Noteworthy Examples of Emerging Technologies in the Classroom

Colleagues–even those who blog or use blogs in the classroom (not necessarily the same people)–often wonder if there is such a thing as a virtual higher ed blogging community, whether all this referring to Pierre Levy I do on this blog and his idea of “collective intelligence” and “knowledge spaces” and “reciprocal apprenticeships” really means anything in the world of educational bloggers the way it does in the worlds of journalism, business and politics. With Scott Rosenberg of Salon.com coming to Middlebury next Monday (just when I ‘ll be out of town at NITLE, wouldn’t you know it), differences between blogging communities are being talked about in these halls.

And just when I think, well, okay, perhaps I am wrong, perhaps I have in my enthusiasm embraced a phantom community that is little more than a figment of my dog-bloggéd imagination–this handful of educators both using blogs actively in the classroom and blogging about the experience may think we are a commmunity but actually we are nothing of the sort–along come a couple of comments on my blog from readers who are doing some very interesting work indeed out there. They are quieter types than yours truly, I think, focussing on the work itself instead of blogging about it or hanging out at blogging conferences..(a topic I’d like to consider sometime:the blogging teacher, and the teacher who uses blogs), and so I am especially grateful to them for sharing their work with me.

Paula Petrik at George Mason University has been using blogs extensively in her history classes. In her comment to my Phones, games and Cameras in the Classroom, she notes,

I, too, use blogs, but I suspect that I use them in a much different fashion. My emphasis is on learning to think as a historian and the improvement of student writing. And there’s nothing like a sustained program of writing to get the job done. To that end, I’m requiring comments and “blog-adapted” academic writing–what you term “forced” writing. The students write every week (individual posts, group project posts, or comments), and I grade every week. Blogging does make providing feedback for the students easier, but I must confess that I had to set up a rather crude Excel spreadsheet/WebMerge Rube Goldberg process to organize the feedback system and provide the necessary level of security. If I knew PHP, I could probably get the job done much more efficiently, but there’s no more time in the day. I actually have the rather bizarre idea that technology should make the logistical elements of teaching, including marking and feedback, easier.

Ah yes, the shortcomings of blogging software for those of us trying to use blogs in educational settings… In spite of the challenges, Paula Petrik has her students using blogs (requiring them to purchase subscriptions of Typepad, a commercial application, treating as a text purchase–I’ve thought about doing this with my students, or having them purchase inexpensive firewire drives for media storage) as a course portfolio. What is valuable here on first view is the archiving and sharing–for her students to learn from each other’s projects–and for other teachers to learn from her assignments. Her students have posted maps, documentary films, essays–these are media rich sites and an excellent example to show colleagues from the history department!

And from Erik Feinblatt at FIT comes this example:

I am responsible for instructional development at FIT in NYC. Recently, we have looked at ways of incorporating FLICKR into some of our courses. We have many ideas, yet to be implemented, and one quite impressive utilization. It is for an Art History survey course – History of Western Art and Civilization: Renaissance to the Modern Era – and uses student comments and notes extensively to accompany the images.

I’ve been looking for ways flickr is being used in higher ed. This example from an art history classroom, with the students discussing a painting AND leaving notes on the image as a way of really getting right in there and looking closely at the image (Wouldn’t John Berger love this application!), gives me ideas about how to add Flickr to my Artswriting blog.

Now if Erik and Paula would blog about these experiences, communicating with us what has worked and hasn’t, what missteps they’ve taken, what directions they are moving in now–but I know how difficult it is to teach, to produce scholarship, to have a life, and to blog…Believe me, I know…

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