Three Weeks into the Semester: Stopping to Catch My Breath

Between Twitter satisfying my need to reach out within my blogging community, a quick trip to George Mason University for a workshop/conversation, several wiki and Google doc collaborations with blogging comadres, and the whirlwind of the semester’s opening leaving me rather out of breath, I have been the slower-blogger as of late. But I like this pace: Twitter brings me into daily contact with many whose blogging work informs and intersects with mine–I trust they’ll let me know when something of note is stirring abroad in the blogosphere and beyond, and so I don’t spend as much time looking at edublogs as I once did. I can spend more time thinking about new modes of expression, new ways to bridge old literacies and new. And I wait for blogposts to brew while I watch with amazement how my Bloglines account fills with unread feeds…

This beautiful place is festooned in grand colors and I should be outside, but I’m drawn into this realm to think aloud about how things are evolving with social software in my classes and in my conversations out in the world. vermontfall

So here I am. Because something’s not quite as it was when last I entered a classroom ( a mere nine months ago). Every time I step into a new learning adventure everything, of course, seems new; every time I enter the classroom, I wonder where we’ll venture that day. It’s always new. But this year is even more new, if such a thing is possible. Both in the classroom and on the road when I give talks and workshops.

My Students–
These first-years strike me as quite different from those of past years (which is interesting, as I am also parent of a first-year college student, and I always attributed her distinct ways to her alone–what a range of lenses we use depending on our role …). Indeed, teaching a first-year seminar for the first time in four years is a fascinating revelation–I usually detect subtle shifts in the online experience of the classes of students separated by the three-year gaps between my first-year seminar teaching stints. Subtle shifts. Students in my 2001 first-year seminar (blog now lost) and 2004 seminar didn’t have notably different experiences online before coming to college. Some in both groups came with video editing skills and memberships within social networks, but most did not. Blogging was foreign to all of them. It took some time to get over the disorienting, unnerving experience of writing in and for the public, of sharing their work with one another and commenting effectively.

The difference between my current seminar group’s exposure to online learning and networking practices and that of my 2004 seminar is stunning:
All fifteen students…
*know what a blog is;
*six blogged in high school classes (the first students I have ever had who blogged in secondary school);
*none of them blog on their own;
*every one of them has a Facebook account;
*they all walked into class the first day with strong opinions (mostly negative) about reading blogs for information. (“Oh no, I don’t read blogs,” one student said in a tone that indicated surprise that I would even ask such a question. They contended that blogs were unreliable and/or belonged to the realm of narcissistic exhibitionists. ) Where did they learn to disapprove of blogs? Teachers? Parents? The Media? Experience?
*A couple of them indicated that they signed up for this course precisely because of the online practices promised–not because they liked their previous classroom experiences, but they felt they needed to get more comfortable communicating online and exploring Web 2.0 storytelling practices. Interesting.

milkweedbursting

A couple of observations about the first weeks of seminar blogging:

Observation #1: What they did in high school in no way resembles what we’re doing (or aiming to do) here. Some students used blogs before college to hand in work or to retrieve assignments; others used blogs to participate in teacher-driven discussions (mostly in the form of writing what amounted to response papers handed in to the teacher). No one had actually integrated informal and formal learning spaces, the world of the classroom and the world beyond, or had conversed on blogs about ideas other than the ones the teacher instructed them to consider.

So, while this group is very very comfortable with online communication amongst themselves on Facebook, they are uneasy about discussing academic ideas in public, writing about what they learn from one another. (They met on Facebook as well as on our course blog before school, and surprise surprise, the Facebook encounters were much more natural-feeling and informal than the introduce-yourself-as-a-writer assignment driven by me). In fact Facebook-communication is so prevalent among Middlebury students that new first-years flocked to ask the advice of an upperclassman who volunteered to answer their questions before they ever got to school. Another group of students brought down a move by the administration to change the college logo–all via Facebook) Yet classroom blogging, at least the way I envision it, is foreign to them.

So some things have shifted, for sure–they are online and comfortably so–but they have not had particularly meaningful experiences using social software in their formal learning spaces.

tagcloud.jpg
As my students venture onto Flickr and try out tagging, I see them slowly extending their intellectual reach and sense of expressive possibility, and relaxing into a blogging practice not because a teacher wants them to do it, but because they get it. Slowly though. Even more slowly, perhaps, than previous groups–they are fine about having a Motherblog and their own blog and a Flickr group and other Web 2.0 experiences, but they aren’t necessarily naturally going much further than through the motions–yet. I suppose that the very strangeness of the medium to earlier students made them leap into the heart of the practice instead of skimming the surface. They had nothing to compare it to–no years of Facebook; they had not been bored by it in high school…
fallmorning It’s a tough jump for this year’s group, though, because so much in formal education conspires against it (i.e. faculty misunderstanding how social software can serve transformative learning, and the way we pack their days and nights with assignments–who has time for deep learning?). So far, I do see these students finding real value in reading one another’s work and commenting on it, and in experiencing the tight bonds of community fostered by the Motherblog. They like having the blogs. We’re making progress. Next step: initiating and joining the conversation–doing the blogs.

Observation #2: Online teaching & learning is moving out from the hinterlands, even here in the woods of the liberal arts. The opening editorial, “Welcome to the 21st Century” in our student-run college newspaper, discussed the college online, including new blogs set up by our president and college dean, and ended with the power of blogging in classes; another article profiled the new college radio station blog .
nightfallsonthecollege
Things are changing around here… (Though, yes, the Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor both blogged in bgblogging classes, and so it isn’t as surprising an editorial to me as it would have been if they had not had this experience.)

This semester, for the first time, my students are participating in online discussions in several classes at once. It makes sense–no real surprise here that more and more classes are incorporating online discussion. But the kids are already getting worn out by having to do so many responses, comments, conversations simultaneously; they find it frustrating to keep track of the number of posts required for Course A vs. Course B, and how they are being evaluated, etc etc. In some cases they feel that the discussions are unnecessarily added onto a full load, and are really extra same-old response papers or last-minute flurries to fulfill the course requirements.

These shifts mean that I must struggle to keep transforming my teaching to meet the needs of my students, to stay alert to the shoals, the currents, the wind. And that’s good–no getting carried away with the technology here. I have to ask myself why I am asking students to discuss their work, the reading, ideas they come across–online. Do I pull back the blogging in my class because they are online so much in other classes? No. But I have to be mindful of that they make digital stories or podcasts or Powerpoint presentations in other courses. Mine is no longer one of the handful of technology-rich classrooms. Not by a longshot. And I welcome this tension, and the opportunity for opening discussion about new ways of connecting courses one another by connecting their online worlds through the pivot of the student’s own learning practice. Ah, for a fluid learning landscape.

