Learning by blogging

The contribution published yesterday by 2 of my B.A. students on this blog is a good opportunity to comment (again) on the fact that blogging is rather a science than a technique and, more accurately still, rather an art than a science. I gave a whole series of indications to the students on how to compose their text, but this did not suffice to help them turn said text into a real blog post. How does that come?

The technical skills required to prepare a blog post that consists solely in text are limited. You need to be able to fill in your profile and to copy-paste your text from your MS word document into a wordpress window conceived only to be the recipient of MS word text. The only tricky formatting part in this case concerned the introductory quotation, but a quick tweet addressed to the fabulous management of de.hypotheses gave the solution within 5 minutes:

Kurzer Twitter-Austausch zur Formatierung von Zitaten

Having done so, i.e. having transformed MS Word text into WordPress text, there was still a lot to do to make it a blog post. First of all, it is not that easy to explain the philosophy of linking per se: yes, you link to the homepage in your title, and yes, you link AGAIN to the homepage when you link the word “homepage”, and no, it does not mean that you consider your reader to be stupid. The misunderstanding lays in the way the blog post was conceived as a text that would only need to refer (once) to what would be the right page in a book. But linking is, in truth, much more than an online equivalent to a page number. It has to do with offering entry points to connected knowledge. I obviously failed at making that clear…

I encountered another unexpected didactic difficulty, regarding the titles. The initial title of the blog post was identical with that of the digital edition that was commented on in the post. The principle that a title has not only to sound good, but to actually describe the nature of what you are writing – especially in order to find its correct place when search engines go through them – was, again, not at all as obvious as I thought. In general, I am surprised to see students react to webpages of all sorts by saying they lack structure while they themselves implement a form of online communication which I would consider poorly structured. It has partly to do with the switch from WYSIWYG to a system with an editor window and a view window. You have to learn writing in a way which is not what the text really looks like. The wider question behind this is: How do you teach online data structure to literature students?

That they did not fully recognize the value of the edition they commented on, I think, has to do with their lack of practice of internet resources (not of traditional editions though). Shiny webpages turn us all into spoiled kids who want it even shinier. Once you have tried putting up one webpage yourself (be it the simplest content management system in the world, but of course the argument is even stronger when it comes to complex editions), then you get to know the worth of every detail. During our big meeting with all of those who do contribute to Letters and Texts right now (we were about 10 persons, which was quite impressive), you should have heard the aaas and the ooos when we went through the Schlegel edition and looked at the awesome manuscript zooming-in and -out. Our magnifier is a joke compared to the way manuscripts are displayed in the Schlegel edition. Which students can’t seet and can’t comment on, just as it is the case for the rich metadata, the deep value of GND numbers, etc. So this leads us back to the usual crux when it comes to blogging for students and young researchers: what should we blog about anyway? Does it make any sense?

What this students’ blog post has taught me, I think, is that it does not bring much to write a blog post for the sake of testing minimal wordpress functionalities. You have to have something to say, and say it well. It was certainly my mistake to suggest a series of topics to blog on instead of leaving the students free to pick their topic. I was honestly thinking that the constraint would make things easier, because they would be more academic.

What it has also taught me is that the filtering process through tweets and retweets works fine. The students’ blog post has been much less redistributed than most of what is being published on this blog. You are actually reading and finding some things better than others, dear twitter-followers. You have no idea how reassuring that is.

So: thank you all for coming along through this experiment. I certainly hope to do better as a teacher next time. I still think that blogging can help thinking and writing to get better structured (even for students, but they need the teacher to empathize with them more than I did this time!).


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