Hands up whose blog helps them learn? The Charity Commission thinks you're wrong.

I’m frowning at a consultation report published in March 2008 by the Charity Commission.

Public Benefit and the Advancement of Education March 2008 is the commissioners trying to clarify when an educational institution (private school) can or can’t claim charity status. However on page 18 they write:

There are two main aspects to educative merit or value:
• is the subject capable of being of educative value; and
• is the process such that it delivers educative value?

Fair enough, except by way of illustrating point 2 they add:

A modern example might be a ‘wiki’ site which might contain information about
historical events but, as the content is superficial and this information is not
verified in any way, it would not be accepted as having educational value without
positive evidence.
The Commission, having been satisfied on the evidence before it, accepted in a
particular case that an interactive website was a process capable of delivering
educative value as it was capable of delivering learning through improving the
student’s analytical and learning skills.
An individual’s blog, on the other hand, is not likely to be of educative value, as
neither the subject matter nor the process is of educational value.

As an explanation of why key social media tools are mechanisms with limited educational value I would say the report appears to be superficial and I can’t see that the information is verified in any way. I learn huge amounts through my blog and from wikis.

So which of you find your blogs to be of educational value? Which of you have been able to use wikis as a way of learning?

If you want to give the commission feedback on this consultation there doesn’t appear to be a way of commenting online on the document. It would of course be much better on the web not as a clunky pdf but as a wiki or maybe even a blog with a series of pages so we can comment on different aspect of the consultation – and then everyone can learn from it.

The only email address I could find was pressenquiries@charitycommission.gsi.gov.uk – which is OK to use because the press office will show a close interest in how the commission communicates and its reputation online.

49 comments

  1. Alison Gow says:

    This is an interesting view from the Charity Commission – one I would never have known about had I not read it on your blog. So I’ve learned something already…
    I started my blog in an attempt to teach myself more about social media; I learn from my own experiences, from the debates raised by more experienced bloggers and from feedback I get. Blogging has, I believe, caused me to rethink some aspects of my job and also to contribute to the team in different ways.
    I think it’s somewhat disheartening that the CC dismisses this very rich vein of learning and teaching in such a dismissive way. It all sounds too much like the newspaper industry’s view of bloggers a few years ago – and look where that’s got us!

  2. I have done nothing but learn with my blog! I am not only learning about a new way of communicating, but also developing creative writing skills, something which GCSE English Launguage ignores! On top of that I’m also learning about myself! And all that is more learning than I have done in years… Before it was only memorizing to pass an exam!

  3. Nick Booth says:

    Thanks Alison. So your personal blog has helped you learn how you use new tools and ways of approaching the audience to change relationships between you as a journalist and the public you serve?

  4. Well as lecturer and a researcher I use my blog to help me figure out all sorts. Simply said writing down ideas, reflecting and getting feedback from peers helps me to learn. Not dissimilar to some of the processes we try to encourage with in the class room.

  5. Nick Booth says:

    Jason – thanks for the comment. That’s exactly what happened to me when I started blogging and it hasn’t stopped. In many ways it has given me access to the most exciting learning of my life.

  6. Shona says:

    Not so much me learning from my own blog, but more sharing my findings about the things I’ve learned from other blogs in the context of my own interests was me following SXSWM which I documented here: http://tinyurl.com/4wsz2x.

    I often wonder about the decline of apprenticeships and the way that learning has become target-oriented and benchmarked against grades to mark not the performance and merits of the student, but the merit of the education provider. Stats don’t equate recognising a student for their talents, whether they’re practical or academic. With apprenticeships comes live practice, interaction and banter which isn’t always manifested in more formal educational environments. Blogs, to a certain extent, have the ability to faciliate some of these elements.

    Education is about individual styles of learning and the formal classroom model is not a one-fits-all solution. This is why I’m finding so much more beyond the paid tuition when it comes to trying to develop my skills. Included in this, is the humble blog.

  7. This view expounded by the charity commission is one that demonstrates not only a lack of understanding of the subject matter but also a desire not to understand.

