Diagrams, Conversations & Commenting

Via Aaron Campbell comes this diagram through James Farmer on Communities of Inquiry and how blogs serve them. It’s heartening that others are asking the same kinds of questions as I find myself asking these days and coming up with thoughtful, sensible answers. I particularly appreciate Aaron’s response to Susan Marandi’s observation that the best teachers she ever had were the sages-on-the stage. He writes:

I think the question is rather, what kind of society do you want to live in? Do you want a society where average citizens look to authority figures and powerful institutions to validate their knowledge and decide for them how they will live and think and act? Do you want to live in that kind of social environment? Or would you prefer a society where individuals each have a strong sense of autonomy and interdependence in combination with a sharp faculties of critical awareness and commitment to cooperation?

He’s putting his finger right on what ails us here in the U.S. on so many levels. He goes on to say,

I prefer the second, the kind where a healthy democracy can actually flourish. We can only bring this into being if teachers are willing to let go of the reigns of control, encourage cooperation, and allow students to develop their own sense of power and to become their own authorities. Do away with grades and competitive structures. In fact, lets annihilate the student/teacher realtionship so as to allow communities of learners to emerge. All people have something of value to offer the community as a result of pursuing their bliss. The more our classrooms resemble these organic, living, breathing, loosely defined communities; the more our societies of the future have a chance to mirror them. Perhaps then, the community will become part of each person’s sense of self, so that sharing with the whole is as natural as being selfish is now for the egotistical self contained in these temporary little bundles of flesh and bones.”

Bravo, Aaron.

Aaron and Will are trying out all kinds of interesting e2e virtual-communities-of-inquiry experiments,and I’ll be interested to see what they learn about integrating such advances into their classrooms and how such far-reaching use of technology affects learning communities. They are really integrating various technologies into their work, seeing that RSS and real-time collaborative blogging, wikis, chat, audio and video all have promise together in the classroom. I’m still just playing around with blogging myself. Actually, if truth be told, Héctor and I are going to try to do some class-to-class collaboration with wikis this spring, and I am hoping to get moving on some “blogging in the wilderness” collaborations with the Social Software Users’ Group from CET, and I have students blogging in far-flung places on the earth, but I haven’t yet moved to this full-fledged integration of a range of tools. Perhaps I am listening a bit to Héctor’s fabulous recent posting–I highly recommend it: he doesn’t post often, but he always posts brilliantly–about needing to take it a bit slower this semester, to fine tune the kind of multi-blog approach I’m using in my classes, incorporating a bit of podcasting and such, but not taking any new leaps, instead learning from Aaron, James and Will as they go. And thinking aloud here.

For me the beauty of this professional blogging is that it keeps me reading the Web to keep abreast of what my virtual colleagues are doing out there and to keep reflecting on what I’m doing and why. I know I’ve said this several times before, but really,if we ask our students to blog shouldn’t we have tried it out ourselves? Would you teach a kid to drive if you didn’t drive a car yourself? I’m still astonished by the numbers of teachers thinking they can throw blogging into the class without ever trying it out for themselves, feeling what it’s like to click the send button and have your modest essay or comment move out beyond yourself and into that vast unknown of the Web.

Which brings me to Trackback vs. Comments. Héctor is one of the few bloggers out there (,Sarah too, and Patti–though she doesn’t blog) who leaves substantive comments in response to postings rather than using Trackback (though he does that, too). I admit I am a more selfish user of the Web, choosing to respond to other people’s blogs via Trackback for the mostpart because I like to hang onto my thoughts on whatever topic I’ve responded to, weaving them into the archives of this evolving one-teacher’s- reflection kind of blog, and I can’t do that on someone else’s blog. I want to see the evolution of my thinking on technology in the classroom, and most of the time I am interested in a line or so of someone else’s posting, and so I use Trackback. But I must say that sometimes I feel a little guilty. Should I just go onto Aaron’s blog and respond to his posting? Or James Farmer’s? Probably. But I also find it more efficient to do everything here, and time, well, time is pretty short when the semester looms and we’re moving to MT 3.15 and I still have to work out details of the four-colum/four-blog-within-the-Motherblog design… I’ll keep thinking about this one…

Yes, this week I am pulling up a couple of new course blogs–though new is a relative term here, since one of them, at least, uses previous course blogs rather prominently. Now that EL170 (Introduction to Creative Writing) is in its fourth course blog, I have incredible resources to mine for examples, models and provocative discussion. This group of students will stand on the shoulders of the students who passed through this classroom before them, learning from their successes and their “glorious failures.” More on the new blogs anon.


