Saturday, July 11, 2015

What's a Blog?

A Response to Lankshear & Knobel, New Literacies, Chapter 5

I remember my wife asking me that, 9 years and about 8,200 posts ago.

I was excited about reading Chapter 5 because it explored certain literacy practices with which I am very familiar - blogs, wikis, and Google Docs. It occurred to me that these are the practices that the teachers in my school are also most familiar with. I have created almost a dozen blogs for me and my wife over the years. They serve many different purposes: as notebooks, as publications (of text and imagery), as websites, as stores of information, as advertising and promotion, as grad school portfolio. Interestingly, none of our blogs employs a participatory or collaborative configuration.

Almost a decade ago, during the financial crisis and Great Recession, I discovered the world of economics blogging. Blogging has become the primary way that economists try to have their voices heard. This econoblogosphere ranges from the political left to the political right, from academic economists to political advisers to financiers. There is the salt-water - fresh-water rivalry, Keynes vs. Hayek, macro and micro economics, history and philosophy. It is a remarkably lively community. A prominent blogger is the Princeton professor and Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman, blogging for the New York Times. He writes that the traditional process of economic discourse through journal publication lost its relevance 25 years ago. It was first replaced by an informal publication process called white papers, and eventually replaced by the much nimbler Internet in the form of blogging.
Does this new, amorphous system work? Yes! In just the past few years we’ve had what I’d consider three classic economic debates — on the effects of monetary expansion at the zero lower bound, on fiscal multipliers and austerity, on the effects of high debt ratios; the emergence of major new themes involving issues like private-sector leverage and the need for safe assets; and more, all strongly informed by data (The Facebooking of Economics, 17 December 2013).
Here are links to two blog posts he wrote on this topic: Open Science And The Econoblogosphere, and The Facebooking of Economics.

Lankshear and Knobel wrote in great detail of a fan blog called Blogging Project Runway. It was fascinating to see how the blog changed so profoundly over time and yet was still recognizable as "a blog." One aspect of the blog and its relationship to the television show disturbed me, and I was surprised that Lankshear and Knobel did not bring it up. I noticed how much the television show was benefiting financially from the blog, and wondered if the blog was benefiting as well from its relationship to the television show. Was the relationship symbiotic, or were the blog owners and writers effectively working for the television show, and for little money at that? When does a participatory configuration unwittingly become hijacked by a proprietary one? Lankshear and Knobel did mention this dynamic earlier in Chapter 3 (p. 81).

There were a few more points that stood out for me in this chapter. I was intrigued by the exploration of the idea of collaboration in the context of wikis. Different literacy practices tend to get lumped under the broad category of collaboration but need to be more clearly explicated (p. 161ff).

I have had the opportunity to participate at length in a forum associated with a computer program called Celestia. The forum is defunct now, but I recognized myself in the description of how a wiki participant can transform from novice consumer to collaborator (p. 162). (I did wonder why Lankshear and Knobel did not address forums as a literacy practice.)

I was struck by the idea of a kind of knowledge that is produced at the level of the community, and the role of "boundary spanners (Halatchliyski et al.)" as mentors and mediators in this process (p. 164ff).

I have never created or participated in a wiki (except as a consumer, like with Wikipedia), but I have seen wikis created by physics teachers and students, and have been curious about it. The opportunity exists in my school, and a few teachers there have created wikis - so maybe now I'll finally explore what they have been doing.


  1. Good Morning,

    I enjoyed reading your response because I took a similar approach. While I was reading I was thinking about if and how I might create a wiki for my classroom, but decided to might be too complicated for 3rd graders, especially because I am unfamiliar with wikis too. If you create one, let me know how it goes :)
    I like how you questioned the Project Runway section and the finances around it, I hadn't thought about that while I was reading, but you're right the show had to have made money off that blog! I wonder if we got the whole story??

    1. Do not underestimate the ability for children to 'self teach' especially when it comes to technology and the internet. Challenge them, they will rise to the occasion!

    2. Thanks for reading! I think it would be a blast to see what third-graders could do with a wiki. But yes, you (and I both) need to become "literate" first.

