Blogging to Enhance Learning Experiences: February 12-25, 2007

Distinction between forums and blogs

Distinction between forums and blogs

by Michael Griffith -
Number of replies: 10
I think the questions being raised by Terry and Sylvia here are vital: the distinction between forums and blogs.
This question was raised by Ricky with reference to the distinction between "threaded discussions" and blogs in the "New to Blogging" thread of our seminar. My answer there may have pertinence here as well. Is it worth duplicating here Sylvia- or is there an easy way to cross reference to contributions we have made in other strands? I will try it anyway :


My answer to Ricky goes like this.

I use both threaded discussions (forums) within my teaching AND blogs. For me they are quite different.
A threaded discussion (provided as a tool within Blackboard and WebCT) provides a (usually) text-only space where a question(s) can be posed and students answer the question in a thread of responses.
EG Tolstoy's Story Death of Ivan Illych his hopeful despite Ivan's agonizing death. Why?

Students will typically answer this question one after the other commenting, expanding, suggesting resources,building on each others observations etc etc... At the end of the day we have created a good resource on Tolstoy's story and we have enabled 20 students to demonstrate their skills of understanding and collobaration.

A blog is a space where someone can first and foremost, create their persona, project an image of who they are, what they like, what they think... and from there they can engage in a whole range of activities from expressing their thoughts on topics dear to them, to sharing their photographs, videos and music, to engaging with a group of like-minded individuals (friends) in vigorous debate. They can also use it as a space where they can develop and store their creative work in a variey of media: image, text, video, sound... A good example of this from one of my students is the LiveJournal of Marc http://ghettoman7.livejournal.com who has been able to develop his literary and artistic talents in tandem ....
so as I see it a blog has a much wider range of possibilities- beyond the merely cerebral and intellectual- to the creative... it is in fact an artistic canvas that can be filled in many individualistic and collaborative ways.....

Do others share this view?
In reply to Michael Griffith

Re: Distinction between forums and blogs

by Sylvia Currie -
I responded privately to Michael with a long tedious explanation about cross-referencing forum posts. Like for most things in any forum tool, there are several ways, but never an ideal way! :-)

I also separated out this discussion thread so we have an obvious place to discuss the distinction between forums and blogs. But of course I didn't do it fast enough! So to illustrate on of the the methods of cross-referencing here in  SCoPE, here is a parallel conversation initiated by Ricky on the same topic:

From Re: New to blogging by rcarter on Mon Feb 12 19:20:00 2007:
If you can reply and comment to a blog how is it different from a threaded discussion?

If you use a Firefox browser you can take advantage of "smartcopy" which automatically includes context information when you copy and paste text from a blog post. To switch it on or off, press Shift-Ctrl-S while viewing a discussion forum.
In reply to Michael Griffith

Re: Distinction between forums and blogs

by Barbara Dieu -
so as I see it a blog has a much wider range of possibilities- beyond the merely cerebral and intellectual- to the creative... it is in fact an artistic canvas that can be filled in many individualistic and collaborative ways.....

I totally agree with you Michael and would like to add to it the concepts of "ownership" and "openness". While the messages on the forums usually stay in the closed environments they were generated and the writers cannot easily retrieve them (some of them are even removed after some time), posts on blogs are archived in your space and open to the Web.
In reply to Barbara Dieu

Re: Distinction between forums and blogs

by margot mcneill -

so as I see it a blog has a much wider range of possibilities- beyond the merely cerebral and intellectual- to the creative... it is in fact an artistic canvas that can be filled in many individualistic and collaborative ways.....

And I would add the concept of 'scholarship' to Michael and Barbara's lists. Forums are great for building discussions, but the 'self'' aspect of blogs enable them to capture the learning journey towards scholarship - critically reflective practice - that can be missed in the 'dialogue' of forums.

 

 

In reply to Barbara Dieu

In defense of forums . . .

by Derek Chirnside -
Hmm.  I've just done three posts, I was going to call it a night, but I cannot resist a note here.  I created an opinion piece last year which I shared at two conferences: BlogHui 06 and CPE (Continuing Professional Eduction) 06.

