More on What Happens When Students Get Comfortable in their Blogging–and Blog about Us!

Bryan sent me links to the student-blogging-the-professor-and-the-professor-finding-out story and the the student’s posting after he realizes his professor has been lurking about his blog, and of course I found it quite amusing.

For me it’s been the other way around a bit. My students read my blog, I know, and I’ve written before about how at first it felt a little strange when they trackbacked my postings to their blogs or left comments because it hadn’t dawned on me that they would be among my modest readership– I was surprised that they would even be remotely interested in what I was blogging (except, of course, since I was largely blogging about them, it would interest them–duh). But most of the time they just read along without responding or linking–and I might hear about it in the hall: “Nice post, BG” but mostly I don’t hear about it.

And it’s fine by me. I’m glad they read the blog. Knowing that they read my writing–my blogging–makes me on some level try to model how blogging is a great way to keep a reflective practice, but an even better way to open up our thinking and to get out there and participate, to stir up the ideas and see what comes back. And I know my blogging here has inspired a handful of students to want to try it for themselves outside the confines of the classroom. I don’t care if I know which of them reads the blog. They don’t need to identify themselves–it’s part of the beauty of the blog.

But something bothers me a tiny bit about a professor reading a student’s blog without ever letting on until the end of the semester in an albeit slyly funny way–with no harmful intention whatsoever. It leaves me with the slight taste of Big Brother peering over the shoulder, of the old power paradigm at work keeping teachers up on the stage and students in their seats.

Granted, the kid was blogging and so anyone has the right to read the posts. But do we have a different kind of responsibility to let our students know we’re reading their blogs if they haven’t identified themselves on it nor have they openly identified us yet we know who they are and that they’re, in truth, writing about us?


Taking the Work But Not Ourselves (Too) Seriously

I don’t know, perhaps it has something to do with the end of the school year approaching, or it has something to do with the proliferation of blogs on blogging and articles on blogging, such as the long list I found via Will of blogging articles posted at Kairos News, but I’m beginning to wonder if we’re all taking ourselves far too seriously here. Isn’t it pretty much a given by now that social software is ONE (AND NOT THE ONLY) tool with a potential positive impact on our classrooms and in the world?

Some scattered thoughts on why I’m thinking this way on a Sunday morning when I really should be out in the garden or preparing for class or conferences:

Well, for starters there are the two pointers on Stephen Downes’ blog this week, to David Wiley’s post on Freire, the Matrix and Scalability in which Wiley writes:

This thinking leads me to reaffirm my position that there is a larger educational research problem to solve than making instruction more effective. The scientific literature is full of research that will tell anyone willing to read how to make education extremely effective. It is high time the field of educational research, and especially instructional technology research, decided that the most pressing problem facing us today isn’t making education more effective, it is making education more available.

Indeed! We keep racing round and round repeating ourselves about the effectiveness of social software–having to rationalize integrating it in our classrooms–all those blogging articles we’re all writing: people have a pretty good idea of how to use it, I think, or at least they will if they let the pedagogy lead the technology integration. The trouble isn’t, of course, the technology or the acceptance of technology per se, I am understanding more and more, but how threatening it is to adopt pedagogy proven to make education more effective.

I should be spending more time thinking about the service learning connections between my class and the world beyond the affluence of the college.

And there’s another one of
Downes’ daily pointers
, The New Gatekeepers, where he writes:

…these gatekeepers instantiate the very properties of the mainstream they are supposedly displacing – appearance over substance, mutual reinforcement, polarization, and herd mentality.

Sounds rather like our educational system to me…

I’m worried that if we spend too much time analyzing our use of blogs, we’re going to ruin the beauty of classroom blogging–handing our students blogs can give them the glorious sensation of feeling their way in the dark, of experimentation for the sake of seeing what comes of it rather than trying to codify it, rank it and/or evaluate it to death. I want my students to dare play around in class and on the blog, to dream up ways of changing the world. I want to keep pushing them to stretch their notions of the world and of their own place in the world–taking the work BUT NOT THEMSELVES too seriously. We don’t show our college students how to make and use knowledge–we don’t give them enough time to think and to connect and to play–we make them take their time in class and take themselves too seriously.

That’s why I love the blogger conferences such as Blogtalk2 and Northern Voice and what I anticipate the upcoming SSAW conference will be like. These workshops are both serious and great fun–attended by bold thinkers and playful practioners.

