An (aspiring) Educator’s Blog

An educator blogging….novel idea.

In Defense of the “Echo Chamber”

with 11 comments

I ran across posts on Educational Insanity and the Ed Jurist Record that characterize the edublogosphere (I’ll abbreviate it EBS for the rest of the post) as an “echo chamber”:

I’m still searching for the right metaphor, because I don’t know that “echo chambers” is quite right; maybe it is, though. According to Wikipedia, “[m]etaphorically, the term echo chamber can refer to any situation in which information, ideas or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by transmission inside an ‘enclosed’ space.” I’ve gotten myself in trouble in the past for suggesting that the edtechblogosphere is a closed space, so I have to be careful here. But, I’ve noticed that the ed. tech. folks on Scott’s list all tend to comment on each other’s blogs and they all tend to communicate with each other via Twitter and other communication media. There are LOTS of REALLY valuable reasons for that, mostly that there is lots of co-learning going on that way. [NOTE: I’ve noticed that the same sort of “echo chamber” exists for the ed. policy bloggers, although the echoes there are less frequent and more muted (IMHO), and I don’t know that there’s much electronic communication going on between them beyond the blogs]. (http://edinsanity.com/2008/06/05/the-ed-tech-echo-chamber/)

Here are my reservations with these two posts:

1. Communities are “enclosed spaces”:

Wikipedia:

In biological terms, a community is a group of interacting organisms sharing an environment. The word community is derived from the Latin communitas (meaning the same), which is in turn derived from communis, which means “common, public, shared by all or many”[1]. Communis comes from a combination of the Latin prefix com- (which means “together”) and the word munis (which has to do with performing services).

In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risks and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness. Traditionally in sociology, a “community” has been defined as a group of interacting people living in a common location. However, the definition of the word “community” has evolved to mean individuals who share characteristics, regardless of their location or degree of interaction.

Bloggers created EBS to share information amongst people with common interests.

2. Communities exist within communities exist within communities….you get the point. Members of the EdTech community recognize themselves as members of various interconnected communities. Topics include education in general, education policy, politics, professional development, social justice, teacher narratives, administration, student narratives, parent narratives, and media critique. This is evident in the content and linking of popular EdTech blogs. Weblogg-ed uses the lens of ed tech to talk about professional development, lesson plans, and literacy. Cool Cat Teacher Blog has the innovative 31 Day Comment Challenge – the purpose of the challenge is to strengthen many blogging communities. These are just two examples out of many.

3. As Adam Smith points out, specialization is a good thing. Most blogs (both inside and outside of education) choose a central theme and use that topic to branch to other subjects. This is the most efficient way of generating and sharing innovative content.

4. Bloggers understand their audience: Other bloggers.

Ed Jurist says that the most dangerous part about the ‘echo chamber’ in ed tech is the insulated conversation:

First, as far as I can tell, the ed. tech. field sees as Goal #1 the spreading of education technology knowledge to all k-12 educators which will help students learn. Well, when you are twittering, it is hard to bring in non-education tech. folks. It is a struggle just to get K-12 educators to visit blogs. If it were not for Google, I am not even sure how well we would be exceeding at that. To expect them to participate in Twitter conversations is unreasonable – so those conversations are 100% insulated conversations.

Although many bloggers engage in initiatives that target non-bloggers, most of their work is geared toward people who inhabit blogland.

5. Although the marketplace of ideas is competitive, edubloggers tend to believe in sharing.

Ed Jurist says:

Second, largely the ed. tech. field seems to be expecting new bloggers to come to them. Why? Isn’t that the opposite of Goal #1 above? When you see the blogosphere as a competitive marketplace for ideas, other bloggers on different topics (who will probably not be giving you Technorati bumps) are competitors, no? Why promote another’s blog, especially a non-ed. tech. blog who is not going to reference you back? To me, that is the exact wrong way to visualize the education blogosphere if your goal is to nurture new edubloggers so that they can in turn help their students. Third, the dominating ed. tech. social network is scary to outsiders. If you are an insider, this is probably hard to understand, but you scare people.

Ed bloggers promote each other’s blogs all the time – blogrolls, blog carnivals, group blogs, and guest appearances are just a few examples. Blogging isn’t competitive because of bloggers trying to guard their content. People who read blogs are thirsty for innovative sources of information – they discard blogs that don’t fit their needs.

Blogging is hard. Many people start blogs just to give them up a day later – why? Blogging is a public view of the personal. Not only will a blogger disagree with what you have to say, s/he will post their comments on a public space. Also, staying engaged in the community is time consuming. It doesn’t take much time for me to write a blog post. I spend more time looking at new blogs, making comments, following feeds, and reading education news. You can’t fault EBS for potential bloggers choosing to engage their energies elsewhere.

End.of.rambling.

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Written by TeacherC

5 June 2008 at 5:35 pm

11 Responses

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  1. Wow! That was an AWESOME extension and elaboration of the conversation on those other two posts. Nicely done!

    I don’t know if I’d agree with this statement of yours: ‘Although many bloggers engage in initiatives that target non-bloggers, most of their work is geared toward people who inhabit blogland.’ I think people’s work that gets blogged is just more visible. The day-to-day work in their school organizations, for example, is much less visible.

