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Crossposted on Borderland:

Once upon a time I looked forward to seeing mainline literacy journals take an interest in blogging. So, it was good to see an article in this month’s Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy on using of blogs for literature study, Weblogs and Literary Response: Socially Situated Identities and Hybrid Social Languages in English Class Blogs. However, for an education blogger, there’s a gaping disjunction between the academic world of the journal, and the world of classroom blogging described in the article.

The irony of publishing an article about online “socially situated identities” in a print journal that doesn’t provide a reference for the author’s online identity was too incongruous for me to focus seriously on the content of the report, and I drifted in and out of a weirdly schizophrenic consciousness where I wasn’t sure how to read the article. I imagined being the “ivory tower academic” reading about blogs, a cutting edge communication tool that could revolutionize literature study. And then I’d flip into “blogging teacher” mode, wanting to follow a link back to the students’ or teacher’s blogs, hoping I’d learn something from their example. But the JAAL article didn’t provide source citations for the students’ blogs. So the article became its own example of the disconnect between the theoretical world of academia and the messy particulars of the classroom.

Will Richardson and Konrad Glogowski might be interested to know they were casually cited along with Gee, Fairclough, and Jenkins, even though the students’ blogs, the subject of the article, are not listed. Nor are they indexed on Google from what I can see. Which is not to say that Kathleen West, the author of the study, doesn’t have interesting things to say in her account of her 11th grade AP English students using weblogs to engage in authentic talk about books.

I did find a copy [doc] of the article on a digital media course wiki. West used discourse analysis for a case study of three variously successful students to show how each of them created distinct identities and integrated their social language with the discourse of literary analysis. She showed how the “relationship-savvy teen,” the “tempered rebel,” and the “pop-cultured humorist” all constructed hybrid identities as “serious literature students” and “web-literate communicators.” She provides samples of coded transcriptions, and quotes from the student’s blogs as exemplars. The article, written for a university course, is slightly different from the version published by JAAL, but West’s data and discussion are essentially the same in each.

A couple of things about this piece bother me, though. West’s research question, “What is the nature of literary response as communicated via weblog?” was asked about kids in an AP English class at a school which West described as an “AP-saturated,” white, upper or middle class context. She concluded that the discourse of “serious literature student” could coexist with the more non-standard, non-academic online discourse. Fair enough. But what about kids who come from less privileged neighborhoods? Case study documentations that tell only success stories, especially when they come from upper middle class school environments, have limited use for teachers who work with less privileged student populations. I am always curious about what case studies don’t show, because the disappointments in my classroom are often more instructive for me than my successes. What about the kids who weren’t “serious literature students?”

The research question about literary response and weblogs tries to bridge the rift between academic and online discourse, where “socially situated identities” are constructed around different norms and conventions. Case in point from the article: The f-word was spelled out in the JAAL piece, where West apparently has to explain the meaning of ‘WTF’ for the academic readership. It was funny to see them explicitly deal with it, tacitly acknowledging their own cluelessness, like a parent using teen jargon.

Control of academic discourse is challenged by the read/write web. Anyone can publish now, about anything they like, in any style they choose. But the academy still has the credentialing job. For how long? I wonder. We’re publishing our own research, and linking directly to the evidence, every day. So, what can the academy tell us about blogging that we don’t already know, or won’t find out on our own? And when will the academy admit the social languages that kids are bringing with them into the groves of academe?

West, K.C. (2008, April). Weblogs and Literary Response: Socially Situated Identities and Hybrid Social Languages in English Class Blogs. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 51(7), 588–598.

One Response to “When Worlds Don’t Collide”

  1. alicemercer says:

    Yeah, I hear you about how does this work in our environment. I have to believe it can, because I’m trying it, but some more study would be nice. Larry is supposed to be doing something on this, and lord knows his students are not “literature saturated” AP students (although learning English as rapidly as they do is no mean feat). I’m thinking about doing something myself, but I may just start with “case-study” type piece on a unit?

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