Blogs in Higher Ed: NCII, the Presentation

Here are the Powerpoint slides of Beauty and the Beast:Bringing Blogs into Higher Education:
Download Héctor’s PPT Presentation

BG’S Section–
one teacher.jpg

Introduction: One Teacher’s Journey with Blogs

A Brief History of Why I Turned to Blogs:

(For the Full Presentation, Read On)

Continue reading

NLII Experience it Session: Beauty and the Beast: Bringing Blogs into the Higher Education Classroom

To open our interactive session on blogging in the higher ed classroom this afternoon, we will have participants respond to the following writing prompt via the comments section:

Do you have a vision of where social software fits into learning?

What is it that you need in order to understand the integration of blogs into the learning?

Responses pulled over from the version of the question on Héctor’s blog:


** Do you have a vision of where social software fits into the learning?

I have some ideas but am interested in learning more about how other people are incorporating social software into higher education and student learning.

** What is it that you need to understand the integration of blogs into the learning?

Many students are familiar with blogs in a social, informal context but we are interested in how blogs can be used for _learning_. How do we structure learning activities, curricula, etc. for students to help them understand this change in purpose?
Posted by Helen at January 24, 2005 04:13 PM

vision that fits into learning:

social software allows learners to find and communicate with other learners and/or get different viewpoints on a topic

integration of blogs:

– how can you effectively use a system that is loosely structured to easily find what you are looking for.
– how do you integrate blogs with the traditional, socratic, method of teaching.
Posted by paras at January 24, 2005 04:12 PM

My worry is that if favors the typing literate rather than the vocal literate inordinately.
Posted by Carl Berger at January 24, 2005 04:12 PM

Collaborative blogs enable learners to communicate with each other in an informal, conversational format. They are simultaneously entering other conversations as they link to other sites. At the very least, they introduce ideas of public discourse as fundamental to a particapatory democracy.
Posted by Dolen at January 24, 2005 04:12 PM

Vision: Social software fits into learning as a tool used for effective communication from one-to-one and/or one-to-many.

Need: For the experience. My schedule prevents me from doing diddly so I am happy to devote time to researching this methodology at NLII. Novice.
Posted by Jenny at January 24, 2005 04:10 PM

I think it will make students at easy in many ways. Social software is a fast and relatively cheap way to share, collaborate, and learn.
Posted by Olga Trusova at January 24, 2005 04:10 PM

I don’t have a vision yet of social software and learning, other than the immediacy that blooging affords can lead to some very un-reflective comments. Such as this one.

I need to understand the writing process that will help allievate the above statement.
Posted by Bill Corrigan at January 24, 2005 04:10 PM

Being a conservative social constructivist, I think this forms the basis for student rapid and creative construction of learning in a course or any informal setting.
Posted by Carl Berger at January 24, 2005 04:09 PM

My vision is of a rich, shareable, persistent intersubjective space that demonstrates the way in which teaching and learning must be pervasive in order to be authentic. I’m also delighted by the way blogs are a) personal research managers and b) ways to see thinking in process.

My questions have to do with something quotidian but important: should classroom blogs be locked down a la CMS? I don’t like that, but I do understand the need for a “safe space” and also (especially?) the way some students feel personally at risk from stalkers and other kinds of unwanted attention if they are visible to the world in this way.
Posted by Gardner Campbell at January 24, 2005 04:09 PM

Social software is absolutely essential if we are to engage the digital natives and give them the skills they may need to succeed in the information world. Structured activities with social software will acquaint them with a wider range of skills.