    FYI, my primary audience is not other bloggers. They’re my secondary audience (because they have the power to spread the word). My primary audience is school leaders (however that’s defined). Unfortunately, I haven’t reached them all yet (but I’m trying!)…

    Scott McLeod

    5 June 2008 at 5:51 pm

  2. Thanks for reading my post.

    I agree with your first comment – I think that most work that edbloggers do to engage parents, students, community leaders, and others in education happens outside of the internet.

    I forgot to take blogs for classes and blogs that are targeted to the professional community into account. Do you know what percentage of your viewers are active bloggers versus readers?

    educatorblog

    5 June 2008 at 5:55 pm

  3. I can’t write more than two paragraphs on the edublogosphere without getting really heavyhanded and cynical but this is really great analysis. Cool to see a blogger hit the ground at full sprint.

    Dan Meyer

    5 June 2008 at 6:49 pm

  4. I think your disagreement with Scott is very close to mine.

    Your statement “Bloggers understand their audience: Other bloggers” I think is right and is exactly what I am identifying as the problem. Also: “Although many bloggers engage in initiatives that target non-bloggers, most of their work is geared toward people who inhabit blogland.” — Exactly. Because like 80% of other education bloggers are ed. tech. bloggers, people have a tendency to post for that audience in order to get readers and rankings and comments, etc. That tends to build on itself with posts and ideas bouncing back and forth and creates an echo.

    Yes, I also agree there can be good things about this type of community. But, we are how many years into blogging now? 5-6-7? I don’t know, but still the vast majority of edubloggers (at least the ones with any technorati rating) are ed. tech. oriented blogs. That concerns me. If you goal is to integrate the larger education community, at some point doesn’t that percentage of ed. tech. folks have to go down?

    Justin B.

    5 June 2008 at 7:32 pm

  5. Dan: I’ll try to retain my (naive) charm I progress from intern/masters student to teacher. Thanks for checking out my blog – I admire yours.

    Justin B. (Ed Jurist): As Scott M. said above, most of the work that edubloggers do to engage/reform their communities is done off of the internet. The glimpse that we see on the internet is geared toward others who are trying to implement the same kinds of changes. Bloggers can’t create audiences out of thin air – there has to be a demand for the types of blogs you want to see in the ‘sphere. Could you give me more details about what kinds of blogs you want to see? What kinds of information do those blogs feature? What’s their point of view? What demands will they meet?

    educatorblog

    5 June 2008 at 8:11 pm

  6. Another reply to Ed Jurist: “If you goal is to integrate the larger education community, at some point doesn’t that percentage of ed. tech. folks have to go down?”

    Actually, no. Most blogging and web 2.0 that educators create are made to appeal to a specific audience – their students, parents, school community, etc. Many educators host blogs on district/school websites and services like edblogs.org. That’s the whole point of of the ed 2.0 movement – targeting new technologies and interventions to very specific populations. I think that blog posts that are made to appeal to a wider audience are those that are accessed more (ed tech blogs, policy blogs, blogs for ed nonprofits/publications, etc).

    educatorblog

    5 June 2008 at 11:48 pm

  7. Let’s see … what would I like to see?

    I would like to see more Leadertalks (www.leadertalk.org).

    I would like to see more inner city/urban focused education blogs.

    I would like to see more blogs on data analysis.

    I would like to see more guidance counselor blogs.

    I would like to see blogs on school finance.

    I would like to see more bus driver blogs …

    You get the idea. I think there are lots of virtually untapped areas, but all of these require the development of online social networks to support and read new bloggers. If you are the only bus driver blog, and yet you are blogging your heart out on how to be the best damn bus driver …. its a tree in the woods kind of thing. How do you develop those social networks quickly? These networks already exist for Ed. Tech. blogs and policy blogs, but how do you build these networks in other places? The same problem exists in my mind concerning your second post. Writing for a specific audience … you still have to build a social network.

    That is what I think we need to get better at. Bringing on GROUPS of people at a time so there is a ready made social network people can rely on. This one by one by one thing … at the pace technology moves, education will never keep up. (Of course, now I am stealing Scott’s points).

    Justin B.

    6 June 2008 at 6:33 am

  8. I guess that I’m an economist at heart – I think that social networks develop organically based on the demand for those networks. Of course you need tools (Facebook, WordPress, Edublogs.org, etc). I can’t think of another ‘sphere (politics/policy, personal narrative, car blogs, etc) that has had an alternative path to development. You should research other blog ‘spheres and social networks and write a post – that would be interesting.

    educatorblog

    6 June 2008 at 9:47 am

  9. […] think that there is a reasonable amount of diversity in the edublogosophere (see earlier post). There are teachers whose blogs reflect diverse perspectives – different taught subjects, […]

  10. […] Irrelevant’s Top 50 P-12 EdBlogs list sparked debates on multiple blogs (including mine) about the nature of the edublogopshere. Why do tech blogs dominate the Top 50? Are new bloggers […]

  11. […] Irrelevant’s Top 50 P-12 EdBlogs list sparked debates on multiple blogs (including mine) about the nature of the edublogopshere. Why do tech blogs dominate the Top 50? Are new bloggers […]


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