I called it "CoP's and Bloggers" - whether blogging as a practice enhances or otherwise communities of practice.  Is it too individualistic?  I asked.
I did discover some constellations of bloggers that were IMO real community (eg some US political bloggers) - but LOTS and LOTS of bloggers are selfish and individualistic. (eg some NZ political bloggers).  Blogging can of course nurture community (by case study reasoning). Sometime it just doesn't.
But my opinion is that forums or corporate blogs  - OR something to fulfil this function - can  help community to flourish.

In the blogging 'groups' I looked at, tight blog-rolls links-lists were always evident.  What is the difference between this and a distributed forum?

Clusters of blogs can do it for a community - but with other tools it is easier.

The analysis needs to include function/purpose/aims and the tools and whether they can provide enough functionality to meet the purpose.
(Afternote: I think I am clear in what I am trying to say, but I may not have achieved clarity here)

OK, back to Barbera and Michael's posts: Why is there an assumption that forums need to be inside CMS's?  It's often because they are part of a course or a working group.  Both right and appropriate uses.

From Distinction between forums and blogs by michaelgriffith on Monday, 12 February 2007 10:15:00 p.m.:
I use both threaded discussions (forums) within my teaching AND blogs. For me they are quite different.
A threaded discussion (provided as a tool within Blackboard and WebCT) provides a (usually) text-only space where a question(s) can be posed and students answer the question in a thread of responses.
EG Tolstoy's Story Death of Ivan Illych his hopeful despite Ivan's agonizing death. Why?

Point One: This is one use of forums, but it is not the only type of use.  The questions can tend to be closed, linear, teacher centred and subject-goal directed.
Alternative Scenario: you are trying to assist in a grief counselling course.
You can equally ask a question: Having read the story (Death of Ivan Illych) what light can this throw on some of your cases in recent months?  Could it benefit your clients to read this story?  How have you benefitted?
Slightly ridiculous contrived setting I know, but the point is to add to Barbera's "ownership" and "openness"  the idea of "open endedness", user centred dialogue.  Forum discussions (rather than mere question and answer) have more richness than I think you give them credit for.

I like the ownership in blogs.  I like the non-ownership that is possible in forums.  As a teacher I also like the ownership (my class) in forums.  But not all forums.

Point Two: And if you are using as your standard the discussion boards in Blackboard/WebCT - two of the clunkiest - compare this one here (in Moodle) or Webcrossing - etc.
Michael, you say "Usually text only".  A decent forum now has images, a really good text editor (and this one here is just average - watch for dojo [this is so cool] and other ajax anhanced products) - and some forums even have direct one-step sound recording (with a new Open source server app, this can now be free, at present Flash Communication server is great at $US300).  And why stop at sound?  There is no problem with video?? (Just bandwidth) ie There is no reason we need to be limited to the clunky, square looking forums of the past.
Then with the right tools, hey presto, brilliant collaboration options open.

Blogs and forums are psychically different, but not all forums are as sad as you suggest.

I will not read any more tonight, even though I  Know there is good stuff there.  :-)  In my old age I am slowly being set free from the need to know everything.  - Derek


In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: In defense of forums . . .

by Barbara Dieu -
I agree that forums may be more suited to discussions like the ones we are having now. I recently conducted a workshop on Open and Participatory Webpublishing with a group of teachers. The questions for discussion were published on a wiki and were to be answered on the blogs individually to be commented on by the others.

I had a dual aim when I established this:
  • ownership: make participants reflect on their learning process in their own spaces so that they would keep their posts for further reference.
  • aggregation and syndication: make participants experience RSS and how to read and manage their blogroll
However, I feel that the conversation was a bit too distributed and dispersed even though I was using Cocomment to track what was going on and how it evolved. I feel the process may have been richer if we had interacted on a forum like this one. Afterwards people could either pull THE thread that interested them and expand them on their own blogs or make a synthesis of the main threads adding a personal comment. Lessons learned from experience and observation.
In reply to Michael Griffith

Re: Distinction between forums and blogs

by Deleted user -
I am fascinated by blogs and forums and I believe both to be great teaching/learning tools. To be honest I can see some of the differences Michael has pointed out, but I also agree with the defense of forums posted by Derek.
Actually (I am not being very original, I know...) I believe the best answer to question "better B or F for my teaching/learning goals?" is the classic "depends!"
But to add a bit of variability (sorry, not sure it's a true English word... :-) why not put them in a context-guided classification? That's to say: don't you feel that a forum looks as more suitable for a formal and non formal education context whilst a blog is probably stronger in an informal learning environment?

