(the new) bgblogging

Although I’ve been blogging with my students on WP for a couple of courses and have bgexperiments for my creative-writing exercises, bgblogging has heretofore lived, and quite happily so, on Movable Type. But in six weeks’ time I will be leaving the faculty of Middlebury College and thus must start now to pack my bags and books and blogs. So here I am. (The new) bgblogging. Welcome!

Come June I plan to push into new kinds of topics (for me) while I explore ways in which collaborative and creative Web practices in concert with a physical lab/gallery/classroom/gathering spot located in our county seat can enhance the connectiveness, life-long learning and deep creative spirit of rural communities. This kind of community-based/Web-centric space for creative expression and lifelong learning practices doesn’t seem to exist in many rural communities in this country–certainly not in this state. Now that my departure from the college is certain, I ‘m ready to share the center’s mission and design — details in a coming post.

In the meantime I will be trying to capture practices emerging in my formal classroom one last time, pulling together the work of the past seven classroom-blogging years into some posts about the process, the students, the outcome, and the reasons for heading out.

It will take a couple of weeks to sort out all of the bugs (tags did not make the export) in this blog, so please let me know if something isn’t working or you can’t find what you came here for.

Beyond Fear: New Directions

“Hell is the place where nothing connects.” T.S. Eliot (by way of George Siemens)

“If you do not speak up when it matters, when would it matter that you speak? The opposite of courage is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.” Jim Hightower (by way of my brother)

“If we don’t fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don’t really stand for them.” Paul Wellstone (by way of my brother)

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead (by way of my brother)

Picasso qtd by Gilot :”‘When I paint, I always strive to give an image people are not expecting and, beyond that, one they reject. That’s what interests me. It’s in this sense that I mean to be subversive. That is, I give a man an image of himself whose elements are collected from among the usual way of seeing things in traditional painting and then reassembled in a fashion that is unexpected and disturbing enough to make it impossible for him to escape the questions it raises.” in McLuhan and Parker, Through the Vanishing Point p. 242.

At the hacienda At the hacienda

So many quotations by way of introduction. So many powerful assertions by others before my own wee announcement. Okay, I have a confession to make. I’m terrified. Me. bgblogging. One of the so-called Fear 2.0 Dream Team. I am known as fearless, as fierce, as about as bold as they get with my talk, my work, my beliefs, my teaching. Terrified? Yes. And thrilled–because I’ve reached a crossroads. After 19 years, I am leaving higher ed. I can no longer teach from within the system as it is now. After years of trying to find a way to work from the inside, I am convinced that my way must be outside a liberal arts institution. I’m not giving up on teaching and learning; I’m giving up on school.

I’m terrified and thrilled in equal measures to be moving outside the safe confines of the Academy to a new kind of learning space. Will I cut myself off from creative-scholarly communities that mean the world to me? Can I function without a traditional classroom? Am I out of my mind to think that I have something to offer outside formal education? Instead of feeling like Houdini or a form poet (transcending the limits of a semester-ized, departmentalized institution), I face the freefall of the free verse poet, the search for form. And I think I’ve found it.

More on just what I have in mind in later posts, but for now I’ll just say that I am not becoming a consultant, not going freelance. I will be hanging about a new kind of blended (physical + virtual) learning space within our rural community, hoping to bring together local nonprofits and individuals through in-place workshops and gatherings, and connective and creative Web practices. I am very lucky to have many inspired mentors within the Academy–more posts on you later– and without, including Keira McPhee who stepped outside the Academy to start her own school,Nancy White who teaches me with every post about how to embrace and assist a range of communities with deep creativity and good sense, and Geoff Gevalt who has engaged and connected hundreds of Vermont kids through the Young Writers Project. With teachers like these, how can I go wrong?

But this post isn’t about the details of my plans. That’s for another post, in a while. It’s about what I know I’m leaving behind. My students. It’s about explaining why I’ve been quiet around here this academic year as I have sorted through big decisions. I will blog about my future soon; indeed now that I have some clear answers about my path, my blogging voice has been freed up, and I want to reflect a moment about my students before looking ahead.

