I finished my undergraduate studies (unbelievably) ten years ago this spring. As I reflect on that experience, it is entirely possible I didn’t know what a blog was when I was an undergraduate student. Twitter existed though I wouldn’t learn of it until about 2008 and iPhones didn’t exist until several months after I graduated. Suffice to say, I did very little digital networked learning as an undergraduate. Since then, I have kept travel blogs, blogs on politics and current events, I’ve blogged for organizations, and I’ve blogged for academic purposes.
I enjoy the ability to easily, and without the gate-keeping of traditional publishing, put ideas out into the world. However, I think we should be clear-eyed about the revolutionary character of digital communications. Tom Peters, for example, wildly oversells blogging as something new and unique when he says: “No single thing in the last 15 years professionally has been more important to my life than blogging. It has changed my life, it has changed my perspective, it has changed my intellectual outlook, it has changed my emotional outlook…” Maybe I’m not doing it right, but my experience with blogging has been positive but not life-changing. Self and alternative publishing of heterodox views in the forms of handbills, newspapers, and “zines” has existed likely since at least the invention of the printing press.
Furthermore, platforms such as blogging offer potential for greater publicity but do not guarantee it. So while I agree with the notion one should “Work openly by default,” I have to quibble with the assertion that “An email reaches a much smaller number of people than a blog post. Unless it contains sensitive information, publish your work to a public URL that can be referenced by others.” A blog post has the potential to reach more people than an email but it does not necessarily do so in reality. Again, having blogged a fair amount, I know that it takes a lot of work to build even a small readership. I can email everyone in SPIA on a listserv, for example, reaching hundreds while many of my blog posts (sadly) have only been seen by 5-10 people.
Despite this tempering, digital platforms like blogging do seem to offer interesting new approaches to network learning. The idea of having students keep blogs and/or complete their writing assignments in a more public way is quite compelling. As Tim Hitchcock argues: “By forcing students to write ‘publicly’, their writing rapidly improves.” I know that working with editors on my writing has greatly improved it. The reflexive, back and forth process can clarify thoughts and create deeper argumentation. I have also found that answering questions on blog posts I have written can have a similar clarifying effect. I would certainly be open to incorporating strategies of public, “networked” assignments in courses I teach.
While blogging seems a strong platform for such an approach, alas, I am much more skeptical that “micro-blogging” such as Twitter would be a suitable venue. Twitter is great for sharing links to lengthier information (such as blog posts) but the times I’ve attempted to interact with people about ideas or events I’ve found the 140 character format much too limiting for complex thought and argumentation. Brevity, on Twitter, does not seem to be the soul of wit.