The discussion over the worth of Weblogs as a writing tool grows. Tom writes that we have a pretty good idea of what tools we need, but it’s difficult to find the one that fits all of our needs.
It is apparent that weblog technologies suggest improvements in lots of facets of school work, but currently don’t provide a perfect fit for any. Weblog tools are, hopefully, good at helping you write a weblog and/or read other people’s weblogs. They’re simple and flexible enough to be stretched in different directions, but it shouldn’t be surprising that there are better tools for other specific problems.
I think that’s a a part of it. As I’ve said before, there are a lot of pretty simple tweaks that could be put into Manila that could put us a bit further down the road but for one reason or another haven’t been implemented. And Weblogs are for blogging, that’s what they were made for. Call it linking, journaling, whatever, we’re trying to twist the technology into forms it may not be real great at capturing.
Ken Tompkins, who has been promoting Web publishing of student work for over six years now, offers his fairly downbeat assessment of Weblogs as tool as well.
My own experiences with using weblogs in the classroom have been disappointing… Weblogs changed everything; we could discuss content and spend almost no time on process. It was a major revolution in what we were doing. We hoped, of course, that our students would write all sorts of content: online literary mags, online newspapers, archives for their class papers, postings on their lives at college, collections of photographs, drawings or other materials from non-literature classes. Almost none of this happened.
Ken has a pretty clear analysis of what he sees as much of the problem, and it’s not so much the tool as the user. He says “my college students are not terribly interested in weblogs.”
Fair enough. My students aren’t particularly interestd in Weblogs either. I’d venture that very few of them would keep or will keep their own Weblogs were it not for my requiring them to do so. And to be honest, I don’t think Mark Bernstein’s thoughts about improving Tinderbox as a writing tool will do too much to change that, although for serious writers I can certainly see the usefulness of deep linking.
But let’s face it; kids aren’t especially enamored with writing anyway. In my 20 years of teaching I’d say about 10% of my students have come into my classes with some real passion for writing and journaling and composing. Maybe half haven’t found it to be a pretty painful process. Maybe. Most of them wouldn’t have written on paper if we didn’t require it, so why should it be any different for Weblogs? And the publishing to a big audience aspect that all of us teachers find so appealing is pretty ho hum to them. They’re still writing for a grade, audience or not.
I do wonder if Weblogs improve writing; the jury is still way out on that one. But on the score of improving teaching, I think the answer is clear. Teachers can communicate, archive, collaborate and organize information in much easier ways. That in itself has to translate into some higher understanding on the part of students. And, not to be repetitive, but the art of blogging has some merit as well. The bringing together and making sense of information from a variety of sources is a skill that I think is going to be an important one for information literate citizens, one that even if they don’t carry it on after class is still worth learning just for thinking’s sake.