I am mainly terrified about taking this leap because I know full well how painful it will be to leave my students and the extraordinary learning communities that form every semester. But ironically, it is precisely these classroom experiences that have led me to this juncture. My students have learned to ask me the same tough questions I ask them. Take, for example, my recent J-term course, Exploring the Far Reaches of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction, simply one of the most outstanding teaching/learning experiences I have ever had (and I have had many remarkable experiences through these blog-intensive seven years and beyond). Not having taught a J-term course in several years, I had forgotten about the gifts of January Term: that something magical about being in an intensive learning community with sixteen students for a month–we shed our self-consciousness and self-centeredness, our need to climb to the top of some pecking order, our distractedness to experience what Vera John-Steiner calls “the pleasures and risks of honest dialogue” in building “a shared language” and exploring the contact zones of multivocality. We transcended ourselves–wrote better thought better, connected better than we thought possible. Yes, my students produced some stellar work, but more importantly, they were on fire with their learning and amazed by the reach of work done transparently and collaboratively, connectedly online in full view of and connection to the world. Joined by Student Web 2.0 herself from UMW (so named by Laura Blankenship) who committed to doing our exercises just because she wanted to stretch herself; by a teacher/writer in Hawaii who found us during our 100-words exploration (and inspired us with his powerful writing and reflections on the process); by a brief, unsolicited exchange with filmmaker John Bresland, who commented on a student post about his webfilm, The Seinfeld Analog; by parents and friends and bloggers and former students who found us along our way–we moved beyond the limits of traditional notions of course and calendar–if, for a brief moment. And now, in February, inevitably, the group experience winds down though several students continue to blog and all of them continue to write in spite of the demands on their time, attention and energy of a new semester. They are plotting a webzine, perhaps a radio show–more on those developments as and if they unfold. The semestered, siloed system does not allow for much else. But students continue to show up at my door…and now I have a new group, just as eager to explore their creative selves as the last, just as committed and excited and willing to try something a little different.

But if I had my druthers this semester, I’d be in the second week now of an immersive course: On the Bus, during which the twenty-two of us pile onto a bus and wander the country, capturing the stories of chance encounters and glimpses both into ourselves, through the windows of the passing landscapes, and into the communities in which we land. We explore a range of media for recording and remixing our stories, and tools for connecting, narrating, and sharing from pencil to cellphone, paints to photo-editing software as each of us pursues projects that draw on a variety of disciplines. We stretch ourselves creatively and intellectually within our group and within the communities we encounter– each contributing our expertise–one helps us think as ethnographers, another as geographers, a third as biologists and so on. We strive to contribute meaningfully to every community just as we’ll be transformed by every community we encounter, spend time in, tell stories with and in and for. A new kind of study abroad, I suppose–study-outside-the-walls. That would have been a glorious finale.

And so at the end of this semester, for many reasons, I will part ways with the college for a different kind of learning space. That means for now I might well be blogging infrequently here (and switching platforms) as I move through the transition, but I will be on bgexperiments and the course blog, continuing to learn, to explore, to connect.

snowstorm afterthestorm

Winter Solstice: More Ends and Beginnings of Things

Once again we arrive at the cusp,an in-between-ness I’m drawn to and have written about several times.


The winter solstice is that wonderfully unsettling moment when we reach the shortest night of the year while winter itself still looms large and long, at least here in Vermont. It seems a particularly apt moment to touch upon an uneasy classroom topic, something fraught with tension: grading, perhaps. I leave the semester once again with a sense that grades–all and any–trivialize and even damage the deep learning adventure we have just experienced. No, I won’t go there today; I’ll let the solstice celebrations help me shake off bad feelings, and instead turn to a couple of points made by Harry Lewis in his “Excellence without a Soul” talk from a couple of weeks ago, and then, to excerpts from my students’ course-end narrative reflections to help me articulate beyond and in spite of grades what my students discover in climbing out of the stupor, the inertia they had fallen into in many formal learning situations–what happens when they become passionate learners in as well as out of our classrooms:

My paraphrasing of points Harry Lewis made:

People teach their subject rather than thinking holistically about what the bigger point is….
Our educational institutions are highly competitive environments which isolate us by promoting egoism over altruism, by valuing smartness over wisdom, expertise and specialization over breadth of understanding.

And the wonderful: “Kids are self-motivated and shouldn’t be treated like rats in a maze.”


And from my students’ final narrative reflections in which they retrace their journey through the seminar:

I think that the best way to thank you that I can come up with is to say that I will definitely take another creative writing class (next fall, I think) and that I’m considering giving myself a blog for my birthday, but I have to be sure that I will promise myself to write on it regularly, and that I will be able to think of something to write.

