. I think Twitter, FaceBook and others are beyond the scope of this assignment but they are certainly important factors to bear in mind.

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  6. When I first started blogging, it was a place to put my thoughts about teaching and to ask questions about things which I had trouble with. As I have continued, it has also become a place to share materials, and get and give support. Writing on my blog is a great way of getting difficult days out of my system, of sharing days when I feel great and of crystallising ideas about ELT. I feel like it fits into the community of blogs in a two-way process - things I blog about are reflected in other blogs and vice-versa. The communal aspect of it is what makes me continue - I know people are reading the blog and responding to it in the same way as I read and respond to other blogs.
    Sandy

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    1. Hi Sandy,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Looking at why people got into blogging and comparing it with why they continue to blog is an angle I am considering exploring.

      Interesting that you mention 'difficult days' as that is one thing I feel we don't see much of on blogs - posts about lessons, classes or courses that just didn't work out and some reflections on why that was the case. Another angle to consider!

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    2. Hi Dave

      This is turning into a really interesting conversation - great post.

      best wishes
      Richard

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    3. Thanks Richard. It's definitely emphasising the community interaction so far!

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  7. One of the reasons I initially got students to blog was the idea of audience, having a real audience for their writing was hugely more appealing than sticking things on the classroom walls.

    For me, blogging is a way to network, and doesn't always have a personal learning aim. In the back of my mind there is always a desire to look good, somehow (even though I don't think I always succeed). It's not that personal a space as there is always a (potential) audience to consider. I would like to think that what I read on blogs is going on is part of an active community of practice where shared experiences contribute to something more than just self-development/promotion, yes.

    At the same time, the internet is inhabited by perhaps just 20% of the world's citizens (and these folks are often of a certain socio-economic type), and probably a lesser portion of teachers have email etc, so to what extent this growing community is elitist has emerged in this comment as being interesting (to me)....hmmm

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    1. Hi Ed,

      Thanks for bringing up another aspect of the community - networking and getting your name 'out there'. And, yes, sometimes the line between 'development' and 'promotion' is a fine one...

      There seems to be an interesting paradox with the last point you bring up. On the one hand, as you say, internet users are not representative of the world at large and the same can be said of teachers with online PLNs. On the other hand, all this blogging and tweeting offers us the chance to network and connect with people we would have never ever had the chance to interact with before like state school teachers in South America, teacher trainers in the Japan and freelancers in some of the world's most troubled hotspots. :)

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  8. I had a knitting blog for some time and it was primarily to share. Not just "lookie what I did!" but also "here's how I did it, here's what worked for me, here are the problems I had and how I figured them out (or disguised them, ha ha!)". I didn't comment on other folks' blogs so much, but I did get a LOT out of what they shared. My intention was to give back to the knitting community by sharing my experience too.

    That's how I approached my ELT blog when I started it about a year after I started teaching classes. I thought, "I'll think out loud, share what I'm doing, problems and successes, what I've done about the problems (or not!) and maybe it'll help someone else the way some blogs I'm reading have helped me." But I was so busy that I only posted something like 10 times in the first year!

    I had a revelation around the one-year mark ... that's about the time I took a "web 2.0" course and it dawned on me that I had been working with a web 1.0 attitude. The Internet is a lot more interactive than it used to be! I consciously decided to try and be more interactive myself. I resolved to post more, to open my blog to comments, to try and comment more on other blogs, etc. That was in November, 2011. Looking back, I'd say I've moved in that direction but have lots of room for continued growth.

    Fascinating topic, it could go off in many directions from here!

    Kathy

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  9. Do you see it as part of an active community of practice where shared experiences contribute to something more than just self-development?

    Hi Dave

    As someone who has blogged since 2006 and am currently doing an MA in ELT (with a specialism in ICT in ELT) I am interested by your question. My first blog (Phil's Adventures) and second blog (TP's TEFL Travels) started as a way to communicate to my family back in the UK what I was up to where I was in the world and to reassure them.

    This year, however, I was asked to set up and maintain a blog specifically on web tools for the ELT classroom. I had to think more about my audience, using labels and to consider the design of it. I received a high mark for the content but comments were made about the design. I had put too many distracting elements, especially down the left-hand side, where potentially drew my audience away from the important part - the actual blog entries. I tweeted a question about readability today and added your name because I knew of your research into this area for your own MA dissertation. What do you think about readability and in what ways can we make navigation clearer for the reader?

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  10. I can't see them as mutually exclusive choices. My blog is both a place for me to express my feelings and attitudes on ELT issues and an active part of our online ELT community. One wouldn't function well without being part of the other.

    By the way, can I say again that I'm in love with your dissertation topic!

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