In other words, we have pulled in new practices, but we have not yet transformed our teaching or our courses or our institutions.

My recent experiences on the road and in the blogosphere have also pointed both to progress and to new tensions as we work towards breaking through to progressive pedagogies. Take last week’s workshop/discussion with GMU Arts & Sciences faculty. That I was invited to GMU not to convince people of the merits of blogging, but to work with faculty already blogging, to help them to ground it within twenty-first-century teaching practices marks a significant shift. I never had to define a blog. Instead of stopping along the way to discuss technical how-to questions, we discussed pedagogy how-to–practices–and we discussed the generation of learners; we discussed the reality of preparing them for this hyper-networked world. Concerns about plagiarism were never raised. Support issues were handled deftly by ed tech staff–so so different. Finally I could talk about transformative teaching, and transforming teaching with people really grappling with the gap between how they were taught to teach and how they needed to teach now. At Exeter, too, faculty talked about online overload, about how we need to move towards a more holistic, student-centered approach to online classroom practices, that these conversations need to happen in conjunction with conversations about curriculum and learning spaces as a whole, across the school. Yes indeed.

Evaluation is always a big concern when I give talks–but this group asked a different question: they were not trying to push blogging into antiquated, ineffectual notions of assigning and grading (by asking how many posts I require, how I check or read them, how I assign grades to them); they were really trying to sort out how to engage students in new learning practices through effective assignments and to evaluate the outcomes, and new forms of academic discourse fairly and meaningfully–yet– within the static constraints of old requirement systems. And that is, I see, the big stumbling block for so many faculty who are, on the one hand, asked to push their teaching forward and yet, on the other, required to adhere to teacher-driven test-and-grade forms of evaluation and assessment. The most controversial thing I hear myself saying these days is no longer, “Let your students read each other’s work and build on it and learn from it–let them learn from the world and the world from them; they should transform the course as it transforms them” or “To use social software effectively and to its full potential, you must really question whether you have actually shifted teacher-centric practices” but “To integrate social software and twenty-first century learning practices effectively into your classrooms, you must abandon your twentieth-century ways of grading–and if you must use letter grades (as I must), build the grading rubrics WITH your students. Have them write ongoing, hypertext narrative reflections of their learning process and outcomes, and then propose and defend a grade twice a semester according to those class-generated rubrics, a grade that has meaning because they understand what it represents and why. Do not grade individual posts. Do not count them.”

I think I still shock people with that one, and so one of my blogging goals for this year is to make visible here the building of the course rubrics in my first-year seminar as we go. My students have never done this kind of self-evaluation before, either. And when they heard that’s what we’d be doing, they smiled rather wanly, I must say. But they are a game group, and that’s something else that’s different—they are willing to experiment–to try out these new ways of learning. Not a one is balking. So far. We’ve started the process of building a rubric by looking at old posts from the archives of previous classes, looking at what first-years have written, sophomores and seniors, trying to come up with some ways to describe the elements of a successful piece of writing at this stage.
ontheboard
Today I saw some lights flicker on for them as they explored why they knew a senior had written one essay and a first-year another–they are crawling around writing as writers, as fellow travelers in Gardner’s caravan. Next week, I’m having them read from two student blogs that are not being kept in conjunction with courses, one by a Midd student and veteran blogger, Alex, blogging from study abroad in Mongolia and the other bya wonderful student I met at UMW’s Faculty Academy, Blogging from University of Mary Washington. I’m interested in them taking a look at blogging the learning journey rather than blogging the course ; will they be interested in integrating the two, if, when it makes sense thematically, they can pull some of their discussions from other classes onto our course blog? We’ll see just how contained they find each course experience.

stilllife

And we’re only three weeks in…

Looking Back, Moving Forward: A Talk at Exeter

Sifting through my archives, I see that not only do I like the cusps of things, the edges, the beginnings and endings, the transitions, I seem to do a lot of blogging during such times.

foxontherun (fox stealing a pear)

The cusp of the school year, of course, quite naturally prompts a looking back on the summer (hence all those lousy what-I-did-over-the-summer essay assignments September after September–don’t teachers have any imagination?) and previous years as I move into the wonder of the fall semester a day or a week before I meet my students in class for the first time. I wrote such a post in 2004, , 2005 (on the heels of Katrina) , 2006 (one that captures the old Russian custom exercise I will use again this year), and I am drawn back here to do so again even though it’s the middle of Labor Day weekend, writing deadlines loom, and it’s a drop-dead gorgeous early evening.

roadtoschool

This year is one of the special ones when I teach a first-year seminar, and already my students are stirring the blog with letters (via email to me for their posts at this point) and comments–their first forays into our community. With five days to go before we have our first class together, 13 of the 15 have been on the blog–I am delighted to read their introductions and to see how they have understood my request for them to introduce themselves as writers before having the chance to see one another. Of course, they could all well be communicating with one another via Facebook for all I know. For this teacher, though, who will not look for them on their own social network spaces, getting to know them through their writing (both posts and comments) first has me thinking through my exercises for the first weeks of semester, selecting ones I think will work for them, and it also takes me back to other beginnings of years.

mainememory

Yesterday I was sent forward and back in quick succession: forward as I brought my younger daughter to college for the first time, and back to childhood and my teaching roots at Exeter where I had the honor of delivering a talk to the faculty before the opening of their school year. How strange to be standing in front of former teachers (was I in a dream in which I was 15 again, giving a presentation in one of my high school classes?) and how exhilarating to be sharing with them how my grounding in Harkness has informed my Web 2.0 teaching. The school where my father taught. It was something, and quite a fitting way to spend August 31, 2007.

______________________________________________________________________________

Here is the first half of the talk. The second half was a tour through my course blogs to show the how of what I do. I think the slides show enough (and I’ve written about my course blogging many times), so I won’t fill in the details unless someone requests clarification. And as usual, the Q & A period was the richest time of all. Excellent, sometimes tough, questions.

Slide1

What a pleasure it is to stand here before you in this room on this campus. I have spent much of the past nine months speaking to faculty in Europe, Australia and the U.S. about a new kind of blended teaching, a 21st-century Harkness pedagogy that embraces deep learning based on reflection, action and social-constructivist learning theory. But to give a talk here about bringing Harkness online quite takes my breath away. As you know, I grew up on this campus, a beneficiary of this school’s gifts as daughter of one of the great Harkness teachers. Indeed, I learned to teach here, at the dinner table under my father’s tutelage, as a student of some of the great Harkness teachers, by learning from Jack Heath in the Exeter Writing Project, by visiting my father’s classroom in the early 80s when I was just starting out as a teacher. It is quite something to be here 20 years after my dad retired and at the beginning of the school year following his death. What an honor. And so I thank Kathleen and Shelley and Vi for inviting me and all of you for coming here to listen to me speak about something that may well make you uneasy. But I am okay with that, for as the dynamic systems theorists tell us, “learning happens in cycles of disruption and repair” (Skorczewski), and a little disruption is a good thing indeed at the opening of a new school year.

