Inspired on the First Day

Inspired by people and enabled by technology. I believe we’re looking at a revolution in academic information sharing.

A good research topic might be to trace the history of the Blog and describe its evolution as a platform for discourse. I had my first blog in 2002, when I was a high school student and the cool thing to do was create a space to talk about ourselves and life in general.

Fast forward 15 years and blogging is making waves as a cutting edge tool for learning and engagement in the classroom. This year alone, I have had blogging requirements in 3 courses I have taken and a class blog is being developed in the course I am a research assistant for. There are so many different applications for blogs: hobbyists, artists, and poets need a place to share as much as any academic driven by their research. Maybe blogging’s most important benefit is that it provides a space for people to be able to share, collaborate, and discuss the things in their lives that they are most passionate about, as Tim Hitchcock, academic humanist, writes in his article about new technologies like blogs and Twitter benefit the academia. Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin gives a compelling argument in under two minutes in this interview with Tom Peters: there is no better time to be writing than right now. We could all use the practice at communicating ourselves. With a little bit of time and effort, anyone can develop a rich and detailed website.

But it’s more than that, there are droves of experts who have made their life’s work communications and how to utilize them effectively in these modern times.

One of my biggest blogging challenges is myself. I get in my own way, second-guessing and attempting to perfect every piece of writing before publishing. I often spend so much time worrying over how I am trying to make a point, that I waste valuable working minutes (hours) staring at a computer screen and a pile of hand-written notes. I would be better off to just get the words and ideas out–no matter how rough they are–and then take time afterwards to refine. It’s easier to edit if you have something TO edit.

While reading Doug Belshaw’s Working openly on the web: a manifesto I was thinking about my own challenges to blogging and I was surprised because this manifesto was so simplistic. In 3 short points, Belshaw sets up a recipe for effective writing online: 1 control your own digital capital, 2 work openly, 3 create content that both humans and machines can read. Here I am worrying about style, and there are experts who are advising for writers to consider robots who mine the internet for content. And then this got me thinking: what does a robot look for, anyways?

The first day of class was an amazing experience. I am beginning to think of teaching in new ways and we haven’t even dug deep into the course content yet! I see the trend in academia emphasizing blogs more and more–as well as other technologies–instead of solely relying on peer-reviewed published works, I see academics using these platforms as a way to jump right to the point, sharing ideas as they happen in near-real time. There are new, innovative ways to share information and study that are hitting the market every day. Take for instance, a tool designed to annotate the web! With this program, collaborators can take and share notes and ideas right on a webpage! This is the real beauty of Networked Learning, where technology allows students, faculty, and learners alike to all come together in the same sphere to read, comment, write, and share ideas-digitally.


  • A. Nelson says:

    “One of my biggest blogging challenges is myself. I get in my own way, second-guessing and attempting to perfect every piece of writing before publishing. I often spend so much time worrying over how I am trying to make a point, that I waste valuable working minutes (hours) staring at a computer screen and a pile of hand-written notes. I would be better off to just get the words and ideas out–no matter how rough they are–and then take time afterwards to refine. It’s easier to edit if you have something TO edit.” I hear you! I learned to write in an analog age in a discipline that values detail and polish. I haven’t been blogging nearly as long as you have (2002!?!), but I still find the more informal style both incredibly compelling and challenging. You should see how many partially written posts are lingering in draft on my dashboard!

    • Sara Lamb Harrell says:

      It’s good to know I’m not the only one who struggles with developing blog posts. (I have a bunch of partially written posts waiting to be finished as well!) I wish I could say that I have been continuously writing in a blog since 2002, but sadly, that’s not the case. I have periodically picked up blogging over the years (and always really liked doing it) but somehow, it has always gotten pushed out of the way to make room for other activities in my schedule. I’m hoping it sticks this time; it really is a rewarding activity!

      • kgculbertson says:

        I have more drafts than completed pieces in one of my personal/business blogs. I’m with you both and realize I have to get over the notion of an ‘ideal’ post (I avoid using the word ‘perfect’ generally) and work on making sure my blog posts are conversational and insightful. {Good luck to me!}
        Thanks to both of you for putting yourselves out there to share.
        Looking forward to more conversation both F2F and virtually.

  • Jyotsana says:

    Thank you for sharing Sara! I like your excitement as well as your tentativeness about blogging….hope by the end of this course you will feel much more confident channeling your thoughts into blogs. 🙂

    • Sara Lamb Harrell says:

      Thanks Jyotsana! That is the result I’m hoping for by the end of this semester! Blogging is challenging, but it is so rewarding also. I think that’s why I’m drawn to it. When I was a little girl, my mama always gave me journals to write in and so I have tried to stay in practice for as long as I can remember. Blogging in the age of the internet is such an exciting concept–we have the potential to reach anyone in the world! (What?!!) Anyway, it’s because the information is so open that I become a little anxious about word choice and how I’m communicating–I want my writing to be able to stand up on its own! 😀

  • mhjon88 says:

    I think it’s awesome that you’ve been blogging for so long. I’ve never had a blog other than ones that were required for classes. Do you feel like you blog differently when you’re writing for a personal blog than when you are writing for a school blog? I’d be interested to hear what you thought the similarities and differences were when writing for school or for yourself.