    3. I never underestimate my not so little 3rd graders but since I don't know much about wikis myself, I would hate to throw them in with out adequate support. I would like to play around with them myself first before I have them create something. Or maybe we can all learn together!! It is good for kids to see teachers struggle too :)

  2. William,
    Great post and interesting synthesis with economics. I would like to respond to two things you brought up in your response that interested me.

    1. "It occurred to me that these are the practices that the teachers in my school are also most familiar with."

    I have the opposite experience at the school where I teach (two year technical college). Mostly, the broader literacies of ‘things on the internet’ are unseen and or un-utilized by instructors. However, I will say we are adept at being current with software, which seems to be the focus instead of blogs or wikis or even Google Docs. I still see students in my classes working in Excel spreadsheets when they would be better served to work in Google Docs because of the ability to work on their spreadsheets in the lab, or at home, or in transport, etc. along with the auto-save function. This is because we have MS Office on the computers at school and the teachers of other classes show them how to make spreadsheets in this software. More interestingly, when I see students working in MS Office, or they complain about losing their work, or leaving their work at home, I ask, “Why not use Google Docs?” And they reply “What’s that?” This tells me that students coming into my class from high school are not using google docs and probably are not exposed to a great many things on the internet which would be useful for them to practice before they enter college. For me this makes me concerned that, firstly, K-12 has not prepared students for ‘new literacies’ that make the students functional, and two, the instructors are also not versed to promote usage of these ‘new literacies.’ Of course, these are generalizations from my experience, but every semester, I run into students that have ‘lost files’ and I have to explain Google Docs to them so they no longer have an excuse for late homework. ;)

    2. "When does a participatory configuration unwittingly become hijacked by a proprietary one?"

    What’s interesting, is that with these ‘new’ platforms for social engagement there are many people or entities that are able to make profit from them. I think many people use Facebook or Twitter but perhaps they do not have the concept of how these platforms are monetized? The same goes for blogs. I noticed a couple fellow students in our class have ads turned on in their blogs. Are they making any profits or did they unwittingly let another ‘entity(s)’ hijack their blog to turn profits? Is this appropriate for this course? Are they more open to ‘copyright infringement’ of remixed works if they are making profit from ads on their blog that features the remixes?

    And you are right, the participants in the blogging community empowered Project Runway to engage with their fans, yet the fans in the blogging community may not receive any profit from this. It does appear that Project Runway did ‘hijack’ or at least utilize their fan communities to make additional profits. But perhaps some ‘aware’ bloggers were able to monetize their blogs with ads which then they were able to make profits from blogging about Project Runway?

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response Kirk. I am fortunate that the teachers in my school are perhaps more savvy with technology than the average. And our administrators, while not savvy themselves, are gung-ho to have the teachers get up to speed. So there's a lot of support.

      It's the linkage from Google Docs (we have MS Office 365, too) and wikis to the world of social media that seems to be missing. I'm glad that we're using Twitter so much this semester, because I think it's a great way to create that linkage. I asked my students once if any teachers had them access material online. The students mentioned a few who were using Google Docs, Moodle, and wikis. I then asked the students how often they accessed these sites, and they said never, unless they were required to. So I asked what would they be willing to visit. Pretty much Facebook and Twitter - in other words, sites that they already visit willingly. So I think the trick might be to use Facebook and Twitter (and Remind) to point to the wikis and Google Docs.

      Just as students have replaced their computers with smartphones, they've replaced websites with apps. So their practices don't line up at all with the practices of the teachers.

  3. Hi William,

    I enjoyed reading your response, as I was reading it I was thinking about how much wikis and blogs have changed throughout their development. I remember a time where blogs and wikis were often discredited, especially in schools. However, from my experience I am seeing education take more value in their possibilities! Though, I think this may be a battle between new and old educators to understand the value!

  4. Hi Bill-
    I enjoyed reading your post on chapter 5. You have an interesting point about the relationships between blogs and t.v. shows that could benefit financially. I am not very literate in the way of wikis and their usage besides Wikipedia. If a wiki could work like a forum I think it could be very useful. I have found forums very useful for troubleshooting electrical/mechanical repairs that I and/or repair people could not solve. I like the search feature within forums to search for discussion threads of problems and potential solutions. The power of many minds working
    together can be very useful.