Beginning a “real” blog

It’s always hard to begin writing a series of ideas because few ideas have clear beginnings and few ideas can claim completeness. For each idea, there is a desire to justify, to qualify, to assure potential readers that residual ambiguities have already been considered. There is also a secret fear that some very obvious refutation has not been considered, rendering the idea dead-on-arrival.

A personal voice takes time to develop especially when the audience is unknown. Conversations into cyberspace hang in the air longer than the spoken word, and can be analysed at greater depth. “Lurkers” can choose whether to reveal themselves as part of your audience and have much longer than a “live” audience to consider the worth of your ideas before endorsing, or challenging, or dismissing them.

The two identifying features of blogging for me are

1) the journal style of writing regularly and frequently in an event-based (temporal) sequence and
2) the fact that blogs are published to a wider audience

For me, good blog entries vacillate between the immediate and personal uncensored passion of a personal diary and the more well-reasoned, supportable, edited, less emotive writing for a known audience. The challenging aspect of blogging as a genre of writing is to write in immediate response to things that inspire or confront me intellectually, politically, socially or spiritually and thereby reveal a less-tailored, more personal glimpse of my thought processes than would appear in normal highly-edited academic writing. The powerful aspect of blogging lies directly in this challenge – the development of robust ideas, of inspirational writing, of effective communication requires a critical, analytical audience, and the fact that my ideas are “out there”, whether or not they are read by anyone other than me, requires that I write them more rigorously than I would need to in a personal diary. And in writing more rigorously, I need to think more rigorously, and to return to an academic writing discipline that to me is the essence of scholarship.

Why did I start my “real blog” today in particular? I have been reading Don Watson’s “Death Sentence: The decay of public writing” as I wade through endless pages of writing on educational design, learning theory, online learning theory and educational technology and I decided that although “Resistance is futile” and there is a fair chance in my academic lifetime that we will all be assimilated, perhaps it is worth questioning woolly thinking and vacuousness embodied in the “debased, depleted sludge” that is our public language and is rapidly becoming our academic language.

Some random examples below come from an article I was reading today on the Theory and Practice of Online Learning. In fairness to the authors, it is fairly typical of much of what I’ve read in the area in the past 6 months and is the kind of thing (like Vogon poetry) that I might find myself writing in the foreseeable future if I don’t attempt some resistance (e.g. in the form of this blog … )

“Online learners should be provided with a variety of learning activities to achieve the lesson learning outcomes and to accommodate learners’ individual needs. Examples of learning activities include reading textual materials, listening to audio materials, or viewing visuals or video materials …”

Does this ever need to be written?

“Strategies should be used to allow learners to perceive and attend to the information so that it can be transferred into working memory.”

Is this Cognitive Psychology or common sense – “Make students pay attention !”

“Behaviourist, cognitivist and constructivist theories have contributed in different ways to the design of online learning materials, and they will continue to be used to develop learning materials for online learning. Behaviourist strategies can be used for teaching the facts (what); cognitive strategies to teach the principles and processes (how); and constructivist strategies to teach the real-life and personal applications and contextual learning. There is a shift toward constructive learning, in which learners are given the opportunity to construct their own meaning from information presented during the online session.”

The problem for me with this paragraph is that the three theories are competing theories of learning and have quite different conceptualisation of what constitutes learning, knowing, understanding, acting. If you use a mixture of strategies derived from these theories, you are no longer theory-driven. You are outcome-driven. There is nothing wrong with being outcome-driven but you can no longer claim a theoretical foundation for what you do.

But already, I digreess. Another feature of a blog entry (in my view) is that it should contain a single coherent theme related directly to its title. So I will stop here. And publish this as my first blog entry in my Online-Learning-Unit-hosted blog. I should say at this point that nothing written in this blog has any implicit endorsement of the expressed views by the institution for which I am employed although I sincerely hope that the institution endorses my right to express such views and thereby make them open for discussion and debate.

(originally posted on my work blog)

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