I have grown. I say that sincerely, without sarcasm, and with total confidence. I don’t think that I realized that I was growing during the semester, one rarely does, but after reviewing my work as a whole, I feel like I have made amazing progress from a girl who stumbled into this writing class to where I am today. I have grown to love the blog, and now have a better grasp on analyzing literature. My writing isn’t magnificently perfect, far from it, but I think that the difference between my first draft, and my final project attests to my growth.

After three and a half or so months of writing, of reading, of classes and workshops and blogging and journaling, of class dinners and discussions, of stress, of rough drafts and final drafts, I’ve learned a lot to say the least. But what I’ve learned the most about is myself, both as a person and as a writer.

To be honest, I’ve known for a while that I was a pretty decent writer. It hit me in the tenth grade when my teachers would hand back my essays and assignments with the words “lovely writing” and “eloquent” scrawled across the tops of the papers in hot red ink. I’m a natural observer so describing my surroundings, describing anything but myself has always been easy for me and in that area I have excelled. I didn’t expect to be challenged so deeply by this class and for the way I think about writing to change so much. The first thing I learned was that I could no longer get away with writing about my surroundings or writing about my childhood, a thing of the past quite distant from the person I am now. I had to learn to dig deep, deep into the writing and deep into myself. Writing isn’t as easy anymore and I’m not always as confident in my writing now, but when I write something good, something with meaning, I know it. I feel it.

It’s over. But it’s not finished. Because of this class, I notice things now. Words, people, images, sounds, anything. Ordinary things become extraordinary and I feel the need to write them down, to record them so I don’t forget because I may need them in the future. I don’t know if [my blog] will continue on, but the thought of simply erasing it from the internet, all the work and stress and agony of it, seems a rather depressing thought.

In conclusion, I’m supposed to assign myself a grade, something that seems so foreign and distant to this course, something small and insignificant.

This course has been so valuable to me because it has changed me. I’m going to be a different reader and a different writer and a different person for the rest of my life now. That’s scary and exciting. I’ve still got plenty of growing and changing to do, but now, with the tools I have and the knowledge of the writing I am capable of, I’m looking forward to that growth and change.

This has been the most difficult writing workshop that I have ever taken, not because there was anything about it that was intrinsically harder, but because everything about it was uncomfortable. You pushed us in five-thousand different directions all at once.

When we discussed the grading rubric for this class I was very concerned about the fact that so much of our grade is based on growth, but as I’ve gone through the final unit of this class, discussed my work with the members of my evaluation group, and written this letter to you I have truly seen my growth in tangible ways. Discovering my growth has been much like the process of commenting on the work that I read both by published authors and on other students’ blogs. It’s only as I begin to articulate my thoughts that I really know what I am trying to say. It is only in trying to articulate my life experiences that I feel as if I am starting to understand the different facets of my own identity.

In talking about the beginning, I can only think about the end. On the final day of class, we all sat in a circle as we always do. To an outsider, it would it would have seemed a lot like the first day of class, but for me it was so different. The first time fifteen of us sat in Coltrane Lounge you had us write a story in five minutes and read it to the class. That moment was my first streak of actual panic since I had arrived at college. Even watching my parents drive away and leave me in a place I barely knew didn’t make my heart pound faster than having to read something so raw and, well, originally mine, in front of a whole room of people. But on Thursday, December 6th I could not wait to be called on to read my paragraph, to share what I had written, despite whether I thought it was good or not. I think this fact alone is the greatest testament to my growth over the past semester.

The most important part of multi- media, in my opinion was the constant blogging. All of a sudden, days were planned, or at least mine were, to incorporate time to sit down and write, to sit down and reflect. At first this was really hard. The blog was swarmed with sarcastic and helpless posts on how there was nothing to post about, but soon everyone seemed to get “it.” For me, blogging was an extension of my voice that I didn’t express during class. Every comment was something I couldn’t have thought of on the spot, and I really appreciated having the forum to prove that I really do have something to say if I’m given time to just analyze and ponder. I also think that this constant out of class interaction between all of the students made us a lot closer, and that, of course, I really appreciate. It is, in fact, on the blog that I made quite a big personal breakthrough when I posted a poem. Although it wasn’t as personal as a lot of other pieces I could have posted, it was still something I wrote outside of class and voluntarily shared.

