What is a Blog Good For? Just About Everything!

blog_1_smOver the last 9 weeks I have been posting writing on a variety of subjects. These writings are part of Yavapai College’s 9x9x25 Challenge. What is the Challenge? As the father of the Challenge, Todd Conway, writes:

The Challenge is about writing as a reflective practice in teaching. The Challenge is about sharing your experiences as an educator, discovering new ideas about teaching and learning, creating a deeper sense of community between faculty at Yavapai College. The Challenge is also about learning what the internet is capable of and how it can be used in academic environments.

A blog is the natural vehicle for writing. It is a simple content management system that is easy to use. Whether you use a WordPress.com, blogster.com, blogspot.com, or other blogging platform, it is easy to post text, music, pictures, video or practically any other type of content.

blog_5_smThe amount of content posted in the two 9x9x25 Challenges is immense. There are hundreds of post by my colleagues at Yavapai College. And other colleges are also blogging in their own challenges. That amount of quality information about teaching (and some other subjects) is hard to come by. Sometimes it was funny. Often it was spontaneous. Mostly it was thought provoking and useful. And we did it in nine weeks.

But a blog is not limited to reflection. It can also be the backbone of an online course. For the past few semesters I have used several blogs to deliver just about all of the content in College Algebra, Finite Math, and Survey of Calculus. I still use a learning management system (LMS) to deliver homework and quizzes, but everything else is offered on the blog. ca_01_smThe same blog is also the Welcome page in my LMS. My students have the best of both worlds. If they need to consult the calendar for a due date or find a formula in the textbook, they can find it on the blog without logging into the LMS. For doing homework or quizzes, they log into the secure testing environment in the LMS.

My blogs are also a tool for marketing my classes. When prospective students email me during the semester to know what the course is like, I direct them to the blog. Prospective students can get a taste of the online class before they register. Students can view the videos, textbook, calendar, syllabus and weekly learning plans without the hassle of logging in.

blog_3_smWere you surprised by the fact that the textbook is available through the blog? If you can type it as text, put it in a picture or video, or link to it, then you can put it into a blog. I even run the Arizona Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges through a blog. The possibilities are infinite!

Over the past week I have been reading the ebook, “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture, Media Education for the 21st Century” by Henry Jenkins. You can find this free ebook on Google Play. When I first began reading this book, I was intrigued by what the author called by “participatory culture”.

A participatory culture is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby experienced participants pass along knowledge to novices. In a participatory culture, members also believe their contributions matter and feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least, members care about others’ opinions of what they have created).

My experience in the 9x9x25 Challenge is a manifestation of this participatory culture. Blogging is a technology with a very low entry barrier. This technology allows us to share our academic creations and learn from others with a similar interest. This definition suggests a powerful new way of professional development. Each of us can learn from each other but we need the low barriers provided by technology to do so.

Ten years ago this would not have been possible. I remember using Dreamweaver to create web pages for my site PBLPathways.com. Because of the time and effort required to craft the web pages, I was limited in what I could share. The nuggets I did share were often the results of several years of work. I only posted what was ready for prime time, not my crazy ideas. Now I am able to post the crazy ideas in an extremely short time. I am only limited by the speed with which I type. If the ideas are crazy, the community of readers can call me out. The idea is to get those ideas out there.

Now here is the interesting part of the ebook. It is oriented toward using new media to teach children, not adults. It looks at the skills and competencies students need to succeed in a participatory culture. The book examines how the individual focus in education needs to shift to a community focus and what students need to be able to do to be able to access this culture. This culture is not limited to our students. It applies to everyone. Each of us needs to foster skills that help us play a role in learning from each other as well as helping our students learn from each other. Move beyond coffee conversations in the hallway and contribute to the community. Blogging, whether it is the 9x9x25 Challenge or in another context, is the perfect way to enter the new participatory culture.