I want discipline-specific discourse within the blog, not the diary-style. How do I shift my students to that mode?
Posted by Kathy at January 24, 2005 04:09 PM

1. I see weblogs as a tool to further the discussion and back-and-forth that is valuable in any education. I see weblogs as a method of establishing or continuing the dialog or debate.

2. What are the legal pitfalls, such as FERPA, that need to be addressed? What about students’ comfort with exposing their ideas to the rest of the world and the potential for interaction with entities outside the classroom?
Posted by Chris at January 24, 2005 04:09 PM

Social Software, Pedagogy and Reticence, A continuation

I returned from a couple of days spent with fellow liberal arts-bloggers at Bryan Alexander and Sarah Lohnes’ First MANE Social Software Users Group Meeting to find Aaron Campbell’s discussion of my January 12 entry over on his own blog, and Will Richardson’s take over on his blog about both our perspectives. Add to that Patti Ganley from C.A.S.T.’s reply, mix in the last two days’ worth of discussion with 15 colleagues (imagine being in the same room for two days with 15 people who share your take on pedagogy and technology…), and now H�ctor’s response and I feel ever more committed to speaking out about the kind of classroom where deep learning takes place and how social software can contribute to the goals of a student-centered, knowledge-creation and sharing environment. I’m ready to put together the talk for New Orleans next week with H�ctor and then to pull together my spring course blogs.

Sure, H�ctor makes a valid point about how we’ve made little if any progress on the constructivist front, especially in higher ed, as yes, Sunday’s NYT and yesterday’s article about ETS getting into info literacy testing demonstrate, but when I return from presenting our classroom work and see how others then take the lessons into their own classrooms, I remain committed to the goals. It’s agonizingly slow work and few get it. But look at the rewards for our students. So I’ll drag my little soapbox around and stand on it on every street corner I can and see who will listen–not about the social software itself or even to the pedagogy (which as “Too Many Topics, Too little Time Blog”points out, are both tools, after all, and

“the question to ask is what can i do next, ad then use whatever tools you have, pedagogies are tools, are technologies. when you start saying which determines which, you start dismissing the key point, the student, the learner, that person or those people determine both.”

–touch�) but to the students and what we want to make possible for them.

And Patti, who spends all her time in public school classrooms, writes:

BG, I don’t think it needs to be an “either/or” question. For you the process was just as much, or more, about the constructivist pedagogy and how using technology and multimedia could be a vehicle to support that. For other educators that may not be the case. They like the technology, they like that technology makes it easier to engage their students in the curriculum.The natural progression of students starting to take some ownership may be easier for those educators to incorporate than choosing to let go of that control in the beginning. Not everyone is as courageous as you are.

So, yes, in all your wonderful enthusiasm you should tell your story, but understand that not everyone has the skills, ability or desire to take on teaching from the circle. It is a scary proposition and teacher change is rare without sustained support, but isn’t it OK if educators try the technology and take the leap from the podium to the circle at their own pace?

Of course she, too, makes an important point, and several people at the Users’ Group meeting would support her argument that the only way some of these IT folks can sell technology at all to a reticent faculty is to show them that it makes what they already do easier. If faculty equate technology with more work and time and effort without commensurate rewards, then forget it. Very few people want to or can give more than they do already. As we know all too well, teachers are overloaded. And so slow adoption of tools little by little can indeed reassure the reluctant adopter that technology is time-consuming but not necessarily more so than any other careful, student-centered approach. It does take effort, there is a learning curve–and we should initiate NEH summer best-practices workshops and give teachers release time to learn how to teach with technology. We need Faculty Technology Fellows in our schools, given time to research the student-pedagogy-technology connection in their classrooms, to learn the tools and to try them out with support from IT, and to collaborate with colleagues in other institutions. Yes, we need time. And we need Patti Ganleys and H�ctor Vilas out there in classrooms showing teachers how and why it works.

