Sunday, December 19, 2004

An Idea for Doing

The research paper is a fundamental of the English curriculum and one of the most static, dull, lifeless pieces of writing students create. The goal is to help students find, manage, and synthesize information; a noble end which collapses from disinterest spawned copy-pasting just to get the assignment done. The idea of blogs as meta-thought tools may be a way to breathe some life into the effort of students, to help them make their own meanings.

Richardson's comments (see previous post) sound like what I want my students to do with the information they encounter. To that end, I am thinking of ways to incorporate blogs into the process of any research-based writings. I have students talk to one another about what they are doing, but I am most interested to see what happens when students read one another's blogs. What will the act of blogging--both the original post and the commentary--do to shape understandings of researched material?

Currently, I want to try the following with blogs as a research tool:

  1. Prewriting: thoughts on the topic before any focused research takes place.
  2. Research: thoughts on the sources found.
  3. Postwriting: thoughts on the process of research, blogging, and writing.

At each step, student posts would be open to both teacher and peer review. To encourage collaboration, students could be in small groups, with each group reading and commenting upon the blogs of its members. RSS would be a vital component, allowing group members and the teacher to stay current on recent bloggings. Each student would also subscribe to the teacher's blog where updates on the assignment and potential resources would be available.

Theory and Application

Using weblogs in the classroom still seems to come down to some fundamental questions encountered while doing anything in the classroom. How does the teacher promote student engagement in the process? Certainly, interesting and easy to use technology will help, but there still needs to be relevant purpose. The age old "why are we doing this?" must be answered--both for the lesson and the use of blogs in the lesson. Thinking Like a Blogger, by Will Richardson, certainly helps answer the latter.

the process starts with reading what other people have written and editing that content for depth and relevance and accuracy. It's making connections about that content to other ideas to clarify what's important about it. It's adding personal reflection to give it context because only in knowing how the blogger experiences what she is writing about can I as a reader decide whether her ideas are worth my time. And, finally, it's linking back to that content so that the ideas can be traced to their genesis.

Blogs become tools of meta-thinking. Students are not just reading and responding, they are considering their own relationships to what they and other students think. In The Network is the Blog, Jon Udell says blogs are meaningful only when connected to the blog network. Much like a student paper often fails to consider an audience beyond the teacher, a blog that is not actively engaged in may as well be a piece of paper in a drawer.

This is part of the engagement answer, too. Writing with an audience in mind, an audience that exists within the classroom but also, potentially, beyond its walls, is a motivator to put time and consideration into what is said.

The pieces are all floating around for me right now, but there are threads developing between them, pulling them together.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Permanency of Knowledge

I wonder at the permanency of blogs. So much of our knowledge, true, intimate knowledge, of history comes from discovered works--manuscripts, diaries, letters. What is e-lost, its importance unrealized at the time of deletion, virus, or hard drive failure, by removing the physical from the process of creation and communication?

The impact has been noticed in photography as digital replaces film. Only a few physical photos of Clinton hugging Lewinsky existed pre-scandal. The majority of photographers were using digital--why save pictures of Clinton hugging some random intern? The digital pictures had long been deleted, presumably to make room for more important pictures worth saving on limited hard drive space.

When this photograph was taken, the public did not know about their relationship. When the news broke, Dirck Halstead recalled this image. After an extensive search through his files, this photograph was found. He had taken the photograph, which turned out to be an exclusive, using film. Halstead speculated that most other photographers had used digital cameras and erased any similar photos. This image appeared on the cover of Time magazine and won the Eisie Award for cover photography.

What is being lost? Certainly, the notion of losing history as documents are thrown away is nothing new. But as technology accelerates, as file formats and legacy issues continue to plague us, even materials we want to keep are getting more difficult to hang on to. Deleting the seemingly inconsequential is just too easy.

What will all of this end up meaning for my students? With what sense of their own histories will they be left?

Friday, December 10, 2004

Potentials and Pendulums

I have come to realize I am more excited about the potential for blogs than anything in education for quite some time. so many technologies, strategies, methods, etc. show promise but fail to truly transform the nature of education. The pendulum swings--adopting and discarding--will edublogs be just another edufad, like open classrooms?

The energy behind blogs is certainly authentic, and good things are happening. Can this energy, however, be sustained over the long run; will blogs be transformative enough to reshape the read/write pedagogy sufficiently enough to exist more than a few years in more than a few classrooms? The blogvangelists will certainly say yes, but many of those in the cult of blog are highly comfortable with technology. Not all in teaching are. Certainly, this will change as the generations growing up with computers enter the field, but comfort is not the only thing to hold back innovations, to keep them from becoming the norm.

I'm not certain what factors will come into play, but entire buildings were designed with open classrooms that were eventually walled up.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Unstable Knowledge

One of the required readings for my ECOMP 7007 class is FOCUS: Five Rules for Writing a Great Web Quest by Bernie Dodge, one of the innovators of the Web Quest. During a discussion of scaffolding, Dodge says, "In an earlier era when content was more stable..." This notion that content, and therefore information, knowledge, and understanding, can be unstable is a true construct of the information age. Being able to work with unstable content, with knowledge and understanding that may not mean the same thing, or even exist, in a few months or years, is a true 21st century challenge and an area where students need help developing the higher order thinking skills required to make sense of such a world.

Jack McLeod, as quoted at Weblogg-ed, discusses throwing away all of our current curriculum and starting to teach kids how to manage information. Perhaps this is where we are headed. I had a chemistry teacher in high school who insisted we not bother memorizing anything about chemistry. His belief was we would internalize what we needed on a regular basis (it took me ten years to forget Avogadro's number) and could look up anything else. He was very good at teaching us how to find what we needed.

We are all wrestling with just how unstable content has become. Blogs and the ability to create a community of shared meaning are a step toward sorting it all out.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

The Search Begins

I've begun researching the use of blogs in the classroom, and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed and underwhelmed all at once.

Quite a few bloggers out there are rather rabid, and I'm beginning to wonder if somehow the internet has spawned the solution to everyone, everywhere, finally getting along. Ah, hyperbole. Still, the excitement surrounding the power of blogs to give voice to the world is real. This excitement is infectious; how will my students engage in the world through blogs? The little I have seen in my early diggings gives me hope.

I haven't, however, found much on many of the issues that a school-sponsored foray into the blogosphere ought to be creating. Where are the discussions of the child protection act? of protecting the privacy of minors? of protecting the teacher and district from lawsuits? I am fully enamoured with the glittering power of student-led publication, but the realist--the one who keeps me employed and pays the bills--knows this is not an area to charge into headlong. Indeed, there are very good reasons not to blog. The idea of the secret service visiting one of my students in the middle of the night because of something s/he wrote is chilling in the least.

I've only scratched the surface and there are so many questions. Questions are good.

Entering the Blogosphere

Hello World!

I have never been an early adopter of anything, but I do love technology and what it can do to give people a greater voice. So, now that blogs have been around for a bit and they appear to be sticking around, I have decided to play around with one and see what it is like.

I have been reading a few blogs for about three months now. My ongoing favorite is Aaron Swartz' blog. His frank, honest discussions of life now that he has started college are quite refreshing and remind me of what was going on in my head as a freshman. A true shame I didn't have the technology (or nerve ) to publish like this when I was in college.

My foray into blogs, though, is with a different purpose in mind. I see blogs as a wonderful, powerful way for my students to be heard beyond the walls of the classroom. I want them to start blogging, to extend and participate in conversations about what they are learning. But, before I can help them reach out into the ether and communicate, I need to know how it all works, so here I am.