And so it’s no wonder that an earnest, hard-working, clear-eyed edublogger such asLaura at Bryn Mawr, who left me a comment the other day, finds that the scientists are getting it about blogs better than the humanists in her school. Scientists know about the power of play and are working towards real, tangible change. I agree with her about how we in the humanities don’t really get it.

And something else that’s interesting about her: Laura is playful in her blogging in a way that I am not: she, like Liz Lawley and Clancy Ratliff and Joe Hall among others, have managed to figure out how to weave together work-related and personal blogging–something Suw Charman not only got a long time ago but has written about–playfully.

So while I don’t plan to pull my family in here very much or blog my day, I do plan to keep allowing my students a whole lot of freedom on the blogs to find their own way with the various genres and voices and aims they’re discovering without much intervention on my part.

I hereby vow not to take myself too seriously!

Where Are the Humanities Classroom Blogs?

Food for thought:

“…Technological products are rhetorical devices that present demonstrative arguments. They articulate, in both sense of that term, practical meaning that shapes attitudes and encourages future action through interactive engagement with users. Addressing cultural articulations through the demonstrative mode of design practice provides new perspectives on the ideological effect of those articulations, perspectives that are conveyed experientially rather than textually. This mode is one we cannot afford to dismiss in an age in which information and insight increasingly are conveyed in nontextual form. Doing so would mean isolating the humanities from contemporary concerns at a time when insight from the humanities is needed most.”
Strain and VanHoosier-Carey “Eloquent Interfaces: Humanities-based Analysis in the Age of Hypermedia” in Eloquent Images: Word and Image in the Age of New Media

I am flailing about a bit with the end-of the semester mayhem with my students: having two classes propose and then embark on independent projects must be a sign that I am, indeed, nuts. But I have to say, the students are excited by the opportunity to try out something with little intervention on my part.

And once again they surprise me– In my creative writing class, eleven of the eighteen students have opted to do multimedia projects (based on one presentation by two students from last year’s class, who were two of the three who opted for digital stories last year)–I’m wondering about that shift, whether because they could see models from last year they felt pulled in that direction. I will certainly have them discuss their reasons in their final reflective essays.

I’m also feeling a little pressed due to three upcoming conference papers and/or presentations two weekends in a row right when classes end–enthusiatic as I am about them, I’m wondering a little about my sanity right about now.

And then there’s the wee talk I’m giving on campus tomorrow:

I am presenting to interested Middlebury faculty on “Technology and Pedagogy” as a part of the Talking about Teaching Series. It’s a good exercise for me to think about what colleagues who don’t use social software, multimedia authoring, podcasting and even, perhaps, course management tools might want and need to hear about the impacts of fully integrating technology right into the fabric of the humanities classroom course design. I have a reputation, after all, for scaring people with my passion for integrating technology into humanities courses–and I’m going to try to invite them rather than urge them, let’s just say, emphatically 😉

Lately I’ve been immersed in communities of practiced bloggers or attending to my bold student bloggers and haven’t really been thinking about those still finding their way around blogs and wikis, RSS and tagging. And I’m finding it a good thing to have to take stock, to review the relationship between technology integration and pedagogy in the liberal arts classroom, to slow down here a minute. During a swing around my blogosphere route to see what others who hang out in the second-wave blogging classrooms (places where social software, in particular, has been used for several years) are saying about bringing blogs, wikis and folksonomies to their colleagues across the curriculum, I still had some difficulty finding many examples of faculty employing these tools in classrooms outside the composition and media-studies, technology and education departments. I find a smattering here and there, a professor or two in one department or another, a biologist or a mathematician, a historian or a geographer. For all the blogs out there and the rising numbers of primary and secondary school classrooms adopting blogs and other social software, movement continues to be slow slow slow across the campuses of our liberal arts colleges as far as I can see. And I’m not talking about CMTs. I’m talking about blogs, wikis, podcasting, folksonomies–multimedia authoring on the Web for the Web, the kind of work my students have embraced in my creative writing, arts writing and Irish literature first-year classes and a couple of my close colleagues’ classes. I guess I figured that since blog-related tracks and full blogging-in-education conferences not to mention SIGs are sprouting up, I would find far more examples of interesting uses of classroom blogging in the disciplines. I’ll keep searching…

Some things I did turn up:

Mark Phillipson’s inspired use of blogs in his Bowdoin classrooms

The Educause Blogs, the growing ranks.

