Connectivity, Collaboration & Emergence

I write often about how more and more what I see as the most interesting and powerful uses of classroom blogging involve opportunities for students to connect and to collaborate. It comes as no surprise at all, of course, since this is precisely what Tim O’Reilly (and many others) point to within the emergence of Web 2.0. But we don’t pay enough attention to the benefits of connectivity and collaboration via the Web in classrooms that do not explicitly focus on technology. So yes, Laura’s (Geeky Mom’s) Bryn Mawr class blogs as part of their course on Web writing, absolutely. And writing classes are using blogging nicely to form and strengthen their learning communities, to disseminate materials, and to publish writing, such as my colleague, MaryEllen Bertolini is doing with her first-year seminar on Jane Austen. But I’m also looking for ways in which humanities and social science classrooms are seeing blogs as a way to reach beyond the classroom and into the world of their discipline, to put students in touch with one another as mutual apprentices, and with the experts in the world, and to join in the larger conversations going on in the field–in ongoing relationships. But perhaps I don’t need to look within classes, after all, for I’m discovering that the students are getting it, and forging these connections now in ways they didn’t even a couple of years ago, whether we encourage them to or not.

The Blogging the World Project, for instance, is growing–not because I or my colleagues from Haverford or Dickinson have been out there knocking on our students’ doors, asking them to join the project. No, the students themselves are reaching out, asking to join, or telling me about other students abroad blogging independently, students who are interested in joining a community of bloggers. At first, in what some of us have come to call, second-wave blogging, students from our classes that blogged started to hanker after it a few weeks once the course was over. They missed the opportunity to write on the Web in multimedia, sure, but most of all, they told us they missed the connections with one another as a writing and learning community. But now, not only do these students return asking what’s going on with blogging and how can they participate, students who have never blogged in class are wanting in. They have experienced the fluid connectivity of cellphone and IM, of online social communities, and are interested in engaging with an intellectual, educational community as well.

And so I have found myself recently adding students in South Dakota, Russia and Senegal to our project–students interested not only in blogging as one-to-many, but as many-to-many. It’s lonely blogging out there by yourself even when you have a devoted following–if that devoted following is not blogging, you have to wait for responses instead of wandering over to someone else’s blog to see what’s going on in their experience. Now that I am being shown these blogs springing up, I notice the clusters of friends linking one another’s blogs off their pages as a way to keep a group scattered all over the globe in touch, together. I’m now interested in seeing what happens when we take these independent study abroad bloggers into our project–will they find that posting to the Motherblog offers them something that their own blog does not? Will anything shift in voice or content on their own blogs as a result? What does a virtual community offer?

And back on campus, my Writing Workshop students are posting their writing, images and podcasts dutifully to their blogs, and appreciating how the range of writing modes helps their writing and thinking. Now, though, I have moved off the center collaborative blogging space and invited them to step in to blog collaboratively, to engage in a full-group discussion directed by them. But until late next week, I won’t have asked them to comment on one another’s posts on the individual blogs.In the past, it wouldn’t have dawned on them to wonder about that. But lasy night, I saw that one student, Bobby, is already concluding that they would benefit from giving one another feedback on the blog, and has left a classmate a response:

Anyways, while I was looking at different peoples writing blogs, I realized that no one really had any comments or suggestions to any of their writings, which seems to negate the power of this technology. I think we all aspire to be better writers here, otherwise we wouldn’t have taken this class, but I think in order to achieve great heights in our writings, we need the analysis and honest opinions of our peers as well as our teachers. Luisa, you have left an impression on me with your artistic ability from day one. Thus this is the reason why I decided to atribute my first comment to you.

This is new. They get it. They want it.

