Videoconferencing with James Farmer and The Technology School of the Future in Adelaide, Australia

What a remarkable week–going from the UK’s edublogging conference where I met some of the great eduboggers from that island to this morning traveling to Australia via videoconference for the Technology School of the Future’s Masterclass. Tomorrow will feel quiet when I’m talking about using audio in teaching to colleagues here at Middlebury.

It was great to hear James Farmer talk about how school blogging fits into a continuum of online education–I particularly liked his distinction between the merits of discussion boards and blogs, and will borrow from him to explain to people why I don’t use discussion boards in my classes. His primary objection to them is that they do not involve a personal presence, which is exactly what blogs do–real people are all over their blogs through the choices they make in terms of design and content. Blogs, he said, are about centered communication, centered, that is, around the individual. He drew upon Garrison & Anderson’s elearning in the 21st century, the diagram of effective communtities of inquiry with its intersecting circles of social presence, cognitive presence and teaching presence. He was persuasive in arguing that we have to stop thinking about people going out into online environemntts to interact with others; we have to think about individuals interacting with one another, about who we are as people and how we really communicate.

Here’s my talk:

Centering, Connecting and Creating: Transformations in Blogging Classrooms
The Technology School of the Future Adelaide, Australia June 8, 2006
Videoconference Presentation

The Presentation Abstract:
We’ve all heard stories about the remarkable outcomes teachers claim by bringing social software into the classroom. But enhancing the learning experience for our students is not simply a matter of “handing out blogs” like notebooks and then standing by to watch the miracle; nor is it a matter of setting up series of strict rules and parameters and methods. By thinking first about the nature of our learning community and our pedagogical framework, and how connecting students to themselves, one another, and the world makes sense in our classrooms, we can take powerful advantage of the connectivity and the transparency of the medium. And once we’ve seen the effects of blogging on our students, we’ll find ourselves blogging alongside them, and adding podcasting, skype, RSS, and digital storytelling into the blogging as ways to make learning exciting and effective for every student.

I’m delighted to be here today (even if it is a bit early my time), for a chance to listen to James Farmer, one of the real leaders in this work, and a chance to hear from all of you in a few minutes. I’ve found my own blogging practice greatly informed by Australian bloggers, teachers, researchers and theorists, and so it’s a real pleasure to join you.

At the UK’s first edublogging conference I attended last week in London, a conference for experienced edubloggers, I was struck by the interest in hearing practical advice about classroom blogging. So instead of focusing on research on social software and learning theory, I’m going to return to my roots—my teacherly roots and give you a tour through the blogging landscape that has evolved in my classrooms over the past five years. First off, you need to know that I am actually not very interested in talking about technology. Or at least technology in and of itself. I’m not a technologist; I am a classroom teacher trained in literature and writing, and before I brought blogs into my classes five years ago, email was about as high-tech as it went in my teaching. I am, though, passionate about learning and about helping my students prepare for the challenges of citizenship in this rapidly changing, complex world. And I have found that this goal demands that I focus on a set of new literacies as well as old, which in today’s world means a whole spectrum of visual, auditory, textual, quantitative, cultural, and network literacies. It means that students need opportunities to connect and to collaborate, to explore their roles in a community of practice as well as to understand themselves as learners, as humans. And that’s where technology—in particular blogs, in my case, and digital multimedia—come in.

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