Academic Blogging Service - Vision
Information Services have initiated a project to develop a new Academic Blogging service for staff and students of the University. The service builds upon existing blogging practices and technology in use around the University, but acknowledges that there are heterogeneous arrangements in place; that the current situation is confusing for staff and students; and that it is not well set up to accommodate a growing demand for blogs. Warwick University was one of the first universities to offer a central blogging service from at least 2004 but many UK universities now have well established blogging platforms, including most comparable Russell Group universities. However, despite several previous proposals for a central blogging service, the University has fallen behind other UK universities in supporting our staff and students to engage with blogging in more expansive and consistent ways.
Current arrangements present duplication of effort, maintenance and security concerns, and some risks regarding reputation, ownership of content, and personal data. The level of support, both technical and pedagogical, for the use of blogs within learning and teaching context is also highly variable. This has led to increasing use of free external services such as WordPress.com, and a highly-fragmented landscape of activities with governance and legacy management implications.
The new Academic Blogging service will support the learning, teaching and research activities of the institution, and complement, not compete with, our corporate web presence and our institutional virtual learning environments.
As the new service will be widely available to staff and students of the University, the project will also generate and consult upon policies and guidance for usage, naming, deletion, take down, copyright and ownership to ensure that there is clarity around the University’s support for blogging, and that the service is well aligned with other University strategy and policies.
Meeting Institutional Needs
‘Academic Blogging’ encompasses a broad range of use cases, including accredited learning and teaching activities, research engagement, personal academic / professional development blogs, or showcasing aspects of life at the University.
The service will use a broad definition of ‘blogging’ including individual reflective writing, writing for public audiences, group blogging, showcasing project work, and multi-modal blogging. Multi-modal blogging could include activities such as students collaborating to curate collections of non-text artefacts (image, video etc.) or annotating text or other digital artefacts. As far as possible the service will support a range of reflective, creative activities that encompass the breadth of subject areas across which we work.
Blogging is recognised as pedagogically beneficial in the context of University teaching and learning, particularly reflective blogging practices, and blogging as an open networked practice. Blogging enables students to develop ideas, to demonstrate changes in approach and understanding over time, and to engage in considered writing for particular real or imagined audience. Blogging can be a form of contact and community, especially in online distance learning contexts, and has been identified as a key component of the University Distance Learning at Scale initiative. The new service will give all teaching staff the ability to design courses that incorporate blogs and blogging activities enabling them to use a breadth of learning technologies that (alongside the VLE, Lecture Recording, Media Hopper Create, etc.) support innovative and creative practices.
More broadly, blogging is recognised as an important way to build a positive academic identity, to develop critical writing and research skills, to build networks and collegiate relationships, and to increase the impact of research through public engagement. The new service will ensure that staff and students have the opportunity and are well supported to develop their online academic identities.
Easy to Use
The Academic Blogging service will bring together a range of technologies into a coherent support framework, including:
- Existing VLE and Pebblepad blogging functions
- Existing self-service and custom developed WordPress blogs
- A new centrally-supported blogs.ed.ac.uk site (WordPress)
- A new student owned/operated externally-hosted Domain of One’s Own pilot offering
There will be clear guidance via self-service web pages covering which blogging technology is most appropriate for different types of activities, linking into simple setup / getting started information. It will also be possible for academic colleagues to have a conversation with a learning technologist or a member of the University web team to explore requirements further for more complex cases.
Setting up a blog will be simple for staff or postgraduate research students to do, either immediately via an online form, or via an integration from our centrally supported VLEs. Undergraduate and taught postgraduate students will be directed either to an appropriate academic where a blog is required for learning, or to the Domain of One’s Own pilot service for personal blogs. Self-service guidance will also be provided allowing blogs hosted elsewhere to be migrated into the new service.
Support for Digital Skills and Literacies
The Academic Blogging service will promote critical digital skills and literacies, developing training for staff and students to effectively and safely manage their online identity.
Online resources and face to face workshops will build a community of practice and help staff and students explore the ways in which blogging could support their personal learning, teaching, and research activities. A series of workshops focusing on academic identity, critical perspectives, and pedagogical support will be available to colleagues across the institution, exploring “why blogging?” and how it fits with various forms of learning, teaching and research activity.
Examples of good practice and exemplar blogs will be collected, feeding back into workshops and curating online showcases. Effective configurations of blogging spaces for particular use cases and activities will also be captured, and over time a series of quick-start templates will be developed to promote and support a wider awareness of the various forms of blogging and build a community of practice.
Students will also have the opportunity to have their own web site via a Domain of One’s Own pilot. Students will be offered (on a first come, first served basis – up to a maximum number each year) a non-University domain name and associated web-hosting. They will be able to set up and administer WordPress (or the blogging tool of their choice), learning about web technologies, and building an effective and digital identity. They will use their own domains to host and share their work, network and communicate with peers, and enhance their skills in cultivating a public-facing portfolio of work. We will invest in a peer support scheme, training student interns who are then able to support other students to set up and operate their domains and blogs as well as curating a showcase of student blogs and directing towards online materials to support learning about safety, privacy and ownership.
Academic courses may also choose to use the Domain of One’s Own pilot service (subject to capacity) to support coursework where appropriate, for example in areas such as Digital Media and Design, Digital Education and Digital Sociology. The pilot scheme will run for several years and be evaluated in order to determine the benefits for learning, teaching and digital literacies more broadly.
Learning to use the WordPress software itself can also be considered an important digital skill as WordPress has become a ubiquitous platform that staff and students are likely to encounter again in their wider online environment. We will curate the best of the extensive resources available on the web and via Lynda.com to support proficiency with the software.
Complementing our Web Strategy
The Academic Blogging service directly underpins the “Influential Voices” theme within our Web Strategy 2018-2021. This theme aims to: “Give our staff and students an online presence to publish and promote their work, and exchange ideas with organisations and communities globally”.
The Academic Blogging service will give our staff and students the tools and support that they need to publish online effectively, to develop a digital identity, and make more visible a range of authentic voices from across our academic community that are identifiably connected to our institution.
Our staff and students will be able to link their academic blogs into their profiles on social media or academic networking sites, improving the profile and visibility of the University across online channels. Staff and PGR students will also be able to link their blog to their official University profile on EdWeb. Selections of blogs can be presented on our web pages to represent the range of learning, teaching or research activities that take place in a particular area. Content from blogs can be syndicated by ourselves, or by our partners or external organisations to create curated selections of content, reflecting the richness of our institutional activity.
Blogs can also be used alongside EdWeb, to reflect the wider academic life of the institution, including sites such as the current Teaching Matters blog or some of the other notable examples available at https://www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/blogs. Blogs could also be commissioned from students, reflecting the diversity of experience of studying at Edinburgh.
 See the project wiki for further details of blogging services at other Universities: https://www.wiki.ed.ac.uk/display/ABS/Central+Blogging+Platforms+at+other+UK+Universities
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