Integrating Pedagogy, Connecting to the World

Back from time off the blog…of course I feel rusty and far behind the summer blogging world, but I also feel rested and clear-headed and ready to move into my fifth year of classroom blogging. A couple of interesting off-blog experiences made me realize how far into this work I have traveled, how well social software works in college writing classrooms, and how, to my continued surprise, many college campuses continue to resist integrating blogging, digital storytelling, podcasting, etc. into the classroom.

First, minor eye surgery kept me virtually sightless and definitely computerless for a week, forcing me to face just how dependent I am on my computer for news, communications and reflective space. It also made me face my poor (read that pathetic) touch-typing skills! Getting out of my eyes helped me to reconnect with other means of communication and contemplation–I do not need to write to know what I think–not always. The experience makes me want to reserve a good bit of time for reflection without spoken or written language. No cameras, either. This kind of quiet resting with the ideas and materials of my fall writing course will do my students good as well. Silence. And time. And introspection.

The second experience, taking my younger daughter on a swing through the west to check out colleges, gave me a fascinating glimpse into the realities of technology integration on campuses other than my own. While many campuses were saturated with technology–wireless access, free laptops, helpdesks, innovative media studies programs involving digital and web work–the humanities were quite quiet about integration of technology. Little in the way of service-learning, either. Makes me want even more than ever to write a book about the hows and whys of integrating social software and digital storytelling into the liberal arts classroom. And makes me feel the gap between such promising initiatives as the Academic Commons (via Bryan’s Infocult) and the reality of what I saw on this trip–very little use of technology in the liberal arts classroom beyond a means of information dissemination. Particularly insightful and valuable is the interview with Jerry Graff in which he says, among many right-on-the-mark things:

How is technology hurting higher education? Aside from the overload problem just mentioned, I think there has been a failure to recognize and exploit the potential that technology offers for improving and transforming day-to-day instruction.

I also found myself thinking back to a lunch meeting several summers ago with Sarah Lohnes, Will Richardson, Hector Vila and Bryan Alexander, because those early classroom bloggers have continued to do remarkable work and have informed my own explorations. How excited and hopeful we were about the possibilities! Following my first, clumsy foray into classroom blogging (in a first-year seminar on contemporary Irish literature and film–the blog is now, unfortunately, offline due to Middlebury’s migration from Manila to MT), with 15 brave students (who just graduated this past May from Middlebury), even back then, even with limited experience with social software, I felt that one of the most important uses of blogging in my classes would be to get students to lift their heads from the ever-engrossing world of their own immersive experience in college and connect their education to the world. Even in that first trial with blogs, I invited experts from the world of Irish film and literature onto the blog to converse with the students. It seemed pretty logical to me. Obvious even. Especially in a rural school quite far from the madding crowd–bring the world to the classroom. And bring the students to the world. We embedded video clips of student presentations onto the blog to serve students in future iterations of the course as well as to “publish” their apprentice-expert findings. Those first students were so fired up by the notion that they were so close to Ireland in reality, that four of them dreamed big enough to write and secure a grant to travel to Ireland that summer to shoot contextual weblfilms and try out a bit of blogging (so early, so clumsy!) But they did it and I still use their films in my classes. And now here goes my colleague, Hector Vila and his group of first-years to Argentina from where they have blogged with such elegance and energy and expertise (just read through the discussion coming out of this single post) that they are rewriting the whole book on a liberal arts education in my estimation. This is the journey. This is the promise of blogging in higher ed.

And the Blogging the World Bloggers are, one by one, setting off for points around the world, and already are using their blogging to delve into the essential questions of study abroad–they are communicating, reflecting, articulating, and announcing themselves and their experiences in deeply thoughtful, probing posts. Wow.

And so, here I am, back again, delighted to be a part of this evolution of blogs in our classrooms, convinced that we should take the time to help our students develop a grammar of and a practice of academic blogging, both individual and collaborative, then pretty much step out of the way except to ask questions and provide feedback (i.e. step out of the center of the blog and thus the classroom). Our students will surprise themselves by how much they accomplish even in a single course in a single semester. Imagine if all their courses, all their semesters, all their disciplines of study were connected via their blogging…

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One Response

  1. I’m going to bring blogging into my classroom in the Autumn, but am concerned the students will only see it as “more” work to be done in their already busy schedules. How do you sell them on it? How do you ensure they write “correctly”?

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