Creativity and Community in a Web 2.0 Classroom–Not As Easy As It Sounds?

This has been a busy week back from BlogHer –the many meetings, phone conferences, workshops filling my days have revolved around incorporating Web 2.0 tools effectively into different sorts of learning contexts, a conversation I’ve been having for the past five years, but more urgently now. And it has been an unsettling, disturbing week with the tragedies of our policies in the Middle East bearing their explosive fruit, and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth reminding me of our horrendous domestic policies, too, making the calm of this Vermont summer surreal in its beauty and saneness.

And so in the spirit of James Martin, whose work inspires me to remain optimistic that we still have time to save this beleagured planet, and alongside so many committed colleagues online and off, I throw myself into trying to push ahead educational reforms classroom by teacher by conversation by blogpost by workshop. During this one week of conversations alone I have been asked again and again and again to talk about what brought me to blogging in the first place and how it is I know that blogging has directly affected my students’ learning experience. Especially now that social software is under threat, people want to hear about my journey to blogs, about how I was looking for a way to bring the world to my students and my students to the world through links to conversations beyond those in the classroom, and how I was desperately searching for ways to enliven the classroom dynamic and student written expression–to add authenticity and context to classes focussed primarily on something very few of my students had any real interest in–formal writing. Over the years I had noted an increasing rigidness in my students’ engagement with their learning–it seemed to me that they sought easy-to-follow rubrics, clearly defined processes that would help them arrive at the “correct” answer , the “well-written essay,” the high grade as painlessly as possible. I turned to blogging in part because I suspected it might help me shake things up. I had noticed that these same students were engaging in some really pretty creative work outside of class–online–making movies, chattering away on IM, writing ‘zines, playing around with music clips and multimedia expression, just for fun and as a way to communicate to the world. I was also alarmed by how in class students stayed almost indifferent to one another as members of a group experience unless I the teacher asked them to engage with one another-class discussion, even when lively and heated, seemed just another hoop to jump through with little resemblance or relevance to the discussions they had outside of class. School was just something you did on the way to real life. Sometimes students didn’t even know each other’s names even though they sat next to each twice a week for twelve weeks. When I asked them why, they’d shrug. It seemed like too much trouble to get to know people’s names just for a class. Something was going very wrong even though they were learning to write academic prose quite competently.

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