Blogging – Not IF, But When, Where, and Why

It has been much too long since my last blog post. When I lamented how far behind I felt in my writing recently to a friend, she wisely pointed out that my “life stress score” was probably pretty high. She went through the list – kitchen renovation, two parents and nephew in hospital, hosting a big family reunion, child leaving home for university, change of job, change of routine….. okay, okay!! I have been a little busier than usual in the last few months!

I don’t feel particularly stressed – everyone is now healing nicely, the kitchen reno went well, the family reunion was a big success and it looks as though I am going to thrive in my new job at LEARN. But there are times, recently, when I have found myself overwhelmed into paralysis.

Today, Dave Cormier asked me to read over his blog which is also a part of a presentation at the University of Prince Edward Island. It is a terrific post/presentation and should provide some good material for those of you who may have to make similar presentations. I decided to comment and the ideas just flowed out like a dam had broken.

Here is what I wrote:

    A great presentation/blog, Dave! I liked your visuals and the embedded slideshow as well.

    I have a few more thoughts about blogging for educational purposes – not if, but when, where and why, as well.

    I used blogs with my high school students for the last three years in a variety of ways. As an English teacher, I am always looking for ways for my students to produce writing in authentic situations. Most of us are reluctant writers to begin with, so writing purposefully for a real audience makes a big difference in motivation and effort on the part of students. For the most part, traditional samples of writing would have an audience of one (the teacher), maybe two (if the student actually proof-read it!). With a blogging environment, the audience can be larger than just the members of the class. However, I have found that my students would *prefer* to write for an anonymous audience over their own peers – so powerful is the social force of peer groups in the teenage years! What I also discovered consistently over the three year period, was that the quality of writing improved greatly both between samples handed in for only my eyes and over time.

    This was due, I believe, to a number of factors. First of all, the students were exposed to the quality of writing by the rest of the students. Suddenly the bar was raised. They could see for themselves what was good and mediocre (and just plain awful) writing. The students who perceived themselves as not quite doing a great job put a good deal more effort and care into their writing. I almost couldn’t believe the quality I was witnessing from some of those students! As well, they were also aware that they themselves now had an audience. This also motivated them to perform at their best.

    Last year, I asked the headmaster of our school to read my students’ blog posts – at times in response to his weekly address – and he agreed. The very fact that the students were aware that the headmaster was going to read their blog posts also motivated them to really dig deep and write critically and thoughtfully. I was very impressed with much of what they had to say.

    So when we talk about using online social spaces – such as blog or wikis – for communicating for educational purposes, I would have to say a very compelling reason is because of authentic audience.

    I am very impressed with the new Québec Education Program that has now been completed in its mandate to provide a new curricula for the students of Quebec in the 21st Century. It explicitly states that the notion of text is no longer bound by words on a page (be it webpage or hard copy) but we now read other texts for meaning – visual texts, audio texts, multimedia texts. Literacy is now about making meaning from all available texts. Most blogging and wiki environments permit these texts (as you have shown on this blog post with your visuals and slideshow) to habitate all in one location in order to foster meaning-making for its audiences. Our students exist in a world where they are saturated with these texts. They have themselves become the producers also of these texts. I believe it is fundamentally important that we give them opportunities to produce content in meaningful, yet appropriate ways. This is another very important reason we educators should be using these tools and environments within the scope of our instruction.

    I have also been blogging myself – though certainly not daily – for the last two years. I took it on as a way to prime the pump for my own thesis writing for a graduate degree. The discipline of blog writing has given me back much more than that. I have connected with educators I had no idea were out there. In fact, I am still surprised when someone says they are following my blog! The notion of an authentic audience who reads what I write is a powerful motivator; however, with it comes a responsibility of care for what I write and about whom. I work very hard not to betray the trust of my friends and colleagues as I write. It is very important to play nice and play fair when you are putting your thoughts “out there” on the Internet. This is about digital ethics – something I don’t believe we teach enough to our students. As they become producers of content, it gives them an opportunity to experience ownership of ideas – perhaps through this, it will give them a sense of the importance of copyright and avoiding plagiarism.

    Thanks for giving me a chance, Dave, to thrash through some of my ideas and beliefs about the uses of blogging in education!

Some of the above ideas are greatly influenced by Dave Warlick who presented at a conference I attended a few weeks ago. We are crossing our fingers that he will be able to be our keynote speaker at a conference in Montréal in February!

Tonight on our WOW2 webcast we have a number of really terrific special guests lined up for a “super admin” show – Dr. Scott McLeod, Barbara Barreda, Chris Lehmann and Miguel Guhlin. Please join us at 9 PM EDT on edtechtalk - who just moved to a new server yesterday!

3 thoughts on “Blogging – Not IF, But When, Where, and Why

  1. Thank you so much for your post. I am trying, for the first time, to use blogs to increase achievement for my language learners. The past three weeks that we have been in school have been stressful and huge learning experiences for me as to how to use blogs in a meaningful way to improve students’ metacognative experiences in my classroom. I’m glad I have your blog on my reader, I will definitely add Dave’s. It was refreshing and a great help to a teacher just beginning her trek into Web 2.0!

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