I’ve always been fascinated by technologies, but both in the classroom and for my personal use I have a fairly ambivalent relationship with them. When I started teaching writing, I tried to drag blogging into the classroom with mixed results.
The primary problem is one of emphasis— when more time is tied up in resolving technology issues than teaching, then the end result suffers. I tend to think that I may have just tried it a little too soon. Experience with upper level students is starting to give me a regained sense of hope. I still believe that blogging as a useful classroom tool. But teaching basic writing, well, I feel more comfortable emphasizing writing.
As I’ve been using blogging as a research tool for several years now, I’m starting to reach some conclusions. What it does most of all is encourage a sort of discipline to write. The time-centered nature of blogging makes you want to keep something on your page that is fresh.
Secondly, the overall style and layout of your page influences your content. Some designs, like the ones that I have created, are somewhat essay-centered. Other designs privilege the concise two or three line post. It seems hard (at this point) for me to imagine a design that is good for both—complex essays get lost in broad expanses of white space, or cramped by narrow little columns that force the use of short paragraphs to maintain readability. But thirdly, and most importantly, blogging forces you to focus when you write—blogging creates reader-centered writing. An audience, however small, is always out there to stumble on you by just the right search-engine mojo.
I have begun to think in the last six months or so that this reader-centered emphasis is kind of detrimental to serious research. Often I want to post little bits of things which are not developed at all, or that are perhaps not even correct. But I tend to hold back, just for the sake of coherence. Though my audience is small, I do have one. I try to keep at least something of interest to a generally poetic and/or artistic audience at all times. But I find myself constrained by categories, and limited in what I really should post if I care at all about a general readership.
So I’m trying something new. I just started a personal Wiki for my research. I’m not sure if I’ll link it from here, though that would be convenient for me. It’s not open—it is not a social use of the software—for a clear-cut reason. I need a space to generate writer-centered writing. I think that blogging naturally conforms well to narrative style writing; it is stretched to the extreme when it is used to produce more complexly nuanced interwoven writing.
I was resistant to using Wikis because they are so socially oriented. I need a private space—I already have one public one. Rather being time-centric Wikis are net-centric. This, I think, is what I need for more fully dealing with my research. I tried writing HTML pages to do this before (linked from the sidebar) but I found that it just became too tedious to keep it updated. I’m hoping that using a Wiki will drive me to do more frequent updates. Right now, it is in a rough stage. It is so hard to avoid typing HTML into it. HTML has become my native mode of composing. I write in it directly, rather than using any editing software. HTML and Wiki’s (at least the one I’m using) don’t get along.
But I’m hoping that it will solve the problem of my disjointed blogging, and make research connections clearer to me. Tools are great when they don’t have a steep learning curve, otherwise they just take up time. I don’t have the time or the dedicated server to master things like Zope or Plone. I’m using a simple PHP based software that configured fairly easily in a single evening. If I decide to make it reader-accessible, I’ll talk more about it then.
For days now, my DSL connection has come and gone. I wonder at just how technology dependent I have become. So, of course, my response is to get even more deeply involved in it. But now, as always, my interest is mainly in looking, reading, and writing. Technology can be either a pain or a godsend. Just how I feel about it changes every day.