CultureCat’s blogging of CCCC’s blog-centered sessions illustrates the emerging trend of at least talking about blogs in education.

Thanks to Emerson College’s excellent Blogging resources page, I found a link to the Encyclopedia of Educational Technology edited by Bob Hoffman at San Diego State University.

The April issue of D-Lib Magazine includes two helpful articles on Social Bookmarking Tools

And here, then, are the notes to my little talk in hopes that I entice and encourage my colleagues to use social software and multimedia authoring in their classrooms:

Technology and Pedagogy

“The Web gives us an opportunity to rethink many of our presuppositions about our nature and our world’s nature.” Dave Weinberger, Small Pieces Loosely Joined

The new works do not have a single linear order, corresponding to the pages of the book or the columns of the papyrus roll, and so there is no order to violate…For writers of the new dialogue, the task will be to build, in place of a single argument, a structure of possibilities. The new dialogue will be, as Plato demanded, interactive; it will provide different answers to each reader and may also, in Plato’s words know ‘before whom to be silent.’” Jay David Bolter “The New Dialogue”

By extending and enhancing our educational contexts and by creating altogether new opportunities for learning, integrating technology into our course design we enrich the learning experience for our students and for us as teachers.

Forms of technology considered: Social software and Course Management Systems, Multimedia authoring, Podcasting

Course Content Delivery
Using a course management tool such as Segue or social software such as blogs or wikis:
–Creates a single, organized, updatable locus for the delivery of course content and the retrieval of student work, including outside sources and eReserve;
–Accelerates Inquiry through its efficiency

Community Building as a Means of Intensifying and Diversifying the Learning Experience
Several features of Segue and Blogs lend themselves to establishing an effective learning collaborative from the opening of the semester, creating a community of what Pierre Lévy calls “reciprocal apprenticeships”

–Linking features allow students to connect to one another’s work

–Online response/workshop/editing groups create workshop and modeling opportunities

–Collaborative project workspaces allow for the development of effective processes

–Discussion spaces, both informal and formal, assigned and free-forming, lead to a sense of vibrant community and ever-deepening critical inquiry

–Connectivity creates the continuous course: the class as a group is in constant contact throughout the semester—class never ends

–Digital storytelling as a means of learning about and respecting the community of learners

Opportunities to Introduce, and Model Multiple Modes of Learning and Expression

–The visual quality of the blog allows the professor to teach to the moment, having access to the most recent student work before class instead of after; and having the work from all previous semesters, the current semester, the day available in class to point to examples, both in terms of content and execution

–Professors can teach and thus students can experience writing in a variety of voices (informal to formal), genres (discussion to reflection to journal entry to essay) and forms (traditional analysis to multimedia essays) for a range of audiences (self to peer to teacher to the world) all within the same portfolio space if each student has his/her own space and alongside the work of his/her peers on a Motherblog

–Podcasting students reading their work aloud provides opportunities for self-evaluation of style, structure and argument; podcasting oral presentations develops oral skills as well ass providing the professor with assembling exemplary examples

–Teachers can post models of good writing, or link to examples archived on the blog from previous semesters

–Multimedia authoring integrated within or in addition to more traditional forms of writing teach visual literacy as well as deepening inquiry

Impact on Class Time

–The intensifying of class discussions: rarely is there a warm-up period because students have been engaging with the material and each other online

–The accelerating of inquiry: professors can immediately detect gaps and weaknesses in the students’ grasp of the material and address them in lecture, demonstration and discussion;

–Student-centered, constructivist pedagogy emerges naturally from such a collaborative atmosphere

Opportunities for Service-Learning in a Time-Strapped Course

–Online interactions and connectivity with area organizations can accomplish positive outcomes for the collaboration


CTLR’s LINK to Courseblogs and Course Management Tools

A Sampling of BG’s Presentations and Papers on Technology and Pedagogy:
BG’s professional blog
Notes from Educause’s National Leaders Conference, January 2005 with Héctor Vila: Beauty and the Beast: Bringing Blogs into Higher Education
Paper published in BLOGTALKS2: Blogging as a Dynamic Transformative Medium in an American Liberal Arts Classroom

A Sampling of BG’s Courses Using Blogs, Podcasting and Digital Storytelling:
EL170, Introduction to Creative Writing
FYS 2003 Contemporary Ireland through Fiction and Film

