In 2003, when I chose MovableType for a institutional weblog, WordPress was a plucky but under-powered alternative. Until very recently, WordPress was only able to manage a single blog per installation, which meant that each blog user would also be a blog administrator. Since I was trying to form a blogging community, not training blog administrators, I made the right choice at the time. But times have changed. Long live WordPress!
Switching to new blogging software is, of course, an excellent opportunity to reassess my blogging pedagogy.
(If you are a SHU blogger, don’t worry — it will be possible to export your MovableType blog and import it to WordPress. And I’m working on a plan to archive all the existing blogs. See the New Media Journalism weblog for a post with practical details about the switch to MovableType.)
I’ve had good experiences with MovableType. It has run perfectly smoothly with nary a hitch for the last two years. I’ve published on my blogging experiences, and seen blogs.setonhill.edu cited in academic scholarship, and even seen a single SHU student’s academic blog as the subject of a Ph.D. dissertation (by Eric Glicker at IUP).
A few years ago, I was spending a lot more time maintaining the site, wrestling with database and server issues. Fortunately, I had access to a small tech support budget that enabled me to hire tech support consultants to get me out of jams.
The last few releases of MT have been so stable I’ve barely had to do any admin work at all, but I was recently told that my budget for that tech support has been discontinued. If something were to go wrong with the MT server, I would be on my own. Our IT department has, on the other hand, started supporting WordPress. I would rather have had the time to make the switch over the summer, but I’m making it my J-term project. Part of me would have been perfectly happy staying with MT, but as I see it, WordPress has the momentum, so I do not object now that the time has come to sunset my use of MovableType.
In the years BF (before Facebook), Seton Hill students regularly used their university blogs to keep in touch during breaks, to establish a professional identity, and to share their thoughts on current issues. It used to be fairly common for a student who already blogged socially on Live Journal to try out a more serious tone on blogs.setonhill,edu.
One student who was about to give an in-person presentation using her blog was horrified to find that her grandmother had found her blog and posted a comment wishing her good luck on her presentation. And one time when I was at a conference presenting on blogs, I opened up the blogs.setonhill.edu home page in order to show it to the audience, and was stunned to see that an online row was happening before our eyes.
LiveJournal users and other early adopters of social media typically thought of what they were doing as writing, and the English majors in my class were often excited by their introduction to the text-centric blogosphere. While the average student of today has far more experience with social networks, much of what happens online is sharing, tagging, joining, connecting, and “liking.”
I do a lot of that “non-writing” myself, so my point is not to scoff at it. My point is to note that blogs are particularly good at getting writers to organize their material in such a way that encourages back-links and contextualization, but that Facebooking and Tweeting emphasize immediacy and innovation and connection, rather than the stable trail-blazing that forms chains between the reflection of the moment and selective links to existing materials, carefully chosen because those materials are worthy of repeated visits.
Finding a peer’s entry, logging in, filling out the stupid spam-blocking puzzle, and then coming back later to look for new replies that respond to or extend the point made by the original post — all that requires concerted effort, so it’s far removed from the kind of interaction they are used to experiencing on Facebook and Twitter.
The popularity of social networking has made that kind of online experience the norm, and I’m not just talking about college students. In the blogosphere at large, conversations that used to take place in the comments appended to blog entries (where they became embedded in the text and thus part of the lasting record) are now taking place in the twitterverse (where they disappear, unless someone takes direct action to preserve them).
An experienced blogger habitually refers readers to older posts, cites quotes in order to respond to them, and encourages the reader to go check out a link and then come back to share an opinion about it. That sort of deliberate navigation is learned behavior, and young people who are used to reacting to and contributing to a linear stream of status updates and tweets will need some practice before they can meaningfully transfer their online reading/writing skills to the traditional academic tasks that continue to dominate assessment criteria.
In past years, the opportunity to have an online voice was exciting. Nowadays, my students tend to think of blogging as just one more kind of homework. So, the role of blogs.setonhill.edu has changed.