So in attempting to evaluate myself, I would have to notice the changes that I have undergone. I no longer think “normal”; I think in words and phrases, in perceived eloquence and journalistic story ambitions. I’ve entered into my own past in new ways that I would have never had considered before. While writing is a necessary element within this class, for me, it’s the changes in motivation, perception, and identity that really are valuable. So, whatever my collection of writing depicts on a written level, I don’t really care all that much about. It’s a transition collection at best, a void to be filled with time. I’ve definitely made my mistakes, had my flaws but so has everyone else. I would like to end this evaluation just at that. Grades really can’t factor into my change in self and paradigm. This then, is my real evaluation, the one that really matters to me. I’m proud of what I am, where I’ve gone, and what I’ve become. Everything else is secondary.

tension wintermagic

What a privilege it has been to be a small part of my students’ journey.

Happy Solstice. Here’s to the beauty of in-between-ness. To reflection and to passionate learning.

And the teacher learns that we may be missing a huge point…


With two and a half weeks left of this semester, I can now begin to see the full figure of my first-year seminar, this new course in exploring the far reaches of twenty-first century creative nonfiction (including a month-long unit in online multimedia expression). What brave teachers my students are, helping me to understand the complex intersection of their lives’ angles, social and academic, as they strive towards self-discovery and world-exploration…all while learning to crack open the process of reading and writing, digging into the fundamental elements of creative nonfiction, coming in touch with writers and theories of our times as we write for print and for the small screen. It has been such a fascinating journey for me as teacher-learner that I have hardly known where to begin to capture what I have witnessed, experienced and learned. But I will try. In fits and starts over the next weeks here.

Some Initial Observations/Revelations:

* Watching my students grapple with the tensions (and joys) of being college students away from home while they know full well that the world teeters on the brink of collapse: that other kids, just their age, are in Iraq, or contending with the direct impacts of global warming and first-world policies– brings home to me that we need to engage our students directly with these issues, from the minute they step on campus–in our classrooms, in all of our classrooms. We need to get them out into our communities both to apply their learning and to keep one foot squarely in the messy wider world. This is not the time for a four-year experience in privileged isolation. We have to keep the experience real– connected to the world beyond themselves. (I need to do better in this regard…more in an upcoming post.)


* It is very very difficult to walk into a classroom like mine when everything else in students’ academic experience follows a different, and teacher-centric, model. It takes a lot of work (and determination) to help them understand that it’s okay that I will not lecture at length on the writers we read or the elements we analyze or the techniques they explore, nor will I provide them with the kind of feedback (i.e.my pen all over their papers) to which they have grown not only accustomed but on which they have become dependent. I will not tell them what they have to write about, or how. I will not respond to their posts on blog. I will not be solely responsible for their course grades. But I will question, push, explain, encourage and give them feedback one-on-one. As I often remark, students are in a bit of a freefall for the first weeks, thinking I have no idea how to be a teacher, and I have to stand by, reassuring them that this is fine, this is good, in fact.


* It takes faith on my part that if I am patient, and clear, and do a good job of setting up opportunities for learning magic to occur, then at some moment in the semester, when none of us is looking, the students will delight in their creativity, push into the world of ideas of their own choosing, and turn to one another in a lively example of collective intelligence and emergence at work. In turn, their thinking will deepen, their writing grow in clarity and complexity and power, and they will have engaged meaningfully with their own learning journey. Of course this is an oversimplification of the actual steps forward and back of the classroom dance–in a crammed semester with so many demands on student time and attention, there’s never enough time and focus to shift the learning model as dramatically as I believe we must.


* My students have not been asked very often or at all to experience the world as writers (which I would define as actively engaging in the world and trying to make sense of it through communicating through words and/or words plus other media)–their comments about this month’s blogging (as opposed to posting their assigned work on the blog) reveal how “having to find something to say on the blog” has forced them out of the college bubble to look back and examine it, and out into the world to understand their place in it. Some have found “blogging whatever” artificial and forced–“I have nothing to say.” But why is that? Do they not have the practice of being asked to write about their experience and knowledge and connection and concern and questions? Publicly? As an act of genuine communication and connection? Others say that their nerve endings are on fire–that they now go to dance performances, for instance, wondering how they could possibly capture a post-modern production for their blogging community, or that they are constantly looking for things to share or to ask or to wonder about through the conversation of blogging. It’s exhausting to be this aware of the world.
At first they resisted blogging because they thought Facebook was for that kind of connection. But now many of them are discovering the value and pleasure of connected thinking through asynchronous discussion NOT dictated by the teacher. (Many teacher-directed and assigned online discussions including blog discussions are little more than adjacent monologues, call-and-response performances for the teacher’s benefit–and soon forgotten by the students, I’d wager–rather than authentic engagement in a fluid give-and-take about the world with a community of learners.)