WP200: Writing Across the Arts

Web Resources:
Kairos Journal: Rhetoric, Technology, Pedagogy

Karen Hyatt Sibley, University of Pennsylvania: Dissertation on Impacts of Technology on Pedagogy

Our SSAW Proposal Has Been Accepted

I’ve embarked on a collaborative adventure with my colleague, Mary Ellen Bertolini and two intrepid, bold student bloggers, Piya Kashyap and Eugene Lee: a panel discussion at The Social Software in the Acadmey Workshop, May 14-15 at USC’s Annenberg Center
. Here’s our proposal:

Pandora’s Blog? What Happens When College Students Take to Social Software in the Classroom

After four years of integrating weblogs into our writing and literature courses, two Middlebury College professors find ourselves at a crossroads. Our success has spawned unforeseen pressures for our courses, ourselves, our students and our institutions. The more we understand the benefits of implementing social software the more we must stay abreast of the rapid developments in the field, finding time in already overly busy schedules to develop sound ways to evaluate and to grow our practices. If we ask our students to blog, must we, too, blog? Should we use a wiki or a blog, add podcasting or folksonomies and RSS? How much is too much technology?

And then there are the students. When we hand the course blog over to our increasingly technology-savvy charges, positioning them at the center of the classroom, we open all kinds of boxes. In a semester already crowded with content demands, the building of a strong blogging community takes time and effort, and leads to frustrations with technology and blogging group dynamics. For some students the public nature and open dialogue of the blog are unsettling, and come close to undoing the very community they nurture. And even after crises pass, and important lessons about communication and collaboration are learned, invariably, abruptly, after twelve intense weeks, the semester ends and our blogging students are set adrift in a largely blogless college. Increasingly, students want to blog between and beyond classes, and they want to use social software for serious academic discourse across the curriculum, but they don’t know how and where to start. What have we unleashed?

In this panel, two Middlebury professors and two students will discuss what happens when blogging enters the heart of a classroom community and what the implications are for the development of effective college blogging practices. Although we will touch upon the already well-documented learning outcomes of blogging: the emergence of strong learning collaboratives , the acceleration of inquiry and mastery of critical thinking and writing skills, and the expansion of the parameters of a college classroom, our talk will focus on what really happens to teachers and their students who blog as they blog and after they blog. Prof. Mary Ellen Bertolini will speak about how blogging, in allowing discussion of controversial topics outside of class, has affected the classroom experience and the course outcomes; Sophomore Piya Kashyap will discuss the effects of bringing the blog out into the world through an independent blogging project in the field; Junior Eugene Lee will explore how blogging the controversial has been valuable to his education and how when a course blog dies, something essential goes missing; and Prof. Barbara Ganley will talk about what happens when the teacher who uses blogs in her courses blogs the journey under the eye of her students and colleagues, and she will consider the implications on course and semester design in liberal arts colleges.

It looks as though I’ll also be sitting on Joseph Hall’s Panel on Blogs and Pedagogy.

I’m very much looking forward to this conference as a time to reconnect with others in the field and to collaborate on a conference presentation with my colleague, Mary Ellen Bertolini, for the first time. I also think the students will add an important perspective to the weekend’s discussion which in turn will give the two of them a fabulous opportunity to present to an audience of graduate students and professors!

Second-Wave Bloggers Asking for a Different Kind of Classroom

Thanks to Chris Boese, I was pointed to Inside Higher Ed–Mind the Gap where

Diana Rhoten writes:

Today, however, there are signs that Jacoby’s “age of academe” may be winding down and a new era emerging. While universities continue to play an important role in intellectual culture, increasingly they are no longer the only game in town. With the rise of the knowledge economy and the spread of decentralizing technology, the academy is ceding authority and attention to businesses, nonprofits, foundations, media outlets, and Internet communities.

Even more significant, in my mind, the academy may be losing something else: its hold over many of its most promising young academics, who appear more and more willing to take their services elsewhere — and who may comprise an embryonic cohort of new “postacademic intellectuals” in the making.

And David White responds:

As Tomas Ybarra Frausto of the Rockefeller Foundation said some years back, “Practitioners are the new theoreticians.” From the vantage point of the arts, anyway, fundamental intellectual discovery has long passed into the hands of working artists and the four decades of not-for-profit, non-academic organizational evolution that has supported, if not sustained them.

