Supporting Scholarship through Blogging

Why did George Siemens introduce Connectivism, his new theory of learning, in a blog post in place of a more traditional scholarly route (Siemens, 2004)? Does the medium of publication matter? Are we able to make our own judgements as to the validity and reliability of information that is available freely online or should we place more value on a work that is selected for publication in a peer-review journal than in a blog post? Is the peer-review process an indispensable quality control tool or does it discourage controversial or speculative views, teetering on the verge of censorship (Casadevall & Fang, 2009)? At time of writing, Google Scholar calculates that Siemen’s post has been cited in 4899 articles; does this suggest that the work has been received as credible, valid and authoritative? Or, perhaps it was because it was disseminated through an open, digital networked approach, bearing the hallmarks of digital scholarship in that it is discoverable (e.g. searchable on Google), accessible to all (e.g. not behind a paywall), and in a digital format (e.g. can be freely downloaded) (Weller, 2011). Yet, despite the arguments that technology can democratize and disrupt traditional scholarship practices by opening up opportunities among communities of people, there is a reluctance within academic circles to embrace digital scholarship (Greenhow, Robelia, & Hughes, 2009; Purdy & Walker, 2010).

Nevertheless, with the NMC Horizon Report: 2017 Library Edition predicting a one year or less adoption of digital scholarship technologies in Higher Education, digital scholarship may well be on the rise (Adams Becker et al., 2017). How might a digital, open and networked environment impact traditional scholarship? Specifically, how might K-12 schools embrace the change? What might be some of the opportunities and challenges? Using Boyer’s model of scholarship (1990) as framework, this work discusses how blogging might promote opportunities to practice scholarship in K-12 environment.

The intent of Boyer’s framework was to clearly define the work of the academic and comprises four overlapping scholarly functions, which are:

  • Discovery: original research that advances both human knowledge and contributes to the intellectual climate of a university. Examples of traditional scholarship of discovery might include internally or externally funded research projects, research papers, book chapters and books.
  • Integration: closely related to discovery, this is the need for scholars to give meaning to isolated facts and make connections across disciplines, placing specialties in a larger context. An example is the contrasting or combining results from different studies, known as meta-analysis (e.g. Hattie, 2009).
  • Application, where activities are directly tied and directly relate to the special fields of knowledge.
  • Finally, teaching, which is the responsibility of the scholar to share, and both “educate and entice future scholars” of what has been discovered (Boyer, 1990).

As this model has assisted faculty in achieving a positive culture of scholarship using a combination of traditional methods and digital technologies in Higher Education circles, (e.g. Forbes & White, 2012), perhaps it can help to promote the use of digital tools, such as a blog, to promote scholarship skills in a K-12 environment.

Boyer’s first scholarship, that of discovery, is the work that uncovers new knowledge in a specific area (Scanlon, 2012) through generating “patterns, compositions and ideas not clearly present before” (Greenhow et al., 2009, p. 49). Digital tools might offer new ways for students to discover new knowledge by creating an original product that provides a new reality; for example, a remix of multimedia into mashups or, perhaps, through a collaborative synthesis of ideas, such as students contributing to a wiki and organizing information (Greenhow et al., 2009; Starkey, 2011). Still, creation is not simply the reorganization of elements but calls for a unique or original production (Anderson et al., 2001); therefore, a challenge for schools might be to define what uniqueness is, for example is the creation unique for a particular student (e.g. “This is unique for John Adams”), or should it be unique for a group of students (e.g. “This is unique for fifth-graders”) (p.85)? In addition to providing access to creativity tools, such as video editing and wikis, and an abundance of multimodal media, perhaps YouTube and open source libraries, schools need to consider how to move students beyond the synthesis and organization of knowledge into a creative zone that results in the creation of new knowledge in the pursuit of scholarship.

Digital technologies provide ample opportunity for the scholarship of integration. Open publishing, for example manuscripts, provides a wider and deeper resource base for scholars (Scanlon, 2014) and embraces the concept of the “long tail” (Anderson, 2004) by allowing scholars to make interdisciplinary connections; by looking beyond the curated sets of papers in subject-specific journals and seeking out more obscure papers with smaller viewing figures, students can explore the unexpected collisions in distinct areas of study (Weller, 2011). The proliferation of open education sources and the increase of open-access repositories not only combats the financial constraints of purchasing resources but provides unlimited resources for students to explore (Adams Becker et al., 2017).