* They teeter between the future and the past–their own–as they find outlets from the furious pace of their studies:

quidditch%20post.jpg (from Sam’s Post, “Only at Middlebury”)

And students come to my home to cook and eat (fresh noodles and sauce and brownies). They seek and appreciate contact–direct, personal contact with their teachers and classmates. Friendships have sprouted from this seminar.

Some examples from student blogs that show me what’s on their minds:

On Grades
HIgh Hopes
On Comparing their Lives to Those Who Accomplished Great Things

A student asks questions about when she’s going to make bold choices, and her classmates respond, including over at another blog
Another student looks at the Future

A student on “Save Middlebury?”
On Facebook

A dance review..and more
Another Response to the Dance Performance
Performace? Art?

And that’s just for starters (Make sure you read the comments as well). They are tackling the life issues that matter to them on their posts, weaving in lessons from other courses, and engaging with larger societal issues in their projects–do we actively promote this kind of integrated learning between formal and informal learning spaces in our colleges and universities?

* Students crave time and opportunities to be creative (how many courses involve active creativity?), once they allow themselves to get off the train of the constant critic (why do we insist on teaching students to judge literature and art from the outside without an equal emphasis on exploring art from the inside? My students are much much better critical thinkers and writers as a result of their forays into the process of making art). They are, for the most part, enjoying the process of making multimedia projects even though they are exhausted at this moment in the semester and sometimes frustrated by their lack of technical skill or cumbersome programs or the number of hours spent in front of computers. What fun to mash things up, or to discover the impact of soundtrack on mood, color on visual impact, font size on narrative distance, or to make something out of nothing that has the potential to move people, to make them think? The projects are breathtaking, far far beyond anything I thought they could produce in a three weeks’ time. Stunning in fact. They’ll be posted soon.

*The challenging process of working through the course grading rubric with the class, to reach consensus, was well worth it–I think. I won’t really know until the end of the semester when they have met with me individually one last time to propose and defend a grade based on that rubric. What has been particularly striking about the conversations over the semester about the grading is the sharing about the mysteries of high school grades, of their interest in finding a fair balance between quality versus growth, and of their suggestion to evaluate one another. Grading Rubric Post from Course Blog and one student’s take on the balance between growth and quality. They want that experience and feedback, and to have those evaluations taken into consideration when proposing their course grade. And so, there are three layers of evaluation to this course: their own, their classmates’, and mine. For once I am actually looking forward to the grading process. Imagine–did I just say that?

quality rubric

And so on we go, inexorably towards semester’s end. Tuesday they unveil their multimedia projects–I can’t wait–and then after break we move into two weeks of revision and evaluation. It has been bumpy–teaching a course for the first time is always a little unnerving and I promise to post some of my (several) mistakes soon–and thrilling. It isn’t about stuffing their heads with what I know, but about helping them to fill their writing and learning toolbox with tools and practices and self-awareness, so that they can find out what they need to know and how. To participate in the process wherein these remarkable young men and women gain skill and confidence and daring and community is a privilege indeed.

Blurred Boundaries: Some recent moments on blog and off

Hands Writing in Class

This is the most challenging course I have ever taught because I’m asking my students–right from their first days as undergraduates– in large part to unlearn how they have been taught to read, to write, to connect with the measure of their own work. (Of course I say that–I hope I can say that–every time I teach.) I am asking them to dare move beyond anything they have ever written–to reconnect with deep creativity as they put every word they write on trial for its life. It is one hard course. But man oh man, their writing is beginning to sing with voice and passion and urgency. They have something to say. Yes, their creative nonfiction essays are by no means finished or polished, but they represent something far more important than respectable college writing–they signal authentic attempts at communicating something they are trying to understand for themselves.


And now they will explore multimedia creative nonfiction writing. I can’t wait to travel this part of the course with them and see how leaving language, or pushing language up against image and sound, will affect their text-based writing when they return to it at the end of the semester. I am sure they are apprehensive, excited and hopeful in almost equal measure.