I see the glimmers of this shifting away from the focus on the traditional positioning of the Academy coming from yet another place– from way back inside the undergraduate classroom itself: my students. More and more I see them want something more, something other, than the traditional classroom experience alone. Perhaps I see it because that is precisely what I try to offer within the confines of a pretty traditional environment. (But I also see it in my fifteen-year-old daughter who has propelled herself through her high school curriculum so fast–not because she has lapped up the learning doled out but because it has been excruciatingly mind-numbing. Right now she’s on a semester program via The Traveling School learning her way through Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia with nine other girls and three teachers, and loving it.)

Certainly, at Middlebury, as elsewhere, there is the whole movement towards incorporating internships and service-learning into the curriculum. But something else is happening, too: students are more–is it restless, fearless, demanding–Diana Oblinger’s new Educause article and presentations on “Educating the Net Generation” point to the realities of the learning styles and preference of students born after 1982, as captured on the Horizon Project VCOP blog:

Net generation (Millenials, GenY) – born in or after 82. Cool to be smart, like tech, gravitate toward group activity (Howard & Strauss, 2003). 5 key characteristics – Digitally literate (not nec experts though), Mobile, Always on (to social network), Experiential (poss coz grew up with games), Social (relate to people and stay connected to people).

Hypertext minds – qualities and concerns (Prensky 2001); crave interactivity read visual images, visual-spatial skills, parallel processing BUT concerns short attention spans choose not to pay attention, reflection (lack), practice, text literacy, source quality.

Learning preferences – teams, P2P, like structure, engagement & experience, visual & kinesthetic (Studies into taking same course content in diff ways), things that matter (socially responsible, believe sci&tech can improve society)

Informal learning (Sheppard 2000, Dede 2004) – can be self-taught, learning in free time, learners construct their own courses.

I’m seeing how these learners will eventually affect the entire structure of the college. They already are, in fact, in my little world. Four years ago my first group of bloggers found the experience of connecting to the Irish world via our course blog so powerful that they wanted to continue our study of contemporary Irish literature and film beyond the semester. Four of them wrote a grant to travel to Ireland that summer after their first year to shoot contextual webfilms based on the themes of the course. They blogged (though marginally) from their homes across the country as they planned the trip. That project was considered a big deal–in the summer and then an independent study during the following semester? Not many were doing that sort of thing. Now students seem to want that kind of experience more and more, as well as other kinds of in-the-class experiences linked to their lives outside. They want what goes on in the classroom to have some bearing on their lives as well as enabling them to develop skills of critical inquiry.

As I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions, the students in my creative writing classes, since I’ve started blogging with them two years ago, have become friends outside the class, coming together socially (this current group threw its second-in-a row Friday night writing party last night), and have repeastedly asked whether the blog will keep going once the semester is over. The blog helps them form social groups.

And I’ve had groups of students as well as individuals approach me about a whole range of independent project ideas–from a digital storytelling project on the traditional Vermont hard-cider making community (they were turned down by the college) to making movies about kayaking to studying Syrian pilgrimage sites to blogging the Antarctic. Héctor, too, has been working with students engaging in service-learning and travel-based blogging and multi-media projects.

In the past, students usually waited until after college, for a Watson fellowship opportunity, or for junior year and experiential off-campus progams such as S.I.T. offers. What is interesting about the new wave (the Second-Wave bloggers as I’ve been calling them), is that some of them are asking for yet another kind of experience–they don’t necessarily want to leave campus for an entire semester, or they want to combine their courses or parts of them in interesting ways. They want to jump in and out of the classroom, threading together several courses in tandem, having them lead to or involve the same project. These students are pushing against the traditions of the college calendar and classroom, even asking to travel more as part of their education, leaving campus for a month or so in the middle of the semester for an intensive project as one student did in Chile around spring break and another is doing now on a geology expedition to Antarctica.

And they want a community.

Many are choosing to blog their findings and experiences back to both school and family and to whatever community emerges out of their blog. This is what particularly interests me about blogging right now and something I’m beginning to pull together for a couple of conference proposals: how students seek to blog their education (as defined as loosely as possible to include what goes on outside the classroom as well as in) as a way to deepen the learning, connect to fellow learners within the academy, but also to converse with those outside and to chronicle their out-of-school adventures. Most of the respondants to Donovan’s Antarctic blog thus far, for example, have been his family members. At the same time as his family and friends are leaving affectionate and encouraging, even one-word “Awesome!” type comments, I as his teacher get on to ask him questions about the writing to help him develop his skills of observation and clear expression. The same thing happened on Piya’s blog this winter during her journey through India. I’d like to take a look at this new kind of intermingling of conversations and voices through the comments from a range of respondants, and how it affects the learning.

