During a BlogChat last night, Pat made a nice analogy of the difference between Web pages and weblogs. He’s alluded to it before, but last night he made it clearer, and it makes sense. Pat sees creating Web pages as “paper making” whereas weblogs are “writing on paper”. It’s a great point. When I think about how I typically would use paper in the classroom, it’s very similar to the way I want to use weblogs…to go paperless. “Websites have to be as easily available as paper,” Pat says, and the way that’s coming to fruition is the weblog.
But think of that…what a great pitch that is to get classroom teachers interested in this! The biggest obstacle to taking teaching online has always been the creation and publication of content. I’ve taught scores of teachers how to use the Internet. I’ve taught hundreds of kids dozens of teachers how to make web sites. Yet, only three or four teachers in our faculty of 250 have a web presence. And it’s all because it’s hard to do (unless you are loving the technology like I do). But now…
Your students can publish online for all of your class to read and respond to, and those responses take place with the writing itself. (No more copying of essays and poems and whatever.) Your students can create Web sites that chronicle not only their work but their thinking. You can watch groups of your students collaborate, debate, and create. You can see your students work from classes before yours. Your class can have an online space where you can manage work and point to relevant information for deeper study. And best of all…you don’t need to learn Front Page, HTML, FTP, IP, or any other of those scary acronyms that keep people from using the Internet!
And let’s face it, we’re all in sales. Whether it’s course content to our kids or teaching methodology to our peers, the whole idea is to sell them the idea that what we are imparting will make their lives richer, easier, more meaningful, more fun, etc. So I’ve been thinking a lot about that, about how to “sell” this concept to my teachers. And it always comes down to “it’s E-Z!” You don’t have to be a techie to do this. You can even teach your students to do this. It can even be fun.
But Pat also got me thinking about the teacher weblog carcasses that I’m already finding. (Since schoolblogs is obviously the biggest provider of space to teachers, I’d love to know how many of their weblogs are consistently updated, or for how long the weblogs are being used.) I can’t count the number of teacher weblogs I’ve seen that are nothing more than the “It Worked!” page in Manila…Maybe their the bottom third on the tech access ladder that Ken referred to earlier.
I’m going to keep my focus, however, on the possibilities. Just a few minutes ago I pitched this idea to my assistant superintendent: A pilot independent study for 10 freshmen next year to build, over the course of their high school careers, a weblog/portfolio that would serve not only as a publication vehicle for their best work, but a learning journal along the way. Picture this: each of the students gets 2 credits per year (equiv to about 1.5 hours of work per week). The space is collaborative in that each student has a teacher mentor, another student, a parent, a community member, and a professional mentor to view and give feedback and advice as the portfolio and journal grow. At the end of senior year, we throw a big party and present the portfolios as records of learning. The details are still a little fuzzy, but I can’t imagine what something like that might do to give relevance to the idea of school as learning not just taking classes. And guess what…it would be EZ for everyone…in fact, after just one day with Manila, I know it would work.
And think about teacher development. We have a waiver at our school from traditional evaluation for tenured teachers. They have the option of peer coaching or portfolios. Either way, think of what weblogs could do for small groups of teachers collaborating, or departments, or…I just can’t stop seeing the ways this could change what we do.
Also, reading Rebecca Blood’s Weblog Handbook, and finding some really interesting observations. (If you haven’t checked out her weblog, you should.) The implications for classroom use really aren’t covered, but the aspects of hypertext and content that she brings up certainly apply to what we’re doing. Here’s a taste: “Webloggers invite participation in another way–they produce webloggers. Reading the thoughts of others like themselves, ordinary individuals suddenly understand that on the Web anyone can speak their piece, and readers become writers.” And, as alluded to by Pat: “The Web enables continual publishing, in which updates can occur at any time; it is this aspect of the Web that weblogs can capitalize on.” Not earth-shattering, but well put. As I read, however, I am struck by how different what we’re thinking and talking about doing feels from the traditional form.