One interesting observation–We’ve wrestled over blogging, and they haven’t yet broken through to a place where blogging helps them develop voice and perspective and interest–in fact, they really haven’t been blogging much at all (they will try their hands at frequent blogging in the next unit). But the blogs have served an invaluable purpose of bringing them together to read one another’s work, to be inspired by it, and to find community with one another. They are one tight group. We’ll see what blogging itself does to their sense of writing, community and collaboration.

So yes, a hard course, but–at least for me–an intensely rewarding one.

I set out this morning, actually, to write a detailed blogpost about grading, a post that has been simmering for weeks, but I find myself so resenting the entire notion of grading and what it so often does to learning and growth, to learners taking risks and daring to go beyond the safe, known routes they’ve been treading for years upon years–

–that the whole topic puts me into an ugly mood and makes me do anything but talk about it here. In fact it has kept me off blog for three weeks. Which is too bad. Both because being off blog as much as I have recently is bad for the flow of my blogging, and because I can deal with grades in my classes, having with my students transformed course grading into a collaborative process that works. So here’s a preview of that post:

Over the course of several in-class conversations, some looks at student writing and other people’s rubrics, the class pulls together a grading rubric for individual class projects and then the full course; each student carries on an ongoing narrative reflection of the course (posted to the blog), converses with workshop groups about the writing, grades him/herself on writing projects according to the rubrics (handed to me), and at the end of the course, proposes and defends a grade in a one-on-one conference with me, in which I have an equal say in the grade, as their outside evaluator. It works. Yes, it takes more time than conventional forms of grading, but the grades mean something quite valuable to the students at the end. And more importantly, the students gain real understanding of and take responsibility for their own writing journey.


And so I am inching my way through a grading post in which I discuss the book The Theory and Practice of Grading Writing (eds. Frances Zak and Christopher C. Weaver) as well as link to the rubrics from my course. I will say for now that my class is making good progress creating a grading rubric for a specific writing project (next we move to creating a rubric for the entire course), and it has proven an excellent exercise for them to define and then weigh the elements of a writing project and how to describe the relative effectiveness of the finished results.

What has them rightfully perplexed and concerned and divided is the whole notion of progress, growth and risk-taking. Should they count in the grade at all? And if so, how? Indeed. Good questions.

gradingelements grading (from our recent class discussion)

How many times do we really grapple with these questions alongside our students, reading the course as contributors, learning–from the inside– about how we evaluate learning outcomes? How many teachers actually show and discuss models of student writing in their classes? Have the students hold up their own work alongside those models, learning to read their results within a continuum of scholars and writers engaging with these very questions–but at the level of first-year or senior rather than professional expert? Instead we often play games with our students, inadvertently perhaps, keeping them guessing as to what will be on exams and why, as to how we will read their papers, and as to why a teacher counts numbers of posts and assignments rather than looking at the depth of those entries, how they represent creative thinking and active collaboration? Students actually prefer teachers to do the grading. They like grades–they’re something measurable, something they understand—but then ask students what they measure exactly, why, and how fairly, and to what effect?


Instead of requiring a certain number of posts, for example, I show my students exemplary comments and thoughtful posts and creative thinking in action. I show them how every writing situation has its own demands, its own forms and conventions and needs and opportunities and rewards–dependent in part on the writer’s background, personality, perspective, etc etc. Students want me to prescribe–this is how you do it. This is how many posts you need to make to get an “A”; this is how many sources you must include in your creative nonfiction essays, and so on. And I tell them that I have no idea–they are the only ones who know what they need to do to work with the elements of writing to make something sing, to make it grab us by the scruff of the neck and say, “Think about this….think about it deeply.”

Going to college is complex and complicated, but life outside these walls is ever so much more so. I aim to blur the boundaries, help them become comfortable and then excited about putting their own voices out into the world, and in entering contact zones, in active citizenship based on collaborating and communicating and doing rather than passively waiting for instructions or feeling powerless in the face of the world’s problems. Right now the students are bumping up against the challenges of writing in the world, in this world–how do they write authentically and yet respectfully, mindfully and yet boldly? How do they recognize and confront their own biases, their “little darlings” and retain a sense of humor? Ah, it’s not easy, but six weeks into it, we’re beginning, really beginning to break out into some work they want to stand for them well beyond any course, any semester, any teacher.