    A good blog (and blogger) will always develop and be open to new ideas, opinions and willing to take a few risks in order to learn. Used correctly it is an excellent tool to help one filter and sift through information and assist in creating reasoned thought. This is a lot more positive than the jumping through hoops approach to learning that the Charity Commission seem to want to push.

  8. Alison Gow says:

    Hi Nick, yes that’s it exactly. I find I learn best by practical application; the blog helps me develop new skills and, crucially, allows me to explore and articulate my (rather confused) thoughts on how we journalists can start conversations rather than just telling audiences information. That was why I was so keen on the Liverpool Daily Post live blog experiment – so the team could experience new ways of telling stories and interacting with people. There’s always still so much more to learn as well… which is why I like using for pointers 🙂

  9. Blogging is completely new to me, and as a trainee lawyer, an area I have never really considered getting into. However, Jason’s role as the Graduate Apprentice has led to a number of fantastic developments for us both, one of which is no doubt the blog. Its the perfect opportunity for getting a point across, in your own words. I would also agree that there is just not this opportunity within the education system these days, its all about passing exams, not learning. I have really enjoyed reading the range of blogs Jason is now reading, I have learnt a lot, about the local area I live in, and some some really interesting comments on current affairs. I’ve also learnt about Jason as a person, sometimes he finds its easier to write about his day than tell me about it!

  10. Nick Booth says:

    Thanks all of you up to this point. You’ve helped me understand something pretty critical about my blog. It is a conversation where I also have to articulate my thoughts in writing – at times better than a tutorial as a learning mechanism or better than an essay. A crossover between the two.

  11. Tony Molloy says:

    I feel I learn many things from the variety of blogs/RSS that I read, many of which offer me information and ideas that I would not have had access to via the pre “social media” channels that existed. I also hope that the ideas and information that I select and aggregate in my blog are useful and educative to the reader. I think the commisssioners miss the point and are only viewing ‘blogs’ as conversation channels, with transient content and thus having no educational value in the way that a reference source or textbook would have, they, sadly, are mistaken. Blogs and other social media channels are now an integral part of the life experience of young people, to the point where they do not distinguish between them and any other channel and use them interchangeably and appropriately to the task at hand. The commissioners need to go back to school 🙂

  12. dp says:

    Wow, 11 replies in less that 3 hours. Pretty impressive, Nick, and respondents.

    It’s impossible to gauge what the CC means by educative value from the snippets here, but the notion of assigning and delivering value is suspect given that education is not a result, but an approach, and the ‘value’ of any approach is the extent to which it does something useful. Do they think an education is something different than that? If so, what? Maybe they need a blog.

    I’m thinking of two criteria as regards blogs and web-media: am I informed, and do I gain insight? They represent educational value for me. For the former, most any media provides information, whether it’s personal observations or lists of facts. The web is very informative.

    For the latter, almost the opposite is true. I gain little insight from most of my web travel. It’s only after reflection and analysis that something becomes educational in a more substantive sense, and that usually means engaging in an extended discourse. That’s tricky because web media is used extensively (but by no means exclusively) for insubstantial twitterings, and time constraints put a damper on following more than one or two discursive communities for greater depth. So, while there are opportunities for education, I don’t put much in, and don’t get much out.

    So, can a blog be educational in an exploratory, engaging way? I think so, even though no distinctive examples come to mind. The potential is there if people want to use it.

  13. Dubber says:

    Lucky the CC didn’t get involved in my early childhood, otherwise, mucking about with that whole putting one foot in front of the other carry-on would have been dismissed as not being educational. I learn stuff by doing. Walking, for instance.

    Likewise, musicians should clearly just stop frittering about with instruments. “You’ll never learn anything playing the piano day in and day out like that.”

    And I always say: how can I possibly know what I think until I try and explain it to someone else? Haven’t they ever heard of Kolb’s Learning Cycle? Blogging is where I do the ‘reflect’ part.