Am I understandable?.... ;-)
In reply to Deleted user

Re: Distinction between forums and blogs

by Gladys Baya -
Jan Lai: you've made yourself clear, at least to me... (and "variability IS an English word, at least according to my WordWeb dictionary!)

Now ,as to your question:"don't you feel that a forum looks as more suitable for a formal and non formal education context whilst a blog is probably stronger in an informal learning environment?"

My answer is: "not in my experience", for all the blogs I've kept or invited my classes to post to had to do with professional development. I have noticed what Tamara pointed out, though: blogs encourage the emergence of online voices...

I prefer forums for several simultaneous short-termed  (now I'm the one coining terms?) discussions, and blogs for more careful reflection, issues which others might comment on perhaps much later in time... Also, blogs have stopped being basically words, with all the visual you can add to a post and embedding options, whereas forums (even though they make accept "Rich Text"), are still aimed at quick exchanges of messages...

Just my view!

Gladys
In reply to Deleted user

Re: Distinction between forums and blogs

by Silvana Carnicero -

Sorry for the delay in treplying but I did not want to stop posting the difference I feel when I work in these two environments. I believe that forums lend themselves to discussions and to a diological environment meanwhile blogs can be more appropriate for displaying concrete information on a certain topic and the comment feature is the way of responding to the content displayed.

For instance, I coordinate an online collaborative project that takes place using both tools. The project aims at exchanging information about schools in different parts of the world so the exchange in which students put questions for their peers in the world to answer is carried out in a forum whereas long paragraphs with precise details about their schools or their traditions and photos they want to share are shared by means of the blog.

Silvana

 

In reply to Silvana Carnicero

Re: Distinction between forums and blogs

by Michael Griffith -
Excellent example Silvana- thank you.
And a further question:

Do you set any guidelines for what they should include in their blog (with reference to privacy issues) and do you encourage them (if so - how?) to look at each others' blogs?

Thank you Silvana
Michael
In reply to Michael Griffith

Formal courses: Blog protocol, Public/Private, Forums/Blogs (Long Post)

by Derek Chirnside -
Blogging in formal taught courses: This is rather a long, slightly romantic and at times polemical post.  I've been musing on the posts from you guys since yesterday, continuing to be very interesting and stimulating.  Public vs private, blogs in taught courses, assessment, blog protocul etc.  I've come up with a diagram to try to convey some of my thoughts and opinions on these matters.  This is a description of an approach to our courses in a new qualification we run.
This is not the only way of course . . .  I have learned a lot from all your posts in the way you use blogs in poetry, art, journalism etc.  Lets have a reunion in 12 months and see what else we can add.  I will be harvesting a few ideas to try.
This is the longest post I have ever written.  I was quite happy to potter through this, as we start the next incarnation of our courses soon anyway, and it's been interesting for me to clarify what I REALLY think, and I do have an opportunity to present this at a workshop in June (e-fest 2007).  This is like a blog post in a forum I guess.  The marginalia things have lost their links sorry.
In summary: we start, formal, forum, careful intro to web 2.0 (fickr, blogs, wikis, RSS) diverge, wild west, including blogs, we converge, forums, closure.  Along the way we meet learning outcomes, have fun and blow some of our minds.

