Blogging in education was a much-discussed topic in the first decade of the 21st century, with student-created blogs becoming popular in the writing classroom (and in the field of education in general). A majority of the scholarship tended to present general views about blogging in teaching, with much of the focus being on practical "how-to" aspects of blogging that would presumably make the task of having students use this online writing medium more accessible for instructors. Blogs in writing centers, however, have not been studied as thoroughly, and existing scholarship suggests that writing center blogs are being used in many different ways with a wide variety of intended audiences—from blogs written for students to blogs written by tutors in tutor training courses. We aim to fill that gap with this study.
After reviewing the literature, we noted three general categories, moving from general to specific: Blogging Advice and Recommendations, Blogging as Learning in Education, and Blogging as Learning in the Writing Center. In earlier texts, the focus was on establishing the best practices for this new communication medium; this progressed to best practices for use in the classroom and, eventually, to the specific arena of writing centers. In this review, we also highlight Blogging Concerns. This section presents the scholarship's expressed concerns about blogging—as almost every piece brought up at least one cautionary note. This general framework—thinking of blogging in the big picture of education and considering how it can work within the specific educational setting of a writing center—informed our own research as we studied how blogs can be used in the field.
The literature addressed the many ways webtexts can be used effectively (and ineffectively), and this knowledge informed our analysis of writing center blogs and our own set of best practices.
In "Educational Blogging," Stephen Downes (2004) offered a look at educational blogging practices and the history of the medium while offering insights on the value of blog posts for both writers and readers. Downes noted that for readers at the time, "the weblog is frequently characterized (and criticized) as (only) a set of personal comments and observations" and blogs were originally more of a series of "bookmarks, rants and raves, news, [and] events" when they were first named in 1997 by Jorn Barger on his site Robot Wisdom (p. 16). While weblogs were more formally categorized around 1999, the form rapidly increased in use and popularity after the events of September 11, 2001. While early blogs could be compared to posted journals, the types of blogs proliferated after September 11 as blogs became sites for reporting and commenting on events with immediacy. Downes quoted critic Catherine Seipp: "Blog now refers to a Web journal that comments on the news—often by criticizing the media and usually in rudely clever tones—with links to stories that back up the commentary with evidence" (p. 18).
Downes (2004) stressed that educational blogs should be categorized more by format and process than by content. While his article highlights five of the reasons blogs are so popular in educational settings, Downes emphasized their ease of use. After an overview of some (now-extinct) hosts and applications, Downes refocused on why blogs have become so vital to classrooms. He cited George Siemens, an educational blog advocate: "weblogs break down barriers. They allow ideas to be based on merit, rather than origin, and ideas that are of quality filter across the Internet, 'viral-like across the blogosphere'" (p. 22, quoting Siemens). It is with this mindset that Downes encouraged educators to use blogs as a medium to foster connections between disciplines and to allow students to develop their own learning based on their interests; as writing centers are inherently interdisciplinary, Downes's commentary on the early phases of blogging in education was relevant as we considered the value and use of blogs in writing center pedagogy.
Similarly, Patricia McGee and Veronica Diaz (2007), in "Wikis and Podcasts and Blogs! Oh, My! What Is a Faculty Member Supposed to Do?", highlighted why instructional technology programs are being embraced by universities across the country. Offering crisp tables on Web 2.0 applications and emerging technologies, McGee and Diaz asked institutions and instructors to consider the desires, needs, and preferences of faculty—and their pedagogical constraints—before choosing to use the latest technology tools. They encouraged readers to consider the following questions: "Do emerging and innovative technologies actually result in an improved educational model? How are these technologies implemented and sustained? How do these technologies map to instructional problems? Which technologies actually improve learning?" (p. 38). They concluded that faculty adopt current or emerging technology tools that "[address] broader 'grand challenges' such as accessibility, affordability, accountability, and improved learning" (p. 38). They offered suggestions for institutions to pilot and then "centralize and support tools" in "an informed, data-driven process" that benefits both faculty and students (p. 38).
In these pieces about how to blog in education, the authors offered practical tips about effectively using blogs in an academic setting. This type of information would be especially useful to hesitant faculty members who might not feel comfortable using such technologies. The authors were also careful to address that using technology simply for technology's sake in the classroom is not an effective strategy, which most instructors would appreciate. This same cautionary note applies in writing center contexts. As we discovered in our research, blogs must have a clear purpose in order to be effective—they should not simply be adopted for the sake of more tech integration.