    • Sara Lamb Harrell says:

      Hey! Thank you for reading! That’s a good question. I would say that yes, my blogs are a little bit different depending on the context. But there’s also a time-factor in there as well.

      So when I was in high school, I can’t say that my blogs were that great–I was still a child trying to learn about the world and myself–so I bet if anyone could go and look, they’d find the topics were often juvenile and underdeveloped. (I say that because I have absolutely NO idea how to access my old Xanga account!)

      Other blogs I’ve had when I traveled and didn’t have a good way to communicate about my trip to my friends and family. Time constraints and no international minutes meant that blogging was the perfect medium for describing my classes, tours, and personal experiences. These posts were more academic perhaps because I created them concurrently with the travel-abroad program I was participating in and I often talked about landscape, architecture, design, and other topics related to my studies. At the same time, I also wrote a lot about how I was feeling and what I was thinking, so it was still one foot in the realm of prose. I can say with certainty that I wasn’t using quotes or citing literature in general, so there wasn’t that academic tone to it.

      Fast forward to today… I would say that this blog is definitely a blend of the academic and personal. I try to be very diligent with citing other people’s ideas and getting in the habit of linking to other works directly in the body of the post. When I can, I like to include pictures and other media to make the posts more interesting–using my own photography when I can, but citing/linking when I borrow from the work of others. (You’ll see in my birding-related posts on this blog that the pictures come from and I include a link in the bird’s name for the website with information about each species.)

      I will say that when I’m writing for academic reasons, I tend to think (agonize) over my work more than if it’s purely a personal post. I want to make sure I’m really right/offering good information or at least sounding good enough to be considered seriously among my peers and mentors.

      I believe that blogs can be both academic and personal at the same time. This blog/website is my way of offering to the world an opportunity to learn about me a little bit as well as letting people see a little snapshot of my academic and extracurricular interests. (For me, it wouldn’t be fun if it couldn’t have some flare!)

  • greicism says:

    Hi Sara, I enjoyed reading this! I just commented on another student’s post that got me thinking about the difficulty of networked learning when it comes to published writing in the world of academics, and your post keeps me on a similar train of thought. In my other comment, I was saying how we (in the Higher Ed program) often wonder what happens to all of the writings that graduate students publish that don’t appear in the most accessible or popular journals of our fields. Is that then wasted information? Most of our courses wouldn’t allow us to cite those works let alone encourage us to seek them out – so what is the point? But you give me hope! You wrote that you’ve noticed blogging become more popular over the years as a way to share ideas faster and to perhaps move away from a dependence on peer-reviewed writing. I certainly have noticed the blogging trend as I’ve had to do it for a handful of classes over the last year. But I do hope that it’s something educators are using to be helpful, and not just to be modern and on-trend. I also want to check out – thanks for sharing. I already feel that blogging in this class is going to be helpful rather than simply for the grade, looking forward to reading more from you!

    • Sara Lamb Harrell says:

      Thanks for reading! You bring up a really good point about graduate student work. I don’t think it’s wasted work; but there are a couple of things to consider. I do think the world of blogging is a great outlet for all of this graduate work that goes unseen/unread/unheard. Openly blogging as yourself is the first requirement. After that, it’s not so hard, you just have to be clear and thorough: offering references, citing other’s ideas, and including links to these works in the body of your own text. Then, as others read, they can quickly and easily go directly to the literature you’re referencing, saving precious research time and legwork. In this way blogging becomes a robust network with the power to connect students with each other based on interest. Taking advantage of the hashtag system that was popularized by social media: #contemporarypedagogy, #SPSSstatistics, #desintheory, and so forth, become an extremely effective tool for linking people who are curious about these topics. BUT. And here’s my only “but” (for now!) even though it is academic (student) work, I think that the peer-review process still has a place because other area-experts should be browsing, reading, and offering critique. I do think blogging academic work does have the potential to speed up the peer-review process because the work is presented in a way that is 1 easy to find & access, 2 openly written & openly cited, and 3 the platform integrates a comment box so that academics can have conversations about the work directly below the posts.

      And I agree with you: I think blogging requirements and expectations should be framed in a way that they help the student in their learning process. It can’t be done flippantly.

      I know this class will produce a lot of interesting and insightful discussions over the semester and I’m looking forward to the blogging experience with you (and everyone else) this semester!

  • qichao says:

    I don’t think spending time polishing your blogs is a waste of time. As you keep doing it, you will be able to do it faster and better.

    • Sara Lamb Harrell says:

      I completely agree! I try and challenge myself by writing more and more every day. The polishing is the “fun” part–the hard for me is just spitting the words out to begin with!

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