Note from “Blogging — Maximizing Writer’s Notebooks with a 21st Century Dimension”

Here are notes from my Crossroads Writing Project colleagues, Lavon Jonson and Sonja Mack: “Blogging — Maximizing Writer’s Notebooks with a 21st Century Dimension.”

  • Background
    • Bringing blogging into the traditional process of using a writers notebook
    • Writing with your students encourages them to write (Graves, etc.)
  • Blog Growth
    • In April 2007, 70 million blogs, 90% by teenagers
    • In four years the growth has been phenomenal
  • Rationale for use in the classroom
  • Why use blogging in the classroom?
    • To share items from writer’s notebook (used to share it in a circle on the floor, now we do it on blogs)
    • Edublogs forums (support video)
  • Blogs to check out

    What we’ve noticed from our students

  • All students are able to contribute
  • Comments are more heartfelt

An Update on Blogging, Podcasting, and Wikiing with Pre-Service Teachers

January has been a busy month for me as I have been coordinating field placements for my ENG 315 students and we have begun exploring the use of blogs, wikis, podcasts, and RSS in our teaching lives. When we began this work a few short weeks ago, only a handful of these pre-service teachers had heard of a wiki or a podcast, fewer still knew about RSS, some had a general idea about blogs, and none of them were thinking about how these tools would translate into the teaching of writing in their classrooms. So, we started slow, and now things are moving along quite well.

The second week, we downloaded Portable Apps, and I explained my rationale for why would use these tools — both because they are free and open source as well as the idea that they need to be able to take their data with them. We also started setting up our blogs, and discussed the Common Craft video on blogs, thinking about implications for our classrooms and personal learning. The third week, we turned our attention to understanding RSS and reading each other’s blogs. This week, we set up our Google Readers, and I am now challenging them to begin using RSS reading in their professional responses.

So far, this process is going fairly smoothly and I do not feel that I am detracting from the “content” of the course by focusing on the technologies. In fact, I feel that they are helping me get some ideas across even better. For instance, it is one thing to encourage them to read each other’s blogs; it is quite another to provide them with a combined feed of everyone in their class and invite them to read, through their Google Reader, everyone’s posts. I will be building in some time for people to read and comment each week, as their reading of other blog posts will help them activate their brains for our class discussions.

Also, I am finding that they are all having “aha” moments as we move forward. Some are seeing connections to other classes an projects, and I think that they are all starting to see the ways in which we can connect with one another. For instance, one student explained how she immediately subscribed to all her friend’s blogs and, while it wasn’t purely academic, that solidified in her mind the power of RSS to gather information. In a time where we take for granted that all of our students understand so much about the web intuitively, it is good to know that we can talk about these technologies in relation to the teaching of writing and that they can begin to see some new connections.

Next up, we will be working with Rob Rozema’s class at GVSU to post our “This I Believe” essays to a Ning social network and get comments across classes. Then, after spring break, digital stories. As we continue on in the semester, I am looking forward sharing more ideas. It is interesting to compare the snapshots of two generations of teachers that I am seeing this semester — the pre-service students and the in-service teachers in Project WRITE — and compare how they are engaging with similar technologies in different ways. I feel as if with the pre-service teachers, they can pick up on the technology quickly once it is introduced, yet the conversations about pedagogy are still emerging. for the in-service teachers, we are able to talk about pedagogy very easily, but only after very thorough discussions of how and why to use the technology.

The differences are clear and makes me even more aware of the generational gap that must be happening as new teachers enter schools. They are very excited about the technology, yet can’t talk about it in pedagogically sophisticated ways. Veteran teachers are, as they should be, very concerned about pedagogy. This dichotomy makes me wonder how we can get everyone speaking the same language and beginning to think more about the pedagogy and the technology at the same time, regardless of age or experience. Then, we need to layer in discussions of literacy for everyone, because those are not present yet.

More teaching to be done, for sure and it is a great deal of fun in additional to a continual pedagogical challenge.


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Shout Out to Aram Kabodian

And, finally for tonight, a quick shout out to my friend and RCWP colleague, Aram Kabodian, who is getting back into the blogging business this holiday season.

Mr. Kabodian’s Blog

Well, I took the plunge and let people know I’m playing with pageflakes and bustin’ out this blog. And people actually responded!

It was nice to hear that there’s a world of readers out there. The message board on the pageflakes site is active, I had my first comment on this blog, and the emails are rolling in too. It makes me feel like the time I spend on this tech stuff is worth it. People seem interested — though maybe it’s just the novelty of the whole thing — which makes me want to keep at it.

I’d like to think that I’m not just doing this to play and impress myself and others. I want to make it a meaningful place to think things through and improve my teaching.

Keep those cards and letters coming 🙂

You heard the man — check out his blog! He has a great sense of humor, many insights into teaching middle school kids, and some other fun things thrown in. And, while you are at it, his class’s wiki, too!

