Notes from “Educational Blogging: What, Where, Why and How”

Today, I had the chance to attend an educational technology session at MSU featuring Nicole Ellison, Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies & Media, MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences, and Leigh Graves Wolf, Learning Technology and Culture Programs, MSU College of Education. Their topic is “Educational Blogging: What, Where, Why and How.” Here are some notes from the session:

  • What is educational blogging?
    • Blogging in educational settings: in the classroom, between department members, intra- and inter-university research collaboration
    • We will focus on cases where students maintain blogs as part of their coursework
    • Pew research: 8% of internet users maintain a blog, 39% of internet users read blogs, 57% of bloggers are younger
  • Why blogs and education?
    • Not much work that makes causal claims about how blogs impact education, but that is difficult
    • Focus on critical skill of writing
    • Encourages students to engage with positions divergent from their own
    • Students are invests because their is a larger audience
    • Increases digital literacy
    • Supports peer-to-peer learning and student-to-instructor knowledge sharing
    • Learning becomes less bound by time and space
  • Where to blog?
    • ANGEL — they are protected, but no RSS
    • On your own server — college is in control of the content and can protect it with complete administrative control
    • Edublogs, Blogger, WordPress — differing levels of administrative rights
    • MicroBlogs: Twitter and Facebook
  • What: An educational blogging case study
    • What are the differences among students’ perceptions regarding the educational beenfit of writing a blog entry vs. reading other students’ blogs vs. reading other students’ comments?
    • What are student perceptions of the experience of blogging as an educational activity?
    • Overall perceptions:
      • A new experience and uniquely engaging in ways that traditional papers are not
      • Encouraged a less formal writing voice. potentially eliciting a more authentic writing style
      • Exposed students to different perspective; surprised by range of responses
      • They felt it was most useful to read other people’s blogs
      • “I liked the fact that we had to comment on others blogs. It’s cool to get some feedback on what I’ve written.”
      • ” I felt it was really cool when one of the people actually cited what I said in my blog on someone else’s blog.”
      • “It taught be some things that I didn’t pay much attention to before. It was cool because i was able to see what students thought about things we typically wouldn’t talk about in class.”
      • “[comments] are nice to see when the person really puts thought into them, and sometimes make me think and want to write more.”
      • I think it is more effective using the WWW because anyone can view it and we saw that when Ryan’s blog was commented on by the actual author of the piece that we read.”
  • What: Commenting
    • Not all students saw benefits of reading others’ blogs or comments
    • Uncomfortable giving critical feedback: “Some people didn’t even write what they were supposed to. Plus, I don’t really know how to respond to other people’s ideas, I don’t want to tell them that they are wrong or anything like that.”
    • Technical problems
    • I didn’t give them lots of guidance on how to provide comments, so I would do that differently
  • What: Implications for Practice
    • Students are going to come in with a notion of what blogging is, and students may need guidance on how to reconcile their notions of blogging with the classroom context
    • In some cases, encourage use of pseudonym since this content (if public) will be archived for years to come
    • Consider technical implementation
    • Students need guidance on providing constructive criticism
  • What: Enthusiastic, yet wary and ambivalent
    • Enjoyed reading others’ blogs
    • Expands thinking
    • Didn’t want to sound preachy and start arguments
  • How to blog
    • Different Use Models
      • One to many: From the teacher as a posting to students; from the student to others
        • Provide feedback to a presenter on his/her blog
      • Many to many (class blogs)
        • People can become experts in one area
      • Many to one (RSS aggregation)
        • Use Google Reader to read all of my students’ blogs
      • Experimental Writing
        • Creating an “academic” writing in blogging environment — posts within the blog are tagged and connected as well as external links (Leigh’s example)
      • Issues
        • Anonymous blogging
        • FERPA concerns
        • Intellectual property
      • Other tools
    • How: Assessment
      • Grade for content or completion?
      • Require a set number of posts?
      • Specify timing of posts throughout semester?
      • Require comments and feedback?
      • Need to back up posts
    • How: Practical Advice
      • Blog yourelf
      • Start small
      • Subscribe to RSS feeds
      • Read other educator blogs
      • Virtual University
      • Blogs for Learning

Reflections on Social Networking based on NCTE/NWP 2007

Today’s NCTE Inbox had an official list of blog posts about the convention, as well as Traci Gardner’s commentary about whether and how teachers should blog (for the record, she thinks that they should, although some districts do not). I find this thread of conversation an interesting complement to a few others floating around today, too.

One of the threads is a group of NWP tech liaisons talking about whether and how we should start a national social network of teachers doing great things with writing and technology. This network exists, in some ways, but it is scattered in many places, not all of them “officially” sanctioned by NWP (nor do they need to be). This conversation is important though because I think that it raises one fundamental issue — for all the blogs, wikis, podcasts, social bookmarks, RSS feeds, Facebook groups, Ning networks, and other ways that we have to stay in touch, do we actually stay in touch?