    But most importantly, you know what happens when I blog? I get better at it. I improve incrementally and have a greater knowledge and understanding as a result of that process. I know there’s a word for that… what was it again?

    I wonder if they consider writing in books to be an educational activity.

  14. brenda says:

    One learns a quite astonishing amount by using the rigour required in explaining it to others. There’s a component of overlearning, but also the reflective nature of musing on one’s findings.

    Were they saying that blogging isn’t educative per se, or only for the blogger?

  15. Tim Davies says:

    Clearly blog can have educational value – both to their authors, and to those who read and learn from them.

    But – the way I’m reading this – that’s not what the Charity Commission are getting at here. I’ve not had chance to look up the context – but I would guess they are asking:

    /What sorts of resources could a private school create and put online that would constitute the forms of ‘public value’/’public good’ that justifies it’s charitable status/

    For example – if a public school runs a community project in it’s buildings, open to young people from local state schools – it may be able to justify charitable status (it won’t anymore be able to claim charitable status just for providing paid for education).

    The CC are exploring then what online ‘value’ is enough to justify public schools having charitable status – and I think their point here is to say that if, for example, a private school published a significant resource online, that would be good enough (Think Open Learn or MIT Open Courseware) – but if they tried to pull a fast one by saying ‘our students are blogging online’, or ‘anyone can read the blog by our Head of Maths – we’re providing public value – give us our charity status please’, then they wouldn’t be doing enough for the community.

    I think I agree…

  16. Tim Davies says:

    Just to clarify – I’m not saying blogging by young people, or by teachers does not provide educational or public value. It provides massive amounts of both – particularly when the voice of young people is given a platform and when young people and adults from different areas and backgrounds engage together through online platforms. Private schools should certainly be blogging and encouraging their students to do so.

    It’s simply that in this case, the CC are rightly seeking a definition of public and educational value that will make private schools do at least a little bit of extra work to get charity status (indeed, the wiki example suggest that a really well researched blog used to share bespoke educational resources could well do the job).

  17. Hg says:

    In six years of blogging, I’ve learnt how to structure my thoughts more clearly and how to communicate them better. I have learnt much about myself (particularly greater insight into recurring thought patterns, themes and interests) and how I relate to the rest of the human race. I’ve learnt to be less timid (I can’t believe now, with more experience, that at one point I was worried about having comments on my blog) and, in a broader sense, more sociable. And those are just a few of the educative benefits of my own blog. I can’t even begin to quantify the impact of the others that I’ve read, to a greater or lesser degree, over the same period.

    I suspect that, fundamentally, this “value” comes down to money. So I’ll offer a parting shot on that basis. As a self-employed consultant, one of my main services these days is helping businesses implement blogs or blog-like websites. They are prepared to pay for something that they feel adds value to their offering. I make a living as a result of this supposedly non-educative process. The self-awareness resulting from six years of examining my internal dialogue (yeah, yeah… navelgazing) helps me to market myself better and the technical and creative skills acquired as part of the process provide me with the ability to deliver.

  18. Paul Groves says:

    Leaving aside the professional side of things (points covered by others), on a personal level blogging and bloggers have been invaluable to me in raising my understanding of my wife’s illness and all the implications for her, me and us.

    Trying to find “official” guidance and advice has been a thankless and at times soul-destroying exercise over the last couple of years.

    All the useful, relevant and informed guidance I’ve picked up has been via blogs set up by those suffering from chronic illnesses and other carers. You could multiply that 10 times or more for my wife. These blogs also inspire in a way that the medical establishment (generally) do not.

    For those reasons I find the CC’s attitude quite offensive, but also quite typical of a large, faceless organisation.

  19. Nick Booth says:

    Brenda they are saying that an individual blog is not likely to be of educational value because neither the subject nor the process is of educational value.

    Clearly that is a bonkers thing to say because they don’t know what the subject of any individual blog is and we all know that blogging as a process is of educational value, to us as bloggers and our readers.

