The Transition from Leave…

I’ve been away from the blog this summer, intentionally, letting my thoughts about teaching & learning drift and disperse or return and build as I have traveled, read, written and experimented with media.
mayostandingstone firstlight

I didn’t have anything new to blog about really, and I didn’t want to reiterate the same old things I’ve written about frequently over the years here. But it is also true, I have found, that readers rarely go much past a couple of posts into the archives of my blog or read the papers and talks I have posted, so even if I am repeating myself, I am largely the only person who knows that. 😉 I suppose that is why I still write articles, essays, and chapters –readers are more likely to find my work out there than within these virtual pages. This school year, then, I will again likely say much of what I have said in the past about slow blogging’s and tagging’s and social software’s deep impact on my teaching and learning, but I also hope that the discoveries I make alongside my students this year will help me push my thinking even further about twenty-first century teaching and learning. And as always, although I have a couple of talks coming up, an article and a chapter due, mostly bgblogging will largely follow my adventures in the classroom.

This fall that means a new first-year seminar I have designed to offer students an opportunity to explore themselves as writers of creative nonfiction as we explore the far reaches of just what it means to write in 2007. I am eager to see what kinds of discoveries they make about the rich array of choices facing us every time we engage in the act of writing–will they choose traditional media and forms or will they turn to a mix of media and emerging forms? Once they have explored sound and image as well as text, what will happen to their relationship with language, for example? I know that my own experiments with image and text have changed how I take photographs and how I write and how I think about form and genre.

Two weeks before campus awakens from its late summer slumber, the course Motherblog is slowly coming to life although the students have not yet left their pre-college worlds. By opening the semester online before ever stepping foot on campus, writing to and for one another, we thus explore ourselves and each other first as writers through writing rather than face-to-face interactions. I think that is important and appropriate in a writing course, and social software affords us the means of connecting with one another as writers right away and publicly. In other words, let’s think of ourselves as writers. Let’s be writers. From the get-go.

I know, though, that the students are not necessarily comfortable with this notion, and are probably wondering why they ever opted for this course, as they feel a bit silly and vulnerable introducing themselves online to classmates they will be spending a good deal of time with in person. But as the dynamic systems theorists tell us (and yes, this is one of the topics I return to again and again), learning happens “in cycles of disruption and repair,” and so we have to stop playing it so safe in our classrooms and in our learning. Feeling unsettled leads to the possibility of discovery, of curiosity being aroused, engagement with learning rather than with grades. Moving through our awkwardness, our shyness, our self-consciousness this early gives us that much more time and energy for more fruitful learning. Indeed, I have found that this technique of opening a traditional-liberal-arts-college first-year seminar virtually, unease and all, has had a huge, positive impact on students’ learning experience. But more on that later as the semester actually gets underway.

And so, I’m back from British Columbia and Ireland, and I see that some time ago Alan tagged me for just the kind of meme that leaves me unsettled–revealing things about myself on this reflection-on-teaching blog. But, hey, if I’m asking my students to do things that might make them uncomfortable…

“8 Random Things About Me” meme

The rules are:
1) Post these rules before you give your facts
2) List 8 random facts about yourself
3) At the end of your post, choose (tag) 8 people and list their names, linking to them
4) Leave a comment on their blog, letting them know they’ve been tagged

Okay, my list:

1. I grew up in a boys’ dormitory. Really.

2. afinemayoday I spend as much time in Ireland as possible.

3. throughbarnwindows I also spend a lot of time looking at windows.

4. The first people I ever voted for were my mother and father. Really.

5. I read all of Thomas Hardy’s novels the summer I was twelve.

6. newcar.jpg My first new car was a bright red Honda Civic (1978) and cost $3000.

7. I’ve lived in a barn, a sugar shack, a tool shed and a chicken coop (not all at the same time).

8. When I was two I had an imaginary friend who left me, moving to California.

Okay, as I am so late in the game with this meme and I am way behind in my blog reading after a month of constant travel, I’m not going to inflict it on anyone, another important lesson for my students–if the rules of assignments don’t make sense to you…


6 Responses

  1. Barbara –

    Interesting comment about reposting on themes that are important but that you’ve written about in the past. First a technological suggestion on that and then a different type of response.

