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Monday
Dec012008

On ranking, awards and other nonsense

 

You do what you do out of your private love of the thing itself. - Anne Dillard

  • Jason Priem has developed a very interesting "interactive, animated tagcloud of the top fifty edublogs" at <jasonpriem.com/feedvis>. It's a masterful piece of programming.
  • Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant does a full-bore analysis of educational blog rankings and the rise and fall of their "authority" status.
  • People's gettin' excited about the Eddie's blog awards. (Cathy and Joyce, anyway.)

But I just don't get it. What is the purpose of awards and rankings? Do we really need them in this long-tailed communication medium of blogging? In fact, might they even be counter productive?

I would certainly label the Eddies as a form of extrinsic reward for bloggers. Depending how they are used, rankings are the same. And as Alfie Kohn’s classic book Punished by Rewards: The Trouble With Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’S, Praise, and Other Bribes (Houghton Mifflin, 1993) demonstrates, rewards can punish those who do not receive them; rewards can rupture relationships between students and between students and teachers; rewards ignore the reasons for a desired behavior; and  rewards can discourage risk-taking. But the single most devastating conclusion he draws from his research is that rewards can actually discourage desired behaviors. (from my take on Kohn's book here.)

Do we actually want competitive blogging? How many of Kohn's negative behaviors may well be (or are now) demonstrated among the edublogosphere because of rankings and awards? Don't bloggers most write for their own intrinsic reasons - to clarify their own thinking, to record their daily observations, to reflect willfully, to share selflessly, to constructively converse with those of both like and unlike minds?

I suppose pissing contests are just human nature. But comparing the size (popularity) of mine to the size (popularity) of yours seems the antithesis of the "I'll share mine if you share yours" world of personal learning networks.

Do blogging awards and rankings have any positive uses?

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Reader Comments (20)

I'd like to say no... but... a few years ago, when the NRC president made one of his infrequent visits to the Atlantic region, one of only two things he mentioned as accomplishments of our initiative was my edublog award.

Now, of course, I would prefer to see the NRC president focus on something more tangible. On the other hand, it could be argued that the fact that people like the NRC president pay attention to it makes it tangible.

December 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Downes

Not that I can see.

December 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterteacherninja

I wouldn't turn the award down if I got it. I guess I wouldn't turn down being more popular either.

December 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterBrandt Schneider

I absolutely see your point, Doug, but I love the discoveries. I've enjoyed exploring the *nominations* over the past five years. So many "winners" to examine! Educators deserve a little recognition and the awards show is kinda of tongue in cheek.

I appreciate the ideal, but please don't piss on all the fun, buddy! :-) (Ooops, it sounds so different when you say it!) joyce

December 1, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjoycevalenza

Who cares who wins? It's about recognizing conversations that I appreciate, and discovering others I may be interested in too. I use the nominations to weed and feed my reader--out go the old, stagnant ones that no longer stretch my thinking, and rooted in are the new voices that will make me think. I don't always agree with them, and so eventually they may be weeded out as well. But I reap much from the garden of my reader. So far your blog has given me an abundance of material to feed my mind, and so I nominated you. Of course you could have fit in several categories. Chin up. It's a well deserved nomination and you know it.

December 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCathy Nelson

Yes, actually I WOULD like to see competitive blogging. On ESPN every Saturday at 4, please. =)

December 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterScott McLeod

Why would I want something I do for myself for purely intrinsic reasons to become competitive? The only real value in technorati rankings or edublog awards are the potential of expanding the conversation, of actually finding people to read and comment on the discussions I start on my blog. Competitive blogging sounds to me a lot like competitive eating.

December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterCarl Anderson

"Do blogging awards and rankings have any positive uses?"

I don't think so. But just because there's nothing positive doesn't mean that, by rule, the consequences of having them are negative. Scott and I have had a back and forth about this in the past. I think he obstinately disregarded my point but here it is again:

Concern over awards or reading/linking statistics is wasted energy if the purpose of blogging is to change society for the better.

Scott has said in the past:

"I unapologetically admit that I care about my Technorati ranking. Why? Because I'm trying to make change. The bigger audience I have, the more readers I reach directly and the more people I can influence indirectly through those readers. I'm on a mission. Aren't you?"

Now I'm certainly not questioning Scott's desire to make change but the first 3 sentences of his comment are nonsensical. One makes change by acting and speaking in a way that captures people through reason and their conscience. Caring about how many people are listening is a distraction. While it's true that more people listening *m,ay* mean more influence, to set raising readership numbers up as a concern/goal is totally misguided (i.e. Scott's "Why? Because I'm trying to make change.")

