I'm wondering how best to explore the user experience of blogs and how this experience might be understood in respect to the lms. I've been using Kathleen Gilroy's Blogware service for a course blog (http://brucespear.pingotter.com/blog
), and I've become fascinated with the phenomenology -- and I think that is the right word, of the transition from public to private spaces it affords.
First, there is the dynamic of the template and the stack as it is complicated by a group-based permissions system. Before you log on you are presented with the Main Page, the standard template and with public content, but when you lgo on this same template is then filled with the additional content of your enrolled groups stacked one on top of the other, without an indication of which group the posts are coming from. This is far different from logging on to .LRN and choosing houses (groups) and rooms (tabs and subgroups) and where each house and room is closed off to the rest. Instead, it is as if all the different community conversations going on in my head, like my email, are being added to -- pushed onto -- the top of a stack and the continuity comes not from the partition of spaces in the interface, but in my picking up on what is going on in my community and in my head in, basically, real time. Another way to put this is: instead of having to visit these different spaces, I've got a stack I can work my way down to where I left off.
Second, there is the dynamic of public and private for students who are not used to going public with their homework. In one class, the students are writing a short book review every week: I post an article, they post their reviews, I offer brief comments on their posts, sometimes they offer comments on posts, but there is not a lot of commenting/forum work going on: it seems to be enough that they "go public" -- it concentrates their minds, and when successful and in the context of what I like to think is a supportive classroom environment, they are going though a cycle of hazarding a post, finding it respected, gaining confidence (they are non-native speakers of English learning how to write academic English), and noting how others are completing and learning from the assignments, too.
At the start, I thought, well, this is not as successful as some of my class forums where, once they got into problem-solving, there could be dozens of posts by a dozen or so students in a working group in a week -- you know, lots of forum postings suggesting that there is online community and making my forums look like a happening place and making the technology look like it is being used and me look good having created a machine that would sorta run by itself. But not all classes and groups work what way. I began to realize that for many students it took some courage to make their work public (and we are still speaking of limited group access, you won't see their work on the blog until you log on), that unlike motor mouths like myself many of them are not ready to go on and on, and some of them can't handle too much criticism either, so that it might be quite enough to have made the step to make something public -- to put this as an understatement: that going public and building the confidence to do so has something to do with creativity and community and learning: that there is a moral dimension to posting.
Third, I put 3-4 related articles in folders named "Advice for Writers," "About Elearning," "Course Materials" and "Using This Blog" such that the private space where we are doing our work is framed with something public -- relevant articles by experts in the field and a couple by me, plus some interesting photos having nothing to do with the course for color and amusement. I thought of these files as setting up a limited, strategically-organized -- part class and part professional -- frame of reference in the manner of: "oh yeah, I gotta get my head into this world for long enough to get my homework done", and this is not trivial for students who are enrolled in six or more classes and are working and so experience the problem of "getting their heads into this space" maybe four times a week plus the 90 minute class itself. I would add that there must be something significant going on when I see a log of the last five people who logged on as so many breadcrumbs or traces reminding you that the site is alive and well, it includes a community, I recognize their first names ... and I'm writing for them!
Finally, this is leading me to a minimalist strategy: wanting to turn off all but one or two elements of functionality so we can concentrate on just a few basic course goals and concentrate on learning just a couple of things the online technology might do to master them. This blogging software not only makes web publishing easy for me and my students, but it puts elements together in unique ways and that comparisons of this uniqueness might best involve a detailed phenomenological description.