Happy Birthday to the Blog – Get to to Know the Culture of Blogging

In honor of the ten year birthday of blogs, here are the top five best online resources about the culture of blogging.  If you take the time to read and digest each of these you will have a good introductory understanding of blogging in digital culture.  Don’t expect simple articles in this list.  While these are not all academic sources, they are all deep and rich explorations and musings on the blogosphere.

‘Web Log’ Celebrates 10th Anniversary – A wonderful and informative NPR series on “the evolution of the blogosphere.”

A Portrait of the Internet’s New Storytellers (PEW Internet and American Life Project) from July 19, 2006 – This is a year and a half old, but provides some rich data about blogging culture.

Carlson Analytics – Blog Statistics and demographics – If you want a solid understanding of blogging in the digital world, take the time to work through this information.  This is a thorough and up-to-date introduction to blogs.  Don’t stop at the first page.  This takes you page by page through different topics about blogging (statistics, blogging types, tools and primers, community, journalism and politics, issues, law, dollars, enterprise blogging, genres, lingo, and more).

What’s the Ballyhoo about Blogs-  From the abstract:

“Ten librarians offer spontaneous, even off-the-cuff, opinions about the pros and cons of blogs and blogging. Are blogs a substitute for print communication or older electronic resources such as static Web pages and electronic discussion lists? What will the future hold for blogs and their content? The librarians reflect on these questions and describe their own use of blogs.”

This is a useful and thought-provoking piece.

Blogpulse – Now that you have read about blogs, you can use BlogPulse to begin your own research on worldwide blogs.  You can use tools on this site to identify and chart trends among bloggers around the world.  Is President Bush being blogged about more or less over the last two months?  Which is being blogged about more; Shiites, Sunnis, or Kurds?   Or here is my favorite feature.  You can use the  BlogPulse Conversation Tracker to watch stories travel through the blogosphere.  This lets you track the origin of a story as well as learn about how bloggers blog about other blog entries.

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Information Overload – Choose What is Better

A recent post to Slashdot pointed out a new article at Wired entitled, Researcher, Info Overload Costs Economy. This article described the predicted problem of the year for 2008, information overload. The article highlighted the overload of emails and the adverse impact upon business productivity. Jesdanun writes, “He estimates that such disruptions cost the U.S. economy $650 billion in 2006.”

Is the economy the only thing at risk? If you are able, think back to the days when you did not have the Internet at your beck and call. How was life different for you? In what ways has this immediate access to information improved your life? In what ways has it detracted from your quality of life or perhaps drawn you away from that which was more important? Have you ever experienced anxiety about your inability to keep up with the latest news and trends? Was this anxiety greater or less in the days prior to widespread access to the Internet?

I have probably already referenced this before, but it is worth repeating. In Technopoly, Neil Postman reminds us that what may be most important today is not necessarily learning how to use every technology, but rather to better understand how technology uses us. Unless we seek to hand over our lives, beliefs, time, energy, character, and legacy to the latest trends and technologies, we are wise to heed Postman’s words. Perhaps this is a timely article, as 2007 comes to an end and we begin to consider goals and priorities for the New Year. What will determine how each of us spends our time and energy in 2008?

I am reminded of an account in the Christian Scriptures where Jesus comes to the house of his friends in Bethany. There are two sisters, Mary and Martha. Martha, we are told, was very busy, occupied with all of the preparations that one might expect for such an honored guest and friend. Mary, on the other hand, sat with others at the feet of Jesus while he was teaching or perhaps sharing about his recent journey. Martha was not happy about this.

From Luke 10:

“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

As we consider the myriad of urgent tasks and pressing information of 2008, may we each choose what is better.

Christmas in Second Life

I didn’t spend more than ten minutes in Second Life today, only enough time to grab a quick screen capture. But on Sunday night I did spend an hour or two scanning for Christmas-related activities in Second Life. My quick scan revealed:

  • Dozens of Christmas-related sales (see image below)
  • Over 150 Christmas-related events
  • A wide variety of locations with Christmas decorations, including a few nice nativity scences (see image below)
  • A handful of Christmas parties scheduled, including one that gives prizes for the best costumes.
  • Some Christmas-related meetings from a few Christian groups
  • Second Life Churches adding Christmas decorations (See picture below from ALM CyberChurch)

What I had hoped to find were live nativity scenes, Christmas services, etc. I didn’t find any, although I only looked for an hour or two and they may have been announced only to members of a given group. I have visited many of the Second Life churches over the past year and attended several hosted events (including worship services). It is an interesting element of cyberculture, efforts to represent traditional and new strands of spirituality in the digital world.

Of course, Christmas is an interesting one. A central teaching surrounding Christmas is the Incarnation, God coming in the flesh. Think about that one for a moment- celebrations of the Incarnation in virtual worlds.


Christmas Sale


E-Learning Courses are Easier to Scrutinize

Secretary Spellings Encourages Greater Transparency and Accountability in Higher Education at the National Accreditation Meeting

This isn’t new, but it is important.  We’ve heard news about this movement for the past several years.  Spellings was talking about transparency in order “to provide families with valuable information about institutions so parents and
students can make informed education decisions.”  I remember Darcy Hardy mentioning something similar at the 2006 Distance Learning and Teaching Conference- that there is a growing demand for evidence that a higher education institution is actually resulting in student learning.  We want to know that a diploma means something and that students with that diploma actually have the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to be successful beyond college.  This growing trend to be more transparent about student learning outcomes as well as student performance after graduation is something that accrediting agencies will look for more and more in the upcoming years. 

I know that Spellings was talking about transparency on a University level, but this also leads me to think about transparency in a different way, on the course level, and simply transparency of the details of a given course for use by the instructor.  Consider a typical collaborative e-learning course.  Discussions, correspondence, instructional materials, and learning activities are captured, easily available for scrutiny during the course and after it is complete.  As an instructor/facilitator, I find this a priceless opportunity for careful review and discovery of what did and did not work.  If several students struggled with a particular unit or assessment, I can track activity levels of students, how frequently they logged in, and how much time was spent on a given activity.  This doesn’t work perfectly.  For example, if a student visits a page and simply prints it out rather than reading it online, then it may look as if the student only spent thirty seconds on the page, when they may have spent an hour.  Instructors can use all of this captured data for course improvement, research (granted all of the appropriate IRB measures), as well as interventions with individuals students who are struggling. 

The amount of data available for review is sometimes overwhelming.  Print off a single-spaced script of threaded discussions from a sixteen week graduate course with fifteen students and you are likely to have 300-500 pages.  And the fact that all of this data is in digital form allows you to engage in all sorts of discourse and content analyses. 

I realize that this is not really what Spellings was talking about.  But the ability to carefully review and scrutinize e-learning course quality is amazing.  When I have presented overviews of e-learning to groups who are skeptical that one can receive a good education online, I often encourage criticism and skepticism, but only if it is across the board, applied to all learning environments.  I explain that, “E-learning courses receive the scrutiny that all courses deserve.” 

While it is easier to review the details of an e-learning course, what Spellings is talking about is outcomes.  From the perspective of accrediting agencies and prospective families, they want to know if students are actually learning anything.  That can be demonstrated by end results, often without showing how they got there.  But I am too much of a process person to accept a set of numbers as an adequate measure.  I also want qualitative data.

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