Blogging died last year; Welcome to my blog

I started blogging in 2005. Actually, it was probably 2004. I know this because I presented at TYCA-SE in Jackson in February of 2005 on blogging, and since I knew nothing about blogging before I decided I would learn it in order to present on it, I’m sure that I started playing around with blogs some months earlier. I’m sure I at least created one to be certain I could do it before I sent in the proposal for that conference, and proposals are always due months ahead of time. Also, “blog” was word-of-the-year in 2004. I remember that from my presentation. I also remember that I had only just heard about blogging and was excited about it and thought that I was way behind the curve on this little tech fad and that I would never catch up before it faded into oblivion. That’s why I did a presentation on blogging (in partnership with my friend and colleague Tammy Townsend). I wanted a reason to make myself sit down and learn this tool while it was still hot.

Since then, the whole world has changed. In 2004, Mark Zuckerberg was in the process of launching Facebook, but it would be a couple of years before I would hear about it, and I would not join until 2008.

When Facebook first came on the scene, it only allowed short posts, and blogs were designed for more involved posts, so for me there was a clear distinction between the two. Facebook dropped the character limits on posts, though, and that–along with a few other factors–blurred the lines between blogging and posting to social sites like Facebook. In fact, those lines became so blurred that people started announcing the death of the blog. Yet still I blog.

As Omar Kabadayi put it, “Blogging is dead, long live the blog.” He concludes,

Blogs haven’t disappeared – they have simply morphed into a mature part of the publishing ecosystem. The loss of casual bloggers has shaken things out, with more committed and skilled writers sticking it out. Far from killing the blog dream, this has increased the quality of the blogosphere as a whole.

Kabadayi cites Jason Kottke of NeimanLab:

Instead of blogging, people are posting to Tumblr, tweeting, pinning things to their board, posting to Reddit, Snapchatting, updating Facebook statuses, Instagramming, and publishing on Medium. In 1997, wired teens created online diaries, and in 2004 the blog was king. Today, teens are about as likely to start a blog (over Instagramming or Snapchatting) as they are to buy a music CD. Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids.

Maybe that’s why I still blog. I fit the demographic. Nevertheless, I also still have students create blogs because I see the blog as serving a different purpose than all of those other social sharing sites, and I see it as teaching students a different set of skills. I’ve also shifted my thinking a little away from putting so much emphasis on meeting students where they are (in terms of social media). It’s a common complaint among teachers that students know how to use Instagram and Twitter, but they don’t know how to copy and paste or send an email attachment or do any of the practical things they need to know for school and for the workforce. I think the blog is a good place to teach some of those practical skills. It’s also a good place to concentrate on more sustained public writing. It’s one thing to tweet an opinion or a joke. It’s another to develop an argument. Blogging has a very real and useful place in helping students learn these skills.

Ultimately, for me, blogging isn’t dead, but my 2005 way of thinking about blogging is, and it is mainly dead because of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram.

Here are some of my thoughts on the 2005 blog vs. the 2015 version of the blog that has to coexist with all of these other social media platforms:

  1. In 2005, the blog was my social media network. In 2015. it is not. Today, the blog is a book that I am writing, but it is not also the coffee shop where I am reading portions of my book to my friends. Back then, it was both the book and the coffee shop. Today it is only the book. Facebook and Twitter are the coffee shop.I once worked hard to make sure that my blog networked with other blogs. I linked to other blogs. I visited other blogs and left comments. I wrote posts in response to things I saw on other blogs. Now, I don’t have a blogroll. If I visit other people’s blogs, it is because I have seen a link to a post that caught my attention on Facebook. If I comment on someone’s blog post, I will more likely make my comment on Facebook, and if I receive comments, they will most likely be shared via Facebook.
  2. Unlike 2005, I rarely use my blog simply for sharing articles now. That’s what Twitter is for. If I want to share a newspaper article, I just share it on social media. If I want to write about a topic that interests me, and I want to refer to several different articles in the course of doing so, I will probably use the blog because blogs allow the space for making connections between items as part of the development of my own ideas, but Facebook and Twitter mostly work better for sharing one main article and one main idea at a time.
  3. When I blogged in 2005, I assumed that my audience would be made up of people with similar personal and professional interests, and that I would have to seek those people out in order to find any audience at all. When I blog in 2015, I know that my social media world is no longer compartmentalized, and I know that even if I am writing on a specialized topic, sharing it with one group means sharing it with all groups because I’m way too lazy to create Facebook filters.I remember feeling uncomfortable with the intersection of various social groups in my news feeds ten years ago, but now those intersections are a way of life. I might write about teaching and get comments from a family member, or I might write about family and get comments from someone I knew from high school, or I might write about high school and get comments from someone I know from a professional organization. I still compartmentalize my writing so that different types of topics are posted on different blogs, but I no longer assume that only one limited group of like-minded people will read what I have to say. I’m not sure how much difference this makes, but it is different.Like T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock, we all tend to “prepare a face to meet the faces that we meet,” but in today’s social media world, we no longer get to switch personas in order to meet a particular audience for a particular purpose because we are talking to all audiences all the time. In that light, the blog challenges us to be more aware of and to put more deliberate effort into developing a public voice.
  4. In 2005, the blog felt like loose and casual writing to me. It was a place for informal introspection even on professional topics. Now, the blog feels like the space for formal writing. Facebook is a casual writing hangout, and the blog is the put-on-your-Sunday-clothes place.I remember that in my own early days of blogging I would refuse to edit blog posts if I saw mistakes in them after publishing. I saw the blog as a journal, and I saw the blog posts as one-off events rather than as products. I thought it was good to show students that everyone is human, and that everyone makes mistakes in casual writing, and that editing was something to mostly reserve for more formal efforts that went through multiple drafts–unlike blog posts. Heaven forbid a blog post would have been put through a process that required much effort in those days. Blogging was just exploratory writing. If there was a process involved in developing that exploration into something more formal, it would happen off the blog.I no longer feel that way. Now I see Facebook as casual sharing and the blog as more formal. I don’t always take the time to thoroughly proofread blog posts. I do still distinguish between the level of formality in blogging and the level of formality in print publications. I do see the blog as more formal than Facebook, though, and I do go back and correct errors and typos if I spot them.