Placeholder pedagogy, where the placeholder is a “taggable, searchable, reconfigurable fragment of content . . .[that] stands alone as an expression of a thought, idea or moment” (Ross, 2012, p. 262) also provides opportunities for students to facilitate connections within and across subjects. Schools might promote concepts such as tagging in social media (e.g. Twitter, YouTube) and in blogs and wikis as well as social bookmarking tools (e.g. Diigo) and tools that visualize data (e.g.

Communication with colleagues in other fields can also lead to patterns that connect (Weller, 2011). Scanlon (2012) suggests that there are significant opportunities for change associated with the scholarship of application due to the abundance of online communication and collaboration practices, for example by taking advantage of networked communities that provide scholars with opportunities to “participate in wider global debates, with diverse audiences” (p. 14).

Blogging is leading to a new genre of academic writing (Kirkup, 2010) although it is commonly practiced by research students as academics struggle to find time to blog in addition to their requirement to publish papers to maintain the reputation of the intuition. Should schools promote the use of blogs with students? Returning to Siemens, what might his motivations be to use a blog? The affordances of microblogging, in the form of Twitter provided some insight to this question. Weller (personal communication, August 2017) suggested possible motivations to be his early enthusiasm to use it as a new medium, bypassing the traditional route; a sense of the medium is the message, “he wanted to convey the possibility of connections and so an article might not achieve this”; the perception that this route was more interesting that conventional academic measures, and lastly, that he could get feedback and work up into a publication later. Couros (personal communication, 18 August 2017) also suggested that the post was not aimed at the typical peer review as it didn’t provide evidence for the statements claimed and was “more of a statement of observations given the changes in the learning environment”. He adds that the claims while valid in a subjective sense, “are a perhaps a bit mushy on evidence” and noted that Siemens was more in the zone of “publish first, then proof” at a time when it was the normal way of doing things, “we just published, looked for feedback, and enjoyed the reprieve from peer review”. This example illustrates how communication tools can provide significant opportunities for personal inquiry and promote participatory practices.  In a school context, students may be encouraged to use blogs to share their work and seek feedback and to participate in global collaborative projects, such as Flat Connections (Lindsay, 2016). In addition to blogging, other participatory online tools schools might consider are microblogging (e.g. Twitter), wikis (e.g. Wikispaces) as well as collaborative platforms such as Flipgrid, Padlet and VoiceThread.

While discovery and integration of knowledge reflect investigation and synthesis, the application of knowledge is dynamic and bidirectional where practice and theory interact (Boyer, 1990). Academic examples include consulting and development of community activities in the field or industry that link with academic discipline and the application of theory in the field to real world problems. With the growing emphasis on developing stronger science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs, schools are breaking down the subject silos by engaging students in multi- and interdisciplinary learning which offers learners opportunities to make new connections by leading their own inquiry to explore and share knowledge, construct answers to questions, and creatively design solutions to real-world problems. STEM programs therefore provide further opportunities not just for the scholarship of discovery and integration, but also for the scholarship of application (Freeman, Adams Becker, Cummins, Davis, & Hall Giesinger, 2017).

Despite our students being referred to as “digital natives” (Prensky, 2001) or the “Net Generation” (Tapscott, 2012, 1.07) and appear to be fearless of technology (Jones & Czerniewicz, 2010), there are numerous claims of gaps in their digital knowledge and skills (e.g. Haste, 2009; Ito et al., 2013; Thomas & Brown, 2011). An illustration of this comes from the research conducted by Stanford University that highlights students’ inability to judge the credibility of daily news and information suggesting that “despite their fluency with social media, many students are unaware of basic conventions for identifying verified digital information” (Donald, 2016, para 17). The challenge for schools is to ensure that instructors/teachers, and students, are knowledgeable and proficient in the use of digital tools and research-based best practices, and able to encourage learners in participatory online practices (Greenhow & Gleason, 2014).  If teachers are to guide students, then they must participate in order to build serious online lives, for example, through developing online communities of practice and cultivating social and professional connections. By building an online network of resources, colleagues and through authorship, teachers will be able to “authoritatively distinguish between the hype and the potential” (Greenhow et al., 2009, p. 254) and model effective uses of digital tools for students.