The course starts somewhere - and ends somewhere.  Has to.  It's a course, not a community.  The lines represent threads of activities, the dots, people doing things.  We start (blue), diverge, enter into the Wild West of Blogs [etc] (green), then converge (pink).
q

From Re: Hello from Carla  by michael on Thursday, 15 February 2007 11:20:00 p.m.:
But I think it is important to have a range of different stylistic requirements demanded from the students. And Blogging is just one of these... but a vital, powerful and exciting one... certainly for our increasingly techno-savvy students.
Yes.  In our newer courses, for planning a learning trajectory, we provide a menu with three choices.
In the context of a set of learning objectives, participants can
1) do what we suggest.  We provide a plan.  One of the things in this plan is the question: What are you really interested in in the context of this course and your work/life?  If we cannot get an answer to this that brings some sense of energy and purpose - I recommend they do something else with their time: maybe go to the beach.
2) adapt what we suggest.  This is by far the most common choice.
3) "roll their own learning pathway"  We have got some quite brilliant and quirky outcomes here!!
I was forbidden to use the term "roll your own" in the official documentation, but you get the idea.

Up until now, with the exception of the first environmental ed course I described, blogs have been an optional part of the path, and not compulsory.  [That is why I have little to say about assessment - I am learning here in this workshop - and I have yet to formulate my views, and that is a new challenge at the moment - can WebCT provide what we need for compulsory, assessed blog?  And you guys have answered that.]

As Carla says 'stylistic requirements'.  Maybe a 'requirements' is a little overstated, but she is right.

How do you learn these?  By 2) blogging and 1) reading blogs - and probably 3) thinking about them.
As I will elaborate below, we start with formal forums.

But we still wander a bit - the curly dead end avenues.  Some thoughts, sortees into Web 2.0, investigation of theory just peter out and just die:
q

From Re: New to blogging by gladys on Tuesday, 13 February 2007 3:07:00 a.m.:
Considering my limited experience in blogging, my words should be taken with a pinch of salt, but...
I'd say that in collaborative blogging, stages might go as following:
   1. the blog owner posts without an awareness of audience
   2. the blog owner posts with an attempt to identify audience (at this stage, the poster finishes their entries with questions or invites "invisible" readers to comment)
   3. the blog owner posts for a clear audience (e.g. the poster refers back to blog commentators or includes links to other blogs or sites by them)
   4. a regular group of commentators is set, and dialogues take place via blog comments
   5. some of these commentators start making entries (as "guest bloggers"), and each of them goes through stages #1 to #4.
   6. a regular group of posters is thread, with a group voice gradually developed.

This is a great little taxonomy, not totally linear; I think substance, style, interaction, topics are relevant as well.

Introducing Mr Blog.  It's a social structure.  Like a community of pracrtice.  It's a tool.  It's an environment.  As in introducing any new approach to learning, we need to do something for introducing the idea of blogs.  I have several exercises, and blending the Face-face context and the distance context. . .
1) Pass out real blog posts, removed from context.  Read and respond.  Who could be speaking?  What do you feel? - I choose bloggers like catfan, fluffychick, geekwhorocks, a real estate broker, political blogger, Islamist conservative etc.
2) We read some blogs and pick out the features of a blog. (Tags, posts, comments, blog-roll, silly name . . .
3) We then look at blog posts on the same topic and different styles.
4) We discuss writing (top of the head, one theme, crisp, and how to break every rule).
5) We discuss open vs closed blog posts.  Posts that start, continue or divert a thread.  Posts that link, notice or commentate.

The blog concepts naturally emerge: voice, identity, passion, ownership, readability.  This sets the scene for any participants who wish to use a blog.

One Big Question: Public Private.   In our courses, I try to differentiate between personal/personal and personal/public.  The same incident can be described in a Bebo forum (Bebo.com, a forum frequented by lots of teen girls and a few others)  and an academic development blog.  But radically different.  (I have a case study here of a 2 blog blogger, one as a serious professional reflection on teaching, and the other a story of being 30-something)
I state (assuming the teacher voice): "We are not Bebo style here".
 
