Recently I alluded to a trend that I’ve been seeing lately of educator Web loggers starting to ask some tough questions about what exactly we’ve got here. James Farmer’s recent article in Xplana has provoked some pretty interesting response that I think bears attention as most of the feedback seems skeptical.
Bill Brandon sees a problem with adoption because of the chages Web logs require:
Weblogs require dealing with technology, not with intellect. Closer? They require changing the way things have always been done and they require re-writing lesson plans for the umpteenth time. They involve risk (what do you do when a student uses a weblog to write up dark and violent essays that you hope and pray are only fantasies?) and additional time to evaluate, without any reward for doing well with them. And so on.
I agree that there is risk in providing students with an audience, but I think the risk can be adequately mitigated by limiting the openness of the site and by allowing teachers to preview posts. And yes, Web logs entail more work, at first. But I can tell you that having my curriculum and plans archived make life much easier the second time around. And I have never felt that the Web log affected my lesson plans that much in the first place. It’s a tool, not a curriculum.
He continues to say:
Almost no one teaches people how to use journaling (read: weblogging) as a personal tool for building up a knowledge base, or as a record of personal introspection. Hardly anyone offers a course on how to go back through your old journals (weblog entries) and gain new value from them. Are you teaching scientists, engineers and mathematicians? Your task is different from that of the person teaching writers, artists, and philosophers, isn’t it? And wouldn’t the uses of weblogs be different for these groups?
This, I think, is a point very well taken. I know I have done little with my students in terms of the metacognitive thinking that effective Web logging requires. But I would argue that it’s early, that we’re all still just getting our feet wet. I think Pam and Anne‘s efforts at using Web logs with teachers is a great start at getting to some of those skills.
I have the sense that the key to getting learners to use weblogs effectively is to find a way to help each learner find, for himself or herself, the lifelong *value* in journaling as it contributes to their life’s work (whatever it will be).
Amen, and this leads nicely into a comment by Jeremy
Hiebert, who says:
We’ve been discussing this issue at work in the context of using blogs as part of a web-based portfolio to help students record and reflect on their future possibilities. We know that just providing the tool won’t ensure that it gets used. My current angle is that students would only voluntarily use a tool like that if they had something they really cared about to reflect on, but most of what they’re doing in school doesn’t fall into that category. Teachers may assign projects using the tool if it’s safe and simple, but the likelihood of students engaging in the process is certainly lessened by it being obligatory to begin with.
This ties in to what Seb has been writing and thinking about for a while now in terms of the value of a personal publishing tool. And I’m beginning to believe even more strongly that the eventual power of Web logs in education will be realized in the longer-term learning portfolio form rather than in the daily posting of assignments or simple reflections. But I would argue again that we’ve only just started down this road. And to be honest, I think there is much about Web log use in schools that is already working. We’re making connections for our kids, we’re providing them with an audience they never had before. We’re showing them more and more ways in which writing matters. And, whether we’re doing it conciously or not, we’re teaching them that learning doesn’t happen in isolation, that it is a process, and that bits of the process that may seem unrelated really do have relevance to one another. Sure, we’re going to need to get beyond the simple obligatory use of Web logs by students and figure out ways to get them actively engaged in their spaces just as we are. Until we do that, we might as well be using paper. But I think we’re moving more than a few more molecules in that direction every day.
Finally, Stephen Downes weighs in with:
Weblogging is not something we should make everybody do. And the impact of weblogs on education will not be that everybody has a personal weblog. So what will it be? I continue to view weblogs as a filtering system, a means by which individuals gather, assess, comment upon, and pass on items of value to a reader. The best weblogs are niche-oriented, and these weblogs benefit specific communities.
I agree to some point, but I would add that Web logs should also be a means to pass those items of value to ourselves in ways that we can reflect and think about and share.