The Second Wave of Classroom Bloggers

Yes, lately I keep returning to the subject of students who have blogged in my or colleagues’ classes and then re-enter a blogless environment. Another reality coming into play now, too, is when the experienced blogging student ends up in a blogging class filled with newbie bloggers or disinterested ones. This morning Dennis Jerz blogs about what happens in an American Literature class made up of a mix of English majors and Ed students fulfilling a requirement, and a mix of dedicated bloggers and disinterested ones. He writes:

I don’t require the class to read all their peer blogs, but many of the English majors already read each other’s blogs for social purposes. So the most vocal group comes into the classroom already knowing what the most active participants want to say about that week’s reading. I had to remind some of the more intense bloggers that they are welcome to blog more than they are required to, but for a while there we had a kind of digital divide. The online part of the class was going well, but the most committed bloggers felt the class discussion was redundant.

Interesting. And something I see, too, in both my spring classes–the students who blog confidently and read the blogs get more out of the course than the students who don’t. But I’m okay with that and see it as a decision the students have to make for themselves, and I shape the class discussion around what is discussed on the blog. I teach to the highest possible level.

The bloggers gain confidence as writers and critical readers; they feel more ownership of the course — like Dennis’s bloggers, they take over the class, and this is exactly what I am after. This morning –and yes, it is Saturday and so I find it remarkable that a student is on the MOTHERBLOG so early– a student put out an invitation to the whole class to play writing games this evening. Students don’t often discover this intense a community within a first-level course filled with majors and non-majors. But as they take to the blogging, as they commit to it and actually race to their blogs every day to see who has posted, who has responded, they find this learning community becomes their social community to some extent as well, and they want to continue the work in their own way, together, without ME. In fact, my goal is for them only to need me to introduce topics and writers, history and possibilities–to open the tool box, as it were and say, here you go, what will you do with these? And then let them work together to explore the lessons.

And so I think it is an important moment when the bloggers take over the class. If we help the students–all of them, the newbies and the majors–to see themselves as experts and apprentices to one another, each having something valuable to offer and to gain from the learning collaborative, we will minimize the digital and discipline divides in our classrooms. The veteran bloggers can show the others how blogging enriches the learning experience and inspire their classmates to excellence.

The combination of collaborative Motherblog and individual student blogs in my creative writing class facilitates this outcome: on the Motherblog there’s an easy give-and-take about anything to do with the course subject matter, in this case, creative writing. And then on the individual student blogs there is a serious one-to-one engagement between the students who have been grouped randomly in small workshop groups (I rotate these groups four times a semester). The comments at midterm include encouragement, constructive feedback, and genuine expressions of delight in being grouped with one another as one student in a response to another student’s poem, wrote: “I am so excited to have you in my group for this next phase, as I can see, I will have a lot to learn from you.” Here students engaged in Pierre Lévy’s notion of reciprocal apprenticeships, and as soon as they value the collaborative aspect of the classroom experience, the bloggers and nonbloggers, the majors and nonmajors begin to see the value in studying with one another. Of course this virtual community of practice comes out of the face-to-face environment in our classrooms–if we are consistent as teachers in our insistence on working as a collaborative during classtime as we are on the blog,I believe that our students will trust and engage in the blogging. The blogging has actually led me to add a weekly workshop session to my course–an additional class meeting–to ensure ample opportunity for students to talk about the work published on the blog. The more they blog, the more they want time together as well. We can get thus away from hierarchies within the classroom as much as possible while we are urging the entire group on to excellence. And the students might even want to throw writing parties on Saturday nights.

–Addendum– Just took another swing around my usual blogosphere route to find both Chriss Lott and Will Richardson also thinking about what happens to the blog and the blogger once the semester/year are over.

Podcasting for Student Poets, Explorers and Scholars

This semester I’ve started playing around with podcasting in my classes, taking it slow, thinking about how pulling sound into our blogs serves the learning experience. When people hear about this work and also discover that I’m not a foreign language teacher but a writing and literature teacher, they tend to be surprised. And some look at me wryly with that, “There she goes again playing around with the cool new tools because she’s determined to be out front and to be hip” expression.

