This chapter discusses, from a student’s perspective, the benefits of integrating student academic blogging in traditional academic pursuits

. It first provides a definition for academic blogging and how it deviates from personal blogging and then discusses the student author’s experiences blogging on field research conducted in Ghana and India over the course of three years. The chapter then describes a framework of three C’s: Consume, Create, and Connect, to assist educators and students in organizing content for academic blogs. Next, specific benefits this new medium presents are identified, and last, important limitations and new questions are posed that need to be considered moving forward. Class or subject area: Any Subject Grade level(s): Middle School and Above Specific learning objectives: By the end of this chapter, the reader will: • Have a working understanding of the possible benefits of academic blogging • Be able to define the term “academic blogging” • See, from a student’s perspective, how blogging can enhance traditional academic endeavors. A framework is presented to help educators integrate academic blogging in the classroom to help students organize and document their learning journey. • Identify important questions posed about the new medium of academic blogging moving forward For the students pursuing academic blogging, this posed framework will: • Assist students in organizing thoughts and representing material they are consuming in the classroom • Facilitate creativity • Teach students how to connect with a larger, immediate audience outside the limited walls of the school.

Author Biography: Rachel Rueckert is working as an elementary school teacher with Teach for America in Massachusetts and is pursuing a masters of education from Boston University. She hails from Sandy, Utah, and studied English and anthropology at Brigham Young University, receiving her BA in April 2012. More information on her work can be found at www.obrunithroughghana.blogspot.com or www.rachelspassagetoindia.blogspot.com. Activity Summary

Anniversary Book Project

5th

The Benefits of Academic Blogging From a Student’s Perspective
By: Rachel Rueckert Creative Commons License: CC BY Author contact: rachelkrueckert@gmail.com

Who knew that two years after I returned from my field study in Ghana, Africa, more than 20,000 people—individuals from the UK, South Korea, Bulgaria, India, Slovenia, Germany, Brazil, and even Italy— would still be interested in Akan Symbols, or my Twi Language Guide, or pictures I took of a traditional Ghanaian home? I sure didn’t. This is where my newfound enthusiasm and journey with academic blogging began. Emerging technology in the classroom, at least from my perspective as a university student, seems, unfortunately, to be treated Figure 1 as a hindrance to learning rather than an extension of it by most professors and policymakers. I say unfortunately because my personal experiences with the new frontier of academic blogging have been beyond helpful in my research process and in helping me reach my lofty career goals in education reform—and apparently my blog has also been helpful to those 20,000 other people who have found my posts useful for their varying interests. This chapter is for those who are still a bit skeptical about digital technology infecting the traditional model of education to show, from a student’s perspective, how I benefitted from combining conventional academia with academic blogging for three years of my undergraduate degree. I will first define what I mean by academic blogging, give a brief background on my blogging experience, share a framework I found useful for academic blogging, highlight the benefits I discovered, and last, raise important limitations I encountered that need to be addressed in the future. . What is Academic Blogging? Very little formal research has been collected on academic blogging, but when I say academic blogging I must differentiate between two types of blogging, student blogging and professional blogging. Each fulfill different purposes and appeals to different audiences, but I am more interested in student blogging. The term “academic” can also be also problematic, since blogging tends to shatter the

