If we're going to think seriously about how to use blogs as tools for teaching and learning, it seems to me that it may be useful to differentiate between crafting a successful blogpost, developing a successful blog, and being a skilled blogger.
Successful blog posts
Here's an example of a successful blogpost, on a blog called "neologophilia," that identifies a gulf between the new National Writing Standards and the actual skills required to write well: We Interrupt This Writing Process... It's a smart, well supported, and articulate argument, supported effectively through the use of hyperlinks and development of ideas; but the blog itself appears to be dead in the water: The writer published only seven posts in eight months (all of which were excellent, btw), and the last post went life a full two months ago. No audience has the patience to stick around through gaps that big.
Here's an example of a successful blog that contains a mix of successful, moderately successful, and far less successful posts: Ironicus Maximus, which uses as its anchor this quote by the Rev. Ray Mummert: ""We've been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture." The bog focuses on politics and social issues, attacking lameness with irony and precision. It's one of the smartest, wittiest, and most subtly hilarious blogs I've read, and the author has kept it running for over four years. Not every post is of equally high quality, but when you're tossing up an average of just under 240 posts a year, you get some wiggle room in this respect.
Here's an example of a skilled blogger: Media Nation, run by Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy. Kennedy keeps a clean, well ordered, and regularly updated blog, and it attracts a wide and active reading public. Because of his relative celebrity as a media analyst (and his participation in a range of communities, including writing for The Guardian, CommonWealth Magazine, and the Boston Phoenix), he gets some of his readers for free. But Kennedy also works hard to cultivate his readership. He posts regularly, responds to nearly every comment on his posts, and places himself squarely inside of a network of blogs and bloggers who write and think about the issues he grapples with. He serves as an ideal intelligent filter, pointing readers to links of potential interest both in his blog and through his Twitter feed.
Kennedy has built his growing readership by going far beyond shamelessly trolling for readers. He offers himself up as a trustworthy source for others and refuses to engage with the traditional broadcast style of reportage that news sites and some blogs still promote. In short, Kennedy is a skilled blogger because he understands and engages with the largely unspoken norms of being a blogger.
Lots of really good blogs are maintained by people who publish beautiful, articulate, and engaging posts but clearly miss the boat when it comes to the norms of blogging. Being a skilled blogger takes time, and not all of that time is devoted to simply drafting new blogposts. Skilled bloggers engage with other blogs. They read like crazy, comment like crazy, hyperlink like crazy. They feel a deep responsibility to their reading public and to other bloggers within their thematic sphere. They're self-promoting fiends, sure, but they also promote, criticize, and filter the ideas of others.
In a future post, I plan to explore how four different types of engagement--procedural, conceptual, critical, and consequential--align with the requirements for publishing a successful blogpost, keeping a successful blog, and being a skilled blogger; for now, because this post is getting way too long as it is, I want to offer a provisional description of the features of each:
Features of a successful blog post
- A well organized argument or main point, supported through the use of hyperlinks and multimedia materials (video, sound, images)
- A clear, unified voice that is appropriate for the intended reading public
- A title that links clearly to the content of the post
Features of a successful blog
- Short, concise posts that use multimedia materials (video, images) to effectively make a point
- Effective use of hyperlinks to support ideas, to direct readers to relevant, interesting posts, and to demonstrate an awareness of the community of writers focusing on a common theme or set of ideas
- A clear, unified voice that continues to grow and develop over time
Qualities of a skilled blogger
- Ability to quickly synthesize and articulate ideas
- An awareness of a wide range of blogging techniques and of how these various techniques reach different target audiences effectively or ineffectively
- Reading with mouse in hand: Engaging with (online and offline) materials as potential material for blogposts
- Willingness to serve as an intelligent filter for a wide public audience
- Engagement with the wider blogging community, including offering thoughtful comments on others’ writing and reading widely and broadly
This is far from an exhaustive list, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on how to build on, reshape, or refine the categories above. My next post, I'm pretty sure, will focus on assessment strategies across these categories--so input would be most welcome.