A little more than a year ago, I started typing the very first words of my very first blog post, also the very first words of my very first (BCM111) assignment at a university 7000 kilometres away from home.
Back then, The Specs was still named (after so many attempts) The January Journal, a reference to my birth month, and an attempt at a catchy title. The header image was still a default one provided with the theme, the wording clumsy and bland, the references redundant and irrelevant, and the blog’s owner utterly confused and disoriented.
Two sessions (plus a Summer session) and three writerly subjects (BCM110, BCM212, BCM241) later, The Specs has gained certain acknowledgement by my lecturers, tutors, and my friends. I have grown so much as an independent student, researcher, and writer.
As the design of BCM subjects, particularly this session’s BCM241 with blogging as the central task, a central “hub” (MAPhub) to start conversations on subject matters (Walatka 2012, p. 375), has successfully created “a writing-intensive course for students” (p. 372), I found myself scrolling back and back on a series of regular posts, spotting patterns in my own development. Substantial improvement is evident, in terms of the blog’s statistics, my communication strategies, and the content I create.
In August 2016, when my first three blog posts for BCM111 went up, I had fewer than five views per post, and the monthly stats stayed completely flat for another five months.
The turning point came with BCM110, as being so deeply inspired by the teaching staff, I took up blogging seriously – The Specs now had a new look, with a customised theme and my own drawings. In April, it gained nearly 800 hits, with a peak of 128 views by 66 visitors on April 4th.
Since then, despite my few hiatuses from writing, the average number of daily hits has remained rather steady, with at least 10 views per day during the sessions. There is seemingly some rhythm to the changes in daily stats, with the typical month like the column chart below. Even with the possible statistical errors taken into account, I am still rather pleased with the overall achievement.
Aware of my work being scrutinized by my peers/teachers/other audiences, the “digital critic” (Novakovich 2016, p. 27) in me was conscious of the demographics of my readers. On a day with the densest traffic, my audience would come from various geographical locations – and although some of the locations might be due to IP address changes, the range is quite impressive, due to my network of friends in numerous countries.
Qualitatively, the comments my friends and family make on my posts have revealed my strength in writing for a diverse audience – I can spark a natural connection between my content and my readers, making the content relevant to them. Some friends have even quoted my writing in a few of their posts (this for example) and consulted me for their assignments, and I was flattered when asked for advice on theme designing by this lovely friend.
My communications strategies have been tailored intensively to extend the blog’s reach, particularly via Twitter, which vastly impacts engagement and “forces [me] to be succinct” with the 140-character limit (Kassens 2014, p. 102), and which I could not get a grasp of until last session. Additionally, the “synchronization” between my Twitter profile and blog layout further enhances my trademark designs and content.
Furthermore, my online interactions with my peers and teachers for collaboration and constructive feedback have allowed me to reflect critically on my own pieces. Specifically, these comments of a friend or a lecturer encouraged me to dig deeper and further, engaging myself in “high levels of self-reflection” (Kovanovich 2016, p. 16).
I have also gradually established a signature curation of written texts and supporting images, and once everything, including a system of categories, is set, creating and sorting out new content becomes second nature – the only problem left being blogging regularly. My method of self-discipline is to aim to post every Monday, meaning I must unfailingly draft ahead. Fortunately, as BCM241 blogging is in the form of “weekly social media tasks”, it urges me to stay up-to-date (Scott & Stanway 2015, p. 99) and not fall behind (which I shamefully did for two weeks before picking myself up again).
What regular blogging most efficiently does is encouraging “post-class reflections” and facilitating understanding of the topics covered, found a study by Quesenberry et al. (2014, p. 6). My use of scholarly sources has improved remarkably in quality – it takes significantly less time to find relevant articles/research, and the integration of these sources with my authentic ideas has definitely become more coherent. This quality content is subtly complemented by my “upgraded” illustrations, demonstrating a clear style, deliberately designed and coloured.
After the first five to ten posts, my written tone has taken a defined shape, having transitioned from a monotone to a witty voice, flexibly modified to be casual or formal depending on the context – possibly a result of (finally!) successful bilingual code-switching. A typical writing “ritual” has also emerged, closely illustrating Ruegg’s (2015, p. 131) remarks – “… even when writing a single draft, many reread, revise and edit recursively rather than writing from the beginning to the end of a draft in a linear way.”
I would usually warm up by having an overview of my notes from the lecture about the issue, then do some generic background research, before deciding on a direction not yet covered. An outline is then drafted, being made more detailed with the addition of deeper research and supporting evidence, and chopped and added to multiple times during the write-up. Regarding illustrations, a range of templates including readily-named layers and colour palettes has already been devised, still with ample room for inspiration – I always must be mindful of avoiding pure routines for the sake of creativity.
A little “invention” that I am honestly proud of is my spiral bound notebook called “The shower box of Mia” (specifically for shower-thoughts). I have been filling its pages with time-trackers of my most productive hours of the day, and jotting down any random ideas that pop into my head unexpectedly – the majority of my blogging ideas actually come from this. To create the habit of daily writing, I have also been trying out 750 Words, a simple, intuitive website dedicated to getting ideas flow consistently.
As self-reflection strongly assists academic performance (Lew 2011, p. 529) and my blog – an ePortfolio – is a record of my learning throughout university studies (jenson 2011, p. 49), I am most determined to keep on brushing up on my critical writing. And although it has been and will be a winding road, I am grateful for the chances I had that opened my eyes to my own strength, as an ever-curious writer.
Jenson, JD 2011, ‘Promoting Self-regulation and Critical Reflection Through Writing Students’ Use of Electronic Portfolio’, International Journal of ePortfolio, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 49-60.
Kassens, AL 2014, ‘Tweeting Your Way to Improved #Writing, #Reflection, and #Community’, The Journal of Economic Education, vol. 45, no. 2, pp. 101-109.
Lew, MDN & Schmidt, HG 2011, ‘Self-reflection and academic performance: is there a relationship?’, Advances in Health Sciences Education, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 529-545, viewed 30 September 2017, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3167369/>.
Novakovich, J 2016, ‘Fostering critical thinking and reflection through blog-mediated peer feedback’, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, vol. 32, pp. 16-30.
Quesenberry, KE, Saewitz, D & Kantrowitz, S 2014, ‘Blogging in the Classroom: Using WordPress Blogs with BuddyPress Plugin as a Learning Tool’, Journal of Advertising Education, vol. 18, no. 2, pp. 5-17.
Ruegg, R 2015, ‘Differences in the Uptake of Peer and Teacher Feedback’, RELC Journal, vol. 46, no. 2, pp. 131-145.
Scott, OKM & Stanway, AR 2015, ‘Tweeting the Lecture: How Social Media Can Increase Student Engagement in Higher Education’, Sport Management Education Journal, vol. 9, pp. 91-101.
Walatka, T 2012, ‘Hub-and-Spoke Student Blogging and Advantages for Classroom Discussion’, Teaching Theology and Religion, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 372-383.