    Tim I looked again at the pdf and these comment are not simply restricted to a schools efforts to make a contribution to society beyond it’s wals. They use individual blogs as an example of the sort of activity that cannot be considered of educational value – in the school as well.
    To quote again, something does not have educational value in the eyes of the commission:

    “If the process is so unstructured that whether or
    not education is in fact delivered is a matter of chance, it will not be of value.”

    To explain this they say that a stroll in the country with a friend who is a botanist where you hapen to learn a few plant names is not of educational value. If the botanist had organised and planned that walk to be of educational vale then it would count. So any serendipitous learning cannot count.

    Now I appreciate they have to find a line to draw so they can approve or discard applications, but they appear to be making the mistake of ascribing a lack of educational value to a substantial chunk of communication methods. They also appear to be misunderstanding how rapidly the web will change the way we learn, including collaborative learning.

    I structured this blog post knowing that some of you mgith comment and we all might learn something. I couldn’t guarantee that you would comment, but I was pretty sure that some of you would join the conversation and you have. Likewise I had lessons in sixth form where the teacher wasn’t sure if enough people would turn up to make the conversation of any real educational value and tutorials at university that were the same.

    My point overall (and that of most people who’ve comnented) is that being broadly dismissive of a whole means of sharing information (a blog) does not help clarify where the commission draw the line and it also limits how educational charities might deliver learning.

  20. Dubber says:

    And actually, now that I give the matter some thought – I remember that I use personal blogs as a teaching tool in university classes. It’s such a normal educational thing for me to do as a lecturer, it hadn’t occurred to me to mention it.

  21. I’ve just spent the last three months entirely learning a new programming language from scratch and launching a new company off the back of it.

    The language is Ruby, and I’m using something called Rails as a framework for building the site.

    There is scant documentation on any of the features of Rails, and where there is ‘official documentation’ it is usually out of date.

    So the best place to look? Bloggers who publish what they have learnt along the way.

  22. D'log says:

    It sounds like what the CC is saying is that potential charities cannot use “an individual’s” weblog as evidence of the “Public Benefit” function that the Commission require of a charity. I would presume then that a larger group-run or organisation-wide blog _might_ help bolster an application, as evidence of “Public Benefit”? Even then, a potential charity might still have to show that the blog was being used as an information-gathering tool to feed into a further outreach “Public Benefit” function – such as a booklet or event. The CC’s stipulation makes sense, even if it’s not phrased in the most diplomatic language – since there are presumably lots of fraudsters who would like the benefits of charitable status, and the CC can’t have anyone who sets up a personal weblog satisfying their “Public Benefit” function.

  23. D'log says:

    It sounds like what the CC is saying is that potential charities cannot use “an individual’s” weblog as evidence of the “Public Benefit” function that the Commission require of a charity. I would presume then that a larger group-run or organisation-wide blog _might_ help bolster an application, as evidence of “Public Benefit”? Even then, a potential charity might still have to show that the blog was being used as an information-gathering tool to feed into a further outreach “Public Benefit” function – such as a booklet or event. The CC’s stipulation makes sense, even if it’s not phrased in the most diplomatic language – since there are presumably lots of fraudsters who would like the benefits of charitable status, and the CC can’t have anyone who sets up a personal weblog satisfying their “Public Benefit” function.

  24. D'log says:

    It sounds like what the CC is saying is that potential charities cannot use “an individual’s” weblog as evidence of the “Public Benefit” function that the Commission require of a charity. I would presume then that a larger group-run or organisation-wide blog _might_ help bolster an application, as evidence of “Public Benefit”? Even then, a potential charity might still have to show that the blog was being used as an information-gathering tool to feed into a further outreach “Public Benefit” function – such as a booklet or event. The CC’s stipulation makes sense, even if it’s not phrased in the most diplomatic language – since there are presumably lots of fraudsters who would like the benefits of charitable status, and the CC can’t have anyone who sets up a personal weblog satisfying their “Public Benefit” function.