Slide2

I lived here in the sixties and early seventies, an exciting, bewildering time of transition when Exeter shed its old-boy ways as its student body grew more diverse, its curriculum more open, its rules less rigid. I was in the first class of four-year girls, a handful of faculty daughters graduating in 1974. But that’s a whole other story. I return to Exeter today during a time even more tumultuous, a time calling for even more daring changes, perhaps, on our campuses if we are to prepare our students equally and well to take their places at THIS time in THIS world.

But before I take you on my journey with technology, and explore the benefits of taking Harkness online, I’d like you to consider what it means to you to be a Harkness teacher in the 21st century. What does Harkness offer our students? What are our responsibilities? If our goal is to guide and mentor and model and inspire as our students develop creative and critical thinking and expression skills balanced with goodness—how do these things look out there in our global, networked society? Should we care—or should we batten down the hatches and hang on to our beloved, time-honored traditions because they served us well in the past?

Slide3

Some of you—and my father would surely have been in your ranks– may well be thinking that we should resist using network technology in our classrooms. Kids spend too much time texting, phoning, Facebooking, IM-ing, You-Tubing as it is. Especially at a residential liberal arts college like Middlebury or the heart of Harkness, Exeter, we should continue an unplugged model of teaching—it is reading and writing and discussing– solving problems together over time, after all, that is our gift, that sets us apart. Why introduce the distraction of out-of-place, out-of time practice of blogging in our classes? Shouldn’t we resist the flash and seductiveness of the new?

Indeed. We should be serious about time offline. About time immersed in lived-in community, in daydreaming and noodling and walking out in the woods. I teach in a computer-free classroom two out of every three class meetings. I want those class meetings not to be spent watching films or interacting with one another or information on machines. It is a mighty gift to be in a classroom together—in a residential school together, discussing, listening, doing, learning from one another in reciprocal apprenticeships.

But it is no longer enough. And I would go further to say that it is no longer the best way, even, to teach and learn.

The day I brought my daughter to Exeter as a new Lower catapulted me, of all people, into teaching with technology. You see, I am not a techie. I hadn’t heard of a blog two weeks before I introduced one into a first-year seminar on contemporary Ireland. But that day, September 11, 2001, shook me from my lovely complacency. I saw clearly then how ill-prepared my students and I were to participate in a networked, global society, and effectively engage with emerging online communication practices. I was teaching as though nothing had really changed since I had been a student. And while my students were lucky that my pedagogy was Harkness-based, and while their credentials were increasingly astonishing, classroom discussion was often superficial, writing formulaic, and engagement with extended, deep learning for learning’s sake difficult to muster. The kids were distracted. Disconnected. Though they performed well. And liked class. Exonians counted in their midst.

Slide4

I realized then what Barry Wellman of the University of Toronto meant by observing: “The broadly-embracing collectivity, nurturing and controlling, has become a fragmented, variegated and personalized social network. Autonomy, opportunity and uncertainty are the rule.” People no longer know their neighbors, as Robert Putnam pointed out in Bowling Alone. As Daniel Pink argues, the work world, too, has changed, now requiring adaptive experts, who can shift easily from one mode of thinking to another, one project to another—working collaboratively, often at a distance from colleagues. Sir Ken Robinson has shown that we are not doing a good job preparing our students for this world: graduates are unable to think creatively, work together well or express themselves clearly in a range of situations. Exactly what I had been noticing—

Ah, we like to blame technology—the sink of time, the cult of the amateur as Andrew Keen has recently argued.

But look at the riches of online exploration, the impact of the access for so many people to so much information. As Yochai Benkler points out in The Wealth of Networks, “…the diversity of perspectives on the way the world is and the way it could be for any given individual is qualitatively increased.” People with access to the internet, have access to information, to learning resources, and to networks. And potentially to choice about how to live. To solve the problems of illegal logging and exploitation of natural resources, for example, the government of Brazil has announced it will provide indigenous villages along the Amazon with satellite internet access connecting villages to one another gives them access to shared crucial information and power of their numbers. How extraordinary.

Slide5

Universities such as M.I.T. and UC Berkeley are exploring the new options and opportunities afforded by the internet,—opening their classrooms to the world, participating in the explosion of affinity spaces where people come together to learn from one another out of INTEREST not coercion. If kids have such rich learning resources available online, for free, why will they continue to plunk down their $36,000 a year to come to Exeter? Should they?

Slide6

How are we taking into account our culture’s increasing privileging of image over text, of how the world is being transformed by digital camera ownership, vernacular culture; as Susan Sontag pointed out after Abu Ghraib, “the western memory museum is largely visual”, “images no longer objects to collect but messages to be sent”. As Victoria Carrington points out, “Where more traditional models of literacy prepare children for a somewhat distant future at which time they will participate in meaningful ways in the ‘real’ world, a model of literacy matching the needs of contemporary children must take as a first principle that children are already active participants and risk takers.” (in Marsh, p.23) Hence the explosion of such sites as Youtube and Flickr—of images circulating on Facebook and MySpace. Do we spend time teaching students how to navigate and evaluate these images? How to produce visual arguments?

Slide7

I also had been noticing other kinds of shifts in this post-Internet, Generation Me. As Jean Twenge’s extensive research has found, based on data collected from 40,000 college students–”anxiety increased so much that the average college student in the 1990s was more anxious than 85% of students in the 1950s and 71% of students in the 1970s.” (p.107) “One out of three college freshmen reported feeling ‘frequently overwhelmed’ in 2001, twice as many as in the 1980s.” The cult of the individual suggests that they do not trust others because they have been taught to believe in themselves, to feel good about themselves no matter what—to listen to themselves and not other people. And yet they crave immediate anytime, anywhere connection, as a Middlebury study of cellphone use and autonomy suggests in finding that the average first-year student was in contact with parents over 10 times a week. College students! How do we inspire goodness and a connection to lived-in community in students who are as likely to be connected to friends far away as friends down the hall? How do we get them to commit to more than themselves when they are overcommitted, oversheduled as it is? Are we helping kids take risks as learners by getting it wrong, by experimenting, by daring to think new thoughts? How do we get them to be more reflective, to slow down, to go deep both on their own and in a collaborative context all while learning to use the emerging tools and practices of this time? How overwhelming!

