Two summers ago I kind of invited myself up to Middlebury College to talk to some of the really early thinkers in edublogging like Sarah Lohnes, Hector Vila and Barbara Ganley. I remember feeling really inspired by the way they talked about their use of Weblogs and their willingness to share their visions and ideas. It was a great few hours for me and really my first face to face connection with this community.
I didn’t realize until earlier today that Barbara had participated in the recent BlogTalk in Vienna and had done a presentation on her exploits using blogs in her writing classroom titled “Blogging as a dynamic, transformative medium in the writing classroom of an American Liberals Arts College”. Her post and pre-conference notes provide a wealth of insight into her use of blogs and her thinking behind it. It’s definitely worth the read, and I just want to excerpt a couple of passages that I find particularly noteworthy.
… blogging does make a difference, a significant difference in the quality of my students’ experience in the classroom and the measurable outcomes of that engagement. Blogging–more than anything else I’ve tried–facilitates connections in my classroom, connections that ultimately allow us to move far beyond mere classroom walls in our embrace of the learning experience. My students really think that anything they set their minds to is possible–they can have serious discussions with experts in the field; they can consult in slo-mo asynchronous exchanges with classmates about the perplexing questions confronting them; they can read one another’s work and learn from it as they remake it in their own responses through their own projects and papers. The writing grows–the thinking deepens, Hector, rather than becoming secondary to the delivery, to the surface flash of the visuals. My students demand more of themselves than ever before–they want to do it all. And they want to do it at a very high level of accomplishment indeed.
It goes without saying that Barbara puts a huge amount of time into planning and studying these interactions, but she has created, I think, an interesting model for the writing classroom, at least, that in some ways can transfer down to the K-12 level. This gets a bit theoretical, but the idea is important:
Students in a group-blogging course epitomize the writings of Lévy and Johnson through the formation of a strong, resilient learning collaborative in which multi-media work naturally blends into research, personal reflection deepens scholarly insights, and the students see themselves as crucial participants in their education. We will demonstrate how students became the course, using the interface as a way to “take over,” becoming their own teachers in a unique synthesis of online and f2f work; they narrated a different course than expected and, if as Roland Barthes notes that “narrative is a hierarchy of instances,” the students’ narratives in this course suggest that they are indeed evacuating—challenging—even these post-modern categories. Student bloggers, in this course, demonstrated how they created an “Other” of the teacher. Finally, we will examine the ramifications of this work for us as teachers—our use of class and planning time, our relationships to our students and colleagues, and our relationship to our pedagogical goals–and new directions this work will take us in the future.
I think the real genius of Barbara’s approach is the way she presents that technology to her students and then gets out of their way in slow, measured steps until it becomes their space, or as she calls it, the “Motherblog.” The Zen-like “become the course” which only a truly supportive, collaborative environment can facilitate. Throughout the post there are a number of linked examples that illustrate her thoughts. The result?
Through the Motherblog, the individual student is no longer privileged, nor is the primary classroom transaction flowing from teacher to group, and then student to teacher. Groups of individuals become committed communities of learners, education becomes group experiment, and the classroom becomes a wildly productive place student-centered, project-based inquiry. It is an exciting, unnerving place, indeed, promoting often astonishing outcomes for our students and fearless faculty.
Obviously, Barbara’s teaching has been greatly affected by her use of Weblogs. And it’s great that we can investigate these ideas ourselves through her publishing them in her own space. There is a lot to think about here, and it’s good, inspiring stuff.