  25. D'log says:

    It sounds like what the CC is saying is that potential charities cannot use “an individual’s” weblog as evidence of the “Public Benefit” function that the Commission require of a charity. I would presume then that a larger group-run or organisation-wide blog _might_ help bolster an application, as evidence of “Public Benefit”? Even then, a potential charity might still have to show that the blog was being used as an information-gathering tool to feed into a further outreach “Public Benefit” function – such as a booklet or event. The CC’s stipulation makes sense, even if it’s not phrased in the most diplomatic language – since there are presumably lots of fraudsters who would like the benefits of charitable status, and the CC can’t have anyone who sets up a personal weblog satisfying their “Public Benefit” function.

  26. D'log says:

    It sounds like what the CC is saying is that potential charities cannot use “an individual’s” weblog as evidence of the “Public Benefit” function that the Commission require of a charity. I would presume then that a larger group-run or organisation-wide blog _might_ help bolster an application, as evidence of “Public Benefit”? Even then, a potential charity might still have to show that the blog was being used as an information-gathering tool to feed into a further outreach “Public Benefit” function – such as a booklet or event. The CC’s stipulation makes sense, even if it’s not phrased in the most diplomatic language – since there are presumably lots of fraudsters who would like the benefits of charitable status, and the CC can’t have anyone who sets up a personal weblog satisfying their “Public Benefit” function.

  27. D'log says:

    It sounds like what the CC is saying is that potential charities cannot use “an individual’s” weblog as evidence of the “Public Benefit” function that the Commission require of a charity. I would presume then that a larger group-run or organisation-wide blog _might_ help bolster an application, as evidence of “Public Benefit”? Even then, a potential charity might still have to show that the blog was being used as an information-gathering tool to feed into a further outreach “Public Benefit” function – such as a booklet or event. The CC’s stipulation makes sense, even if it’s not phrased in the most diplomatic language – since there are presumably lots of fraudsters who would like the benefits of charitable status, and the CC can’t have anyone who sets up a personal weblog satisfying their “Public Benefit” function.

  28. D'log says:

    It sounds like what the CC is saying is that potential charities cannot use “an individual’s” weblog as evidence of the “Public Benefit” function that the Commission require of a charity. I would presume then that a larger group-run or organisation-wide blog _might_ help bolster an application, as evidence of “Public Benefit”? Even then, a potential charity might still have to show that the blog was being used as an information-gathering tool to feed into a further outreach “Public Benefit” function – such as a booklet or event. The CC’s stipulation makes sense, even if it’s not phrased in the most diplomatic language – since there are presumably lots of fraudsters who would like the benefits of charitable status, and the CC can’t have anyone who sets up a personal weblog satisfying their “Public Benefit” function.

  29. Nick Booth says:

    Hi d’log. I’ve read the document quite closely and think the commission is saying that individual blogs are not likely to be useful learning tools. The report is specifically on charitable status for educational institutions – so yes they are seeking to set boundaries as to what tools they would expect a school to use and which not if they are to claim they are an educational institution.

    It seems that currently the consultation is giving personal blogs as the sort of tool which would not be considered a practical learning tool.

    It’s that impression that I think is flawed. Essentially I don’t want governors in private schools to be saying we can’t allow the students to have a blog because that might threaten our charitable status.

    Anyway we’ve sent of an e-mail and hopefully someone from the commission will come back here and use the comments section to explain to us what they really mean.

  30. jdc says:

    That’s unbelievable. The Charities Commission thinks that neither the subject matter of a blog nor the process of blogging are likely to be educational? I’ve found blogs that are more informative, more accurate and quicker off the mark than any newspaper. There was even an article about blogs vs mainstream press in the Guardian a couple of Saturdays ago… which was also published on the author’s blog: http://www.badscience.net/2008/05/blogs-vs-mainstream-media perfectly illustrates that blogs can be more educative than other sources.