And that’s pretty exciting. And far far more meaningful than any grade will ever be.

A Return from the City Moves Me into a New Blogging Space

Lately we’ve had a slew of those listless pre-storm afternoons when even the dog doesn’t want to go out and the cats can’t be bothered to mess with no-brainer prey.
storm settling in
And I wrestled–for days– with a chapter I promised for a worthy book project. My mind wandered.

This kind of weather brings some of the languid ease of the South across our fields, I imagine, because the storm never materializes, just teases with its barking tantrums well to the South (how a Northern New England girl of Irish ancestry can set her imagination on overdrive).
I worried a bit about the state of this blog, that I was running out of gas, my brain too sticky, too taffy-ed, too, well, too distracted.

How can you live in a place of such intense physical beauty and have something to say that isn’t charged with poetry, bad poetry at that?
harlequin hollyhocks

You can find yourself slinking slowly into a somnolent bog. (See?)

But then we went to New York. That place always slaps sense back into me. A weekend spent wandering the streets and galleries and eateries of Lower Manhattan picks me out of my nature-addled daze. eastvillageshift
The stunning range of human story and culture and reality are an antidote to my lush woods and big skies and green mountains and small villages of Vermont. It’s good to be thrown into something different. And it’s good not to overplan those visits, to take them slow in a New York buzzy sort of way (if that makes any sense), to look around and let the city’s odd magic do its thing.

The only plan we had was NOT to go to any Apple store during the iPhone madness and to see the astonishing Soledad Barrio dance with her flamenco company at Theater 80 (take a look at the flow of stories about the theater in the comments linked off the post), and dinner with some friends.

184628089_22fb58b702_m.jpgImage by Sondra Stewart

The rest of the two days, my daughter, my husband and I moved where our feet took us. Camera in hand of course. With changes of plan welcome.

And this time, that included more of the East Village, the West Village, Chelsea and the Meatpacking District. We found open-air markets, cupcakes and graffitti and the single-most unbelievable draping of tye-dye attire on one person I have seen anywhere (and that includes Haight-Ashbury).
shoppinginny inthemirror

In Chelsea, as we feasted our way down the windows of the galleries on West 24th Street, we stumbled on an exhibit that has jarred me out of my blogging complacency. Got me thinking about a new blog, a blogger’s sketchbook of sorts. About getting more serious about not being so serious. Silverstein Photography’s current exhibition, “First Contact: A Photographer’s Sketchbook” placed photographers’ contact sheets next to the image pulled to print (and in some cases these were iconic images, taken by Diane Arbus, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Man Ray and many others. What a great learning moment for anyone taking pictures, or for anyone looking at pictures, for anyone blogging as a way to capture and hang onto fleeting thoughts, glimpses of ideas, memories, connections, conversation with reading and viewing and listening online and off– to see the creative process –the contact sheet filled with failed images, many in succession. How much richer, then, the experience of seeing the selected, fully realized image printed. How we all need contact sheets. Blogs are such, most of what we write on them being disposable…forgettable.

I came away from that show thinking about how I have been slowing moving towards writing with images and text but how so many times I leave those posts undone, in draft form or sketched out on paper, or in my head because they didn’t seem to fit bgblogging as it has evolved. bgblogging explores formal learning in, sometimes, informal ways, certainly in informal spaces, but it almost always has its eyes directly on changing our educational system. Yet Twitterhas opened to me a new interest in micro-texts. Sharing photos on Flickr has pushed me to pay more attention to my images, both taken with camera and taken with words. I’m ready to keep pushing the kinds of posts I’ve been exploring. PLAYING. Making mistakes. Having fun. And sharing these with my students.

chelseagallery chelseastreetart

I’ll still read and write blogposts. Edublogposts. But experimentposts too.

Perhaps about the mysteries of place and light and childhood.

During summer, then, this blog will see fallow spells as I shift into a new blogging realm, one more creative and experimental, one that engages more of my playful side than my critical, hungry-for-change side.

I want to play with Henri Bresson-Cartier’s notion of “the decisive moment” defined as “the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression.” (from the Silverstein Photography Gallery Press Release). I’m tired of the repetition in my feeds and in my books; I’m going to be more selective in my reading while more open in the territory from which I learn. Otherwise, just as I find happening when I stay in Vermont for too long at a stretch, I get lazy, complacent, and dull.

