The Charity Commission Responds to Education and Blogging.

A month ago I asked if your blog helped you learn. There were dozens of responses both here and on the Bad Science blog – mostly from people who keep personal or professional blogs which help them learn. (Thank you)

This was all in reply to the Charity Commission using blogging as an example to try and rootle out what it means for a something to have educative value. Duncan Gotobed asked the Commission to respond to this debate for his business podcast Top Briefings (the bit on this is about two thirds of the way through. So first I’ll give you the Charity Commission response, then Duncan’s really useful analysis then my thoughts. All will then be sent to the Charity Commission for them to add into their consultation.

Charity Commission Response:

We are aware that the reference to blogs written by individuals in our
draft public benefit guidance for charities that advance education has
provoked some debate, particularly among bloggers. The draft guidance
was published three months ago for consultation to give charities and
the public the chance to tell us what aspects of the guidance are
helpful – and what isn’t clear. In the draft guidance we explain that
in our view an activity will only be considered of educative merit if
either the subject or the process is capable of being of educative
value. We then go on to explain that where the value is not
self-evident, positive evidence of merit will be needed.

To illustrate this we give the example of a wiki site which, if the
content of the site was not verified in any way, would need to provide
positive evidence of having educational value. Similarly an
individual’s blog, if its content was not verified in any way, would
have to provide positive evidence of having educational value – either
through its content or the process by which the information was
delivered. Our consultation on this draft guidance remains open until
July 11, and we encourage anyone who would like to comment on the
document to respond before this date so that their comments can be
considered when we draw up the final guidance later this year.

It’s not the greatest reply, but to be fair there is a consultation (pdf) going on and anything you want to contribute you can do so through the email address publicbenefit@charitycommission.gov.uk.

Duncan Gotobed makes some really key points in his podcast, which I’ll paraphrase here.

  1. If you write a blog about a useful subject (eg business practice) that might have educative value.
  2. Just putting the knowledge up is not educative, it would need to be part of an exercise e.g compare and contrast.
  3. To be of educative value the information has to be subjected to verification and analysis.
  4. It would need to include a route map for the audience so they are not learning by chance.

My Thoughts:

I think all of these are useful points and of course all can be provided through the mechanism of a blog, whether that blog is an individual blog written about personal matters of potential benefit to a student’s social learning or whether they are blogs which support learning in a subject like business studies or from an archaeologist helping learning ins history or geography.

What matters about the points above is these limitations apply equally to all forms of media – to books, dvd’s, television programmes and radio programmes which might be produced or used as part of someone’s education. On top of that though blogs represent a potent new form of learning opportunity simply because they are, like other social media, much more interactive, responsive and easier to make than most old media. Because blogs hyperlink and have a conversational mechanism they allow the learner more scope to interrogate the validity of the content than previous media whose use has been enshrined in the education system. These qualities of course strengthen their educative value.

But the basic principles of whether the content and how it is presented has educative merit applies in much the same way.

For that reason I would ask the Charity Commission to take out the specific reference to individual blogs and replace it with a more considered set of guidelines for the use of media in creating an environment which has educative value.

There is another huge step beyond this – which is that self publishing and conversational media are drivers for growing methods of informal learning. I think at this stage the Commission is unlikely to put that in the scope of its advice, but I’d caution those writing the report. Please don’t underestimate the power of informal learning over formal learning and take care not to write something so restrictive that a future school which excels at supporting informal learning using social media would be taken to task for apparently having no educative value.

After all, the use of social media in both formal and informal ways will certainly be a key opportunity for private schools to spread their privilege to a wider community, and hence demonstrate their charitable value.

If the report writers are not certain that they have enough experience in this area there are loads of people who do. Please ask.

2 comments

  1. Nick I completely agree with you, and really struggle in many ways to separate formal and informal learning. What seems so important to me is that blogging isn’t so much part of educational delivery but about a learning process and this can be applied uniformly across informal and formal learning. They seem most concerned about the accuracy of facts. Blogging, like all other forms of writing (and reading and other things), gives great opportunity for creative thinking, reflection and expression. These are related to learning processes. The process they quote, again concerns delivery of ‘stuff’ rather than the creation or interaction of content. This seems quite different to me.

    Learning at its very best also involves relationships and conversations around knowledge and skills. Why separate classroom learning in this respect and discussions around a blogging community.

    Why so narrow a definition of education? Where have they been?

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