No Fancy Name
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
blogher: on conference sessions, and edublogging in particular
[edited to add: here are links to all my BlogHer posts]

In the interest of full disclosure before I start rambling on about conference sessions, I should note that I didn't go to Day 1 because we were working on a content launch thing for a client. I had originally planned to be there, and had volunteered to be a roaming gnome helper person for the Blog in a Box/basics for the beginning blogger session, since it seemed natural to help out given I wrote a book on the topic, but I had to bail when I realized Day 1 was on a workday with a project slated for completion. My bad.

The only session I wanted to attend was tagging, tracking & structured blogging, because I have definite thoughts on the topic and multiple answers to the question(s) that Elisa posed (in the link above) when she says, "I hear all this talk about structured blogging and microformats...and am loathe to admit that I don't really get what they are, how I would use them or why I should care." I firmly believe it's a case of a very simple concept made overly complicated because so many people are talking about different variations on theme without providing context, specificity, or listening to confused conversation participants. But my thoughts are probably best saved for another post on another day. No other sessions were of interest to me, because they're either things I already know how to do (technical things), or things I have zero interest doing (monetization, for instance). Conceptually, I think the subject matter intended for coverage by the sessions on Day 1 was totally appropriate for a set of bloggers of various skill levels and interests.

But as with any conference session concerning hands-on things, each of these sessions could easily be a semester-long class, or a six-session asynchronous class, or at the very least a full-day workshop at the local community center/community college. I've seen Liz Henry (I never know which of her gajillion blogs to link to when referencing her in general) bat around the idea of a teaching classes at local community centers and such, every now and again on her blog. Liz, like I told you: have the second part of the thought and ideas can move in an actual direction toward fruition! :)

On Day 2, I went to the welcome session, the opening discussion, the Edublogging session, and the "Transforming Your Life" session. I admit that Geeky Mom and I left the conference for a bit as I took her to The Wine Club. Wine Club is cool.

So let's talk about the Edublogging session. In a word, it was spectacular. Professor Kim liveblogged it, and I should just note that Professor Kim can both talk exceedingly intelligently and type all at the same time. I can't do either terribly well so, you know, awe and all that. [On a completely off-topic and probably incorrect note, as I didn't poll then entire audience, I'd like to point out that the CSU system stomped the UC system 3-1 in attendees at the session. CSU: me, Steve Sloan, Cynthia McCune; UC: Leslie Madsen-Brooks, aka trillwing. Take that!]

Geeky Mom, Barbara Sawhill, and Barbara Ganley led the session. Before the session, they were thinking maybe three people would show up, and were discussing how they had a strategies regardless if they had an audience of three or thirty. They got the thirty (or thereabouts). Because these folks are educators as well as veterans of conferences (as both attendees and presenters), the structure and tone of the edublogging session was unlike the other sessions I witnessed or heard about. After a very brief introduction by each of them as to their role in edublogging (for they each have different roles), they asked the audience for our interests in edublogging so that they could determine how to structure the rest of the session. Again, in Professor Kim's liveblog you can get an idea of the types of (really varies) responses to the question. After gathering information, the audience split into three smaller groups and had really good discussions regarding faculty development (with Geeky Mom), student development (with Barbara G), and blogging as a tool for inclusive pedagogy (with Barbara S).

The big take-away from this session was that there are so many ideas and needs and audiences within the meta concept of "edublogging" that we can fill a conference of our own. Reading the individual presenters' assessments of the session, (see Geeky Mom, Barbara S, Barbara G post 1 and post 2) as well as the thoughts of other attendees, it's clear that there's a huge need.

A few words on edubloggers, or academic bloggers: if you said you were an edublogger or an academic blogger, people often looked at you as if you had three heads. Seriously. Barbara G writes, "They hear me say, 'I'm an edublogger' and they recoil just a bit or look blank. And indeed, in the din of the pre-conference shindig for presenters last evening, someone thought I said I was an 'anti-blogger' not edublogger--ha." Ha, indeed. In a comment to this post at Geeky Mom's, Dr. Shellie hints at a possible reason for the disconnect: "I think most academic bloggers are primarily academics, and incidentally bloggers. Some of the non-academic bloggers at the conference felt about their blogging as I feel about being a scientist--it was a central part of their identity." In a comment to yet another post at Geeky Mom's, Lisa V notes, "When I would meet people at the conference and they would ask me what kind of blog I had I sometimes would answer 'academic' because I didn't want to get into the whole 'mommy blogger' debate." I don't blame her, but that sure is funny.

The venerable Leslie Madsen-Brooks (hey, she referred to me as "lit student and tech geek extraordinaire" so I can fire up the hyperbolic engine by referring to her as "venerable") has an outstanding "where we are"/"where do we go from here" post on the BlogHer site: Edubloggers: Lunatic fringe or BlogHer's core constituency? She says:
Personally, I enjoyed the conference, and my encounters with the edubloggers convinced me that these women have embraced BlogHer's mission to effect meaningful change through blogging. While I share the sense of unease the academic bloggers exchanged over wine, soda, and hard liquor, I can see the appeal of driving traffic to one's blog with the hope of profitting from it. I straddle the increasingly apparent divide between those who blog-for-fun-and-profit and those who blog-to-change-the-world.
She goes on to discuss what business bloggers can learn from edubloggers, and what edubloggers can learn from business bloggers, and the middleground:
Of course, there already is a middle ground between the traffic hunger of the biz bloggers and the idealism of the edubloggers: the nonprofit blogosphere, where bloggers sell readers on worthy causes. There's another skill we could teach our students: how to advocate for others as well as for themselves.
People on my blogroll/the people whose blogs I read everyday are overwhelmingly in the academic blogger camp. That is, folks in academia who blog, and who may or may not (usually may not) be part of the subset of educators attempting to leverage the medium in the classroom. Because this is my neighborhood, I forget that we're the far-away suburb of the bustling downtown of blogging. The Edublogging session, and the four hours of socializing at the end of the conference, reminded me of our true position in teh blogging landscape; to borrow an overused but wickedly appropriate term, we're in liminal space.

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