James Farmer suggests two ways in which educational blogging as a widespread activity may be effectively killed: 1. University-created blogging systems and 2. Courseware-integrated systems.
I’m less concerned about the first. We started a school-level blogging server about two years ago now (what has evolved into Schoolof.info), using first Moveable Type and then WordPress. I think that’s the most likely way for enlightened universities to go.
But I’ve been ringing the bell on number 2 there for a while, and no one seems to be interested. Last year at the Social Software in the Academy Workshop I mentioned it a couple of times, and it just wasn’t sexy enough for blog-boosters to take notice. But really, it is important.
There is a finite amount of time (and it is nearly over) in which we can define what blogging is and what it is about before one of the major coursware companies adopt a blogging product. When it happens, it will almost certainly be closed to the outside community (or at least hard to find), and will — because it is integrated with the university systems — lose some significant degree of its “bloginess.”
(As a side note, perhaps I am overly cynical, but I find this “gee-wiz” posting from Blackboard highly suspect. More than a year ago, I was approached by someone on our campus who was helping put together a blogging advisory panel for Blackboard so that they could integrate a blogging tool into their software. I was happy to help, if only to avoid what was suggested as the most expedient route, shifting one of their existing, rarely-used features, to make it more like a “blog.” I haven’t heard again about this panel, but I suspect that the blog entry is more of a pre-marketing push than anything else. )
Even if it isn’t “mandated” (and I don’t think that’s the norm for most universities), it will be “expected.” When all the students are using a UB blog, they are not going to understand why you want them to use something else, and you aren’t going to be able to unteach them the bad habits brought by the centralized system. You will just be “that weird guy that makes us use weird software.”
This is more than a mild concern, it is virtually an inevitability. I only wish more of those out there boosting the role of blogs in education would see the threat and try to derail it.
There are three ways to derail it. The first is to make blogging software incredibly easy to install and use (no, it’s only easy now because you are a geek), and provide patterns of use by average faculty who hate technology. The second is to get everyone to use Blogger. I would have never suggested this a year ago, but I increasingly think that may be a good way to go.
Finally, recognize that these courseware systems are here for the long run and do everything possible to make their offerings suck minimally. That means making sure that they are by default open to the world, and that they provide RSS. Ideally, they should also be hackable, if only via highly extensive APIs. But this idea is antithetical to most courseware systems, and to most university IT departments.