Still, a consideration is the ability for students to develop and maintain rich connections across the many disciplines that they study. Scholars have a narrow and deep focus, often in a singular area, allowing for rich, focused professional learning networks; this may be the case for teachers in specialist subjects. Students, on the other hand, generally engage in range of disciplines which may provide challenges in terms of online participation, developing and maintaining connections in a number of learning networks. One strategy may be the use of a team or class blog that will support a range of scholarly functions provided that the scope and membership is wide enough to maintain diversity of interest and narrow enough to maintain focus (Garcia, Elbeltagi, Brown, & Dungay, 2015; Xie, Ke, & Sharma, 2010). A team blog, as opposed to an individual student or teacher blog, allows small groups to contribute to the blog and respond to comments, which in turn promotes a sense of community through shared responsibilities among students. Additionally, students can share their connections through the blog using an RSS feed, a blog role and through promotion of their posts, they can help build a communal class network. The blog also promotes the scholarship of the learner by firmly shifting the role of students from passive receivers of information to active participants in their learning through the sharing and debating their newly found knowledge and explorations (O’Byrne & Murrell, 2014).

Through this exploration of scholarship, the blog appears to be a versatile and all-encompassing tool in its support for all four interlocking scholarships: discovery, integration, application and teaching. Although Boyer (1990) distinguishes between integration and discovery by asking “what is to be known [integration], what is yet to be found [discovery]?” (p 19), the blog supports dualism of discovery and integration allowing scholars to both connect and share ideas. The discussion facilitated by the direct messaging function on Twitter on Siemens’ rationale for the medium of publication certainly gives credence the power of participation and demonstrates how digital scholarship techniques can lead to advancing the state of knowledge of the learner, in this case perhaps ‘the reprieve from peer review’ (A Couros, personal communication, 18 August 2017). The blog supports the scholarship of application by engaging individuals to produce ideas and solutions demonstrating the iterative and never-ending cycle of inquiry which promotes a culture of lifelong learning (Veletsianos & Kimmons, 2012). And, finally, the blog supports the scholarship of teaching by allowing scholars to extend beyond their research to include teaching endeavors which are shared and accessed beyond the lecture hall and the walls of the classroom (Hildebrandt & Couros, 2016). Without teaching, Boyer (1990) argues, “the continuity of knowledge will be broken and the store of human knowledge is dangerously diminished” (p. 23). After all, if a blog post supported Siemens’ communication needs, then perhaps this medium is a good start for our students.




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3 thoughts on “Supporting Scholarship through Blogging

  1. Tricia Friedman

    Wow, Madeleine–this brought together so many different things I’ve been juggling with as we move towards a more intentional networking of students at my school. I’ve also thought of Goodreads as a great micro-blogging (or blogpost drafting) tool, wrote about that here:

    The scholarship, and the learning from one another demands schools investing time and energy in making space for those connections to be made. It is easy to assign reading and commenting ‘for homework,’ but I’ve long found that to be ineffective. In my experience students (and teachers) need to be guided through direct protocols to help them give feedback that matters, and understand ways of digging into a post. I think the potential for us around the class blog notion you bring up is coming through our service learning.

    This year we are launching blogs for each of our GCs (Global Concern Teams), and I’m very excited to see what they do with those digital spaces. I’m hoping to see Blog Action Day comeback this year–or perhaps between our schools would could facilitate something focused at DP students and interests? Or better yet–could network our students to lead it?

  2. Lisa Nash

    Hi Madeleine, I was interested in your interpretation path for this paper from the start as I have always been a big advocate of blogging. We can see from your example of seeking feedback from Couros and Weller that application is so important in the Boyer process, and I feel that this is the area that is often lacking in blogging in schools. Real world application is needed. Could not let this second last assessment go without acknowledging publically your ongoing inspiration and always thought provoking and well considered pieces of writing that have enhanced my learning journey in this course. Regards Lisa

  3. joe

    Hi Madeline,
    I wonder a lot about these kinds of things too. How important is it to connect to grow? After COETAIL, I thought connectivism was critical for growth, and then I wondered if it could be limiting. Like you noted at times there is a huge pressure to write a blog when there are so many other things to do. Then I started thinking about sense of place development and environmental education and how important it was to actually listen to yourself without wondering about some sort of extrinsic response.

    I fully agree that blogs support discovery and integration, especially when we link in the idea of team blogs like you mentioned.

    Working with blogs (for me) helps narrow my thoughts and gives me a chance to be accountable for my reflections, I do discover (perhaps not as much as before) but it’s more of an inward journey that mimics being outward.

    Anyway, those points particularly resonated with me. Especially the development and maintenance of rich relationships.

    Thanks for your insight.

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