As I watched my students after 9-11 reeling, trying to make sense of their world, I knew we had to venture out beyond the safe confines of the classroom. I needed to connect the classroom with the world, students to themselves and one another in meaningful, reciprocal apprenticeships. I had a responsibility to teach my students how to navigate the Web fluently, how to use it ethically, producing and publishing as well as consuming.

I had to weave into my new practices three powerful approaches to learning:
Slide8
learning as reflection;

Slide9

Learning as doing—democratic learning means taking action—making and doing things, an Arendtian approach to democratic education .

Slide10

And—Exeter’s own great gift, learning as social activity. You are lucky to be here facing this challenge—for you have long taken into account the power of informal learning outside the classroom—in the dining hall, the dorms, the playing fields. The importance of an integrated interdisciplinary program such as prep studies or the senior seminars. The value of multiple perspectives, of plurality.

Slide11

I turned to social software—blogs—as they seemed to balance the individual with the group, reflection and action, the informal with formal, the private and the public all while providing flexible opportunities to practice new literacies. They seemed uniquely to be of the time and timeless, both very old and very new.

Slide12

Few teachers were integrating digital technology into the heart of their classes, while striving to safeguard the Socratic, Harkness tradition of a residential school. bell hooks asks us whether we dare change our teaching practices even when we dare embrace progressive pedagogies.. It was scary—risky—to throw myself into the unknown. But if we teachers do not take risks, trying to become better than ourselves, how can we expect our students to do so? As Richard Miller writes in Writing at the End of the World : “Schools currently provide extensive training in the fact that worlds end; what is missing is training in how to bring better worlds into being.” (p.x) And that is what we all need to do.

Slide13

These past six years, my Harkness teaching has moved from this model:
Slide14

At least it was in theory–my classroom as it really was, if truth be known, I fear :

Slide15

Only after I brought social software into the mix did I understand that some students didn’t participate because they felt they were not invited in–they were the onlookers, the lurkers in blog parlance. Although I thought I was using an inclusive approach and inviting all the students to speak, to add their voices, to learn equally, some students felt more ownership than did others, some participated and others did not–I was espousing a progressive pedagogy but not really practicing it p.42) .

Slide16

The results of classroom blogging, as I will show you now, have been nothing short of astounding in my experience these past six years—this is now how my classes look and feel according to my students, who have become actively engaged with deep learning, developed their skills of critical and creative thinking and expression, their ability to connect and collaborate, and their confidence and skill using the digital technologies. It has been nothing short of electrifying. Staying the course for Harkness in the 21st century means evolving it to suit the needs and realities of our times, and to avail ourselves of the opportunities afforded by new ways of teaching and learning–online.

So let’s take a little look, and by all means stop me and ask questions along the way.

Slide17 Slide18 Slide19 Slide20 Slide21 Slide22 Slide23 Slide24 Slide25 Slide26 Slide27 Slide28 Slide29 Slide30 Slide31

Memories of an Art History Class: Inspiration and Perspective

chinesepeony
Chinese Peony

One of my professors in college, I recall, an art history professor, would move into class by dimming the lights, leaning against the back wall behind us and clicking his little slide projector clicker to illuminate the first slide. Then, unlike most other professors, instead of lecturing us about what it was we were seeing and what it meant, etc. etc. in the larger context of our discipline, while we madly scribbled notes about the stuff we thought would be on the next exam, he would ask us to comment on what we saw and what we could glean from our observations based on the reading and looking we had done to prepare for class and what we had seen and discussed during previous class meetings. He’d challenge us to figure out when it was painted, maybe by whom, and why we should spend time looking at and discussing the work. He cautioned us to question our initial responses; he urged us to think as much with our guts as with our intellects. He’d ask questions, add context, push us to come up with more, to come up with better. His comments on our papers were much the same. And he told us the first day that he would grade the non-majors differently because they didn’t have the experience the rest of us had. We majors howled that it was unfair– no one else did that in any other department….

Bloomington Window

Nearly thirty years down the road, every time I see one of the paintings we studied, I am transported back to that classroom–I can still speak quite confidently about the content of that course while most other classrooms experiences have faded to mush.

IWU Theater Sculpture
(Illinois Wesleyan Theater entrance)

Sometimes he would slip in a slide of a fake. Sometimes a painting from a different country. Sometimes a lousy modern approximation. We never knew what was coming. And it was up to us to smoke it out. Once he came in and showed a pair of side-by-side slides which at first glance seemed identical. Only when we looked more closely than we had ever looked before could we begin to detect the differences. Our task that day was to figure out which was the original, which the copy. Our final exam was filled with such moments.

It was a course about discovery. About the joy of discovering something fundamental about painting, about the world at that time and place, about ourselves as art consumers, as critical thinkers, as contributors to the discussion. We didn’t need blogs or wikis or any of the Web 2.0 tools to have that profound experience. But sometimes I find myself thinking …

… it would have been even more interesting, the learning even deeper, the development of our skills even more pronounced if we had had opportunities to talk outside of class via asynchronous slow-blogging, linking out to articles we had found, and pushing each other and ourselves by posting images we had come across in our Web wnaderings, annotating them, publishing our papers–sharing our drafts with one another.

overthetop

But that’s ridiculous. Absurd. Preposterous. Web 2.0 was not for that time; it is for THIS time. My professor taught brilliantly for that time but not for this. (Much as my father had.) The world is different. The generation is different. The skills graduates need include those we were schooled in–but others, too. We cannot compare what we need to do with what our teachers did. It’s that different.

I remember that some of my professor’s colleagues didn’t approve of the way he taught. Or at least that was the buzz. I imagine he’d be really excited about the ways we can connect, link, share and tag. He’d understand that teachers who do not weigh all the tools they have available, all the practices possible are as guilty as doctors who fail their patients because they haven’t kept up with advances in treatment. (I heard Chris Dede use this analogy that in his 2007 ELI keynote) I like to keep that in mind when I face yet another audience, as I struggle to find ways to help faculty understand why they should not feel threatened by new ways of teaching and learning, but delighted, because in one sense we are not abandoning tradition–just remembering it–the best of it, that of Socrates, for instance, and clutches of great thinkers who hung out together through history, either in place or through letters and their responses to one another, artwork by artwork, letter by letter, essay by essay.