    You are quite diligent on tagging your posts, but I only found your Archive by Categories on the left by deliberately looking for it just now. I have to scroll down to find it and the only time I’d do that otherwise is if I’m already reading one of your posts and then I’m not apt to look at the left. So unless you have a within page link at the top to the Archive, I’m probably going to miss it altogether. The related issue is whether the categories you use for your tags strike my fancy. If the tags didn’t ring my bell I wouldn’t be apt to look. Looking now at your list, a handful pique my interest.

    The other remark is whether there has to be some invention to spark the writing and if so whether that can happen when dwelling on familiar themes. I think the answer should be yes but sometimes its hard. If the ideas aren’t fresh for you, how can you deliver them in a convincing way for the readers? You do a great job of it so somewhere you must be working invention in. But how?

  2. Good to see you back on the blog! Your FYS is off to a great start.

  3. Lanny,

    Thanks for the feedback about how I use archives and create tags; I agree that I don’t necessarily make it easy for readers to move around within my posts, those deep within the archives. I will rethink my tags and archives and, well, the design of this blog to make the useful posts among the hundreds here more easily accessible.

    I also think, though, that readers don’t click through the links I do weave into posts, links back to other posts, especially in a slow-blog like mine (or yours). We ask our readers to sit with us for a while; looking at my blog stats, I’m not convinced people really do that. And when I look at my Bloglines reader and see how many posts I have not read during this summer largely away from the blogosphere, I’m not sure how many of those posts I’m willing to sit down with– So you’re right, and it makes sense, I have to earn my readers and keep them with me if that’s what I am after. Of course, luckily, I mostly blog for my own edification, to wrestle with the tangled threads of thoughts and discoveries, hoping to make sense of them, and if someone else joins me in conversation, the way you do, pushing me to clarify or to do better, that’s a gift.

  4. Barbara – it’s a tension, no doubt about it. I can really only speak about my own habits in this regard – I go to a handful of sites and read what is there pretty regularly – but when I do some research on a topic I go to Google first, not any particular blog to find the info.

    I’m more apt to linger when in surf mode if what I find initially seems novel or strikes some chord in me and flip through a lot of other stuff that doesn’t pass those tests.

    I would guess that folks who’d linger on what you write have done some blogging on their own so they can better appreciate your contribution, but there’s no way of knowing that except through Comments or TrackBack.

    If people are in multi-processing mode when they arrive at your site there is probably not much you can do to keep their attention and encourage them to click through. I know I had more serious readers when I was posting every day, so they could develop an expectation of something new from me. Now my rhythms, which are more idiosyncratic, probably don’t match theirs and the readership has definitely fallen off.

  5. Thanks for the comment. I used blogs in my classes last year and had great success. And after a summer away, I have some new ideas about using them. I’ll be trying to develop these ideas on my blog. Adding links to my class page would be a good start.

    I would also love to get classes collaborating. Clay Burell and I started working towards that last year with the 1001 Flat World Tales Project. This year, I’m teaching Freshman. But I’d love to help get other teachers and classes at my school involved in online collaboration.

  6. Lanny,

    I’m interested in what you say about kindling an keeping interest on blogs and that when you wrote every day, you attracted more traffic and commentary. Momentum certainly plays a powerful role in such a twitchy practice as link-blogging or quick throw-an-idea-out-there blogging. And I do know that my students get swept up in the pacing of the twelve-week semester when they blog for class and find it difficult to follow or maintain blogs without that kind of ritual, pattern, practice.

    As a dedicated slow-blogger who uses Twitter for the quick pointer, comment, idea and update, I know that very few of the 300 or so subscribers to this blog actually read my lengthy posts in any depth. And that’s absolutely fine, actually, because I am blogging in a way that runs counter to the way the practice is evolving for most. I’ll keep using this practice to sharpen my writing, to deepen my thinking and to experiment while connecting to others.


    Thanks for the comment and the links to your classroom blogging. I am always delighted to see people use social software to connect students to their own processes and to one another and the world, blending informal and formal learning spaces, and giving them the chance to direct their own learning as much as is possible. I’ll be interested to follow your blogging.


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