So it appears that three and a half weeks ago, I forgot that it was the sixth birthday for Virtual School Meanderings. Last year (well, one year, three and a half weeks ago) I used Five Years Of Virtual School Meanderings as a way to reflect upon what started this blog – an entry about a three year old article that had asked leaders in the field of virtual schooling, “How do you see the virtual high school evolving over the next five years and what questions need to be answered before that evolution can occur?” and I asked the simple question, “after three years since this article was published, how far have we come in addressing the issues raise by the participants in their responses to this question?” In the fifth anniversary entry I indicated that it was now eight years since that original article was published, but my question was still a relevant one (it was also where I announced this blog’s association with the Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education [CASTLE]).
It is now a year later (well a year, three and a half weeks), and I want to take a slightly different look back this year. I’ve spent a lot of time over this past year thinking about the nature of this space, the time in invest it in, and its place within my academic career. Part of this has somewhat forced upon me through my participation in two panels on blogging in the academy over the past eighteen months (see Round-Up – Congress 2009: Academic Blogs – Connecting People And Ideas and EDGE 2010 Panel – Academic Blogging and Tweeting: Connecting People, Ideas And Research [REVIEW]). In fact, in the past month as I was completing my narrative for my annual review, I felt the need to include the following paragraph at the end of my service section:
Finally, I have continued to manage a blog focused on K-12 online learning where I post content related to academic and practitioner-focused publications and presentations, professional development opportunities, news items, etc. to approximately 7,000 to 10,000 unique readers each month (see http://virtualschooling.wordpress.com/ ). This blogging activity has actually brought my scholarship and expertise in the K-12 online learning field to the attention of many individuals, including those who were responsible for the invitations to keynote at the conferences organized by the Regional Educational Laboratory – Midwest and the Innovative and Digital Education and Learning – New Mexico. Additionally, it has resulted in invited participation in panels on the topic of blogging in the academy at the EDGE 2010: e-Learning – The Horizon And Beyond conference (October 2010) and annual Canadian Society for the Study of Education conference (May 2009).
At this stage in my academic career, and given the amount of time I was spending on it (an average of 1.64 hours a day during September 2010, at least according to my records I kept for EDGE 2010 Blog Panel: Your Blog In Your Academic Work), I felt it was important to note to those who will eventually judge my promotion and tenure application that this is an important part of who I am as a scholar.
I’ve continued to think about this role of blogging in the academy… While I have been doing this, the folks at Mobilize This! have posted a series of entries that touch at the heart of the issue for me.
Now I will be the first to admit that I rarely use this space for knowledge creation or knowledge dissemination. Generally speaking it replaces the traditional bulletin board on the wall of a staffroom – posting notices of events and calls, notifying folks of articles and other readings, and just relaying general items of interest. But it has made me question the value to the community of this space and how I use it. Last week in Statistics For March 2011, I reported that there had been over 12,000 hits on this blog during the month. During that same time I posted 121 entries. In fact, if you look over the six years this blog has been in operation, you see an interesting correlation:
- 2005: 5-14 entries per month / statistics not kept
- 2006: 12-16 entries per month / between 400-600 visitors a month
- 2007: 8-14 entries per month (until October and then 31-40 entries for the final two months) / between 800-1200 visitors a month (no change with final two months)
- 2008: 25-48 entries per month (until September and then 72-91 entries for the final three month) / between 600-1200 visitors a month until June, then 2000-2500 from July to September, and then 3300-3700 for the final three months
- 2009: 62-112 entries per month / between 4600-7100 visitors a month
- 2010: 67-114 entries per month / between 6300-11,100 visitors a month
- 2011: 105-121 entries per month / between 10,700-12,300 visitors a month thus far
It is quite clear that the amount of per month content has been correlated with the number of visitors to the blog (i.e., the more I post the more people visit). However, one of the biggest differences has been that back in 2005 and 2006 almost every entry was a substantive, reflective entry. Whereas today, I may get the opportunity to do that with 5-6 entries per month (maybe as many as a dozen on a good month), but most of the entries are simply passing on information (which does have its place). And while I haven’t done a complete analysis of it, I suspect that the increase in entries has resulted in a significant decrease in comments.
It is interesting because one of the ways I have taken to justifying the amount of time I spent blogging is that contribution to the community. In her response to one of my EDGE 2010 entries, Cathy Cavanaugh included Boyer (1990) in her response. If you look at the focus and scope page of the Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning, they describe Boyer’s four types of scholarship as:
- Discovery – investigative research, with supporting evidence for new ideas. What is to be found? Discovery research is typically study-based, grounded in existing literature and with sound methodology.
- Integration – the bringing together of existing ideas in a summarised form, with key themes identified. What does what is found actually mean? Integration involves working with existing ideas, based on extensive literature review across disciplines.
- Application – accounts of how distance education theory has been implemented in operational contexts. How can what is found be used? Application firmly rests on literature, providing an account of how theory has been applied and providing transferable lessons and opportunities for further research based on the experience.
- Teaching – accounts of innovative practice, preferably informed by student evaluation. How can what is found be understood by others? Teaching research is more than a ‘look at what we did’; it is informed, reflective and ultimately useful in other settings.
Cathy indicated that “the work of the academy should ‘relate directly to the realities of contemporary life’ (Boyer, 1990, p. 13),” and that was where she placed this blog – a way to relate the fact that I am essentially paid to stay on top of what is happening in the field of K-12 online learning by virtue of the fact that it is my research focus and a part of my teaching, and this blog is a way that I can share that with the larger community.
Yet I still struggle on a number of fronts… The time it takes to use this space to disseminate general information and events related to K-12 online learning takes me away from being able to provide the more substantive and reflective (and time consuming) knowledge dissemination pieces. But it does seem to be the information dissemination that drives the traffic to this blog. I suspect the real answer is to try and find a healthy balance between the two, but the reality is that the demands of promotion and tenure requirements make that balance difficult to find.
Anyway, these are just some random thoughts about the state of this blogosphere over the past six years (well, six years, three and a half weeks).
Boyer, E.L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. : Jossey-Bass.