Glad to see you blogging again, Aram!

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Social Networks, School Policies, and Surveillance

My colleague Rob Rozema from GVSU has invited my students and I to participate in a new Ning social network, Teach English. I am very excited about the opportunity to be involved in this project, and we will also have students from Allen Webb‘s course at WMU join in, too.

As we consider what we will do with this network, I think that we have to ask ourselves a key question about its implementation and potential for use: how do we account for and respond to the contradiction in local, state, and federal policies regarding internet use (for instance, no blogging or social networking) and the call to teach these skills in our schools?

In other words, if we teach students how to use social networks, will they be able to use those skills once they are teaching?

Moreover, this raises another issue that my best friend Steve Tuckey and I were discussing a few weeks back — does taking a technology and reappropriating it for use in schools undermine the excitement and potential uses for that technology?

As an example, we talked about the idea of a “cheese sandwich blog,” one that tells basically accounts for the mundane happenings in everyday life. (If we build 20 million blogs, will the readers come?). Contrast that with the more substantive kinds of blogging that many edubloggers are calling for and teaching; that is, a more “academic” form of blogging. Steve asks, what’s wrong with the cheese sandwich?

He asks this not to be sarcastic (well, OK, maybe a little bit), but more to take a critical approach to how we use blogging. From an email conversation, he says, in part:

by trying to call for highfalutin standards of rigor in what our students blog about, we are essentially trying to colonize one of the most democratic spaces with the self-important hierarchy of academia. We try to set up the same old benchmarks for “good writing” in a new environment, all the while touting the greatness of its promise as something “new.” Seems schizophrenic to me. And don’t get me started on how real-time authoring serves to feed the dragon of continuous assessment…

In other words, if we reappropriate “blogging,” into an academic setting, is it blogging anymore? Or, is the definition of “blogging” (or, perhaps, edublogging), such that a higher level of discourse is now becoming expected above and beyond the typical diary/journal/update blogs of the past. And, with microblogs in Facebook and Twitter, are we going to have to think about how to make that academic blogging, too?

Steve was interested in seeing me raise this point with the other edubloggers that are thinking about similar ideas, perhaps in another forum beyond our blogs, too. Perhaps I will write a letter to EJ or something like that. If others have an idea about where and how we might discuss this issues — the appropriate use and reappropriation of blogging for academic purposes — let me know. It will certainly be on my mind as I prepare for next semester.


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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

IMing Back in the News

It’s been about a year since I’ve seen an article like this pop up — perhaps it has to do with going back to school and all the negative ideas that technology can bring in relation to the state of our language and culture:

The walls between the school and the cellphone or computer screen are permeable, and the key is to get students thinking about language so it’s used intentionally and effectively in context, says Florida State’s Yancey. “Language users will take a practice from one setting and take it to another. That’s the nature of language. What I really hope is that people will translate appropriately.

“It’s like flip-flops, she says. “There’s nothing wrong with flip-flops, worn at the appropriate time in an appropriate way. But soccer players don’t wear flip-flops in a game.”

15 years after birth, book’s not closed on textingUSATODAY.com

I find this particularly interesting right now as I am reading Postman’s Technopoly with my ENG 201 class. His basic argument is that technology becomes culture and thus an all-consuming march towards progress that we don’t question. So, I do sometimes appreciate those who question why and how new literacies like IMing are changing our language (even if I disagree with the principle behind the question).

Also, it reminds me that I need to be very conscious of what technologies I choose to use in my teaching and research, how I explain those choices and technologies to others, and to reevaluate them in light of how well they worked for the task at hand. IMing, for instance, is not useful as a genre for the types of writing that we are doing in the ENG 201 class, but is interesting as a subject of research.

You can see more of what my students are writing about related to Technopoly in their blogs, which you can link to from here.

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“Using Technology to Tell Stories” Blog

Bonnie, Kevin, Tonya, Mary, and I are blogging at the “Using Technology to Tell Stories” blog. Thanks to Bonnie and Kevin for getting the ball rolling on this. We are focusing much of our attention on digital storytelling, but there are other threads evolving, too. So, check it out.
Also, just to continue the read/write web circle, I figured we had to have a wiki, too. It’s write-protected for members, but just send me an email if you want to be a part of it.

Enjoy and happy storytelling!

Telling the Technology Story in K-12 Schools

The past week or so has been crazy. Yes, busy crazy for me personally, for sure.

But, I am talking about another kind of craziness.

I am talking about the number of teachers that I have talked to who have been fighting filters, trying to get equipment to work, and generally trying to make meaningful use of technology in their classrooms.

After last week’s Teachers Teaching Teachers about infrastructure, and being invited to talk with the group again this week, there are two stories that I feel I need to tell. The first comes from a research project about blogging and podcasting in which I am collaborating with an RCWP colleague, Dawn Reed. The second, from another RCWP colleague, Stacy Schuh who was trying to figure out who to get colleagues in her school to use blogs.

