The Birth of BBlogLab, which begat Heymillennials, which begat…

There are over a million blogs posted every day. Blog is the shortened form of Weblog and was originally a kind of online diary recording the thoughts of an individual.  But in the last decade Multi-Authored Blogs (MABs) have developed into income generating businesses,  Huffington Post is probably the most famous of these but in fact there are numerous MABs on the market now all successful businesses harnessing the informal nature and technical immediacy of blogging to create new kinds of journalism or to reboot traditional forms for our millennial age.

But blogging is not just writing a more informal article and publishing it online rather than on paper.  Blogging also encapsulates social media platforms.  Twitter openly sells itself as a micro-blogging platform and Tumblr is quite clear that what it hosts are blogs.  What is Facebook after all but the single most successful platform in history for blogging, albeit one aimed, at least initially, at personal material written to share with ones ‘friends’.  You may say to yourself I know nothing of blogging, as you retweet a meme or respond to something on Facebook. As you do so, not only are you consuming blogs you are, in fact, a blogger yourself.

In other words, the full sense of what blogging is accounts for a large proportion of our online lives.  Indeed increasingly, aside from searching and shopping, blogging is the net.  There are 1.2 billion monthly users on Facebook alone and you are probably one of them.  Each user is their own publisher, editor and self-publicist. This is an unprecedented event in the history of human culture.  We have over a billion people in any given month, all reading the same ‘text’, Facebook.  But they are not just reading that text they are editing it, promoting it, responding to it, sharing it.  The net is not only the biggest text in history, read by the most amount of people at any one time, but since Web 2.0 it is the first text that has as many editors as it does readers.  Such a mega-text, which is not only massive but also converts its readers from passive audience to active editors, is all down to the rise of blogging.

In that blogging is all about the production of and interaction with texts, it should play a central role in literary studies as a topic, a teaching resource, a mode of assessment and core transferable skill to enhance the employability of our students.  While we do mention the net ad blogging in passing, and sometimes design courses on Digital Humanities, it is fair to say that we spend a disproportionately minuscule  time on digital literacy in relation to how much we spend on text literary and in relation to how massive and significant the net now is as an interactive textual experiment with massive social, cultural and political implications.

I wanted to find a way that could study blogging, but in a way that emulated it as a form.  I didn’t want to read blogs as if they were texts, I wanted students to participate in blogging in a self-conscious and critical way which itself would be a form of reading as participating which is the essence of Web 2.0.  So I set up a virtual lab, called BBlogLab, short for Brunel Blogging Laboratory.  Then I set my students loose in the lab and recorded what happened.  I wasn’t sure if my students were the scientists or the lab rats when I did this.  To some degree I still don’t know.

Here’s the pitch I made to the Teach Brunel panel.  They seemed to buy it as they gave me some money and called me innovative.

BBlogLab is a proposed educational blogging resource designed to investigate and enhance the role of blogging on our courses.  Its aim will be to support and promote the involvement of our students in creating their own MAB. It will be entirely edited and run by Brunel students who will commission and create content, develop social media strategies to promote the blog, and manage a small budget for advertising.

BBlogLab will also be a resource for staff and students to reflect on their experience of blogging, providing us with important data as to students’ interaction with the web.

Finally, it will be the hub around which blogging education and training will be provided to our students by professionals already working in the field.

I took the money, recruited 20 blog editors, and worked with them over the summer to create a multi-author blog that eventually was called Heymillennials.co.uk, strapline, Blogging for Students by Students.  It would turn out to be a transformative and not always painless experience for all of us.  More of that next time, for now go to HeyMillennials, read a piece, like it, and share it.  Be a good netizen (net citizen), the future of our students may depend on it.

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