What most concerns me is when classroom adoption of social software misses (or worse yet, ignores) the SOCIAL aspect. In some ways blogging is tailor-made for classroom use–it is by getting students talking with one another online IN CLASS and ABOUT CLASS as PART OF CLASS that we can hand over their learning to them, to energize them as active owners of their own educational experiences, and to help them to become effective citizens capable of thinking critically about the world. Of course, as several people pointed out at CET, students often resist group work for the “good” students want credit for their work and don’t want to carry the slackers. We have to show them them the benefits of collective intelligence. Reading the final reflections from H�ctor’s first-year seminar this morning, I was struck by how student after student commented about how they had to learn the benefits of community in this course, how to give of themselves without fear and how to listen to one another. And this is what H�ctor’s talking about when he writes in reply to my last post:

CORRECTIONS: “constructivist pedagogy,” a nice name, has not caught on in either K-6 or K-12. Sarah speaks from the priviliged positioning afforded by Teachers College. In reality, “No Child Left Behind” is the pedagogical imperative in K-12–ask around, or spend some time in schools, as I have.

We do see examples of “constructivist pedagogy,” mind you; however, teachers and curriculum moving full force in this direction–no way. Perfect example is in this past weekend’s NYTimes Education Supplement, an frightening characterization that in the past 20 years, 15 of which have involved technology, we’re still “ah ha’ing” the same things, wondering the same things, and we’ve moved forward NOT a bit, not a bit at all!

In a sense, we should start talking about “reality pedagogy.”

How is it possible that our students have spent some 12 – 16 years in school without learning how to work with one another creating knowledge or why they should even want to do so?

As we repeat ad nauseum, social software can make it easier to create student-centered, project-based communities of practice in our classrooms. Through the networked, restless becoming and public nature of blogs and wikis–if we teachers introduce and integrate them effectively– students challenge themselves to think deeply and creatively about the subject matter. Adding multimedia narrative and hypertext, audio and visual examinations of the world as they engage in published collaborative inquiry and knowledge production within virtual as well as f2f communities, students practice critical and creative thinking skills as well as how to care about more than their own monologue. Learning as a social activity–

What heartens me this week is the consensus at the meeting by IT and faculty attendees alike that we (this group) need to create a knowledge space among us, a portal of our combined experiences and resources, but also, and more significantly, to capitalize on the benefits of collaborating between our classes and our institutions. A couple of project ideas are stirring out there, especially in-the-wilderness blogging explorations (of the kind <a href=”http://mt.middlebury.edu/middblogs/pkashyap/India”target=”_blank&#8221; Piya is doing so magnificantly ), interest me. If I ask my students to work collaboratively, then I’d better do it myself. And I am in good company here, what with such folks as Doug Davis from Haverford and his ideas about creating a memex and collaborating with classes interested in the Arab World, and Linda Patrik at Union interested in developing a network of Study Abroad bloggers on the one hand and the talented and creative IT and library folks on the other who really get the student-pedagogy-technology connection. One foot in front of the other. Onward.

Pedagogical Underpinnings of Blogs in the Classroom

As I presented my blogs at CET for the Social Software Workshop this morning, midway into my hour-long talk about how I’ve been using blogs over the past four years, I was feeling more scattered than usual, a little off-kilter with the grounding I was providing, which, of course, surprised me given that I have presented at CET numerous times as well as at conferences and workshops all over the place. Certainly there is the reality that every year I have more blogs to show, more assignments and experiences–the choices the choices! And it wasn’t that I didn’t get across the essence of my experience with blogs, because I think I did.

It was the very smart and equally perceptive Sarah Lohnes who helped me put my finger on what’s up. The deeper into this classroom blogging I get, the more I cannot disentangle the pedagogy from the blogging–to talk about blogs means to talk about student-centered learning, collaborative knowledge spaces, constructivist pedagogy FIRST. Teaching with blogs the way I do–which means not applying them piecemeal but integrating them fully in all their messy, flexible, fluid promise– means you have to let go of control of the classroom, give up the stage and create opportunities for learning magic to occur. The trick is to weave the learning and the tool so seamlessly together that the blog is the class and the class finds the blog indispensible.

Of course, all over this blog I go on about pedagogy and classroom blogging and teachers blogging (for example, here in November and here in October). It’s not a new topic at all here, but it is rapidly becoming THE topic. During a phone call yesterday with Cyprien Lomas about the upcoming NCII conference we talked about higher ed situations conducive to social software, and why some in higher ed resist blogs altogether, and we, too, circled back to the role of pedagogical leanings. I think I decided after that conversation to soft-pedal the pedagogy in my talk today, to see if just putting the blogs out there and the assignments and the different ways they can be and are being used would entice and inspire but not scare people off. After all, how many people even understand what we’re up to on the arts writing blog much less want to try it out?

(I’m particularly interested in feedback from anyone attending today’s CET workshop, if you happen to read this posting.)

As Sarah puts it, constructivist pedagogy has not caught on in higher ed the way it has in K-12 (mostly, K-6), and until it does, well, blogs probably won’t catch on in quite the way I’m pushing them. So what does this mean?

It’s time for me to make some decisions about how I want to talk about blogs in the future. Do I do so gently, subtly, hoping that through a gradual acceptance and use of blogs, fellow educators will also embrace the notion of the classroom as a community of practice constructing knowledge collaboratively, aided by the blog? Or do I just come right out there at the beginning of presentations and say, okay, don’t bother with blogs unless you’re ready to step off the stage and into the circle of learning?
Pedagogy first, blogs second–or–blogs as the vehicle to the pedagogy?

I hope we hone in on this topic in tomorrow’s social software users group meeting at CET–I am looking forward to meeting other liberal-arts-college bloggers and hearing what they’re experiencing in their classrooms and on their campuses.

Presentation Notes for CET Presentation on Blogging in the Liberal Arts

Notes for CET’s January 12 Workshop on Social Software for Educators

INTRODUCTION: A Brief History of BG’s Classroom Blogs

A non-techie writing and lit teacher turns to blogs in the fall of 2001. Why?

Writing Divide Within Students
Dynamism and inventiveness of their communications via IM and email versus the formulaic, static delivery of their academic papers

Social/Academic Divide Within Students
Collaborative learning opportunities (learning as an essentially social activity) that extend the reach of the classroom into their non-classtime lives (integrating the parts of their lives)

Active Learning=Contructivist Learning vs. Passive Content-Absorbing Frameworks
Knowledge Production within a collaborative community prepares students for the realities of the current workworld

Fall 2001 First-year Seminar Contemporary Ireland through Fiction and Film introduced a blog as the centralized locus of course activity that served as a budding CMT for content delivery, updates, discussions, feedback loops and experiments in in-class writing prompts. The blog brought the world to the classroom and the classroom to the world as students interacted with professionals in the field.

The explosion of blogs and CMTs and hybrid tools make it possible to tailor social software uses to the specific needs of a school, a teacher, a course, and a student.

Most Middlebury faculty use our home-grown, open-source CMS tool, SEGUE. Several use SEGUE in conjunction with a Movable Type blog. Very few do what I do, which is to use blogs only.

Examples of a Blog/Segue combined use:
Mary Ellen Bertolini’s Writing Workshop, Level One Course (WP100):
Segue for the kinds of materials that do not change; i.e. her syllabus, tips, and places for students to publish.
Why add a blog?
Blogs and their fluid, restless “anxiety” mirror education as narrative, a course as shifting and emerging, learning as conversation. The blog promotes several different kinds of writing voices, relective and conversational. MEB uses her blogs to convey information in a conversation that spans the semester:

MEBWP100.jpg   peertutors.jpg
M. Bertolini’s WP100 Blog                       M Bertolini’s Peer-Writing Tutor Blog


As MOTHERBLOG Courses Use the Blog as Course Locus, Blog Becomes Course Content


creativewritingblog.jpg  irishblog.jpg
Creative Writing Blog                                 Irish Lit/Film MotherBlog

Assignments: A Single Assignment on the Blog Can Create Community and the Seeds of Collaboration, Weave Past Semesters into the Current Course, Use Student Models, while Growing Individual Learners and Writers

knowledge tree.jpg
Knowledge Tree Assignment and Responses

Students as Experts and Apprentices, Teaching and Learning from One Another; Class Spills Onto the Blog, The Blog Spills Into Class

marisa.jpg  marisaOH.jpg
Marisa’s Formal Response                   Marisa’s Informal Riff
petereflection.jpg barriereflection.jpg
Pete’s Final Reflection                                  Barrie’s Course Reflection