In talking yesterday with my colleague, Catharine Wright, who blogs and has used blogs extensively in a range of writing classes, about a collaborative blogging project that grew out of her class a year ago and now has a life of its own beyond her course, Dis.course, I asked her about whether she had observed the same kind of phenomenon. Were students finding the blog and wanting a place on it? And yes, she said, her students who had blogged with her, have approached her about wanting a place to try out their writing, their ideas, their multimedia projects. And they don’t want to go it all alone. The common blog off of which they link their own blogs makes all the difference for them, as Catharine points out in a recent post,Writing, Community and Activism, in writing about one of her new bloggers, Ariana Figuero:

Ariana’s connection of the two communities seems completely natural to me. Both communities rise out of the same philosophy about learning, writing, community. There are a number of us in the writing program who encourage such communities, online, offline–the list is long. And what Ariana was saying was that, having had such an experience, she needed more of it. She needed to stay plugged in and keep working in community with others.

So here is where even in small, liberals arts colleges, institutions that pride themselves on close-knit nuturing communities, we hunger for meaningful, ongoing connections to one another in which we explore one another’s and our own ideas. Catharine goes on to say:

But the work can feel isolated, and the voices unheard, if we don’t call out to one another, as Carter did, and say, “I hear you.” And Ariana is saying that she needs that–that without that, she got stuck in her writing, which is so good. So I hope that dis.course writers and readers will reach out to one another, and beyond; to say, “I hear you,” and “why,” and “listen to this.”

Bobby just new to Middlebury, in his course, WP100, the Writing Workshop, understands this as does Ariana as she ventures beyond the nurturing community of her WP201, Writing Across Differences course. Imagine what could happen if all of our students had such opportunitites to connect with one another and us and the world on community blogs like Dis.course and Blogging the World as a valued part of their education? What kinds of discoveries would they make about their places in the world and their roles in their own education? What kinds of transformations would emerge within our educational institutions?


6 Responses

  1. I have been following your weblog for about two weeks now and quite enjoy your comments/commentaries.

    I tried blogging in a small, isolated way and found the lack of response depressing. I connected up to a “motherblog” at and found myself happily interacting with a number of critical minds. Since this discovery, I have abandoned my other blog and prefer the company of many to many.

    I am about to take part in setting up a weblog community for practicing teachers entering a masters program at my institution. We’re hoping to see a similar response as you describe above. I would be happy to see students taking their learning into their own hands and joining others across the globe.

    BTW, do your students read this weblog?

  2. Thanks, Christopher, for letting me know that you’ve been following my blogging. I’m glad to get your take on the solo vs. collaborative blogging divide. Sometimes I feel as though I blog into the wind here and contemplate joining a collaborative blog such as the one you’re finding so valuable. I like having my students do both kinds of blogging to gain experience in developing their own voice, exploring their own path on their solo blogs and venturing into ongoing conversations on the Motherblog. They often point out the differences in content, voice and even shape of the posts.

    And yes, my students read my blog–the committed bloggers among them anyway–and will comment. I value how they push my thinking and want to engage with me in reciprocal apprenticeships via the blog. When they get on my blog and call me on something, well, then I think I must have done something right in the classroom!

    Good luck with your classroom blogging-

  3. Students and others who visit this blog may be interested in seeing how a Middlebury resident and college alumnus is using blogging to comment on the local community (and occasionally the college), through my blog at:

    I’ve posted commentary on the recent Climate Change Symposium in several places, including:

    I would welcome comments posted to the blog.

  4. Barbara, you might be interested in a colleague of mine who is blogging and podcasting for her chemistry class. She is really trying to get her students to reach out into the discipline.

    Her blog is

  5. I am using blogging to get my students to see a college course as something besides an insulated if somewhat demanding intellectual exercise. I’ve had some success, but it is a bit of an uphill climb. I suspect that the difficulty comes from the fact that some students resist this very aspect of blogging– it forces them to really take courses seriously and connect them to their lives. The motherblog is

    I’ve convinced this is useful, but I’m far from convinced that I’ve found the best way to implement blogging.

  6. Thanks for the links, Greg, Laura and Mark–I have wandered about a bit on the three blogs you mention, and love the range they represent: the personal blog, the chemistry-class blog and the social psych class blog. And you all have your own blogs, practicing what you teach instead of throwing tools around because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: