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Monday, January 16, 2006

Blogging Changes Us

I came across some very insightful comments at John Pederson's blog. He says:

I learned something very important this morning. Very subtle, but important. Blogging won’t change education. It changes us.

This is what I keep telling my fellow teachers.

Perhaps the hardest thing about moving back home to my small town in Georgia is the intellectual stimulation of being around my friends in Atlanta. Many of us graduated from Georgia Tech and share information and knowledge as part of even our social conversations. The drive to learn is ingrained in our very being. To say I suffered withdrawal was an understatement.

To respond to this in the 1990's I delved into books, often sucking down 2-3 several hundred page books in a week. I love to learn and am well aware of the limits of my own knowledge so this was the best I could do.

Well, that has all changed! It is sort of funny how I dove into the blog, wiki, social bookmarking thing so quickly. I went to the GAETC conference last November and heard Dave Warlick speak. I happened to come across him in the opening session and looked at his nametag. I looked him up in the book and realized -- "I've got to talk to this man!"

He didn't look down on me because I'm from a small school and a private one at that (that makes me a pariah to many educators.) He talked to me and answered my questions. I then spent most of the next day going to his seminars. I bought his book and read it in one night!

I thought I was so behind!

I set my ambitious goals to "catch up" with the rest of the world before the end of the semester! (insanity!) I proceeded back to my class and did a special on Google 2.0 the next day. The students were thrilled. We dove into bloglines next -- setting up accounts, a little blogging.

Then I created a free wiki at wikispaces.com and launched a student exploration of Web 2.0 (We were named wikispace of the month for December!) I had no choice, because I knew that I didn't know a lot except what I'd experienced in the last several weeks. We explored folksonomy, RSS feeds, the blogosphere, social bookmarking, wiki pages, podcasting and more. The students made it relevant to them. I commented to help them improve. They commented to ask questions.

I followed Dave's instructions and we recorded our first podcast. Then I started blogging and posting like crazy relieved that I was finally somewhat maybe perhaps caught up with the rest of the world.

My students were excited about everything and learning had taken a giant leap forward not just in my subjects but in all subjects through the use of wikis specifically. They were excited!

Now I laugh! I took Dave's vision and thought it was all fact -- whereas he is a visionary and was spelling out the future for seminar participants. I thought I was behind!

You see, I had no way to know that what he was telling was so visionary because it all has worked just as he spelled out and much more so! I had no reason to think that these things were visionary because they just work. They work like some tried and true theory like the learning styles or Maslow's heirarchy of needs.

I am fortunate to be in a smaller school where the curriculum director and I work closely. She trusts me implicitly and allows me to adapt the computer science program to stay cutting edge. The English, Science, Math, and Social Studies teachers are passionate about including technology in their classes and do so very frequently. Some are already beginning to use wikis, particularly to have a four year project to help AP English students review. We're using them in our SAT review right now. (And having a great time, I might add!)

I will keep blogging on the how to's but for now I will say -- the biggest transformation has been in me!

I can sit down and read my blogliness account and be up on the latest research and thoughts. I can listen and learn from those who know while I'm working out in the mornings. I can also take the theories and visions they espouse and try them in my classroom and post almost real time observations on the truth of their visions. So we have a mutual synergy that is building among educators. That is truly exciting!

I heard in a sermon yesterday, "You don't have to be a who's who to know what's what."

I know these collaborative, social technologies excite students and they work! I've seen it!

They make me a better teacher -- my only struggle is the exhaustion I feel as the students have expanded my mind and pushed me to my limits intellectually. We mutual feed on information that we then we consume and share. What a great environment!

Thanks Dave for being a visionary -- and for taking the time to talk to a nobody who was sitting alone at a conference where you were a somebody. I'm forever grateful!

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