Blogging in Their Own Words is a short film in which secondary school students in the US respond to the different types of blogging their teacher has required them to practise.
They seem to like it and find it helpful. But their responses give them away as – and this isn’t intended to be insulting – naive users with low expectations – none of the advantages and positive qualities either the students or the teachers identify for blogging are unique to blogging, and actually some of them are better found elsewhere. One thing I find slightly mystifying is that they’re not using discussion forums – mystifying because blogs are timebound, most recent post first – is this really the best way to organise student input? And also because although blogs are good for making individual presentations they are often poor at organising the ensuing discussion – again, if comments are presented in reverse chronological order it becomes impossible to follow any proliferating threads in the response. This kind of comment system makes blogs far inferior to discussion forums. The screenshots on the film show this – one post had 144 comments and the comments page shown was entirely flat – how are you going to find your way round that?
Blogging has a romantic appeal that discussion forums never had – in making a presentation you, common or garden citizen that you are, have a voice and people, if they respond, pay homage to you. Certainly, the layout and presentation on blogs is more conducive to an individual taking centre-stage – the preeminence of the blog post and the way it stands alone from the ensuing comments are different from merely starting and contributing to a discussion thread. There’s a hierarchy in which some voices are given emphasis over others.
That isn’t bad in itself – but part of this emphasis is an inadvertant function of the bad handling, common to much off-the-shelf blog software, of comments. Moodle’s (for instance, but there are many others) discussion forums are very helpful for getting the measure of a conversation topographically (visually). The indented threading option, combined with the ready processing afforded by each contributor’s graphical icon (as opposed to textual name) allows readers to gain an overview of the discussion, and follow arguments and/or the development of individual contributions in a way that most blog software still doesn’t. But what Moodle doesn’t do is allow commenters to reply (formally, I mean, so that a link is created) to more than one post at once – this almost certainly interferes with a learner’s ease of synthesising and weaving what is coming out of the conversation.
Another thing that most blog software has yet to offer, Moodle also allows rating of comments; in a discussion with Andrea about this he mentioned the emerging idea of inter-platform ‘kudos’ – the sum of your comments’ ratings which, with the advent of Open ID, you can carry with you between different environments. This echoes the Technorati approach to calculating ‘authority’, and accordingly is fraught with all the hazards and pitfalls of the Technorati approach – bias to the norm, bias against complexity, etc. However, it may work well in an educational environment where there is an ethos of risk-taking or experimentation in discussions, and I dare say there is research on this I’ve yet to read.
Here is an alternative (2005) response to the problem of responding to more than one post at once, which is addressed by prompting commenters to list the post (or posts – can be more than one) which inspired their comment and, if their comment inspires further posts, automatically updates the post links to the posts they inspired. Clicking the names takes you to the post. I don’t know how you link your comment to your post because the blog is no longer active. This approach is a bit disorientating (in all the jumping around you’re not sure if you’ve missed something important) and what it doesn’t do which is so important, and which Moodle and Digg do so nicely, is show you the shape and extent of a thread.
I await more alternatives with anticipation.