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'Narrate, Curate, Share': How Blogging Can Catalyze Learning

As I talk at colleges and universities across the country about the blogging initiatives I've led at the University of Mary Washington, Baylor University, and now at Virginia Tech, my audiences consistently ask about several issues. FERPA is one. Grading is another. But the fundamental questions have to do with the nature and value of the activity itself. What is blogging? Is it like an online journal? If so, how is a public journal of academic value? Should I give my students prompts? Will they think this is merely busy work? Should their blogs be about work done in specific classes, work done in several classes, work done outside of class, or all of the above?

These are all perfectly legitimate questions. And while I cannot always articulate my intuitions about the value of particular learning experiences or teaching strategies, I have come up with a conceptual framework that explains what I believe to be the core elements--and the essential worth--of a blogging initiative, either within a course or across an entire program. I've built the framework out of three imperatives: "Narrate, Curate, Share." I believe these three imperatives underlie some of the most important aspects of an educated citizen's contributions to the human record. And in my experience, blogging offers a uniquely powerful way of becoming a self-aware learner in the process of making those contributions.

"Narrate, Curate, Share" is the framework in place for the upcoming fall semester as the Virginia Tech Center for Innovation in Learning partners with Tech's new Honors Residential College to bring 21st-century innovation to the tradition of residential learning with a program-wide blogging initiative. Our goal is to enrich each student's individual learning, as well as to help the living-learning example of the Honors Residential College to influence and inspire the entire university. We wanted the rich individuality of each student's voice to be able to sound within a networked conversation that could scale across many contexts. "Narrate, Curate, Share" gave us the framework we needed to conceptualize and articulate these goals.

Here's how we've explained these three imperatives to the honors students themselves:

Narrate. Blogs are stories. Your posts tell the story of your learning. By telling that story, you're actually reinforcing your learning. Research shows that when people "think aloud" about what they're doing as they're doing it, they remember the information longer and attain mastery faster. As you blog, think of yourself as a storyteller, and don't overlook the details that make your story rich, exciting, and above all, your story. The story of your learning will include the work you're doing in the classroom, sure, but it will also include the informal discussions you have outside the classroom as you interact with your professors, your fellow students, and with all the members of the Virginia Tech community--and beyond.

Curate. To curate your stories is to go up yet another "meta" level, where you think about the larger story of the life's work you're building as a student at Virginia Tech. To be a good curator is to take pride in the elements of your blog and to think about the way your larger story comes across to readers. Just as a good museum curator arranges exhibits to draw the visitor in and heighten his or her experience, the good blog curator thinks about how to shape his or her blog and its contents to add value and interest to the reader's experience, and to the entire learning community. The result is a more comprehensive awareness of yourself as a learner and creator. You'll also be exploring the transformative possibilities of becoming a true "digital citizen."

Share. In Where Good Ideas Come From, Steven Johnson takes Pasteur's maxim that "chance favors the prepared mind" and revises it for the 21st century: "chance favors the connected mind." Sharing means finding and creating connections. It means creating a "serendipity field" that brings new opportunities for learning and creativity. Don't just wait for the world to come to you. Look for creative ways to get the word out about your blog, about the blogs in your Colloquium, or your other courses, or your residence hall. Network thyself! See "Amazing Tales Of Openness" for examples of the wonderful things that can result. You'll soon have your own amazing tales to contribute.

A Final Word. In his essay "How Blogging Changed Everything," Scott Rosenberg challenges us to think anew about the purposes of education: "It's a mistake to think of human creativity as a kind of limited natural resource, like an ore waiting for society to mine; it is more like a gene that will turn on given the right cues." The Honors Residential College's blogging initiative seeks to help you turn on that gene and lift your learning to a whole new level. So narrate, curate, and share. Participate in what Rosenberg calls "a new kind of public sphere, at once ephemeral and timeless, sharing the characteristics of conversation and deliberation."

Your readers await!

[Editor's note: For further reading, see "The Reverend Asked Me A Question"]

About the Author

W. Gardner Campbell is Director of Professional Development and Innovative Initiatives in the Division of Learning Technologies at Virginia Tech.

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