Monday, July 31, 2006

Edubloggers: Lunatic fringe or BlogHer's core constituency?

At the BlogHer conference, when Barbara Ganley of Middlebury College mentioned she is an edublogger, someone mistook her as saying she was an "antiblogger."

She at once embraces and brushes off such a label: "I bet some of the people here (and even in my edublogging world) think this loose kind of essay writing I do is anti-blogging. I know that. I'm okay with that."

There's a definite sense of alienation in Ganley's reflections on BlogHer. And she isn't the only edublogger to have what she calls "mixed feelings" about the sessions at BlogHer.

She writes,
But rumbling through the two days was, as Laura points out, a strong whiff of the almighty dollar. People were looking for hints on increasing traffic to their blogs, making money blogging, encouraging advertisers. In sessions I attended, and in the buzz around the pool, there was a whole lot of attention paid to getting people to your blogs. Fascinating.

Okay, so I learned that my world is indeed what I expected to find out--a bit out of touch. But I expected there to be a huge outcry against DOPA--after all, Danah Boyd spoke on Day Two. But no--NOTHING within my earshot. And in fact, as I went around talking about it, I found out that many, many bloggers, including those in academic circles, hadn't even heard of it. How can that be? I was shocked and not a little bothered--we were surrounded by the sponsors giving us everything from zipdrives to condoms, fake flowers to souped up water; but no talk about legislation that will deepen the digital divide by making blogs and other social networking sites out of reach for kids without computers in the home, and force those who do use the sites underground to form their communities. Read Danah Boyd's inspired research on MySpace and adolescents if you don't believe me.

Personally, I enjoyed the conference, and my encounters with the edubloggers convinced me that these women are have embraced BlogHer's mission to effect meaningful change through blogging. While I share the sense of unease the academic bloggers exchanged over wine, soda, and hard liquor, I can see the appeal of driving traffic to one's blog with the hope of profitting from it. I straddle the increasingly apparent divide between those who blog-for-fun-and-profit and those who blog-to-change-the-world. My little salary as an adjunct instructor doesn't pay the bills, so I need to freelance occasionally, and blogging helps me to showcase my knowledge and my mad writin' skillz.

So I ask: Can't we all get along?

Biz bloggers can learn from edubloggers

Business bloggers, you should know that edubloggers aren't eccentrics on the edge of the blogosphere. There are a lot of academic bloghers. Check out the Research and Academia blogroll here at BlogHer for a partial list.

A subset of those blogs includes the edubloggers, those dedicated and hardworking souls who write about the usefulness of blogging and related technologies to education. These bloggers ask the hard questions about how to bridge the "digital divide" that separates the haves from the have-nots.

Edubloggers take the BlogHer conference's motto of "How are your blogs changing your world?" and ask instead, "How can students' blogs change their worlds?" And by "students," they mean anyone who might otherwise lack a voice.

In short, edubloggers show students and others how to democratize knowledge and participate in conversations about issues that are changing their worlds whether they like those changes or not. They are blogging evangelists because they believe in the power of blogs to transform education.

Business bloggers could take a page from edubloggers' insistence that instructors open up a forum for their students rather than trying to control content and message. For edubloggers, blogging is a reflexive practice constantly open to revision. That means transparency, being open to new directions, and for the love of all that is holy, giving up scripted presentations. (Microsoft Live Spaces and their shills, the ridiculously scripted and bubbly Be Janes, who presented prior to one of BlogHer's sessions, should take note. Dear Home Improvement Barbies: Women with the level of technical prowess in that room aren't likely to be cowed by a router. Hugs, Leslie)

Edubloggers can learn from biz bloggers, too

As much as the staunch liberal arts education purist in me would like to believe otherwise, many of our students haven't prioritized polishing their critical thinking skills and developing broader worldviews. Rather, they enrolled in college to prepare for the working world.

We might, then, take a page from the biz bloggers' books and teach our students the tips-n-tricks of business writing on the web. They can still write about Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde--they'll just be doing it in a concise, conversational tone with pithy yet informative headlines: "Seven Reasons to Sing the Body Electric." Who knows? Maybe they'll end up "selling" such poets to their metrophobic peers.

Of course, there already is a middle ground between the traffic hunger of the biz bloggers and the idealism of the edubloggers: the nonprofit blogosphere, where bloggers sell readers on worthy causes. There's another skill we could teach our students: how to advocate for others as well as for themselves.

What about you? Where do you fit in? How is your blog changing others' worlds?

P.S. Julie Meloni, the lit student and tech geek extraordinaire of No Fancy Name promises to write a series of posts on the conference, including one on "why more than a few bloggers who attended now feel incredibly ambivalent about blogging." Julie, you've piqued my interest, and I wonder if you're referring to any academic bloggers. Please share your thoughts!

Cross-posted at BlogHer.


Wag said...

Meeting you at BlogHer was a true highlight for me.

All I can say is that students need you to teach them and the world needs you thinking, researching and writing. Anywhere you interview, if they don't think "what can we offer her so she comes to our department" they are fools.

Anonymous said...

I like what you say about blogging as a reflexive practice - as process oriented!