I think this is the crux of what Kohn is getting at (I love P by R - got a copy myself). Scott, I, and other bloggers want to make change but we're also human and sometimes don't have the fortitude to stave off the silliness of ranking and readership numbers. All of that is bollocks in the context of desiring to "make change". A strong mind can look past this nonsense but for others it can really be a detriment. Do what it is you're passionate about and leave it at that.

If you want to make change, then why not spend time doing something that's actually effectual, rather than spending time being concerned over one's own popularity ranking? Hell, doing nothing is more productive.

December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

Scott McCleod has the best way for bloggers to compete! He created a fantasy baseball league for bragging rights.....only I was frozen out because I responded too late. They were all lucky in that regard! I am waiting and checking everyday for the league set up notice.....you have all been put on notice!

December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDave Meister

"...bloggers most write for their own intrinsic reasons - to clarify their own thinking, to record their daily observations, to reflect willfully, to share selflessly, to constructively converse with those of both like and unlike minds?" I really like how you express the motivation of many bloggers.

This is my pet peeve. I have had Clustr Maps on my side bar for almost a year. I am pretty impressed with how it looks after a year of daily posts. But I am thinking of eliminating it in 2009. Why? It invites competition and comparison. Shouldn't blogs be able to stand on the integrity of their content alone? Doesn't Clustr Maps just invite insecurity and envy?

How intimidating it must be for many student and adult bloggers to compete.

Eliminating Clustr Maps invites a level playing field.

December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPaul C

Don't we fundamentally "reward" people at the deepest level with our admiration and respect? Even in our writing, aren't we arguably competing for respect for and dissemination of our own ideas? Isn't that a good thing?

December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth King

"Do we actually want competitive blogging?"

Yes.

December 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJared Stein

All I can say -- is that the people that will BOAST the most about winning the awards are probably the people who should not be winning them.

And the people that continue on day to day, and even if they win, it makes not a blip -- are the one's we should be paying more attention too.

:)
Thanks for the spot to vent a bit.
Jen

ps -- and I do hope you win, but I know it won't make a blip -- :)

December 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJenwagner

Hi Jen,

I feel I “win” everytime I get a comment like yours on the blog. And you are right, I’d keep doing this with or without any recognition.

Vent anytime.

Doug

December 4, 2008 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I just can't figure out why we get so hung up about bugger all. It's all fluff, quite harmless, and really not to be be taken too seriously. If some do take awards seriously, that is their problem - makes no diifference to my position on the likes of the Eddies. We need to lighten up a little :-)

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Connell

Hi John,

I was surprised by the reaction to the post. My sense is that it is not really about the Eddies at all, but about how feel about intrinsic/extrinisic motivation. Which I do see as important.

But yes, about the Eddies – no big deal really. Consider me lightened up!

All the very best,

Doug

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Hi Doug, love your reply on my blog-really made me laugh. Take care, Sarah

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Stewart

I added more fluff and nonsense here:
http://www.mguhlin.org/2008/12/2-faces-of-blue-skunk.html

Oh, and...

I apologize in advance to anyone who is offended by my exploration of this subject, I admit to being ashamed of the internal conflicts, unsatisfied needs that resulted in the blog post, and I bet you can't wait to see a 2 headed blue skunk. Be sure to reload the page several times...I want my statcounter to show an increase.

;->

December 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel Guhlin

Peter said: "Scott and I have had a back and forth about this in the past. I think he obstinately disregarded my point..." I don't think I've been obstinate about this. If so, sorry. More likely I'm just busy!

I will stick by my statement that if I care about my message reaching people, the number of people I reach is of concern to me.

That said, I also try very hard to do "something that's actually effectual." So far, so good I think (although my intended audiences are the ultimate judges).

I also believe it's important to understand at some basic level whose voices are being heard and/or lead the edublogosphere conversation. Technorati's an imperfect tool for this, but it's the best we have right now.

Finally, I will note that I blog for no one but myself. Sure, I get a total high every time someone leaves me a comment (even one that says my writing is 'ho hum' or that I'm 'dangerously innumerate!'). But, more importantly, the opportunity to have a place to express my voice in this manner over the past two years has been incredibly empowering and liberating for someone who is trying to break free from the confines of traditional academic scholarship. If a few days go by without me posting, I get unhappy. I need to write for me. If the rest of you care to listen and/or react, that's wonderful too.

December 9, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterScott McLeod

Hi Miguel and Scott,

Hi Scott,

I guess I underestimated the degree of seriousness with which people took this post!

The intrinsic/extrinsic reward system is highly emotional. I forgot that. And perhaps, as your comment suggests, need not be mutually exclusive.

Thanks for the commentst.

Doug

December 10, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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