I have had an active blog since 2003. This must place me among the old-timers committing to this form of public writing. In this time, I have not really taken the time to comment on why I have made this a personal priority. The back to school season has prompted others to explain why blogging is a worthwhile activity for education. After reading a few of these posts or podcasts and after making a blog an assignment for my own grad class, I thought I would offer some comments based on my own experiences.
I try to personally explore social media recommendations for educators and their students. I do this as a matter of developing my own credibility. I cannot try everything I read about, but I have probably registered for and tried out a couple dozen “production” services. A few of these services have stuck. I wonder why I have persisted in some of these services for so many years. For example, why do I blog and not podcast. I lectured to hundreds of students at a time for nearly 40 years so recording audio and video might seem natural. I guess for me I find more personal benefit and satisfaction in writing. Writing (planning) can be an important initial step in real-time presenting and I think I enjoy this discovery and externalization process more than the presentation itself. I would rather write and discuss than present and discuss.
I enjoy the challenge of sitting down with only a vague idea and trying to create something concrete. There is some magic in this process. I am not usually certain where what I write will end up. The process itself interests me. I know others do not write in this fashion and my approach may violate certain tenants of planning. Blogging allows exploration in a way that other products I write do not. Blogging is likely a productive first step that shapes my position on things and provides a background for other things I do.
The concept of “externalization” has become important in my thinking about learning. Writing is a form of externalization. So is teaching. My work investigating the role of metacognition in reading comprehension and studying have convinced me that the evaluation of personal understanding tends to be lazy. We tend to be satisfied with a certain level of vagueness and can easily gloss over blank spots in understanding. Having to put knowledge into action reveals the limitations of vagueness. I know educators like to promote “reflection” as a way to test and build personal understanding. Reflection is one of those educational terms that should be made more concrete. I recognize that reflection can be accomplished without externalization, but I find it more personally productive to make such processes more concrete. Your written product is pretty concrete – it either exists or it does not.
Is blogging worth the time required? This is difficult to know. I have engaged in the activity while I was working and also now that I am retired. Blogging is a by-product of things I do anyway. I still spend a lot of time reading and considering the value of content for my teaching or writing. The time I spend blogging is usually related to these exploratory activities so the additional time to generate a post is not completely independent.
What blogging for me is not.
Blogging is not a daily ritual. While there is a great deal of inertia once you have made a multi-year commitment to a process, I blog when I have an idea I want to explore and when I have the time. I once made a commitment to a 365 photo project (take and post a photo each day). I completed the personal commitment because I tend to be very stubborn when I make a commitment. I did not make the commitment to do another 365 project.
I do not look at blogging as a way to generate income. Google ads do appear on my blogs. I do this more for reasons of curiosity and principle. I am curious about the return on public scholarship and whether ad revenue is a credible way for professional educators to generate income. For me, it is not a meaningful way to generate revenue. I might do better if I spent more of my time focusing on tutorials and ideas for the classroom. I write about a wide variety of things because I have a wide variety of interests. Strangely, my youtube efforts while few do generate more income. Most of these are tutorials.
Some blog as a way to promote a secondary way to generate income. Many educational speakers fall into this category. In the early days of my blogging, I did look at blogging as a way to supplement our textbook. This was more an effort to offer updates than to generate revenue by way of promotion. We no longer write for a big major textbook provider and have more independence in how we think about the connection between a textbook and related resources. Blogging has little to do with the online connection to the textbook because we provide free resources in other ways.
My antagonism toward those who use ad blockers is an example of what I mean by principle. I believe there is a certain agreement between those who generate content and those who voluntarily consume this content. Those who make the effort to generate the content should be allowed to establish the conditions for the consumption of the content. Unless viewing of specific content is required (as it might be if assigned in a course), blocking ads seems a selfish act that I believe will have long-term consequences.
So, I am a fan of blogging. I find it a reasonable way to explore ideas and I offer these ideas with the hope I can stimulate thinking (and perhaps writing) in others.