Fall Semester Opens

Although he works with the business and governmental world, Lee Bryant of Headshift.com articulates the kinds of realities and potential of social software serving collective intelligence that I am working towards in my classrooms. The slides from his recent speech at Our Social World conference are case in point. Wish he were working in higher ed…

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Today the semester opened–I meet my students tomorrow– and I’m in the throes of pulling up yet another new couse blog as well as working to get theBlogging the World Project settled and moving along. Every semester it gets easier and more complicated.

With fifteen iPODS on loan to my students from the college for the semester, I will have a chance to try out some variations on the podcasting theme–as a way to work on writing and critical thinking, the students will record a number of 1-2 minute talks on issues raised in the reading, on the blog, and in their writing. We’ll embed them on the blog to create an archive of presentations, and we’ll play around with audio responses as well as text comments. We’ll play around with images more, too.

Of course none of this blogging, podcasting, and multimedia writing will take away from our time sitting in a classroom together, talking about writing. We don’t stare at a projection screen in my classroom–we sit in a circle, write and discuss. I know that this concern remains an obstacle for colleagues who use technology reluctantly–if our students are plugged in at all moments, no matter where they are, how will they find the room–the mental room–to think, to see, to hear? How will this generation of students do more than connect–and superficially at that? Will they learn the pleasure of the wrong turn, of getting lost, and then of finding new routes? I worry about that, too.

But if I can teach them how to slow down with their fast connections–to see blogging, for instance, as an opportunity to think deeply with a group of fellow explorers, to draw people into conversation about topics that matter to them, well, then, that serves my pedagogical outlook quite nicely. Let’s use classroom blogging to encourage creativity in our budding scholars, boldness and deep critical thinking skills, an awareness of the world and a commitment to change by connecting these writer/thinkers to one another through their work, through their writing as well as in the dorms, in the dining halls and on the athletic fields.

Taking a look back to my posting at the start of last semester, I see myself mulling over many of the same concerns and ideas:

How can I promote more deep critical independent inquiry in my students while encouraging them to develop community awareness? How can I equip them with the skills to use writing to communicate their ideas, discoveries and experiences to the world–to speak out?

One way is to keep exploring the possibilities of integrating technology effectively into the classroom–not the gloss and shimmer of the hip and the new but the educational and community-building potential of the tools. I am excited by the kinds of experiments H�ctor and I are undertaking this semester exploring collaborative memory and knowledge making through narrating the courses on a wiki shared by our classes, and podcasting student presentations to create an ongoing, living archive of the learning as well as a powerful self-evaluation tool for our students. I can explore ways to use these tools to engage learners, to extend the reach of the classroom, to help make the learning meaningful. But they have to get out of the classroom itself. And sometimes the only way that’s practical is virtually.

And so these are my notes to self as I begin the new semester–use the tools carefully and with pedagogical purpose in my classes, reflect often on the experience, collaborate frequently with colleagues here and at other colleges, and experiment fearlessly.

Here we go…