A Blogging Bestiary

Soooo, I had to do another presentation on blogging and “Bob on Blogs” wasn’t really the style I wanted for the UR crowd. Time for something new. This is my basic thought process in case it might interest someone.

Concept (learning objective): There are two key things I want viewers to come away with

  1. A blog is just an easy way to get content (multimedia and otherwise) on the Internet and you don’t have to do commenting, regular posts, etc.
  2. There are lots of interesting ways to use blogs in education

The problem I ran into was that I had lots of blog examples but when I started trying to break things down to show the flexibility it got way too complex. I was initially trying to show things like:

  • Group blog, with comments, using text and images
  • Single user blog, without comments, using text
  • Group blog, aggregating via RSS, with comments using text, video and images

So, instead I divided the presentation into two parts. The first portion would be a more traditional presentation with slides to add some humor and associate some interesting visuals with the relatively dry topic of the conceptual use of blogs, their limitations etc. I really wanted to keep the audience engaged and thinking about things in terms that made sense to them.

The second portion ended up being built with Exhibit so that users could select the design elements they wanted and then be linked to an a blog with those elements. I got the idea from this Exhibit page that allows you to select a variety of political positions and end up with the presidential candidate you should vote for. The nice thing is if I felt others would contribute interesting blogs, I could have them submit via google forms.

Now I had to come up with something that visually and thematically/spiritually carried across my point. I thought about lots of things but eventually settled on the idea of the medieval bestiary.

My rationale was pretty simple. The pictures are really interesting and unusual- and likely to stick with people. The dichotomy between using medieval illustrations to talk about blogs also appealed to me. Finally, using these images helped frame my presentation. I could parallel the strange/mythical animals to the way people are describing new web applications (like blogs) today. The monks who related the “facts” in the bestiary are about as accurate as modern day people who define blogs as “online journals.”

I’ll walk you through the presentation slide by slide below.
Intro Slide for the Bloging Bestiary
I like to have something fairly interesting to start things off that hints at what’s to come without making too much sense. I want to create a sense of intrigue. This image is put up as people come it so they, hopefully, begin to think and wonder about how in the world this weird guy is going to make a relationship between a bestiary and a blog.

This slide is my background as I describe a little of who I am and what I plan to do.
Fancy B Blogging
Now I mention there are many animals in the Bestiary of Electronic Creatures but today we’ll be discussing the blog. I make a joke about being sure there’s a B in there somewhere and start asking a few questions. Who has used a blog? Mastered one? etc. Depending on the audience knowledge I might ask for a definition.
Which one do you choose?
Here I ask the audience to decide which of these three animals a blog is most like. I encouraged them to talk to their neighbor etc. but I don’t think anyone did. I next asked the group what they choose- rhino? octopus? or hydra (which I called a many-headed-thing-a-ma-jig as a joke which didn’t work with one of the librarians in the crowd who volunteered the official name)? After giving them a short amount of time to talk (I only had 30 minutes) I asked if anyone wanted to volunteer their rationale. That worked pretty well.

Old woman fights a dog
This where I compared html etc. to being a lot like an old woman fighting a dog- no one enjoys it. I think I related the story of how I used to do what is essentially a blog by hand and how miserable that was. A need existed for a quicker easier way.

Monk
The next point was that all these “experts” defining blogs often were like the monks of old- they only had second hand information about a new animal and their writings often had motives beyond presenting simple facts. They changed or added facts to make their descriptions more interesting or to make them fit allegories.

a bonnacon spewing fiery manure over 3 acres
As Jim Groom related not too long ago, I did use a bonnacon as a comparison to the way a lot of people described blogs- namely that they were for spewing acres of fiery manure. My point was both that this didn’t have to be the case and that colorful “reporting” resulted in this stereotype.

I actually used a animated transition here. My rationale being that I wanted the bonnacon to be mysterious and then I transitioned it in with fire to emphasize the fiery nature of the bonnacon feces. And I’d always wanted to use that transition.

Blogging evolutionary tree
Now it was time to show how blogs had changed over time. I used Alan Levine’scat diaries” analogy as the origin of blogs- namely boring stuff put up sequentially that only you would be interested in.

Then things got really exciting and you could put up pictures to go with your cat diary. That’s where most of the blogs were today with a few also doing cat videos. However, there were two important divergent evolutionary paths- the multimedia publishing octopus and the static priest. These were the two offshoots that we were going to examine.
Bear licking offspring into shape
This seems slightly awkward here but it seemed to work during the presentation. I think I’d move it were I to do this again. The story is that medieval people believed that bears gave birth to shapeless blobs of flesh in the winter and the mother bear had to lick that shapeless lump into a bear cub. I paralleled to it to the author’s ability to “lick” the blog into any shape they desired. It’s just a way to get stuff on the Internet, you can make it what you want.

solo author vs group author
Now we get into the defining characteristics of blogs and why you might want to go certain ways. Solo vs group for instance. I talked about keeping the voice pure, different reasons you might want the content to just represent you, the options for multiple blogs, ways to control other users that you might want making content but not fully trust, ways to pipe in other people’s blog content via category/keyword – that type of thing. That covered the next four slides or so.

Multimedia octopus
Then I got into all the ways that blogs played nicely with multimedia (pictures, video, text, file downloads, etc.) and ways to integrate that into teaching. There was emphasis put on how easy it was.
carven monk update style
Then I got into how update styles are not set in stone. While blogs are seen as content that’s added sequentially over time, they don’t have to be. They can be set up and used as webpages very easily. This type of use cuts down on expensive software, html or WYSIWYG webpage learning curves and lets the author take advantage of lots of free design templates.

There were a couple of other images indicating a more stately update style (chameleon) and a faster frantic update choice (lots of fleas).

Security rhino
So I wrapped it up with some discussions on how and why you might want to restrict access to your blog (copyright, sensitive information, more open communication of sensitive topics). I discussed the levels of restriction. Starting with no one else can even see it and going down to anyone can comment while trying to cover the risks/benefits of each option.

In the end I compare the blog to an octopus for several reasons that I backed up with video at the very end after my two guest professors spoke.

  1. The octopus can change color to blend into any environment (blog themes)
  2. The octopus is fast and agile (like blogs but not like chameleons who are sloooowww)
  3. The octopus is flexible/malleable and really smart (my whole point about blogs- starts about 1:45 in with some wild shots of an octopus crawling through a clear plastic maze)

I was lucky enough to have Dr. Darell Walden (Accounting) and Dr. Patricia Stohr-Hunt (Education- really nice podcasts for elem. teachers) talk about their experience using blogs in the classroom.

Anna C has a pretty good write up of the content minus my stupider jokes if you’re interested. She did a much better job over the whole conference taking notes than I did.

The images, plus a few I didn’t use, are up on flickr.


The Keynote is here.

Comments on this post

  1. John said on May 27, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    I really enjoyed this post, wish i could have heard the ‘stupider jokes’. Lovely slides first time I’ve seen blogs compared to an octopus. I like the exhibit too given me an idea for branching databases in primary school. The idea that blogs can be anything (well lots of things) chimes as it is surely to early to say what blogs can and can’t be.

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