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Micro- and Macro-Blogging: 3 Major Differences and Their Benefits to Instruction

Although similar, macro- and micro-blogging differ from one another in important ways. Recognizing those distinctions can help instructors find new ways to engage learners and improve outcomes.

Blogging or "Web-logging" has been used in instruction for years now and with it have emerged new and exciting possibilities for instruction, such as benefiting students in various academic disciplines and providing instructors with various added perspectives by including students' personal voices in the learning process. More recently, however, attention has been on another form, called "micro-blogging," which uses platforms such as Twitter, FriendFeed, or Floss.pro. The distinctions between the two kinds of platforms create unique opportunities for instruction and student engagement.

Differences Between Macro- and Micro-Blogging
It is important to begin with an understanding of the main differences in the micro and macro environments and also how those differences affect instructional settings. Although there can be specific software or platform differences, in general, the application and use differences can be categorized as follows:

  • Purpose of the tool--each has a very different purpose and not all blogs are the same;
  • Speed and intention of flow--there is a distinct different in how the flow of information occurs; and
  • The appeal to students--students show interest for different reasons.
Purpose Micro-Blogging Tools
Adrian Chan, social media consultant, wrote in a blog post, "Twitter is a conversation tool, and content on twitter is more akin to speech than it is to its long-form brethren. The term 'micro-blogging' is, I think, a bit of a misnomer in fact. 'Micro-blogging' suggests writing (blogging). To me, Twitter is clearly talk. Micro-messaging would be more accurate --but then messaging is micro already.

"Because the content on twitter is produced by people talking, it would need to be measured differently than conventional page-based content, social or evergreen. We would want to measure talk, not pages. We would want to measure talkers, not sites or domains. We would want to measure relationships, not in-and out-bound links."

Therefore, rather than try and make it something else, it is important to maximize the fact that it is a conversational tool. Of course that can be used negatively to distract students but it can also be used to motivate students when the conversation is on topic and for a specific purpose.

In others words, it becomes essential to actually identify a topic for conversational focus by uploading an article or direct feed or stimulating discussion through commentary. In any classroom, conversation is vital to the processing and understanding of information within a relevant context. Micro-blogging provides an environment in which this kind of conversation flow can be guided on an ongoing basis and throughout a course of study.

Macro-blogging, on the other hand, provides more of a uni-directional flow, although input can be made and integration of that input can be accommodated. Different from the instant flow of the conversational micro-blogs, macro-blogs provide time for individual processing and for individual student voice to develop. The differences in application are somewhat similar to that of the differences between synchronous chat and asynchronous discussion forums. There are uses for both but the distinct differences should be maximized rather than diminished in an instructional setting. Therefore, if the desired learning outcome is to process one or two main concepts of an article or project, the micro-blog will provide conversational exchange that will affect the idea directly. If the desired outcome is more reflective or individually processed, then themacro-blog would be the tool to choose.

Speed and Intention of the Flow
Some discourse is taking place via numerous blogs about the psychology of the different environments. We know as educators that students have preferred instructional activities based on their learning style but also who they are--some enjoy large group discussion while other prefer one-on-one interactions and so on. As educators we are constantly thinking about how to accommodate these differences while still challenging each student to move outside those preferences to learn something new. Digital blog environments are no different. Students have preferences and these are influenced by their individual psychology, as are the ways in which they participate, according to some experts. The psychology, according to Chan, can be broken down into self-oriented, other-oriented, and relationship-oriented types.

Self-oriented students may respond to the informative or declarative version because it doesn't solicit conversation and because it's not a relational appeal. It is a self-reflexive statement, such as "I believe this" or "I think this," with an implication that the reader can take it or leave it.

Other-oriented students, or conversational types, may respond to the question, insofar as it is not a declaration of "how I feel" but a response to the question, "How do you feel?" or a prompt to "think about this."

Relationship-oriented students may respond to the appeal because it elicits a social or relational response. The uptake of the appeal is a relational act and may be rewarded with a follow--it at least surfaces the twitterer who has taken up the appeal. So it suggests, in psychological terms, acknowledgment or validation. And it works without the retweeter having to say anything. So in this sense a relational type of person can foster, develop, and sustain relationships.

What is important is to recognize the types of responses and facilitate movement for each student toward the collective goal of academic thought and community building.

Valeria Maltoni from the "Conversation Agent," discussed the interesting approach Chan takes to micro-blogging and the distinctions with macro-blogs and quotes Chan as saying that, "Psychology and conversation style are totally evident in how people tweet and update their status." Maltoni also provides an interesting analysis of various kinds of blog posts and describes those that are, "educational, practical, and potentially substantial as the most attractive."

Instructionally, then, while the psychology of each student plays an important part in any learning activity or assignment in terms of approach and method, so too in blogging. Those who are able to maximize the social aspects of the micro-blogging environment can gain ground more quickly in terms of conversation flow. In general, the expectation would be much faster than a macro-blog flow as macro-blogging does not rely on social networking but on self-expression and self-editing.

Interestingly, while each environment might suit some students better than others, the differences can also benefit all students in that the macro-blog can provide internal reflection leading to articulation of thought while micro-blogging builds on the social dynamics of a group--just as in a traditional classroom, teachers would use individual work, then pair or group work for the same reasons. Students should be challenged holistically, and even outside their own preferences and areas of comfort on a regular basis.

The Appeal to Students
My experience with integrating macro-blogs to a course is that students tend to respond with questions about the necessity of the task in a similar way that hard copy journaling can be a dread to many. That is, the idea of processing one's own thinking rather than borrowing someone else's thoughts or facts and statements from a textbook can sound like difficult work for many students, and the kind that requires time.

As so many courses require only tasks of students, rather than processes, it can often take more time than planned to acquaint students with process and encourage participation. Of course, assigning a grade helps with initial response but it does not help with actual deeper level thought development. That must be designed into the exercise itself and continually guided and facilitated by the instructor. Usually students should also leave the experience with a learning resource or additional material to demonstrate the completion of the process.

Micro-blogging can, on the other hand, initially seem more appealing to students, particularly students who text on a regular basis and who are accustomed to faster information flow. The challenge for the teacher, however, is to focus the participation and again guide the learning process.

I would suggest the following as ways to move students towards full engagement with either tool:

  • Clearly communicate the objectives and intended outcomes of the exercise to the students before starting to use either kind of blog;
  • Encourage feedback from students throughout on the process, including how it could be improved;
  • Set up the exercise from a question or problem perspective, encouraging inquiry rather than merely opinion; and
  • Assign grades for actual work (i.e. meeting the outcomes), not numbers of words or posts.

The goal is to not provide tasks for students to perform since the more tasks they're assigned, the more impatient they will become. Rather, it is to set outcomes and various paths of possibility in meeting those outcomes. In so doing, more students will feel engaged and empowered in their learning process.

The challenge, therefore, is for teachers to recognize the differences in these tools and not assume that one blog is the same as the next. As Chan suggests, micro-blogging is really text-based conversation rather than blogging. Nevertheless, I encourage maintaining the word "blog" for micro environments as it helps to focus their use in instruction on a guided process rather than the result being determined by conversation only, as engaging instruction requires conversation based in a context of thought within which students can think through ideas and apply them to various situations.

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