This is the 1000th post on the Ed Techie blog. It took me over twelve years to get here, so I don’t think I’ll qualify as prolific. Steady, that’s the word. When I started, we still called them weblogs, Queen Victoria sniffed that they would never last, and they were put online by Cockney chimney sweeps, so let us now be all smug that it’s still here. I’ve blogged about blogging many times (it’s a blogger’s favourite subject), but it’s fitting on this auspicious occasion to reflect on what I’ve learnt, or come to believe, about blogging and its role in ed tech. So while we crack open the champagne, here are some thoughts:
Blogging highlights the process, not the output – one of my early blogging chums was Tony Hirst here at the OU. He has commented that blogging reveals an ongoing process of research, but that much of our formal systems (promotion, REF, research funding) are focused on outputs. That’s not to say outputs aren’t important, but the longitudinal picture that a blog gives you allows for a better representation of developing ideas.
Blogging is ideally suited to academia – related to the above, blogging is complementary to traditional academic processes, but it also adds something that was hitherto absent. It is complementary in that you can use it to promote outputs, amplify keynotes, conduct research, build your network of peers, etc. It adds something in that it allows for an informality, additional material, thoughts, queries and smaller pieces of research that previously had no outlet beyond discussions with peers. It acts like the fine grained sand that fills all the gaps between the bigger pebbles.
Discoverability has changed – in order to find blog content, you used to have to work at it through things like blog rolls, links etc. When the publication filter was removed through the advent of the web browser, it was entirely predictable that along with the new release and useful, funny, informative content would come hateful stuff. But back in the early days of blogging it required an active effort to seek this out & so its impact on wider society was limited. What social media did was to transform discovery into a passive rather than an active process. This opened up a whole new audience for racist, misogynistic, conspiracy theory sites. And this passive presentation helped to normalise these views. If they’re presented regularly and alongside reputable news sources then for a number of people who lack the critical abilities to see through them and the networks to contradict them, they begin to take on legitimacy. While we could predict the publication of vile content we couldn’t as easily predict the power of social media algorithms & bots to convert that content into the mainstream for many people.
It has real impact – for both good and bad. In purely academic terms it can boost your paper’s citations, get you keynote invites, be the route to a research collaboration – ie. all the proper academic things your Vice Chancellor cares about. I have also seen its power in helping academics who may be alone in their own institution connect with others, and develop a powerful, global reputation (of which their own institution is often blissfully unaware). But, blogging is also a favoured tool of the Alt-right, nazis, misogynists, climate change deniers and flat-earthers, and has empowered these movements.
But let’s end on a positive note – many of the people I met through blogging have gone on to become real friends, some of them have even stayed at my house. The conversations I have had through blogging have been invigorating, exciting and nearly always polite. It’s still the place I turn to when I need to work things out. As my daughter (cruelly) commented “I wrote a blog post about that” is one of my most over-used phrases. Long may it be so.