I’ve been on the road A LOT this semester, mostly to give talks and workshops to faculty teaching undergraduates. planeWhen I first started doing this a couple of years ago, I was pelted with questions about intellectual property (fear of plagiarism), assessment, and the time commitment taking to the Web would mean for someone thinking about giving blogs or wikis a go in their teaching. And those are still questions I get when I talk blogs, no matter how much I thread a talk with learning theory, progressive pedagogy, and the realities of a world simultaneously moving towards disconnection within local communities (which center on plurality) and greater connection through ME-oriented social networks); no matter how much I show the slide that puts the teacher as part of the learning circle after the slide with the scary desks in a row.

preppingfortalk

At Illinois Wesleyan University and then at University of New Hampshire, I recently gave versions of the kind of talk I’ve been focusing on lately in which I try to help faculty dare move into the 21st century. I try with each talk to convey more clearly the realities of the work world, of social networks moving beyond teens, of GenMe; I show them blogs and wikis, and some really interesting class projects such as ArtMobs and second language blogging such as Barbara Sawhill’sSpanish classes at Oberlin, and Jim Groom’s use of tagging with his UMW summer class.

Faculty seem to like what they see- learning by reflection (through hyperlinked slow-blogging techniques), learning by doing and making (multimedia projects, service learning mentoring through blog connections), and learning by connecting and conversing (asynchronous blog discussions and linking between blogs, referencing one another’s work and scholarship beyond the classroom). They love the idea of bringing experts in the field into the classroom through blogging invitationals, and the students to the world by publishing their work on their blogs, the class blog, wikis, ‘zines. All’s well so far.

Even Twitter has been making sense to people, how it might work to teach the art of concision, to get students to hone an idea, or to share urls, etc. Annotating slides and creating course photo sets on Flickr–you get the drift–it makes sense–to anyone once they see how it works.

cloudmetaphor

At UNH, especially successful was kicking off the talk by asking them to come up with a metaphor for how it feels to be a teacher who trained in the 20th century but is teaching in the 21st.

But then I get to RSS and del.icio.us–both of which I am planning to place at the heart of all my courses in the future–and things get a little unsettled. The questions get interesting; in other words they approach what’s really the heart of the matter: what happens when students are given much of the responsibility for their learning, what happens when risk and failure are seen as good things–fumbling together in the dark as we learn to think and read and write critically and creatively; what it means when even the syllabus can be changed at a moment’s notice as the group discovers a new direction. How Web 2.0 teaching and learning and living practices are butting up against age-old sacred cows: i.e. the dominant value of the expert, the teacher as trained authority, and a sense of order in the classroom.

Why do RSS and tagging, in particular, provide an opening for this kind of essential discussion? Well, I talk about having students not just create feeds to one another’s blogs–that can be done on the Motherblog or with multiuser blogs and is a given when you are using blogs within a community. Yes, it’s essential to have students see and learn from one another’s struggles for meaning. Yes, it’s essential to weave the stories of their blogs together in a larger community tapestry. Yes. But having students–and NOT the teacher or the librarian–go out and find resources in the field and bring them back via feeds for the group–well what an excellent opportunity to gain skill in evaluating sources, for one. I get concerned questions from the audience about quality control–who is responsible for making sure the sources linked to are “appropriate” or “valid”? Ah…that’s the beauty of gathering RSS feeds as a learning and not a teaching practice. What a learning moment to discover a deep bias within a blog in the field (or a journal, for that matter) or factual errors!

And so, we’re making progress, Laura, I agree. It’s slow, yes, and often frustrating. But it’s happening… At UNH a couple of days ago, some forty faculty members showed that they get it. They want to move their teaching. They just need a little help understanding what that means–and how they can do it well, navigating through the sea of options. It will take the kind of inspired and innovative and fearless IT people of the likes of the magnificent crew at University of Mary Washington or Laura Blankenship at Bryn Mawr, Todd Bryant at Dickinson, Barbara Sawhill at Oberlin, the staffs at UNH and VSC and IWU. It will take classroom teachers making their pedagogy transparent on blogs for themelves, their students and their colleagues. It will take leadership from in our institutions, of the kind Lanny Arvan at the University of Illinois repeatedly demonstrates. And the tireless work of the Bryan Alexanders and Alan Levines of this world–showing us, encouraging us. But finally, I think we’re actually making strides in the right direction.

Yeah.

My college professor would be happy, I think, to see me taking risks, pushing my teaching forward into this century as I strive to be for my students the kind of teacher he was for me. And to see that I’m not alone in this. Not by any means.

Here are the slides and notes from the two recent talks over on Flickr. I’ll pull them over here as well in a few days.

UNH Talk Slide1

For the Flickr version (slides and notes) of the University of New Hampshire FITSI talk, click here.

IWU Slide1

For the Flickr version of the Illinois Wesleyan University the Teaching and Technology Workshop keynote, click here.

Faculty Academy Talk: Change and the Twenty-First Century College Teacher

I’ve got another blogpost brewing about Faculty Academy itself (right now I am teetering between slow-blogging and just plain old blogging slow). What a pleasure to try to spin the tale and capture those days and those people, and how one experience like that can spark all kinds of creative thinking and recharge the batteries. It was remarkable.

For now, here’s the written version of my University of Mary Washington Faculty Academy 2007 talk; the version I actually gave, with slight digressions and shifts, will be available on the Faculty Academy site at some point if you want to hear my voice and see me gesticulate (shudder shudder).
(The complete set of slides at Flickr)

Change and The Twenty-first Century College Teacher: Deep Learning, Slow Blogging and the Tensions of Web 2.0

UMW Slide1

Because I am a writing teacher and because I believe you have to explore your own perspective on a topic a bit before hearing what someone else has to say, I’d like you to ponder this question for a few moments:

umw slide2

How do we see our practices relating and influencing one another–how can we understand what our students are experiencing if we don’t immerse ourselves in the very processes we ask them to explore? Why is it that some academic bloggers with thought-provoking, reflective blogs don’t ask their students to blog? I want to speak up for blogging. For ourselves. For our students. And I know that some of you don’t want to feel obligated to blog just because you have your students blog, and that some of you have moved down the road, shedding your blogging for newer clothes. Don’t abandon your practice just yet…

UMW Slide2

Those of you who read my blog–deserve a croix de guerre for making your way through the long posts-ha-, well, you know that I believe in a residential liberal arts experience for our undergraduates but one that little resembles what we have now in place at most of our institutions. And my use of Web 2.0, especially blogs and their buddies, looks very different from the way it looks elsewhere–you will find me blogging on my blog but not much on the course Motherblog, for instance. The blogs are open to the world. No one is denied access.

UMW Slide3

You might know, too, of my concern about the divide between the Academy’s staunch commitment to tradition, this generation’s rewriting of all the rules, and the work world’s dissatisfaction with both.

Slide4UMW

In 2001 to address these tensions within my classroom, I turned to blogs in my teaching –to reinvigorate learning (my students were wanting too many quick answers, directions to follow, forms to follow when they should have been yearning to experiment, to spread their reading wings and ruffle some writing feathers). I wanted to open the windows and doors between students, between the classroom and students’ lives, between the classroom and the world. I wanted students to look at themselves.

