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Monday, April 24, 2006

The mistaken identity of blogging: why educators are missing out!



I heard a great story about a honeymoon gone awry:

The groom and bride arrived exhausted at about 1 a.m. at the bridal suite at a posh hotel. They were exhausted from greeting friends and a long weekend of celebrations.

Upon scanning the room, they saw the couch, a refrigerator, a table and chairs, the bathroom, and a closet. Too tired to think, they kept looking for the bed. They finally figured out that the couch had a pull out bed in it. All night they slept fitfully (among other things) on a lumpy, uncomfortable sofabed.

In the morning, the bridegroom went down to the front desk to give them a piece of his mind about the terrible accommodations in their room. Quite confused, the manager took them to their room and went to the closet door.

He opened what the couple thought was a closet door into the most lush, comfortable, intimate king sized bed along with now-lukewarm champagne, chocolates, and specially engraved glasses all set out for the couple.

The couple missed out. All because of mistaken identity.

Mistaken Identity and the blogosphere

Many educators are turning to the blogosphere as the salvation of writing. They are having students hand in their papers on blogs and do regular writing assignments on a blog!

And then they groan because kids hate them! The teachers who jumped whole hog into blogging draw back dissillusioned! The newbie blogging teacher is frustrated with grading and wonders what the deal is!

(Research reference added) Some preliminary research done by Nicole Ellison on her Emperical Testing of Blogging in the Classroom shows no significant measurable difference in engagement and effectiveness of blogging used in her classroom. Check out her research whose purpose is to:

... report findings from one of the first empirical studies exploring whether online writing offers a true pedagogical advantage over traditional writing projects submitted on paper. In Spring, 2005 a pilot study testing the effectiveness of blogs as compared to traditional papers in the classroom was conducted by the two authors.
I tend to think that it was because these assignments were just mirror images of paper assignments and not necessarily tailored to the nature of the blogosphere that the results were not more different. (I'll post more on this research later.)

I do believe well-meaning teachers are trying to make the square peg of paper writing fit into the round hole of blogging. Yes, they both hinge upon writing, however, in my opinion, the mediums are decidedly different.

Many people are not getting the point of blogs and Web 2.0. They don't understand what it is! Additionally, they do not understand what blogs are NOT! (See Kathy Sierra and trying to move up the wisdom heirarchy.)

What blogs are not:
  • NOT A place to just turn in papers -

    Papers are best turned in on... well, paper. You can mark up errors on paper and correct things. You don't do that as well on blogs. There are some occasions where I have students turn in both a paper and post the paper on the weblog. This doesn't mean that I never turn papers in on the weblog, however, when the papers are done on weblogs, I have them add hyperlinks.

  • NOT A replacement for message boards. Message boards have their place. While you can comment and do such on blogs. Sometimes, I don't think blogs are going to cause the obsolescence of message boards. They have a purpose too.

  • NOT Something that will just sit there and run itself without teacher involvement. Not having to grade isn't here. In fact, I would say that something that runs without teacher involvement and monitoring points to only one thing -- a poor teacher. Teachers are integrated into every aspect of their classroom. It is not an easy profession, but a noble one for sure.

  • NOT Benign, boring, documents without hyperlink or reference.
    Hyperlink, folks. That is the point! Naked posts are abandoned islands in a sea of knowledge. If you don't want hyperlinks, perhaps a traditional paper is what you're looking for.

  • NOT A place to write in third person (unless you're producing research documents)

  • NOT be a place that reflects the sordid scum and dark side of society with profanity and unkindness.
    These types of blogs though they be from a PhD are from people who are, in my opinion, unprofessional and uneducated. Surely the flavorings of a varied vocabulary are the product of education. Profanity reeks of the first grader stomping their foot and calling someone "stupid' because they cannot win an argument. Profanity precludes a massive audience from reading your work!

What blogs are:
  • ARE A place to share your reflections about your passion - Renee Callahan says:
    For knowledge creation, blogging fuels that "love of the game."
  • ARE A Part of a Conversation - If a person only posts on a topic and never comments on another blog, they have missed half of the experience. Be a part of the conversation about your passion and topic!

    Besides, over half of my traffic is driven by comments. Don't be afraid you're giving away "secrets!" If your comment is that good, copy and post it back on your blog and trackback to the original article. That is conversation!

