The e-learning exercise for the fifth week of EDUC5860 – Issues in Digital Technology in Education was to create a custom blog then Tweet about it to the class at the class hashtag, #EDUC5860. I actually created a blog component to my website when I created this site to fulfill the week three e-learning tool exercise which was website development. At this point though the blog component is beginning to take better shape as I’ve fleshed it out with more class related posts a well as a couple of my York work related posts. I’ll use this week as an opportunity to further articulate what my intention and plan for this blog is, what I plan to do differently from previous blogs I’ve worked with and what have been my most recent experiences and learnings in regards to blogs.
I’ve actually been blogging for quite some time. My first blog was on Blogger and focussed mainly on my artwork and popular culture interests. From there I moved to freelance blogging for a couple of pop culture blogs that were run by other individuals. I learned a tough lesson at one of these sites when it unceremoniously closed its doors and shut down, taking all my writing down with it. I had kept some draft copies of some of what I’d written, but not all of it. Particularly frustrating was the fact that I no longer could point people to that content I had created as an example of my work.
In recent years I have been using blogs in my work at York University where I’ve hired and trained students to write blogs about their student life, success, experiences, tips, tricks and best practices. The driving idea behind this has been to build a welcoming online community for York students and students who are new to York. The intent is not for every student to read every blog by the students who work for me but to find a voice or two that they relate to or to use the network of blogs created by my student team to find information that they may be looking for that’s presented in a casual, peer-to-peer fashion they can relate to.
In my studies in the MEd program so far I have come to realize that there aren’t nearly as many staff or faculty bloggers as there are student bloggers in the higher education arena. In many cases I’ve seen a distinct lack of understanding or perhaps discomfort in using online, digital tools such as social media and blogs on the part of faculty and staff. This is not to say that there aren’t any higher ed professionals who understand or participate in this new digital arena. I just feel that there could be more. Such staff and faculty bloggers could and would effectively lead by example, demonstrating the twenty-first century skills and best practices needed to survive and thrive in our modern world. Something that I’ve had in mind for a year or two now has been to create and write a blog from a higher ed staff point of view that is focussed on digital media and it’s use in higher ed. I don’t believe this is a revolutionary or completely new idea by any means, but my intent is for the content to be open and accessible to students, staff and faculty – basically anyone who is interested in getting up and running with digital media, but is unsure in any way about doing so. I can’t claim to be an expert in all things digital media, after all it changes and evolves so quickly, but I do have a good deal of experience and if there is one thing that I’ve learned about twenty-first century skill sets it’s that collaboration is valuable and essential, especially for making social media work well. My hope is that my blog, IdeaSoup, can be a spark and ignite a community around it where other students, staff and faculty can discuss and contribute ideas, experiences and best practices for using social and digital media in higher ed and even life in general. My contribution will be to document and discuss things that I learn while working toward my MEd, but also ideas, concepts and practices that I experiment with and implement while working at Student Community & Leadership Development.
Another thing that I’ve learned about social media is that for it to be fully and completely effective it eventually needs to be taken offline so that people may interact in person. Networking, discussions and collaborations can all be facilitated online via social media and blogs, but at some point things need to be actualized in real life; you meet up with a group of pop culture fans to attend a convention, classmates to work on a group project, a potential new employer for an interview, etc. So, the idea of this IdeaSoup blog is to have an offline component as well. My current vision of what this might be like is a monthly drop-in meeting where there is a topic or theme that is chosen online, ahead of the meet. At the meet, there is an open discussion about the topic. With social and digital media I’ve found that many people are at widely different ranges of understanding and experience. Some people attending a meet-up may be there to learn something new for the first time while others will have vastly more experience in particular topics. The idea is to have a moderated discussion, but ensure that everyone contributes to the conversation and learning or feels absolutely comfortable asking any questions they might have. So, the blog is intended to be a resource and education tool as well as an online community builder that in turn facilitates offline community, engagement and learning.
I find it interesting to note that social media critics have said both that the blog is dead and that the blog is making a comeback. Personally, I feel the blog is here to stay for the foreseeable future. The blog is a powerful tool that gives anyone with a computer and internet access a voice and a platform from which to speak and share ideas and knowledge with as wide or as niche an audience as they wish. A blog emphasizes the core communication skill of writing, but is not limited to such text-based communication. Rather, the blog is reflective of all the multimedia possibilities of the web and is most often more effective and interesting when multimedia content is incorporated. While a blog can and does foster community and back and forth communication on its own, it is most effective when coupled with other social media channels such as Twitter that can help with promoting a blog and new content as it becomes available on the blog.
This week’s exploration of blogging has helped me to finally articulate and realize the implementation of a blog idea that I’ve been sitting on for nearly two years. With this new blog I’ve taken the extra measure of having it hosted by a web hosting service where all the content I create is saved and backed-up so I don’t run the risk of losing it all as I have in the past with previous blogging endeavours.