Those in the field of education have been considering since the early 2010s how effectively blog writing can be used both in the classroom and beyond. For instance, Eddy Chong (2010) asked if blogging was "the key for the 21st-century educator teaching the Web 2.0 generation" (p. 799). This conversation is an important one for our study of writing center blogs, as these blogs are often used in writing center tutor education courses or training.
Scholars seemed to agree that student blogging is a valuable practice, especially in regard to peer interaction and feedback. Carie Windham (2007) examined what students were blogging about and how faculty were using blogs in their classrooms. She discussed "just because" bloggers, and she asserted that blogs can be important vehicles for both creativity and peer interaction (pp. 3–4). She also discussed "blogs as forums for learning" in the classroom environment (p. 5). One instructor she spoke with noted the importance of linking class content to a class blog, emphasizing that the blog cannot exist in a vacuum—a concept that relates closely to our research about blogs in writing centers, where we found the value of integrating the blog with other media. Lastly, she noted that blogs can be a virtual place for students to practice their language skills.
In Chong's (2010) case study, he connected blogging to researching, particularly as it applied to introducing undergraduates to academic research. As his case study progressed, he noted that the blogs gave invaluable insight into the "students’ thought processes" (p. 802), and students also shared the difficulties they faced in the learning and researching process. After examining final research papers and soliciting student feedback, Chong found that "blogging can combine solitary reflection and social interaction" to introduce students to academic research and develop their research skills (p. 805). This type of blog could be of particular interest to first-year writing instructors who teach introductory research skills as well as writing at the college level.
Barbara O'Byrne and Stacey Murrell (2014) extended this research by examining the benefits of blogging through the lens of its inherent multimodality, and they asserted that blogging can be an important component of literacy for students. Studying high school students who created an educational blog, O'Byrne and Murrell discovered—much like Windham—that blogs are "media-rich platforms in which learners operate with plural modes of literacy to construct meaning, communicate and participate" (p. 926). In O’Byrne and Murrell's study, the vast majority of students saw the blog as a place for more than text-based entries, embracing the notion of a blog as a place for multimodal content. The focus on multimodality in this piece reflects the more recent focus of blog research and demonstrates how it has progressed in the last 10 years; the emphasis on multimodality also makes it relevant to a writing center audience, particularly those who support students working on multimodal projects.
In a more recent study, Jennifer Hewerdine (2018) discussed the crucial aspect of a "realized public audience," which is automatically provided with blog entries because anyone—well beyond the scope of the classroom—can like and comment on the student's writing. She went further and asserted that blogs can make students more comfortable with writing itself since the personal blog space becomes their own (with their chosen design). Again, first-year writing instructors would undoubtedly benefit from using this approach as they teach students about the importance of audience and as more writing faculty incorporate multimodality into their courses.
Most of the research on blogging in writing centers has picked up on the educational value of blogs, focusing on blogs written by tutors and for tutors, often as part of a tutor training course. Melinda Baer's (2006) article provided a brief overview of the origins of the blog format (especially the publishing tool Blogger), an introduction to some key terms (such as administrator and contributor), and a discussion of the value and challenges of blogs for writing centers. Written from personal experience, Baer's article highlighted the value of blogs for "their ability to compile links and discussions (posts) in one place that is accessible by consultants anywhere they can get online" (p. 2). As with R. Mark Hall's (2011) discussion of dialogic reflection, Baer's frame of reference was an internal blog used to generate discussion and resource sharing among tutors.
Sarah Blazer (2015) also discussed her use of a private, internal tutor blog as a way to "encourage ongoing reflection and communication within closer proximity of our actual tutoring sessions" (p. 33). This strategy could be employed by any writing center administrator, whether the reflective writing is made part of the tutor's job or is included as part of a tutor education course. The focus of Blazer’s article was not only on blogging but on the need to develop tutor education opportunities that engage tutors in questions of inclusive perspectives and practices. Blogging was just one of the mechanisms Blazer used, but she discussed how the blog offered a different and "vital thinking space for tutors to situate and connect to our central inquiry that semester, to reflect on evolving our ideas, and to begin to imagine new praxis" (p. 45). While the blog space doesn’t work for everyone, "the blog continues to provide access to much richer and more varied perspectives [than staff meetings] that provoke and cultivate our ongoing work together" (p. 46).