    The recent PEW study that everyone is quoting says:

    The internet and email aid users in maintaining their social networks and provide pathways to help when people face big decisions


  • ARE A tool to Extend Class conversation outside the classroom - The power of blogs is in assigning common topics and contributing to and guiding the conversation that emerges. Participate in the conversation by commenting on student blogs yourself and posting blog entries that synthesize and summarize what students say.

  • ARE the production of rich hypertext documents for sharing and conversing about information.

    A blog post without a hyperlink is a dead document. Hyperlinking is an essential skill, and I believe students should know how to do it manually in HTML. It is that important!

  • ARE A place to state your opinion and make it count. (See yesterday's post about Those Who Blog Care)

  • ARE A place where decision makers and influencers are looking to spot trends and opinions at first ripple.

  • ARE A place to promote yourself and your opinions (See Guy Kawasaki - 120 days wonder: how to evangelize a blog)

  • ARE a method to keep their minds sharp (and prevent Alzheimers according to Marshall K)

  • ARE A potential source of income for students. Dave Warlick blogs on this today. He says:

    The moral statement is that, while we continue to do a good job at teaching our students how to consume content (read), we must also be teaching them how to produce valuable information products (write, draw, compose, make movies, etc.). It is a viable and accessible revenue opportunity for all of us.

Blogs aren't what you think

I think teachers who take exactly what they are doing with paper and transpose that to a blog will be sadly dissapointed.


If you want a place to turn in papers, use turnitin.com. If you want a place to stimulate conversation, blog (and wiki.)

If you want to pull assignments out of kids almost against their will, assign papers. If you want students to enjoy posting and conversing about meaningful topics, blog and wiki.

Blogs are not the same thing as a paper. They weren't intended to be. They never will be. There is a place for both.

However, teachers have got the potential to create exciting, innovative conversations online have got to look into blogs and and wikis to use them in the best way possible. Blogs and wikis are meaningful, salient modes of communication to students. Shouldn't we use it to talk about History, English, Science, Math, and Computer Science?

Do we know what the best practices are in blogging yet?


No! I have my opinions, but the fact is that more research must be done to determine best practices. I agree with Nicole Ellison when she says:

However, while there is much discussion about the potential benefits of these tools, more work is needed to assess their impacts and identify best teaching practices.


How do I start?

I don't want to be redundant, so here are some of the most popular cool cat teacher blogs on these two topics.

Blogging:

Wikis:

Books to help you!

If you want to get started and love books (like me), I suggest reading David Warlick's book, Blogging in the Classroom, that is how I got started!

I also see that Will Richardson’s book, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms is getting great reviews from educators, but I haven't read it yet. He's such a great blogger, that I'm sure its a good one and it is on my next to order and read list.

Blogging and wikis are a communication METHOD not a threat!

Those who fear technology and think it is disconnecting students with the real world (See The Overdominance of Computers in Educational Leadership) are missing the point that these channels of communication ARE our student's link to the real world! I agree with Jerram Froese on his Left Lane Ends post when he says:

What should we be doing? Teaching our kids through the use of POV. (Point of View) Getting our kids involved in the local, national and international community through the power of technology. Developing school systems that support and develop effective teachers. It is true, technology is their life - so let’s embrace that fact and find ways to help OUR kids think more effectively within that environment.
Bottom line on blogging in the classroom.

We should be using blogs in the correct way to enhance teaching. They do not necessarily replace papers, but add a whole new aspect to teaching!

If you do not see blogs for the opportunity that they really are, you will wake up in the morning, like the honeymooning couple and realize that you missed out because you did not recognize the true identity of the door that leads to the blogosphere. Even worse, your students will have missed out!

A note on research

Finally, I have been taken to task for my lack of research. I, however, am a classroom teacher. My research is in the eyes of my students. I observe, I watch, and I experiment. The intent of my blog is to share with you what I have observed and found to be true in a real classroom that is using blogs, wikis, podcasts, and most any Web 2.0 technology we can get our clickers upon.

Do not let me discourage you from trying something you think may work in your classroom, I look forward to seeing what you think and observe in your classroom until those who are doing the research can effectively measure and understand this new medium we are all grappling to get our arms around!

Keep the faith!

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