Our first forays into social software pushed me as a teacher, too–students introduced me to new ways of thinking about academic expression, embedding audio in their research papers, photographs in in their poems, video as footnotes. They ranged across the blogosphere, brought in poets to comment, and got a little too intense at times in their discussion. My students are winning awards, getting jobs and into graduate school — with the help of this work.

They’re bringing the house down.

And they’ve forced me to transform my teaching and my creative work as a result, far far more than I had ever anticipated. I’ve thrown whole syllabi out, changed the evaluation process, backed out of the center of the experience.

One of the most interesting developments, I think, is my strong preference for what I call slow blogging, both for myself and for my students.

UMW Slide5

In my own practice, that means trying to weave together the tangled and often seemingly irreconcilable strands of what I’ve picked up in my reading, my teaching, my photographing, my living. Even the titles of my blogposts carry on for longer than some bloggers’ entire posts. (I know I know, a little economy ain’t a bad thing…) But what I’m doing is trying to discover, to uncover the relationships between what I thought two months ago, two years ago, and now, and how my interests converge and inform one another, and how the ideas I find in one place can inform the ideas from another, in surprising ways. And how my use of images might add to the total meaning. It’s a way to send letters to the self. In public, as one small piece of a greater conversation about teaching and learning. What has emerged is an organic, evolving portfolio with tags and links leading both back into my experience and way out beyond myself.

I know I’m a better thinker because of my blogging –I’m more inventive and more patient. I take risks. I fail. Publicly. In front of my students! In front of brave readers who kindly argue with me, pointing out what I’ve overlooked or oversimplified. And I am learning to be tougher on myself, to insist on having something to say instead of merely repeating myself or someone else. Slow blogging is both perilous and pleasurable. And it should, I believe, be an active part of any 21st-century teacher’s practice as a window into this generation’s world as well as a way to develop teaching-with-technology skills and a deep reflective practice.

UMW Slide6

In my course design I’ve come to blend solo slow-blogging into loose blogging conversations and more staccato posting that lead to spirited conversations face-to-face. Students can’t see their posts as mere messages in a bottle. They are writing to and for actual people, people they have to see in class and hear from on the blogs, people who will inspire them and teach them through their own work put out there in our transparent, open, connected medium, people who will infuriate them with their opposing viewpoints. They learn to participate. To give. To take. To be apprentices and experts. To enter contact zones. To invite other professors, family, friends to take part. We talk about chaos and learning, about disruption and repair, about what Claude Levi-Strauss says about artists never being alone (in Davenport), about social learning theory, about John Dewey. We talk about plurality, about recognizing our own biases, our own clichés (see (Skorczewski, p 100). This is essential in our diverse classrooms, essential in our times–and what better place that a stable learning community to explore encounters with the other.

UMW Slide7

Students are often astonished.

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ELI 2007 Presentation: The World Is Flat: Using Blogs and Skype to Create Communities of Learners and Cultural Literacy

Here is the text/slide/podcast version of our January 22 talk. ( I’ll also post my recent Tufts talk within the next few days.)

Update (Saturday the 10th): The blog is back up and running with commenting reinstated!

To View Larger Versions of the Slides, click on them–you’ll be sent to their home at Flickr.com.

Slide2

Welcome. We’re delighted to share our experiences at two small liberal arts colleges with blogs and Skype in writing, literature and language classrooms. I’m pleased to introduce you to these two remarkable students whose work exemplifies the very best of liberal education in the 21st century within quite traditional institutions. I’m Barbara Ganley, a lecturer in the Writing Program and English Department at Middlebury College, and since the fall of 2001 I have been using blogs and more recently digital storytelling, multimedia essays, podcasting, wikis etc, in my classes. But I’m not a techie. I still don’t know how to use the remote correctly at my house.

But I’ve had to get over myself. My fears. (My loathing.) The shifts occurring so dramatically in the world outside our institutions and the changes in the realities of our students’ lives — what Julie Evans earlier today pointed to as student attitudes and use of technology– pulled me from the complacent slumber of a Rip Van Winkle in a 19th-century classroom (something even Time Magazine gets, pointing to school as the only place a time traveler from a hundred years ago would find virtually unchanged).

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Learning (Once Again) from My Students:To Blog or Not to Blog–the Social Context

NOTE: Middlebury is about to upgrade MT tomorrow (Thursday) , and we’ll probably be offline until Monday, so if you want to jump in and help me think about the threads of this post, you might have to wait until next week.
exeterrivericestorm crabapplesinice

Being on leave this semester, one might well assume, entails little to no contact with students as I try to gain perspective on this work through reading, traveling and writing. And yes, it is true that I have been mighty scarce around my office, and have an away message all cued up on my phone. Nevertheless I am still learning from my students, right here, embodying Paolo Freire’s portrait of “The teacher [being] no longer the one who teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach.” All while trying to be a bit quieter.

But of course the blog is absolutely fair game, and I welcome my students to check it out if they’re interested. Back in 2004 I wrote about the first time one dipped a toe into bgblogging conversations. And now three years later, they are still finding their way here to extend my thinking by wrestling with the question of blogging outside a course as a way to connect their learning experiences and to think deeply through connected, transparent writing. And I gotta say, their comments get more and more interesting as they come to understand the benefits of this asynchronous, extended, letter-writing-like correspondence. If for no other reason than to engage with these fine young thinkers in the conversation about the liberal arts, about writing to learn, and about the relationship between what goes on in the classroom and out, blogging has been incredibly helpful to me as a teacher and learner. (Of course there are other important reasons, namely the conversation with blogging colleagues, the opportunity to work out my ideas in a densely linked narrative, and the exploration of the practice I ask my students to try out. )

While I recommend that readers actually take in the entire discussion growing out of my previous post, and even going back to the ELI presentation itself (slides are now uploaded to the ELI site and the version with notes/text and audio here on bgblogging–(once the MT work is complete), I do want to pull out a few of their points here –they provide a very interesting look into the undergraduate learning experiences of some of our students.

Lizi writes:

“I hadn’t even made the connection that blogging is the one and only thing that I’ve ever done as both a classroom activity and a personal interest. I’ve never thought it strange that our learning remains contained to the classroom. I have a distinct memory though, when we were reciting poems in your class, of one student starting to recite a translated poem and me realizing that we had memorized that same poem, in Russian. I almost didn’t say anything,though, because I felt strange sharing my experiences from another class…For some reason, students (myself included) are still assuming that their projects and time are categorically divided between academic and personal development.”