First, Dawn and I have been working for the past few months to create an opportunity for students in her speech class to blog, podcast, and offer peer response to one another. In so doing, she has run into multiple layers of complications in regards to allowing audio content over her school network, having the appropriate equipment in her classroom for students to listen to podcasts, getting technical support, and having parents sign off on a consent form for students to post their work online (or, perhaps, getting students to take the consent form home for parents to sign…). In short, she feels that:

Basically, I need help to get around what our technology is set up not to do.

Now, this is not a matter of Dawn throwing up her arms in frustration at the first sign of a problem. Instead, I feel that this comment speaks to the deep and sometimes unseen forces that school infrastructure — both social and physical — can have on a teacher’s ability (and willingness) to engage in technology-based work with her students. These roadblocks that she has encountered are indcative of how we refuse to change what Tyack and Cuban would call the “grammar of schooling”: the ways in which the traditional school day, quarters, semesters, and years are structured as well as the generally restrictive and skill-and-drill ways in which we view using technology in school. These visisons continue to propel our decision making processes about why and how to use technology, even though the changes are happening faster than we can keep up with if we are willing to innovate, let alone if we are not.

Second, Stacy a teacher at RCWP — who works at a public charter school — has essentially become the webmaster for her school because she was able to get the free Lunar Pages account for K-12 educators. The school didn’t have a website, nor did teachers have email, until she set up the site a year ago. She has had her students blogging this year on a Word Press blog that she installed on the site.

Recently, she wanted to create a blog for her colleagues but everything in her school is filtered (Blogger, Edublogs, etc) except for the domain that she created through Lunar Pages because it is, essentially, the school website. So, as she and I were trying to think through all the options, I just suggested that she install another Word Press blog. She did. And they are blogging now.

As I think about these two teachers and the infrastructure problems that they are encountering, I think that someone needs to help out. Perhaps NWP — or at least local sites — could team with a hosting company like Lunar Pages to make things easily available to teachers that can help them do their work better and empower them to make their own decisions related to technology. Then, teachers would have control over their domains, both classroom and web-based ones.

The Read/Write Web for Academic Advising

Of the four presentations that I have to do today, tomorrow, and Friday, there is one that I am really developing from the ground up and need to think through quite a bit. In thinking about how Mobile Social Software and other read/write web tools are impacting youth, this question will become increasingly important as time goes on.

So, I will be meeting on Friday with some academic advisers to help them think through how newer technologies can help them do their work. I have been asked to think about how messenging, blogging, podcasting, and social networking could contribute to better relationships between advisers and students. I think that I will start with Educause’s 7 Things article about Facebook, and then move in to a broader discussion about how and why we, as adults, use technology to communicate. Then, we can start thinking about what students might want/expect of us.

In preparation for this meeting, the advisers generated a “top ten” list of questions that students typically ask them in order to help frame the discussion during our meeting:

  1. What do I still need to graduate? When can I graduate?
  2. Are my University requirements done?
  3. What’s a cognate and what should I do for a cognate?
  4. What Study Abroad programs can I go on? How will the credits work in my degree?
  5. What kind of careers/jobs can I get with this major?
  6. How can I find and sign up for an internship?
  7. How long will it take me to graduate if I change my major to ___________?
  8. I want to take classes near home this summer. How can I do that?
  9. A class I want/need is full. How can I get an override?
  10. Do I have to do the foreign language? How can I get it waived?

So, I am trying to think about how all the technologies listed above — and others that aren’t like RSS, Google Calendar, and wikis — could help contribute to helping these students. I am also wondering if these are very Web 1.0 questions. That is, most of these seem like they could be posted as a FAQ on a static web page or, if they wanted to add some interactivity, on a wiki. Thus, I am interested in the deeper questions that these questions are getting at and I am curious to think about how some read/write web tools might help develop better relationships between advisers and students.

As I end this rambling post, here are some things that I am thinking about:

  • Getting everyone signed up for Facebook and learning the basic functions of it
  • Getting everyone signed up for Bloglines or Google Reader
  • Creating a Google Calendar that they can subscribe to
  • Using Skype to carry on a conversation with voice and/or chat

What else makes sense here? What other things might an adviser, or a teacher, need to be fluent with in order to stay connected with their students, answer questions in a timely manner, and develop stronger relationships? Thanks in advance for your ideas.

Thoughts on "All Things Google: Thinking Across Software Modules”

Today, Andrea and I are presenting at the annual MSU Tech Conference, and we are both sitting here in the kiva, Macs at the ready, to listen to the following panel discussion:

All Things Google: Thinking Across Software Modules

Google recently released a number of powerful, free tools that are very useful for classroom teachers. This presentation will showcase some of these tools, in particular: Calendar, Blogger, Reader, and Personalized Home Page. Panelists will provide brief overviews of each tool separately and its implication for educational practice. In addition, we will look across all four tools and envision how they might be used collaboratively for teaching purposes. There will be a follow up workshop on this topic presented during the afternoon session.