Efficacy & Emergence: The Public Nature of the Blog and Its Effects on Student Learning

A Response from Ireland

Colleen’s Sense of the Class as Single Entity

Experiments in Collaboration: New Kinds of Multi-Media Web-based Research Projects

Associative Reading/Using Multimedia/Being Blogged

Dan & Elise Using Multimedia

Amanda’s Award-Winning Literary Interpretation


Using the Course Blog as Pure Blog and a ‘Zine rather than A Cross Between CMT & Blog: Chaos or Collective Creativity
“Scholarship is intensely creative” –Maxine Greene

Artswriting Fall 2004 Homepage

Writing on the Web promotes an understanding of the relationship of structure and form to style and voice, and to content. The power of the link focuses attention on every word and the relationships between ideas. Multimedia writing extends and enriches the voice and the analysis, offering opportunities for intensely creative, efficacious scholarship on the undergraduate level.

Challenges and frustrations inherent in writing on the Web: Time, Training, Access and Writing in the public eye

Students Take Blogs On the Road and Into the Field
Independent Study Projects Using Blogs Abroad

Char’s Scotland Blog

Piya’s India Blog

Students Use Blogs in Service-Learning Mentoring

Fifth-Grade Online Writing Buddies

The Professor Blogs
To explore the potential and the reality of blogging and its demands–the tensions–I started a blogging practive of my own in May 2004 to chronicle classroom blogging experiences, to reflect on the effectiveness of the work, and to explore a virtual professional blogging community.

BGBlogging:Out There in the World

Conclusion: The Blog as Classroom Presence

Dan’s Sounds from the Blog

Additional Resources:
Digital Storytelling
Joe Lambert’s Center for Digital Storytelling
BG’s Notes from NITLE Conference on Multi-Media Narrative in the Liberal Arts Classroom

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A month later…looking back on a semester of blogging, digital storytelling, art ‘zines and online classroom experimentation

Wow, it’s been a full month since last I blogged, well, since last I blogged here. My focus has been over at the artswriting blog-‘zine wrapping up a semester’s explorations and experiments.
Updates: I’ve closed comments sections on older entries to reduce the spam load, and been playing around with blogs for two spring courses, and experimenting with my new iPODPhoto and how I might use it well in my classes (podcasting, of course, and in-the-field flash story making, perhaps–we’ll see.) The month just completely slipped out of my bgblogging grasp, and it feels good to be back on this page, and I’ve got a lot of catching up to do here (and with my blog reading in general). Fortunately Middlebury College has a month-long Winter Term, and I’ll have some time before the craziness of the spring semester to get back on track.

In a few days I’ll post a longer assessment of my fall blogging experience, but right now I’m preparing to present at next week’s CET Workshop in Social Software in Education and then the CET Social-Software Users’ Group meetings to follow and the NLII Conference in New Orleans on the 24th. All three events push me to assess and articulate just what transpired in that arts writing class where I do believe we took classroom blogging into an entirely different realm than at least I have seen anywhere. That’s not to say the blog’zine was completely successful or that I wouldn’t change a thing. Nope, there’s plenty I would revise, add, and scrap. More on that anon when I post presentation notes.

For now I want to draw attention to the travel blog of one of my sophomores, who has just left for a month-longindependent travel project in India, keeping a blog on the road, and returning to work on digital stories.


Her pre-trip postings show how giving blogs to students as self-reflective, narrative spaces pushes them to examine the relationships between childhood, heritage, and upbringing and how that affects them as they emerge from their homes as young adults at college trying to figure out who they are and how they will lead their adult lives. Piya already is making some valuable observations for herself but for her readers as well, all of us, who have been invited to journey with her back to her roots and through a world that doesn’t belong to her. She will conduct research, read, chronicle, reflect and create through this journey. The public, collaborative nature of the blog pushes her to say something worth saying, to communicate not only with herself but with the world, and to respond to the comments she will (hopefully) receive from those who read along. I’m eager to see how it turns out.