I have been thinking a lot about this lately as I help my pre-service teachers understand the implications of blogs and wikis as well as try to organize such groups for the various professional organizations that I am in including RCWP, MCTE, MRA, and CEE. How to build and maintain a network — let alone if a “formal” network is needed at all — is at the core of what I and four other colleagues are thinking about as we prepare to propose a new interactive website for CEE. There is also interaction in the works for MRA. Yet, RCWP and MCTE have had interactive sites, more or less, for a year or two now and neither of them generate much traffic. So, even if you build the space for the network, it is not a guarantee that teachers will come.

So, what to do about social networks for teachers? I am not sure how to best answer that. We are trying a wiki and Google groups for Project WRITE, and having limited interactions and success with those spaces. Is part of the problem that the idea of social networking is still too new or different from what we are used to with F2F networking? Are we still just stuck in email mode and not ready to venture out to the web to find a network, rather waiting for it to come to our inbox? Or, is it just the fact that a certain type of chemistry, one that can’t be forced, but must be natural, must emerge?

I certainly don’t have any answers, especially not tonight. But, I feel that the questions are worth asking; even if we don’t get to answering them outright, we can begin to understand why teachers (generally) choose not to use these networks. My thoughts range from being busy to not being aware, from being happy within a school-based learning community to simply not wanting to move outside of one’s comfort zones. As networks continue to grow, I think that we need to ask these fundamental questions about why and how they work for some teachers, while not for others, and whether we should be trying to make the perfect network, or rethink what it means to be a teacher in the 21st century.

ACE Workshop Shout Out

Just a quick shout out to all those who attended the ACE Workshop yesterday as a part of NCTE 2007 and have begun to build our wiki. I enjoyed leading the wiki writing session. Thanks, too, to Rob, for organizing the event.

Lots of teaching and grading still to do this week before the turkey… I wish you all a wonderful holiday weekend.

Commentary from Michael Wesch on “A Vision of Students Today”

Here we are in NYC for the NWP and NCTE annual meeting, and I am just now getting online with a reliable internet connection at a Food Emporium a few blocks from our hotel. I don’t have much time to write or post, but I did see this post from Michael Wesch with an explanation of his video, “A Vision of Students Today.” Please check out the entire post, but I thought that this chunk was timely given the focus of the NWP/NCTE work this weekend on 21st century literacies.

He has said in a few sentences what I have been trying to express for years, and I really admire his work. Check it out:

Digital Ethnography » Blog Archive » Clarifications on “A Vision …”

Students are learning to read, navigate, and create within a digital information environment that we scarcely address in the classroom. The great myth is that these “digital natives” know more about this new information environment than we do. But here’s the reality: they may be experts in entertaining themselves online, but they know almost nothing about educating themselves online. They may be learning about this digital information environment despite us, but they are not reaching the levels of understanding that are necessary as this digital information environment becomes increasingly pervasive in all of our lives. All of the classic skills we learned in relation to a print-based information universe are important, and must now be augmented by a critical understanding of the workings of digital information.

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Give One, Get One (Laptop per Child)

Hello from NYC and the NWP/NCTE conference. I will be blogging at the RCWP blog throughout the weekend.

Yet, as we get ready to pack it in (we found free wifi at a coffee shop that is soon closing), I got an email from an RCWP TC about the open purchasing time on the One Laptop Per Child Initiative. You can purchase your laptop from now until November 26th. As we prepare for Christmas purchases, I am seriously considering this for my children and the philanthropic mission that it supports. I hope that you do, too.

Comments on NYT: New Class(room) War: Teacher vs. Technology

Here is a clip from Samuel Freedman’s article in today’s NYT:

New Class(room) War: Teacher vs. Technology – New York Times

The poor schoolmarm or master, required to provide a certain amount of value for your child’s entertainment dollar, now must compete with texting, instant-messaging, Facebook, eBay, YouTube, Addictinggames.com and other poxes on pedagogy.

“There are certain lines you shouldn’t cross,” the professor said. “If you start tolerating this stuff, it becomes the norm. The more you give, the more they take. These devices become an indisposable sort of thing for the students. And nothing should be indisposable. Multitasking is good, but I want them to do more tasking in my class.”

To which one can only say: Amen. And add: Too bad the good guy is going to lose.

This story troubles me on multiple levels. First, it argues against an approach that appeals to the least threatening form of technology use — the occasional cell phone ring, the small number of students who engage in chat or “facing” (the abbreviated form of “facebooking” that my students tell me is now the correct verb to use), or the multitasker who perhaps, after all, is able to multitask. Didn’t we used to yell at students for doodling in their notebooks, too? Then, we called that a “multiple learning style” and embraced it. Now, we yell at those who are engaged in online activities instead.