  31. Nick Booth says:

    Ben Goldacre has added his twopennorth here:

    http://www.badscience.net/2008/06/the-charities-commission-think-blogs-have-no-educational-value/

    including:

    “I can say for certain that writing here has had a huge impact on the way I work and think: it has made me more rigorous and more transparent in my reasoning, because I can get away with nothing; it has made me think about the importance of finding and linking to primary references, attributing ideas, sharing workloads, and collaborating. It’s also reinforced for me the value of open access publication, as I’ve seen more and more people from outside of academia who wanted to read academic papers, simply for their own interest and edification.

    “In science, the mainstream media has completely failed, dumbing everything down to the point where it would be comprehensible to a mass market which was never very interested, and neglecting the intelligent and informed. Schools don’t seem to do much better. Failing to stimulate society’s geeks has massive economic and cultural consequences: blogs – or should I say “people” – have stepped into that breech, doing it with no interest in money whatsoever, and if you’re too thick to spot that, then you’re too thick to make decisions about what counts as charitable.”

    I would love someone from the charity commission to join this conversation – at the very least to clarify the point they are making about the educational merit of blogging.

  32. heather says:

    Very good post and some spot-on comments.

    Picking up the excellent point you made (in a comment on our blog) about informal learning, this is surely the whole joy of the internet. It’s the best tool ever for real learning.

    The Charity Commission sound like people dismissing Gutenberg because “real books” are only written by hand in monasteries.

    They must be thinking of the “I went to the dentist and bought a packet of cornflakes” blogs, but surely even those are “educational” in showing us how people really live, like the old Mass Observation projects. (I’m not sure which decade they are from but Googling will surely find me a source….)

  33. Nick Booth says:

    Thanks for the comment Heather and for reminding me of the time I spent at University studying the mass observation archive.

    http://www.massobs.org.uk/

    I’d love to know what the thinking was behind the Charity Commission deciding to dismiss a whole means of publishing as being a little educative value. We’re still waiting for them to get back to us so we can help with this consultation.

  34. Bob Deed says:

    I read the guidance differently.

    “A modern example might be a ‘wiki’ site which might contain information about historical events but, as the content is superficial and this information is not verified in any way, it would not be accepted as having educational value without positive evidence.The Commission, having been satisfied on the evidence before it, accepted in a particular case that an interactive website was a process capable of delivering educative value as it was capable of delivering learning through improving the student’s analytical and learning skills.”

    In context it is giving examples rather than handing down an edict. Its talking about particular cases.

    “An individual’s blog, on the other hand, is not likely to be of educative value, as neither the subject matter nor the process is of educational value.”

    That’s a particular example again. Its not saying that all blogs are likely to have neither an educational subjct or process.

  35. Nick Booth says:

    Bob, thanks for comment (I’ve subscribed to your blog now)

    In many ways I share you’re reading. This is a consultation document and they are saying not likely to be of educational value.

    However I’m also a charity trustee and I know how cautious charity boards are when it comes to messing with something as fundamental as their status as a charity all trustees will rightly be very cautious.

    In practical terms if this consultation continues to keep this attitude to blogs it will mean trustees across the country will get the message don’t do blogs in any real form, it’s too risky.

    That would be a great shame, especially given that in this context blogs can demonstrably have considerable educational value.

  36. Chrisseymour says:

    Shame I didnt see this blog earlier – a fascinating discussion as it sounds like the CC and your commentators are simply talking about two very different sets of learning. Define what is learning!

    The commentators have variously pointed out both the fact that they have found the process of writing a blog a critical learning experience and found other blogs informative. CC seem to be talking mostly about teaching not learning. I.e. that blogs don’t have educational value as teaching tools. They don’t teach others. it ignores the value of the learnng

    They’re not the first to confuse the two, but their interpretation is worryingly out of date. the key point about the 21st century learning we’re trying to support in schools for example is that it’s all about HOW we learn rather than WHAT. Blogs are a key tool in the how process.

    Hindsight is always an interesting thing as the latest and most fundamental review of primary education argues forcefully about this very thing. Iteven argues we should we teaching children more about Twitter and less about the casues of the first world war! (Guardian March 2009)

    So perhaps CC is just another historical relic?

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