Blogging in the classroom, Part…

Blogging in the classroom, Part 4. Plugging into the conversations.

While weblogs might be a personal publishing phenomenon, k-logs exist within a network of ongoing conversations. Elsewhere, I’ve argued that one of the the values of k-logs is to help make the craft of knowledge work more visible.

  Entering the world of blogging and k-logging can be an overwhelming experience. It is doubly so for someone who comes to blogging at the behest of a teacher or manager. No one has a precise handle on the number of weblogs, although estimates of 200 to 500 thousand seem reasonable. Tim Jarrett has just done a bit of number crunching on growth in weblog updates at and estimates that the number of weblogs pinging is growing at about 2.8 weblogs per day.

  While the volume alone is overwhelming, to the new blogger it is the seeming depth and sophistication of existing blogs and bloggers that is intimidating. Here is where the classroom setting ought to be an advantage to helping ease the transition for students.

  Since k-logs are a community phenomenon let me draw an analogy to the community where I live, Winnetka, IL. We moved here in June of 1994 just as school let out. With boxes still packed and looking for something to do with our two boys (then 5 and 1/2 and 1), we took them to the Winnetka Children’s Fair on the Village Green. Imagine your basic Norman Rockwell scene of rides, face-painting, pony rides, etc. Now imagine you don’t know anyone in town.

  Five years later, my wife ran the Fair and organized the 600+ volunteers who made everything happen. What had been chaos to my 1994 eyes was now the organized activity of many new friends.

  The key to plugging into the conversation in the virtual world is the same as it is in the real world: a friendly guide. A guide can point out where the best rides are and introduce you to all the other friendly people in town.

  One decision that could be questioned was to make all the student weblogs public. The alternative would be to host them internally (perhaps using UserLand‘s Radio Community Server). While it would probably allow you to manage some of the sense of overload in the early stages, it wouldn’t really address the core issues of plugging into the blogging world.

  On the input side, you don’t want to restrict access to the universe of information sources on the web. You do want to provide some initial guidance on high value news sources that fit the needs of the course. With Radio the simplest solution would be to provide the class with a customized set of initial subscriptions.

  On the output side, I favor being part of the public blogging environment. First, there is the immediate benefit of being an equal participant in the broader conversation. You end up taking your own ideas more seriously when you discover that someone besides the professor is paying attention and cares about what you say.

  Second, there is a deeper issue about linking into the broader conversation that goes beyond blogging and matters to me in a business environment.

  One of the lasting lessons of electronic commerce is that organizational boundaries are best when they are very porous. Too much of systems development and too much of business process reengineering tries to pretend that you can draw a neat line around the edge of the organization. The day-to-day reality that processes span organizational boundaries is the primary factor explaining the failure of the first generation of reengineering. This reality of connectivity across organizations is even more true for knowledge work than it is for the routine processes of organizations.

  The natural tendency for managers introducing k-logging into organizations will be to worry about boundaries, security, and control. Worrying too much about those issues will limit the value of k-logging and risk marginalizing it. Better to address these issues from the starting point of connectivity and flow that needs to be channeled instead of walls that need to be knocked down. The sooner that k-loggers face the fundamentally public nature of knowledge work, the sooner they will find the value of k-logging for the organization
[McGee’s Musings]