Second, it generalizes the technology use in a way that is not so simple. For instance, I actively invited my composition students to use the survey feature in Facebook in order to conduct primary research. We talked about multiple research methods — and the ethical considerations one must take when engaging in those methods — and why a survey on Facebook or Survey Monkey might be a useful tool. Had the professor mentioned in this article walked into my computer lab classroom last week and seen everyone on Facebook, he might have mistaken what they were doing as “off task” behavior when, in fact, they were engaged in designing surveys for primary research. One student reported that nearly 30 of her friends had completed the survey — before the end of our class period that day — 30 friends who were not classmates in our room, but others on Facebook who were able to answer her survey about linguistic diversity and the prevalance of Spanish in the USA. My students were, I argue, using a tool that they are familiar with to ask questions that matter. Not the typical Facebook survey fodder of “where are you going on spring break” or “what did you do last weekend,” but questions that can matter, if we teach them how to ask the right kinds of questions.

Third, it does not complicate ducation at all, rather showing how teaching and learning is a didactic model and technology interferes with that method. Are there times for direct instruction? Sure. And I teach directly at different points each day in my classes, especially when students ask for clarification or seek specific examples. Yet, I also integrate times for pairs and small groups to work together, for me to confer with students on their writing, and for large group discussions and activities. Some content (like the teaching of writing), lends itself better to that kind of interaction, while other classes do not; I realize this as a limitation (for full disclosure, I am fortunate enough to teach writing and writing methods classes that my department has fought hard to keep capped at 22 students each.) Yet, the technology is not the problem here; instead, we need to reexamine our model of education that, despite its best claims to the contrary, still values individualism, competition, and memorization over collaboration, synthesis, and action.

Finally, I point to Michael Wesch’s latest video: A Vision of Students Today. This video made its way into my classroom when some students showed it for their text analysis assignment. It generated a long discussion about education, privilege, technology, power, and the ways that we interact with one another (or not) in academic settings. In the context of a controversy about how video taping could and should be used on campus, it offered a different rhetorical approach for us to consider in how to use video to make an argument about our lived lives. For instance, students noted:

  • Like the students in the video, their lives are quite busy and complicated, making class one of many priorities (this is not to say that they didn’t want to learn, but that they wanted class to be engaging and relevant and that using online tools for collaboration can help that)
  • They often forget the privileges that they have such as laptops and the ability to be in class; thus, being reminded periodically about the power that comes from education — rather than being lectured at about why they should be paying attention — makes sense.
  • The way that students engage with professors (or not), means a great deal to them. One student said that I am the only one of his five professors that knows his name, thus supporting the statistic that was in the video.
  • The fact that the chalkboard was heralded as a technological godsend for education. And, 150 years later, it (or its digital counterpart, power point) is still one of the primary means of transmitting knowledge. We are not asking students to engage in collaboration and design of their own learning, despite having the tools to be able to do so.
  • The way in which the video was produced, as a collaboration between a professor and dozens of his students.

There was more to that conversation, and I wish that I had blogged about it sooner. Yet, this NYT piece required an immediate response and made me think about this more. As a professor and long-time educator, I am quite tired of hearing the counter argument offered by Professor Bugeja that “‘The idea that subject matter is boring is truly relative.'” While I agree that we are not here to entertain and that we want to stimulate the mind, I think that we, as the subject matter experts, have a responsibility to show students how the subject matter is relative. This is not entertainment. This is our job.

If we can utilize digital tools to do that, then would should. If we can’t, then that’s fine, too. But don’t ban them. In doing so, we are criticizing the students that we are trying to teach and the way that they interact with the world. If we want them to engage in critical thinking, dialogue, and debate, then banning their means of communication doesn’t make us better teachers.

It makes us hypocrites.

Let’s seek to engage our students rather than simply disconnecting them.

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Web Whereabouts Geography Game

Recently, I have been in an email conversation with Adriana Margineanu, from Lingo 24.com.

She alerted me to an online game that they have with an interactive map of Europe. I tried it (and failed, miserably, but learned a lot in the process!). Overall, I found it to be a unique approach to learning geography.

Given the many conversations about mapping going on in literacy circles right now, like the work that Paul, Chris, and others are doing with their students, as well as the upcoming NCTE convention with mapping as a major theme, I thought that this was a timely link. Here is part of the conversation from Adrianna:

Our company provides professional language translation between all major world languages. On our site we have a new resource which may be of interest to visitors to your site – a game where countries identified by their shape and their country code top-level domain alone need to be correctly positioned within a map of Europe: http://www.lingo24.com/educational-games-web-whereabouts.html

Visitors who enjoy learning while having fun, will love this game. Also, people can post comments about their results at: http://www.lingo24.com/language_translation_forum/viewtopic.php?t=1650

Check it out and let her know what you think about it!