If we spent more time at the beginning of our school year, semester, course talking about blurring the lines between formal and informal learning, between learners and between modes of expression, and about how students can create their own learning spaces that pull in all kinds of learning, relating it, synthesizing it, reflecting on it and talking about it, together, students might well take more ownership of their learning, developing the kinds of reciprocal apprenticeships that transcend classroom walls and semester systems. Our campuses could get pretty interesting… Whether we do that with social software or through other means is pretty unimportant–just as long as we do… as Megan imagines in her comment:

“…Our classes at Middlebury could be like that. Departments could be more communicative. Perhaps, there wouldn’t be a need for the Independent Scholar major if we were all in fact “independent scholars.” Professors across the board could utilize blogs. We could all meet in rooms where the chairs were arranged in a circle, or Coltrane Lounge was multiplied. In fact, professors could be blogging with one another across departments about educational visions. Perhaps, there might be more service-learning; perhaps, we’d have an Education major; perhaps, student clubs and organizations would then transgress boundaries, and those perspectives might step into the classroom more fervently. Would we be more active?”

Ah, she’s describing what we could be doing in our institutions if we took away the single-subject major, the one-teacher-to-a-learning-space design we have in place. She sees the potential , but she’s pretty realistic, too:

“…Ever since your class, I’ve been struggling to define and redefine what education and learning means for me. And I go back and forth. I remember your class and the very few others I’ve had like it, and I wonder — well, maybe it was really just me. Maybe, this type of learning is only limited to the arts. Yes, Barbara’s class was great–but now I have to find a major and stick with it and follow its rules. You say the blogging stops after the class. You’re right, it does. But the reflecting doesn’t stop.”

I know it doesn’t–but there’s something extraordinary about connected, transparent, archived–yes, documented— reflection–Megan’s to Lizi’s to Julia’s, for instance, that pushes the individual reflection into something even more interesting, something along the lines of Dave Weinberger’s “Small Pieces, Loosely Joined” thinking, taking the time to write out our thinking, showing it to others, responding, linking it to others’ thinking, and then linking back to our own earlier thinking…

And then Megan, in this true spirit of conversation, returns for another comment, in which she observes:

“Sometimes I feel as if I need permission. Not just to blog, but to make connections with what I’m learning to my own life. I still can’t tell sometimes if it’s selfish, if it’s distracting to the intellectual standards of the conversation. Frankly, there is information professors must transmit to their students. Lectures and summative testing are the first two obvious ways for transmitting and evaluating that knowledge. But on the other hand, it’s like putting on a mask every time you enter the classroom–the PC mask. How honest are we with each other wearing that mask? What goes left unsaid? Who chooses not to speak? Who does? Why?

I can never tell if it’s my own personal problem when I find myself struggling with these questions. Are these reflections just a guise for my low self-esteem and the fear of failing to articulate verbally? Or the fact that I learn differently, just as we all do, from other people and it is my responsibility to acquire the skills Middlebury demands of me? Or are my reflections valid? Do they warrant a discussion of change? Even more importantly, do they resonate with other students? “

How often do our students let us know this is how they feel? How often do they venture out beyond the safety of their own bound journals or their trusted groups of friends to discuss these concerns, misgivings, fears? Isn’t this what we should be talking about in our schools? In our classrooms?

And then Julia jumped on, from Oxford where she is studying this year, to comment on the social context in which students blog:

“When you speak of our ability to post on our own social network without censure, one thing to keep in mind is that we are “talking” to our friends, people we know, people who saw us drunk last weekend, who we brush our teeth next to. For most of us, the classroom is still our equivalent to having a real job, it is a professional place “of business.” And you’re right that we have an academic mentality that keeps us from expressing our own, sometimes half-formed, ideas because it goes against everything we’ve ever been taught. The entire reason we got into Middlebury is that we know how to write without “generalizations” and we use “it seems” to stand in for “it is.” We are taught our opinions don’t really matter unless they can be backed up with more experienced opinions that have made it into peer-reviewed journals. It’s just a mentality.”

And later on:

“But most people are terrified of their fellow students. You, the teacher, go home at the end of the day, you remain aloof. We live together, we eat together, we party together, and then we’re forced into this artificial classroom environment where we have to seem knowledgeable without being condescending, and supportive without being overly-friendly.”

Fascinating–I hadn’t really thought about it that way before, but of course it is absolutely true: they compete by day and play by night with the same people in a small liberal arts insitution, at least. And of course in class they must perform–brilliantly. Our classrooms are stages, artificial, dislocated. I am sent back to my books now, to thinkers on space and place: Yi-Tu Fuan and Michel deCerteau, and Gaston Bachelard and Henri Lefebvre
for starters. Now this is what being on leave is all about–having an opportunity to be sent down the strands of thought deep into the study of things I have only glanced at before. And this particular journey has been set in motion by a trio of my students. Brilliant.

Heading Home from ELI–Lessons and Leanings

atlanta from the hotel

This is what usually happens when I head home from a conference–a bundle of perhaps disconnected thoughts needing sorting out..so be forewarned that this is one of my slow-blogging kinds of posts.

Highlights of the conference included meeting Gardner Campbell again (and seeing his colleagues’ adventures with Web 2.0 tools in a new program of first-year seminars), catching up with Steve Warburton, Lanny Arvan, Leslie Madsen Brooks, Cyprien Lomas/a>; and meeting Bitch Ph.D. and Scrivener when we took a field trip to Emory to hear The B talk (which Leslie blogged and I captured on my camera). The star autographs the poster

Of course there was also the delightfully provocative and right-on-the-mark talk by Bryan Alexander, the excellent keynote by Chris Dede and a great intro to ambient mobile video as learning tool. But the best part was watching Barbara and our two student co-presenters deliver their powerful stories (In a few days I will post our talk). Lizi Rocks

For all the talk during the conference about the Net Gen’rs, who they are and what they need and want, and how the work world demands a new system of education, I heard little about how to help students apply critical approaches to their use of technology, or about how to set up effective learning communities that really help students engage in real-world-based learning without the professor looming front and center. I heard a lot of excitement around social software and Second Life and all kinds of tools, lots of ideas for how one might use them in the classroom, lots of reasons for WHY we need to use these tools and how to think about goals and objectives for the learning, but I really heard nothing about the absolutely critical piece in the puzzle–setting up the environment for learning –and I don’t mean physical space, I mean the contact zones, the places to engage in the cycles of disruption and repair of learning, the uneasy space of failure–effective, messy ways of working towards real collective intelligence, the ways in which the learning network will engage across class, culture and circumstance, how the syllabus itself and evaluation rubrics must come out of those first conversations.

