This is the rough draft of an article that Vicki Tolar Burton asked me to write for the WIC newsletter on using this blog. I thought I’d post it here as well, in case someone who doesn’t read the newsletter wanted to read it (I’ll probably post the final draft when it’s finished as well).
Blogging My Research: Using My OSUWrite Blog for Research (temporarily titled)
Last fall in English 595 (Language, Culture, and Technology), our instructor, Lisa Ede, had assigned a seminar project: We could choose any topic to research and write about, as long as it involved the intersection of language, culture, and technology. As the quarter progressed, I expressed a great deal of interest in blogs and enjoyed using the class’s blog, which Lisa was piloting for OSUWrite.
Because of my interest in blogs, Lisa suggested that I pilot the use of individual student blogs for OSUWrite. With the help of Jon Dorbolo and Mark Dinsmore, I set up a blog on my OSU webspace, titling it A Collage of Citations. I began to research the use of knowledge blogs, k-logs for short, which are used to keep track of research. I found that students and faculty in various disciplines, including rhetoric, visual psychology, feminism, and bicycle engineering, were using k-logs to store and discuss research.
Traditionally, students use notebooks, journals, or note cards to keep their research. My blog, as well as those that I looked into, usually incorporated bits and pieces of all three of these styles of research. I often found myself writing a blog post by putting quotes and pages from sources, as well as the citation, that I found interesting, much like I would have with notecards.
I also wrote about my thoughts regarding certain books, articles, and websites I read, which made some posts more like keeping a journal about my research. What made using my blog more advantageous than keeping either a journal or note cards was the ability to create categories. By attaching a category (or multiple categories) to each blog post, I was able to later sort my posts by categories, and read each blog post I had written under a certain category (e.g., â€œVoiceâ€œ).
In addition to a place to keep my research, my blog became a very handy place to prewrite, or brainstorm ideas before I had to write my final paper. I noticed, however, a shift in the way I wrote my brainstorming, which I wrote about on my blog:
When I normally do research and then do brainstorming/freewriting/prewriting for a paper, I have a sole audience in mind: me. However, my last entry was a brainstorming/prewriting activity that was geared not just toward an audience of me, but to a larger audience. I felt like I was no longer writing to just formulate my own ideas, but to explain my ideas to an audience (real or imagined). So, my prewriting journaling activities have changed in that my audience has changed, and that I’m cognizant of it as I write. So, then, my freewriting’s purpose changed from exploration to exploration/explanationÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.
Indeed, I had found that my audience had changed. I was able to get feedback on my ideas, as well as suggestions for other sources. These came not only from my instructor for the course, but from others as well. I received feedback from friends who checked out my blog and others who came across it from google searches. In fact, two professors at other universities commented on my blog after finding it on google. The ability to receive comments, and hold discussions through those comments, helped me formulate ideas and think more in-depth on my topic, as well as learn of new sources to check out. Because of my blog, my research changed from a very private activity to a social one.
When writing my paper at the end of the term, I found that the use of the blog was very helpful. I didn’t have to worry about losing something, not being able to find a source, or losing all my research if I lost a notebook or computer file. If I had an electronic source, I had linked to it. If I couldn’t remember the author of an article or something he or she said, I could use the â€œsearchâ€œ feature of my blog. I found my thoughts and research were much more organized and more easily accessible than I was used to. The blog had become a way for me to organize myself more efficiently.
At the end of fall term, once I had written my paper on k-logs, I began to reflect upon my process of using my blog, and I noticed that more often than not, I just put quotes, paraphrases, and summaries from sources on my blog, as well as links. I hadn’t ventured too far into writing about what I thought about these sources. Once the term was over, I blogged:
…shouldn’t I be reflecting my thoughts, my personality, onto this weblog? Shouldn’t posts not only contain information from others, but also my reflections upon that? I did do this on some posts, but rarely. I could have been more brave and put out my immediate thoughts related to what I was blogging about. So, from now on, I’m going to try to make this a bit more personal of a research log, to try to value my personal and immediate reactions to my research (and widen what I view as research as well, since I’m now going to use this blog to research for my thesis, whatever exactly that may be).
I have since tried using my blog as not only a place to store others’ ideas, but also as a place to formulate my own. I have begun to use the blog as a place to brainstorm more, make conjectures, and explore ideas more fully than I had before. I’ve started using it for other coursework and have started some brainstorming for thesis ideas on it.
As I think about the potential of student use of blogs in the classroom, I consider what was advantageous about my blog: The format of the blog helped me organize my notes and brainstorming, and the public forum allowed for responses from others, as well as discussion. I wonder what a classroom of twenty or more students, each with an individual student blog, blogging their ideas and research and commenting to each others’ blogs, would look like, and I’m thrilled about the possibilities.