Helping to clarify OK personal and NOT OK personal: one case I describe is this, to Y2 early childhood teachers: "You are in a teaching placement in an early childhood centre.  Your centre supervisor is, to put it carefully, organisational challenged.  Write a post (with crayon and paper) to reflect on this."
Most students take me at my word and do something terrible and pointed.
I then choose the best, and may come up with something altered like this:  "I've been thinking about the role of management skills in the EC teacher. (True)  Quality skills can add a lot to the running of a centre to release kids and teachers into whole new levels of growth.  (True)  What are the most important things I wonder??  Here's my idea of three of the important ones: (list).
I've thought about how I could match up.  Many I need to read the book that seems to be flavour of the month . . . etc"

***Personal reflection?? YES.
****Public disclosure of something inappropriate (criticism of person)?? NO.
*****Public disclosure of something personal (maybe like an insecurity, angst or anger)??  NO
Juan said: Are bloggers the Samuel Pepys and Chaucers of the 21st century? I've never been the type to keep a diary, I like to keep my personal life personal, so am I just not what bloggers are made of?
I think the answer is NO, or at least NOT all bloggers ate a P or C.  Many bloggers are not sharing their personal life at all.  But as someone said, 'It can start with the whole person' (I lost the reference - Was it Terry?), but it need not.  One example is a Coffee Blog my son read today.  It is about machines, preferences, trials, tears, and the eternal quest for the PERFECT MACHINE. (To make the perfect coffee).  Nothing personal/private here. But personal/expertise based.

Where to find the balance in this is difficult.
When it comes to discussion of new ideas, surfing the internet end reference material, plunging into the databases, I encourage some different motifs:
*compare and contrast.  Smith says this, Jones says this
*gem discovery.  I've just dicovered this great podcast. (They need to say what is great about it)
*synthesis.  "The theory applies to this situation . . as well"
*application.  "See the education minister in today's paper?  How come he is ignoring this research?"  You must not say he is an idiot.  :-)
*personal response.  The personal/public response.  Not "The movie deeply affected me and I spent three hours weeping since it reminded me of . . "  There are other ways to put it. 
I have pondered saying: "Your requirement is one post of each sort MINIMUM in the course corperate blog"

I should say what this is NOT.  It is not: "Read this article and write 300 words on it's contribution to the development of quantum physics in 1934"  This is wild west, go where the wind blows, within the broad participant chosen learning trajectory."  It is not "Read this article and do a critical review"  We may do this.  But here we are looking at trends, themes, emergent understandings, fragments.  It is not fast and loose with standards.  I hope.

The aim: gentle education on being in a web 2.0 world.  These do provide scaffolding to make quality posts that stay within the bounds I am happy with as a teacher.  In this respect, Sarah and Christie are quite right.  Take care before you post your essays online.  But for some, it's a nice start to a professional career, a track record, and on average, our students will only do this for a small percentage of their work.
I am very conservative here.  :-)

Start in a Forum.  We do however start our courses always in a private forum.  We are a course after all, a short term intentional grouping with a purpose.  Boundaries are set, formal and informal tasks as starters . . .

Barbera reflected on this
From Re: In defense of forums . . . by bdieu on Wednesday, 14 February 2007 2:17:00 p.m.:
I feel the process may have been richer if we had interacted on a forum like this one. Afterwards people could either pull THE thread that interested them and expand them on their own blogs or make a synthesis of the main threads adding a personal comment. Lessons learned from experience and observation.
We go ****** Forum, formal -> forum, informal -> to what I call the wild west -> divergent -> convergent -> forum, informal -> formal -> windup.
Along the way in a formal course participants pick up the learning outcomes.  Hopefully.
Harvesting.  We intentionally harvest stuff from the forums and these are used later.  I just live with the problem of silos.  The participants have a safe place to muse, and if something valuable gets locked up, I live with it.  Our next home grown version of the forum will have tools to do this, building on Marginalia - all going well.

An ideal . . . collaborative community.
From Re: New to blogging by michaelgriffith on Monday, 12 February 2007 8:16:00 p.m.:
So while Blogs start off as being individual, within a learning community they soon become a collaborative, community building tool... but it is important to make the right kind of demands of students... and this means putting some marks on blogging as part of a course assessment.... see the attached document that I have developed if you are interested....
Or another view . . . individual first
From Re: New to blogging by bdieu on Monday, 12 February 2007 11:42:00 a.m.:
feel, like James, that blogging is basically an individual pursuit and that it tends to form more loosely joined communities (communities of interest). What people write does not often get much commenting, unless you are well-known, write compellingly well or thought provoking posts.
I think both are true in their own contexts
Community can arise in a course with intensive reading and cross posting on a constellation of blogs.  It's like the tight blog-roll idea I floated elsewhere.  But it allows for voice and identity to evolve, and benefits from some outside input - sometimes.  Or it can merely disperse into voices speaking to themselves.  Which is not bad in itself . . 