No doubt there have been more shifts in the way I blog and the way I think about blogging since 2005, and I may come back to revise this list later, but for now this covers the basics.

I do think that blogs as casual social media conversations are probably a thing of the past because it is easier to have those conversations on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. That doesn’t mean the blog is dead. It just means that the blog is now a space that more uniquely serves the needs of writers. People communicate on Facebook and Twitter, but people write on WordPress. This, to me, is why we need to keep blogging alive in the writing classroom.



Research Project Sites

It’s that time of year when most eyes are on Santa, but mine are on next semester’s handouts. I’m working on practicing what I’ve been preaching. We need more web writing in writing classes, I told you. We need more multimedia. We need more variety. We need more creativity. All that need requires a whole lot of work and thought. And a lot of popcorn for supper too if you happen to live at my house and you aren’t a cat on a special diet.

My biggest concern is in reworking ENG 1123, or Comp 2. At my school, this is a research class. You know, the one people who don’t like to write and don’t feel confident about documentation put off until the last possible semester due to the sheer dread of it. Making a class where they know they have to write an academic research paper interesting and innovative is a challenge. Honestly, I find bibliographies tedious. I don’t know how to make them anything else for students. That’s why I just send them to EasyBib for the quick path to success with MLA.

The past few years I’ve had sequences of related assignments and a semester theme for that class. The theme gives us something to talk about in class (or on the discussion board for online classes) other than where to put the parenthetical citation and where to put the punctuation on the works cited page. The sequenced assignments give the students time to develop their ideas over time and to understand aspects of research in steps rather than having to take it all on at once. That just makes everyone’s life better.

Still, it’s the class people dread. They already have to do more hands on work than in that class than in most others at the same level. How could I ask them to do even more work by adding multimedia/web assignments to an already full load? I couldn’t. They’d all drop, leaving me with an easy grading load and shaky job security. This isn’t the time for that kind of risk.

What I can do, however, is to transform some of what they are already doing into web-based forms.

This is the thinking that lead me to my Google Sites Project idea. Essentially, I’m having them create a website out of all of their research assignments, nearly all of which they are already doing in my class.

I have added one thing to the web assignment–the creative work. The addition of that assignment makes the number of pages on the website add up to eleven. This is a number that sounds like bonus points are involved to me. English teachers are not mathematicians. They need nice even numbers to work with. Thus my plan is to divvy out ten points per page to add up to a possible 110 points.

I might prefer a more holistic approach to grading, but I need those points so that I can go ahead and award some grades while the site is still a work-in-progress. That’s my compromise. I want the whole research portfolio to receive one grade, and I want the students to have nearly the whole semester to work on it. At a two-year college with open admissions, I can’t assume they understand whether they are on track or not with a semester-long project without giving out some grades along the way. Thus, I’ll have periodic check-points at which I’ll award “as-is” grades to individual pages.

I’m still working out the details. I’m sure I’ll share more ideas along the way, and I would certainly welcome feedback.

This is just one possible way to go about using Google Sites for research projects. In another class, I’d be more likely to assign group projects with GS. It is, after all, a tool designed for collaboration.

I chose Google Sites because my campus went to Gmail for all faculty and students. My students already have access to this without having to register on their own. It is a free tool, though, and easy enough to set up even if everyone has to register for a new email account.

Had the opportunity not been so readily at hand for me, I might not have gone to Google Sites first (I’m more of a WordPress girl), but I think I’m going to be very happy with it. The sites are very easy to work with, and they are more versatile than I’d realized with features like blogs and file storage as optional pages.

So here we go. It seems like a good idea right now. I’ll let you know around next April how I feel about it then.

Living Story = Living Research?

How will this change the way students research current topics? How will this change the way you receive the news?

I just ran across this through a tweet from @davidmcraney, a former student who now works as a journalist. At first glance, it seems similar to the bundled news topics that students can choose from in Newsbank. You don’t have to log in to Newsbank to get to this, though. Maybe I should be asking what this does to library subscription services for newspapers.