Yesterday, we had a quick demo of Mahara by Mark Nichols as part of a wider day of information exchange. Mahara has been built as an eportfolio tool and appears to have taken some influence from Elgg. It contains a blog tool which has the ability to be kept private, shared selectively or made public. Individual posts could also be gathered as part of a presentation or viewpoint on one’s portfolio.
Recent discussions in the office have been around micro-blogging or the phenomena that is Twitter. Today, reflections on the Mahara demo stimulated some discussion around the role of (‘normal’) blogging and the differences between that and journaling and discussion fora. One argument was that the format may be different, but the process was the same and that essentially the end result for learning could all be achieved through a discussion board. The counter argument was that the process was different in each case as it was defined by the format. Similar divides appear to have been running through the Moodle.org blogging forum for nigh on two years now! Matt Croslin published an interesting diagram on the intersections of these 3 tools and Joseph Fall made some salient points about ownership and the cycle of reflection.
My own feeling is that the differences are quite nuanced and factors such as context, ownership and emotion and their interplay are all important For instance, people can be quite happy to blog away without ever knowing if people are reading their posts. How many people stuck at contributing to an empty discussion board? From the act of blogging I gain insight and reflective opportunities; from empty discussion boards I get frustration and a feeling of loss, of negativity toward the arena and to the others who aren’t there to ask me questions or answer mine and to stimulate my thoughts to new insights.
Serendipitously (I just love serendipity!) when I got home, a twitter connection led me to Tony Karrer’s blog which I knew from a while back but had somehow lost track of. He was posing the question as to whether, in certain situations, blogging should be made mandatory. A good blog post and title – make it provocative and lots of people will comment, which they then proceeded to do. Through all the comments, no one stated a whole-hearted agreement and most were quite negative about the idea. Tony suggested the case of an employee attending a conference or beginning some new learning activity. He also noted that in formal education, students can be required to blog as part of the assessment process.
I don’t think that all his commenters were strictly correct in being so negative to the idea since I think that this is an instance of context having a place. Tony is quite capable of supporting his own argument but I noticed that the reason that many gave as being against mandated blogging was that it removed the informal and personal learning that they engender. I’ve already noted that personal learning effect above. However, I think that these arguments are really couched in the realm of ownership and the emotion that goes with that.
In a circular way it brings me back to Mahara and the eportfolio concept. This is because eportfolios have similar issues of ownership of learning; of the value of reflection for assessment; and of the context in which the content will be used. I remembered discussing some of these concepts 3 years ago in what was then elgg.net. So where is this post going if not round in circles (I spend too much time reflecting and not enough getting my typing skills up to speed!) Well I think that underneath the surface I am watching the tension between, on one side, institutional desires to authenticate learning through assessment processes and on the other side, the notions of the learner being at the centre of their learning and owning the process. The questions I am still asking are:
How do we nudge institutions into changing assessment practice to evaluate learning without removing that process from the learner?
How do we enable academics to become effective educators in this context?
How do we ensure that learners take advantage of this?