In Around the Texts of Writing Center Work: An Inquiry-Based Approach to Tutor Education, R. Mark Hall (2017) began his chapter about the use of blogging in writing center tutor education as a tool for reflection by questioning the audience for reflective writing. Hall took up Mike Mattison's call for "dialogic reflection," suggesting its worth over reflective writing that is directed toward the writing center director only. Hall argued that through dialogic reflection in blog writing, tutors practice Chris Argyris's concept of double-loop learning, wherein students are not just learning procedural, how-to knowledge, but also developing an "inquiry stance toward writing center practice" (p. 108). By having tutors post blogs and then engage in written dialogue via blog responses, Hall found in his analysis of the posts not only that tutors engaged in discussions about the how-to of writing center work but also that the "discussion explicates the values, assumptions, and beliefs, including the principles and propositions supplied by expert knowledge, which govern tutoring practices" (p. 122).
Baer, Blazer, and Hall all examined the value of blog use for internal tutor development. Despite some concerns, the overall analysis—especially by Blazer and Hall—seemed positive. Given that the most recent studies of writing center blog use draw primarily from the authors' own institutional contexts, we wanted in our study to see if the claims about purpose and value hold true for a larger sampling of blogs. In addition, we wanted to learn if writing center blogs could be used for purposes other than tutor education and we wanted to understand more about what makes writing center blogs last—what makes them useful to their institutions and what makes them continue on for longer periods of time.
Though blogging in education is typically presented positively, the negative perceptions about blogging are also frequently considered. In the literature regarding how to create/maintain blogs, Downes (2004) was careful to note the downsides to educational blogging: the constraints on content in a school setting and the student writers’ fading interest in the medium when the writing doesn’t seem purposeful. McGee and Diaz (2007) acknowledged the challenges of technology adaptation and use for educators in classrooms filled with digitally literate students, as they began their piece with a story about an overworked professor named Kim Vega who struggled to integrate Web 2.0 elements into her professional life. Jackie Grutsch McKinney (2009) expressed concerns regarding the emerging field of blogging in writing centers as it relates to privacy and authenticity of communication in her "Geek in the Center" column on blogging. She noted that "public blogs [are] readily findable by parents, students, faculty, administrators, and the general public" (p. 9). Blog researchers frequently return to these concerns, and it is unsurprising that these concerns are evident in the writing center community as well.
Gill Kirkup (2010) stated that traditional academic writing can be problematic, and blogging has the potential to become a new, more accessible type of academic writing. Kirkup argued that blogs have typically been agreed upon as valuable for students, but they haven’t been accepted as a legitimate writing medium for scholars, and they are, in fact, often derided as "not real" publications. This concern was echoed by Windham (2007), who documented her fear of blogging publicly in her time as a graduate student (worrying about what her professors might see on the blog or what her peers might think). In response to this type of concern within the academic community, Kirkup (2010) conducted a study with bloggers at her own university. She discovered that for academics "there was no direct relationship between their teaching and their blogging" (p. 81). That said, she found professional reputation costs involved with blogging as an academic, with some of her interviewees noting that their blogging had a negative impact on their careers. Chong (2010) also discussed the perceived problems with required academic blogging—both by serious/professional bloggers who view "forced blogging" as problematic and by educators who view the informal writing in blogs as inappropriate for academics (p. 800). Certainly, reputation is of concern for academics, especially those who are new to the field; scholars such as Kathleen Fitzpatrick (2012) have responded to this concern by calling for new criteria by which to assess the quality of scholarly writing in online spaces.
The challenges Baer (2006) discussed in regard to writing centers included privacy (e.g., mentioning clients by name in a public forum), technology and the ways in which it can become overwhelming, and tutor usage of the blog. With the exception of the last item, the other two challenges are aligned with the identified concerns with using webtexts in educational settings. This attitude toward blogging is similar to the consensus expressed about blogging in the general field of education. As we progressed with our research, we used this conversation regarding concerns to inform our analysis of the writing center blogs in our study, being attentive to these concerns and limitations as well as to their beneficial qualities.