Figure 2

boundary between the public and private sphere, making it hard to draw a clear line between the two. The public/private blend is not bad though—people are generally more inclined to read a post containing some flavor of personality. However, what I do not mean by the term academic blogging is personal blogging without an academic framework. Academic blogs should have a basic theme, good organization (usually with labels, chronologic indexes, and pages), links, references to outside sources, quality writing, and they should also ask and pursue important questions, treating the learning process as a journey and as a new meaning-making process. To illustrate what I mean by organization, see Figure 2, a screenshot of the labels and time archive on the right of my academic Ghana blog. While personal blogging is a viable form of its own, this is not the type of blogging I am discussing in this chapter. For students, blogging can be an inseparable part of their learning and research experiences, a platform to assist them in traditional pursuits, but also a medium to stand alone as a portfolio and sphere that embodies their own academic voice. My Experience Blogging My conversion to academic blogging came my from three years of experience with the medium— writing blogs for two, independent field study experiences to Ghana and India doing summer research through my university. Each project was creative in nature, which proved difficult to frame in terms of conventional academia. Let me be the first to say that when I first started blogging I was apprehensive about the new medium as an appropriate companion to my serious research endeavors, though I was at a loss to find an alternative to support the various outlets I was interested in juggling—photography, multiple creative writing voices, video, homework assignments, and descriptive, ethnographic material. However, after my first field experience in Ghana, I realized how valuable my blog was to me as a learner. The blog itself became the final product of my research process, that word being key—process. Not only was I able to keep record of my thought development, I was able to allow those thoughts to continue long after any final, polished paper on my experience was turned in. The documented journey of my field work stands as a comprehensive portfolio of my work, containing parts I argue are just as valuable, and maybe even more valuable, than a polished, final research paper. Apparently others have found so as well, since my blogging has since helped me get two jobs (one of which was a teaching position), present at three academic conferences, and network on a global scale. It was well after my three months in Ghana that I discovered my work (particularly the anthropological material like local language guides, symbols, and informative descriptive notes) was receiving hundreds of hits weekly from a national and an international audience—a real audience, one completely new to me as a student who was used to writing papers for me and the one professor who might read it. Maybe. The thrill of a large audience made me excited about my work and blogging. This is why I decided to stop exploring and start seriously considering academic blogging as a core part of my second field study to Dharamsala, India. My India blog grew out of what my experiences blogging in Ghana. My Ghana blog taught me how to blog, which requires a different style of writing and takes time to learn. At first I struggled to make short, digestible posts that could stand alone, which is imperative for academic blogging, and perhaps why I had few hits early on in my research process. However, in retrospect I learned what blogs are capable of as a medium, like reaching an audience of 20,000. My success with blogging was not without a few pit falls in the learning process, but I decided to combat some of those challenges with new goals in my new blog. This second blog, a companion to my honors thesis, creative writing

project, was framed with three overarching goals: Consume, Create, and Connect. This was the framework I used to organize my work, and I feel it serves as a nice format for those interested in pursuing academic blogging. Consume Posts labeled as “Consume” highlighted my learning about others’ work as it related to my project—book reviews, local organizations, cultural insights, and other helpful resources. An example of a Consume post is shown in Figure 3, depicting my response to one of the twelve books I read for background research on India. Consume posts were where I soaked up information like students do in a traditional classroom, except these reviews are now readily available to benefit others. For the most part, Consume notes were the meat and potatoes of field work— descriptive notes about my surroundings and commentary on what I was taking in. They were valuable, as they are valuable to Figure 3 academia, but they are more meaningful when they can be shared and provide a foundation for the other two “C’s.” Create Post labeled as “Create” were more aesthetic in nature—some foundational material for my travel essays, character sketches of my yoga teacher, photographs of the Taj Mahal, etc. These posts allowed me to take what I was consuming and develop something new. I crave creativity in my learning because it helps me retain information by generating it in a way that is meaningful for me. By having Create posts, I was able to share what I was consuming in a more innovative way. These were crucial to finding the themes woven throughout my experience when it came time to write my personal essays. Connect This aim, “Connect,” was where I spend most of my energy for my India academic blog. While I did end up receiving massive amounts of page views on my Ghana blog, it was well after my research was over, which reduced the potential of benefitting from that live feedback. Connect posts commented on my efforts to try and reach a larger audience and make meaningful connections outside my limited sphere. My results were available to anyone on the internet. I tried to blog regularly in the field and continued to do so when I returned. By simultaneously documenting my learning journey and networking, I was able to share my ideas with hundreds of people interested in me and my work, and one author in particular highlighted me as a featured writer on her website. Having a live, interactive audience invested in what I was doing tailored my research and helped me craft better travel essays for my final, traditional thesis project. I argue this is the most valuable edge blogging has over conventional styles of classroom learning. What someone started caring about

