Jill Walker does some looking back on her students’ use of Web logs and I’ve been doing the same here, here, and here. I don’t know if I can accurately sum up my experiences this year in just one post, but some things stand out from this first year of Manila.
First, let me say that I am really satisfied with Manila in general despite some initial insecurities. I had very little down time this year, and despite some flakiness from time to time, Frontier seems imminently stable. Now that the New Frontier has been released in beta, I’m confident things are only going to get better and easier. Most if not all of my concerns about privacy and membership seem to have been addressed, and I continue to be impressed by the overall flexibility and strength that Manila offers. I still have much to learn, I know, but I’m feeling like it will be effort well spent at this point.
In practice, I feel that the use of Web logs has improved my teaching in a number of ways. First and foremost it’s expanded my classroom to include far flung participants that have seriously impacted the relevance of what my students have learned. My collaboration with Anne and the guest appearances that authors and journalists made in our Web logs enhanced and validated my curriculum in many ways, and if I have one goal for next year it’s to expand those collaborations even further. Already we’re talking to a school in Krakow, Poland about sharing space for our students, and I’ve got ideas for joint newspapers and magazines and…don’t get me started. And that in itself is another positive effect of Web logs: they have created all sorts of new ways to impart curriculum. They allow me to go beyond the preconceived notions of how to teach and force me to think. That’s good stuff…
Manila has also given me the opportunity to help my students engage a body of work instead of individual pieces in isolation. There has been much written lately on the need and value of reflection, and although I know I can do a better job with it, my students have no doubt benefited from having everything in one place and being able to see their evolution as journalists. It’s nowhere near as easily done with paper. Another goal is to focus that reflection even more next year.
One thing I’m hearing from my students is that many would like to personalize their space more. I seem to recall a thread on this with Sarah a while back, and I think it might be worth taking a day to go over some basic tweaks (pictures, files, etc.) if it means they might be more invested in their spaces. And from a design standpoint, I know I need to think more seriously about a Barbara Ganley-esque format for putting work into the Web log, especially now that Manila has made it easier to add links to the nav column.
Another aspect that I want to think about is the community building that I think was missing in many respects. Despite some attempts to get students cross posting, those attempts were largely unsuccessful. My gut tells me a better way is to continue to try to foster community and collaboration on a smaller group scale. In journalism, that may take the form of four or five student editorial teams sharing space and producing their own publications or zines.
And a final thought is that I’d like to do more blogging with them. I felt uncomfortable offering up this site as a model since I was from time to time sharing my personal thoughts of the world. But now that I’ve taken those thoughts offsite, I think I’ll try to do more of what I’m asking them to do in my own space. Just another great opportunity to write with my writers.
I’m only teaching two nine-week sections next year beginning in November, so my experimentation will be a bit more limited. But I have 16 teachers signed up for training this summer, and a handful more who want to expand the scope of their projects from this year. Couple that with the Big Enchilada of Web logs as Web site, and 2003-2004 is shaping up as a very interesting year.