My experience is limited, but quite varied both first hand and with another in their class.  If it's me, I take time early on in the formal taught course context to gently ease into these things - but the effect is always like a thrilling rush to some, sometimes scary, often quite daunting.  If it doesn't take off, I don't push it.

After launch, we diverge pretty quick (The Blue). 
We can hit dead ends.
a
We meander. 
We hit trouble and differences.  (Not often)  Sometimes dead ends, roadblocks and trouble could be avoided with facilitator input.  I am troubled at times, and in a state of indecision on whether to do anything for these issues.
a
Many many times however, a finding by a person, or a gentle comment by someone else can take the decision out of my hands in the most wonderful way.
And if/when things take off, we have a flourishing (the green) of activity.


The ending . . .
In a formal taught course/outcomes driven event, I like to require returning to the forums.  Maybe I'm wimping out here.  But I think in general, the sense of security is just not there to not do this.  I think I need it.  (Witness the divergence in the last SCoPE forum, which has more loose ends than I've seen, which is ripe for a Phase II in 12 months time).  Maybe you can use wikis for harvesting, starting the process of passing your stuff on to others.  I have yet to do this in earnest.  But we now have wikis at my instotution and will do it this semester, if all goes well, with at least one course.
v
Issues: (1) we have suffered from the problem of dispersion Barbera reflected on in the wild west phase (2) people may not have managed this diserpersion well - or at all (3) we are in a taught course with objectives and need to provide evidence, so we come back to home base with some Summative activity.

Formal harvesting and exporting to the outer world may take place.

Heather's post (http://scope.lidc.sfu.ca/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=425#2865) and Emma and Sarah's response is something we have no problem with in our traditional online courses.  There are forums for cohorts that go with them the whole length of their course.  Our LMS, allows any page/forum/anything to be linked to any course, and any page (whether it contains a forum, a blog, content or a file sharing area) to be public to the world, to logged in users or to just the members of a course.  But in the blog enhanced environment we have not been going long enough and have not reached a critical mass for genuine community to emerge for it's own sake.

Groups size & forums.  I am with Sarah on this:
From Re: New to blogging by sarahh on Wednesday, 14 February 2007 3:08:00 p.m.:
Wow -- I'm having a "shift" experience reading/walking the "new to blogging" pathway here -- a shift from familiar conversations where I recommend that online course instructors keep discussions manageable by dividing learners into groups of 7 or 8, rather than running whole group dialogues all the time...
I think smaller 'discussions' are easier, but I guess I go a little larger . .  up to 15 . .  and the reason is possibly that we do often have less tight posting requirements than I think US courses do in general.  But the profiles and the blogs enable participants to find one another with similar interests more easily.  Blogs have helped with social networking.

What to do at the 'end' of the formal learning?  We are still thinking about that.  Our students have access to their stuff for a while if they ask.  Some of our teachers students come back and ask for LMS space for their own students.  Cool eh?

Capturing one's life for academia.  One answer may be Mahara.  e-portfolios. http://eduforge.org/projects/mahara
Yes, yet another open source, e-portfolio app.  e-portfolio for the student by the student - NOT just an assessment device in disguise to make it easier for the teacher.  It is being launched in three or four weeks at Eifel's e-portfolio conference in Wellington.  It has got 6 months of funded trials with 5 cohorts.

The End.  OK  That's a 'conservatives style' in using out there blogging in formal situations.  I still like forums, especially forums as they will develop in web 2.0 with AJAX etc.  It is LOTS OF FUN.  But emotionally demanding, as every time participants do share (properly) at a level that is a little deeper, engagement is often deeper, harder and more demanding than merely a) sending a reading and b) requiring an essay.

Finishing up now . . .