what I was doing, I started to care more about what I was doing. Having a larger audience inspires students to own their education. And isn’t that an educators dream? Notable Benefits from Blogging This framework of the “three C’s” was helpful for me, and I believe it could benefit educators in the future who are trying to add focus and direction for new academic bloggers. Rather than focusing on material consumption, which seems to be the most obvious aim for academic research and writing, I was able to expand my efforts to the creative sphere, showing how I connected my ideas in a meaningful, new way, and also connect with a live audience. Here are some benefits I discovered from my personal experiences with academic blogging from the past three years: • Received Valuable, Immediate Feedback: As mentioned with Connect posts, by documenting my leaning process I benefited from the feedback of an immediate audience. Whether that was on revising an essay draft, giving me encouragement, responding thoughtfully to a book review, asking a good question, or coaching me when I was struggling (which, shockingly, does happen behind the scenes of research), it informed and refined my learning experience. • Held Accountable to a “Real” Audience: A live audience also kept me in check in the creative writing realm. Whatever I was documenting I had to remind myself that the people I was writing about had direct access to what I was writing. Would they agree with my portrayal of them and their culture? What would my Indian host grandma say if she read what I said about her food? I argue academic blogging makes individuals more sensitive to ethical representation. • Ethnographic Posts Received Most Hits: The Akan symbols, Twi Language Guide, and Ghanaian household pictures mentioned at the beginning of this chapter all qualified as “ethnographic posts.” Under the label Consume I documented my anthropological observations and posted them for others benefit. These ethnographic posts are by far the most widely viewed posts on my blogs. If someone found my post, even if they did not care about me or my research, they could still benefit from the fringes of my work.

Figure 4

• Networking: My attempts to connect with a global audience were successful, and through my efforts I connecting with hundreds of creative writers, travelers, and locals who were interested in my work. This kind of networking promotes discussion outside the classroom, now possible with academic blogging. • Enhanced Creative Writing: Particularly in India, the connections I built were instrumental in crafting (and pointing out) the themes and ideas contained in my collection of travel essays, which

made up my honors thesis. Rather than writing drafts in isolation, I posted them. I received ample feedback, which was terrifying at first, but ultimately it resulted in a better final product. • Appreciation: After awhile I noticed many of the comments on my blog were notes of appreciation. Readers—even natives to the cultures I was portraying—were expressing appreciation for the value of my work and how it helped them in their varying ways. One of many of these instances is illustrated in Figure 4. • Long-term discussion: Rather than viewing my learning experience as finite, ending as soon as I turned my final paper into a professor, I can keep posting to my blog and keep responding to ongoing comments. People can still benefit from what I learned and comment well after I returned home from the field. Limitations and New Questions to Ask While academic blogging and the emerging digital frontier are confronting traditional academic with serious questions and challenges, I do not agree they should be treated as a threat. However, new questions must be raised—questions I still do not have answers to. Here are a few I stumbled upon through my experiences blogging: • Takes Time to Learn: This is a new medium that requires new skills. It is not a matter of copying and pasting material into a public domain. It requires new thinking and time to figure out how to write for blogs. It also takes time to discover what style of blogging works from student to student. • New Medium: Like anything new, academic blogging poses new questions. We know very little about it, since we have little experience with it, and the medium needs to be further explored and researched. • No End?: Though I mentioned long-term discussion as a serious benefit to blogging, not having a finite end could be problematic as well. Posting should be done regularly, and what does it mean if there is no closure? • Academic Skepticism: Though blogs are always peer reviewed, they are not officially “peer reviewed.” Problems about accurate content could be a serious threat to academia. • Limitations on Traditional Publication: If traditional publishing is the intended end goal for research, posting research could limit those opportunities. Blogging can be done without posting the full draft and still yield helpful feedback, but in my case, where I posted everything, I am now limited in what I can traditionally publish, though there are alternative (and perhaps better) options widely available. Where Do We Go From Here? This fall I will take a job in an elementary school with Teach for America, helping students at an early age realize the possibilities digital media has for strengthening the traditional education system. From a student’s perspective, academic blogging has helped me own my learning while also helping me build a professional portfolio of valuable experiences, not just for me, but for those who stumble across my blog and are able to engage with it. Having an audience of 20,000, or networking on a global level, was never in my wildest dreams when I first started blogging, but it has empowered me as a student and increased my passion to enter education reform and help others see these notable benefits. Academic blogging, like other modes of social media, enables people to care more about their ideas, to realize learning is a process, and to take their ideas into the public sphere where we can all learn from each other.

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