And now that I’m hoping to have more than my personal iPOD to use with my students (at last!), and because yesterday I received an email from a writer at Edutopia working on a podcasting story, and because my students are about to move into another round of podcasting, it’s on my blogging mind again.

–For anyone wanting to find out more about podcasting, last December Brian Lamb of the University of British Columbia laid out an excellent introduction to podcasting, (he also gives a comprehensive overview of wikis in the Educause Review)–

I came to podcasting in a rather roundabout way, through digital storytelling, a time-intensive yet highly productive integration of multimedia narrative into the writing and literature classrooms. The most difficult (and the most crucial)part of the process comes with writing a compressed, lively script to record as a voiceover. The students did pretty well telling stories with images and music, but when it came time to pull in the recorded narrative, they balked. They didn’t like hearing their own voice, or they sensed that the story itself sounded strange out in the air.

This uneasiness with crafting the oral work prompted my decision this semester to take a break from the full digital story (while continuing to play with images in other ways)in my two writing classes and try out podcasting alone–several kinds of assignments designed to give students experience with oral presentations, oral narrative, and the pleasures of soundscapes. I want them to listen to the shapes of words, the structure of stories, the building of arguments.

In Writing Workshop II (the equivalent of a comp course), the first experiments consisted of a student reading an excerpt from an assigned reading and then commenting on it. The other students were invited to respond the podcast via written comments. Victoria’s podcast on a passage from Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge prompted responses not only from students in our class but from students in Héctor’s class. Victoria found the discussion stirred by her recording quite remarkable and rewarding, and she’s now eager to do more podcasting, to gain skill at articulating her thoughts about literature orally as well as in writing. Recording, publishing, listening, responding–together these steps provide an effective means of learning how to present ideas coherently and convincingly. Bowdoin College has posted a news item about their Oral Comunication Project that speaks to the growing need for college classrooms to teach public speaking. Podcasting, it seems to me, creates a magnificent opportunity for students to develop oral presentation skills without gobbling up an inordinate amount of class time. Granted, it is altogether a different experience recording readings and comments in the privacy of your own room than looking out at a crowd staring at you expectantly. And so, I aim to couple the podcasting commentaries with oral presentations of the same material. In a couple of weeks, the students will come into my office, record three-minute summaries of their research papers to be placed on the blog. Then in class they will have to give three-minute presentations (with notes but not written speeches) to the full group. I’m thinking of recording those, too, for comparative self-evaluative purposes.

In my creative writing class, as we move from fiction to poetry, we’ve been talking about the loss of the oral storytelling tradition and how helpful it is to both fiction writer and poet to HEAR language, and to speak words carefully, deliberately, one by one into the air. We’ve played around in class with making and telling stories on the spot; we’ve taken a sound walk and written (and then read aloud) poems of sounds, not words, and then translated them into language. On the blog, several students have been discussing the pleasures of listening to writers read their work aloud. They have grown to love my reading something aloud to them every class, and to hearing one another read from their own work in the workshops. And yet yesterday when I read aloud Seamus Heaney’s “The Singer’s House” and Eavan Boland’s “Quarantine” from a longer poem, and asked them what they had noticed about the forms and the speakers, they could not say. One student had “gotten lost” in the soundscape; another heard the lilt of a story and just felt its flow but not its actual words. The rest of them looked shocked that they had been lulled by lovely sounds but couldn’t speak to my questions. Since early childhood, most of them have had little experience being read to, and even less experience reading aloud.

Earlier in the semester each student podcasted one of their writings, and put them on the blog. Now they will podcast favorite published poems and their own poetry–knowing that the poems will not only live on text spaces of the blog but in the sound files as well may well have interesting effects on the work. Certainly the young poets will attend to the sounds of the language and to the rhythms of the lines in ways they probably haven’t, for the mostpart, up until now. Being able to return again and again to the recordings of the poems adds a dimension to the course; coupling this experience with the pleasures of the in-person one-time-only sharing of stories and poems in class extends our time together and deepens our commitment to their learning collaborative as well as to the work itself.

Finally, I am working on plans to send iPODS out into the world with the pilot-project Blogging the World bloggers next fall, encouraging the students to record their impressions of place and experience as well as to write them–letting their readers listen to the sounds of the places they visit and to the blogger’s commentary alongside the written, more reflective pieces.

The more I think about preparing our students for the world, the more I see how effective it is to pull the sound dimension into the classroom blogging as a means of teaching writing and critical thinking and community building.