(Let me preface this by saying this is a very blog snooty post that I really hadn’t intended to craft when I started, but, as they say, the spirit moved. I’m not sure how much sense it makes, so please feel free to let me know if any or all of it doesn’t hold up.)
Bud Hunt is a new teacher blogger who I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, and he’s been doing some good blogging on his site. He’s trying to get his own blog program up and running at his school, and I like the fact that he’s willing to share the struggle with me and with others. I’m learning.
Something in his post from yesterday caught my eye, though, primarily because I have blogging (the verb) on the brain of late and feel a much longer, hopefully more incisive post building momentum somewhere in there. Anyway, Bud said:
Student blogging provides a showcase for their best work, a playground for working with new ideas, and a place to collaborate with other students, teachers and schools. The more I work with and discover about blogs, the more I realize that they are an entirely new way of thinking — something like the Swiss Army Knife of the Internet. A student blogger could be a podcaster, an artist, a political scientist, a technophile, a poet, a chemist or whatever. The blog is the management, not the content.
Now I don’t have a problem with any of that except for the last sentence. And it’s indicative of why I’m feeling some angst about the edublogging practice going on, much, I think, the way Tom is reacting in his Adolescence of Weblogging post (which by the way I’ve read about 20 times in the last three days.)
To me, the true power and potential of Weblogs is the act that it facilitates, the blogging, not the structure it provides. That is not to say the structure isn’t a good thing. But it’s not the best thing, and I guess I’m not seeing very many new people using it in that best way. Barbara and Anne win gold medals, and there are a handful of others out there who are teaching kids the act of blogging that will serve them well into their adult lives. But much of what I’m seeing from the teachers who are starting to explore the tool goes the way of management, not content.
Take, for example, the post to which Bud is responding from Hipteacher, another new teacher that is blazing her own trail and chronicling it in her blog. Notice how she writes about her use of blogs:
I love and adore using blogs with my students. In my experience, writing, revising and peer editing within the blog structure has particularly helped their writing skills. So, I’ve used blogs in that way. I’ve also had success with journaling in blogs.
If every teacher used blogs, our kids could really have a kick-butt record of their progress in writing and in high school. Maybe they would continue to comment on the work of kids who aren’t in their classes anymore.
She’s a great writer, and her reflections and narratives are great reads. But I find in those passages and most of her posts about her use of Weblogs that the blog gives structure to the content the kids add to it. The blog doesn’t produce or facilitate the content as much as host it. It’s created elsewhere and added to the space, not created within the space. Now, please, and I mean this sincerely: I am in no way disparaging what Hipteacher or any of the other teacher bloggers out there are doing with the technology. I think the sharing of teaching experiences in measured form as a way to support an online network of educators does a great service…it’s something I wish I had when I was starting out 20 some odd years ago. And I think that the creation of community that blogs facilitate and the improvement in writing that occurs because of it are equally as impressive and important.
But I wish Hipteacher and others and their students were doing more blogging. Now I know I’m treading into narrow-definitionville here, but I’m trying to get back to what for me is the essential question: What does a blog allow me to do that I couldn’t do previously without it? Because I think the answer to that is where the key to the tool lies. I’ve always been able to keep a reflective/personal journal, though, I will admit, not one with such a wide audience. And in that I guess blogs can elevate the genre for those who are comfortable in sharing that online. (Tom’s point about the anonymity of such blogs resonates with me, though.) And I’ve been able in some form to create community in my classroom and effect peer review and discussion, although, again, the blog expands the ways in which I can make use of that.
“Blogs allow me to create content in ways I could not before, not just post what I could create otherwise in a different form.”
But the one thing the blog allows me to do that I could not do easily in my classroom before is to link, to connect ideas, to make transparent my thinking about those ideas, and to have others link to them and do the same. I’ve been down this road before, I know, many times in fact. But it is the essential piece of Weblogs to me: blogs allow me to create content in ways I could not before, not just post what I could create otherwise in a different form. And in the essence of that creation I use and learn all of those skills that will serve me in my lifelong learning that were (I think) much more difficult for me to learn before: close reading, critical thinking about information, clear and concise writing for a real audience, editing, and reflection, all of it understanding that whatever truth I may put forth will continue to be negotiated by readers and more reading. This, by the very nature of the process, develops reading, writing, information, collaboration and computing literacies, literacies which I think most of us would agree are going to be crucial in navigating what’s ahead.
As I said yesterday, this is heavy lifting. But with the nature of what we do in the classroom changing due to the immense impact the Web is having on our personal and public lives, it’s important lifting. And teachers should be doing it more than most, modeling the learning that comes of it for their students. To me, that’s the biggest task that this adolesence brings to us, pushing beyond the more obvious uses of Weblogs we’ve already identified to a place that challenges both teachers and students to think and learn in new ways. If we do that, then, as Hipteacher says, Weblogs truly “could be dreamy.”