CTT > Center for Teaching & Technology

So, here are some notes and thoughts on the session…

Intro: Two Learning Tasks

  1. A new framework for evaluating technology
  2. Four particular tools that are important for your work

Key Principles for Evaluating New Technology

  • Free — we are looking for technologies that are freely available to anyone
    • Having a hard time getting technologies that cost money
    • Parents and students can use these technologies outside of school
    • State funding is dropping for K-12 education
    • Paying for a site license is expensive, whereas web-based tools are usually free
    • This will be important as students apply technologies in their lives outside of schools
    • Given the number of computers that are available in home and school, free web-based tools are critical
  • Future — what are the prospects that the tools that we are looking at will be around for the long haul
    • Technologies change rapidly, so knowing whether a tool will be around is important
    • Does the company or tool have a history that suggests it will be around?
    • For instance, Google has a high future potential in terms of stock, for sure, but the fact is that almost everyone is using it in some way, shape, or form
    • If you can find tools from good companies that are free, then they are likely to be around for a long time
    • Also, what support is available? For instance, Google has help centers for each of its tools.
  • Friendliness — how does the tool work on its own and how does it partner with other technologies
    • Traditionally, when we pick a tool it does one thing well. Now, we need to have technologies that synthesize and expand its purpose and functionality
    • Technology report card:
      • Works to capacity
      • Works well with others — does it add value as a tool in your life?
    • Does it work across populations that we serve: teachers, students, and parents?
      • The more it works across these populations, the better the tool

Four Google Tools for Educators

  • Calendar
    • What happens when your calendar can talk to other calendars and the people that you serve?
    • OK… I got off on a tangent trying to install “Spanning Sync” for awhile…
  • Blogger
    • What are blogs and why do they matter?
      • 50 million blogs worldwide
      • That number is doubling every 200 days (6.5 months)
      • Over 100 times bigger than just 3 years ago
      • Approximately 1.6 million posts per day
      • 11 of top 90 news sites are blogs
      • Tool for education that enables reflection, activism, and social transformation
    • Blogs allow for easy linking to other websites, blogs, pictures, and other content
    • They differ from basic websites because they allow comments
    • Tagging and allowing readers to go back through and look at themes that develop over time
    • Profiles allow students to fill out information, safely, to share info about themselves
      • We can create a class profile and highlight personal interests with tags
    • Blogrolls allow you to create links to other blogs that you are reading
    • Can use blogs for multiple purposes
      • Personal reflections
      • Taking notes
      • Class blog
      • Students posting their own work
    • Blogs can engage students in particularly powerful ways
      • A student who is writing about a tree in his backyard and how that can expand into other areas of science and inquiry
      • They can become engaged in the aesthetics of the work
      • They can become creatively invested in the work
      • They are engaged in a shared experience that contributes to the classroom community
    • RSS Feeds (Really Simple Syndication or Rich Site Summary)
      • You can choose what continuous information to receive in your RSS feeder, for instance, from your students
    • But, can my students do that?
      • Yes, the interface of Blogger is very clean and highly usable
      • It is highly customizable
      • Blogger also allows you to make things as public or private as you want
  • Reader
    • Google Reader works as a friend to some of the technologies that we have discussed already
    • If you go to a web page that doesn’t have an RSS feed, what do you do to find out if there is new information?
      • You can look for a “last updated” note, but you don’t always know what is exactly updated
    • One of the things that an aggregator allows us to do is to pool information from multiple feeds
      • It pulls in content that you haven’t read so that you do not have to go back to each individual page to figure out what you have, or haven’t, read
    • What does Google Reader look like?
      • It shows you all of your feeds, what you have read, what you haven’t
    • All of this is based on RSS
    • You can connect to students’ and teachers’ blogs, link to news sites, calendars, and anything else that is RSS subscribable (sp?)
    • Students might have a number of things that they can bring into their Google Reader, some related to official academic or news sites, other blogs (including the teachers’), items of personal interest, and friends
  • Personal Homepage
    • Ran out of time to talk about this

As I think about this session and the few times that Joe and Cherice asked the audience, “Have you heard of __?” or “Are you using ___?” — and see how many people were, and were not, using certain tools, I realize that the amount of knowledge that teachers need to have to be able to stay connected. It is a different mindset, and I think that for all the technology professional development sessions that I have done and how starting with a conversation about that mindset (and how it changes literacy) makes the most sense for educators who might ask, “Why should I do this?”

That is the question that I hope Andrea and I can speak to in the sessions that we have coming up next.

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