Okay, this means that I’m still on the fringes. I get it. Someone called me the grandmother of classroom blogging (sheesh, and I’m not even yet 50), someone else likened me to the teacher to the rest, but I don’t feel much like either. I still stumble along in my practice, searching for how to make the learning experience in my classrooms really account for something worthwhile, scaleable, and lasting–something real. So, I come away from the conference with no answers at all, but once again due to some excellent conversations between and around the sessions, I am re-invigorated, re-radicalized and ready to write what I hope are a couple of good keynotes for European conferences this spring.

Although we had a small audience (interesting in itself that we were overlooked by so many when our students really contributed significantly to the greater conversation about 21st century learning…) , people were engaged and asked excellent questions at the end. One question, in particular, dogged me through the rest of the conference. And wouldn’t you know, it would be Lanny who asked the question (he has pushed me on blog and off to clarify, deepen and explain my thinking and pedagogy more than almost anyone over the past year or so). A concluding observation I made was that most students weren’t yet, at least in my experience, bringing the kind of deep, connected, reflective practice they experienced in the blogging classroom out with them beyond the class at semester’s end. Lizi had explained that she was no longer blogging, that there didn’t seem to be anything to blog about during her senior year in the way I had asked her to do in my class or she had discovered on her own in Siberia. In the Q & A and in a follow up email Lanny voiced his concern that students didn’t find their ordinary lives worthy of this kind of reflection.

He’s put his finger on something that has been bothering me, too, something I didn’t hear other speakers touch upon–that we are not yet really having a lasting impact on the relationship our students have with their learning, bridging formal and informal learning, taking the classroom out of the box and letting it stretch and find its new shape in the world. We aren’t paying enough attention to the participatory gap–to who really gets to talk in the classroom, who really feels ownership of an ongoing blogging experience and why. This is not new territory to be sure, but it is essential territory. Yeah, sure, all of my students take to this active engagement in certain kinds of classroom situations and do quite extraordinary things when given a good deal of responsibility for the course design, implementation and evaluation (alongside their prof who makes sure the opening weeks are devoted to questions of learning communities and what we need to learn in this discipline and why). But even so, they return with remarkable ease to the read-lecture-test scenario, snapping right back into their old student-as-recipient-of-knowledge-and-grades personae.

Sure, former students bemoan the fact that one of the only classes that really asked them to drive their own learning or created a lasting bond between learners as well as a sense of confidence and efficacy was this Motherblog-centered course. They belly-ache about lecture classes, about turgid textbooks, about professors who do all the talking in discussions. But they do so quietly or with their friends on their social network spaces. They’re resigned to the realities of our classrooms, and pretty darn docile about it. After all, it takes a lot of energy, commitment and passion to learn the way I’m asking my students to learn. Very few of them take the reins of their learning squarely in their own hands by finding ways to make it real, to make it their own on their own. And that’s not their fault. It is ours.

The students who do move the blogging out into their lives want to do independent studies (with credit) rather than using reflection-connection-observation as a way to connect to others with similar intellectual and artistic interests and to deepen their learning outside of a graded or a study-abroad experience. In other words, are students still just going through the motions of whatever a teacher puts on their plate whether it be lecture-test or blog-create? Are we blogging teachers really rather altogether too smug and self-congratulatory about our results?

I want to start exploring the reasons for this elastic-band behavior (students will return to the “old” ways once out of our “new” classrooms) and ways I can help students to keep pulling down the silos. Here’s my first take on why my students, once out of the classroom, continue to shoebox their classroom experiences –even those that are transparent, connected, out in the world blogging experiences, why they accept plodding through the traditional academic paper and test and report and project in the classroom in a never-the-twain-shall-meet kind of spirit after they have had a taste of something else.

The first and obvious reason is that thinking deeply about the connections between their courses, between their courses and the world and their own lives seems unnatural to them. Why should they do this? Why would they do this? We’ve only ever shown an interest as teachers in what we design and assign to them–that is the world in which we co-exist with our students. Do we ask our students about their other courses? Do we invite them to bring that learning and their learning from the world into our classes? Rarely. Few teachers seem to foreground active, connected, transparent reflection and written conversation across communities as valuable; when everything in a course is designed and assigned for them, of course that is how students view formal learning–of course that is how they view even this kind of wild experience of the open-walled blogging classroom: something to do as long as someone else is telling them it is what they should/need to be doing. The inner motivation isn’t there. They don’t really get it. They have only done classroom work for the grade. What I am asking here is too risky. They are vulnerable because they are building resumes, traditional accomplishment-based resumes.

Blogging the abroad experience makes sense as it is a “Letters Home” thing: the blog broadcasts their experience to friends and family while serving to expand their own thinking and understanding of their experience. It archives the experience and who they were going through it for themselves and whoever wishes to read it. The more personal pieces are reserved, as makes sense, for their social networking spaces. This kind of blogging feels serious, weighty, and needs something driving it that is BIG, INTERESTING, SCHOLARLY i.e. studying abroad.

But when they come home, slow-blogging outside the classroom feels unnatural to them, especially blogging-about-learning when they are doing it in a vacuum (no instant, motivated community)–apart from the one blogging course and the abroad blogging, they have no experience with this kind of writing or community-building, no place to root it in their lives just yet. It feels risky, too, for other reasons. Who will read it down the road and think poorly of them for their thoughts? They’ve been groomed to be correct, to be the best, to be “on.” I am very concerned by this need to occupy performative space, this disturbing trend of future employers being interested in what a college student wrote about the experience of learning (not to be misunderstood for the kinds of dangerous and/or harmful publishing to the Web that some young people insist on doing). It’s absurd. We are losing the ability to learn for the pleasure of it, for the wonder of it.

Also, my students know what it takes to do deep blogging well, or slow-blogging as I like to call it, and in school they just don’t have time for those kinds of extras. (I certainly know how it feels to be overwhelmed with work–trying to find a clear place in my head to think about my teaching and learning is tough during the semester, but it has been invaluable to my teaching, it is a part of my teaching.)

It also has something to do with blogging outside a community–they can’t imagine anyone wanting to read about or respond to what they think about their studies, and they don’t want to blog to themselves alone.

Teachers like us are working right now in ways that are really making no difference in a sense–students been so encultured, the lessons so engrained about doing what they’re told, that not only are they uneasy when enter our fluid classes, they often snap right back into the old mold when they depart…they only bring in their lives outside the classroom when we ask them to… and yet their lives leak into the classroom at every turn. This continued dichotomy between what can happen in such a classroom and what happens beyond and after is something I want to discuss with my students from the past six years as I start to plan new courses for next year. I need their help to make the classroom more relevant and worthwhile than before–much to learn.

And so as I head home to snowy, frigid Vermont, I’ve got much to keep me warmly engaged, and that means it was a useful conference.
Lake Champalin from the sky