I’m in search in the summers for the poetry of blogging, the poetry in blogging, and will do so over on bgexperiments, that will kick into gear this week. I’ll move between the blogs, hoping the tension between them will prove useful.

We’ll see how it goes…

Memories of an Art History Class: Inspiration and Perspective

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

On the Cusp: Learning to Pay Attention to the Extraordinary in the Ordinary


Appearances welcome and unwelcome: In northern Vermont lynx have returned for the first time in forty years; in our central Vermont town Starbucks is reportedly about to make an entrance for the first time ever. Even here. Is this a faint echo of the strange careenings in this country, between the hopeful: the beaver in the Bronx, and the disastrous: the government’s anti-earth policies and actions? What does this have to do with thoughts about my teaching and learning?

Since fall I’ve been in an unfamiliar, sometimes unsettling space and time, on the road a lot, in between, and it’s not been easy finding my bearings, or balance. But it is precisely those moments of disequilibrium that carry the promise of deep learning, of pulling me out of my complacency, of sharpening my sight. It’s so easy not to pay attention, to settle into the blur and selfishness of routine. Being out of my element has been good for me. I have missed some momentous local events altogether: the Vermont blizzard, for one,
snowdrift hearing or reading, instead of living, the stories of my daughter snowshowing the third of a mile length of our driveway in deeply drifting snow to get a ride to town for her job, or of our large flat-coated retriever getting stuck in the snow and needing to be fished out. I’ve had to learn how to listen instead of speaking.

bethelmountainroad Nearly every week for months I’ve been driving the three hours over two mountain passes to New Hampshire and then down the interstate to the town I grew up in to stay with my parents in their retirement community, and two or three or four days later, I turn around and drive home again.


My father is dying. And in spite of his being just shy of 89, it’s still a stunning fact to face, a difficult sentence to utter. He has been a tremendous force in my life, my role model as a teacher, a touchstone in many ways. Traveling with him and my mother and my brothers through these challenging, touching days has pulled me out of my own orbit, far from the details of daily home life and my students and the computer and their thrall.

It has taken slowing down, going deep, having some time for thoughts to bubble up and rise slowly–to look around, to feel the power of the ordinary instead of just talking about it. I’m also reading differently: picking up the magazines strewn about the laundry room at the retirement community: reading several times the poems in the torn issue of New Yorker (a lovely one by Louise Gluck, “Noon,” for instance) or the articles in a pristine looking Preservation –a powerful, short piece, for instance, by Wendell Berry, adapted from his foreword to James Achambeault’s Historic Kentucky and think about what he has to say about photographs:

Photography is surely the most temporal of the arts…The picture that results is the realization of a unique instant. Looking at it, we are aware of an implied insistence: This picture could not be made again. The light that made it is past. The photographer cannot return even tomorrow, even later today, and make the same picture. Because it is so insistently temporal, photography is also insistently historical.”

and as I watch the elderly gentleman next to me fold his laundry slowly, perfectly, to the side of his walker, I put down the Berry and my thoughts journey from the article and the man’s flannel shirts and his bent hands to John Berger and what he writes recently in Orion Magazine:

“It’s a commonplace to say that photographs interrupt or arrest the flow of time. They do it, however, in thousands of different ways. Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’ is different from Atget’s slowing-down to a standstill, or from Thomas Struth’s ceremonial stopping of time. What is strange about Jitka’s forest photos…is that they appear to have stopped nothing! In a space without gravity there is no weight, and these pictures of hers are weightless in terms of time. It is as if they have been taken between times, where there is none.” (“Inside Forests” November/December 2006)

Is this why I’ve been taking so many photos of the ordinary details glimpsed through windows, to steady myself within a moment without end, to try to understand it?

Such unexpected discoveries in someone else’s magazines and moving about a world filled with old people brings me to thoughts of my students so young and intoxicated with possibility. In the fall I want my students to explore and experience a visual and aural understanding of their world as they write about it. I want them to have the pleasure of observing people and place, of diving into the writings of the Berrys and Bergers and Glucks of the world in a leisurely way, as I am now. For years I have been guilty, I believe, of what David T. Hansen describes in his introduction to the outstanding John Dewey and Our Educational Prospect:

“The explosion of information in the world today, the rapidity of interaction via contemporary modes of communication, the continued blurring of the lines between providing education and offering marketable degrees and diplomas: these and other forces conspire to push educators into a mode of incessant busyness, with increasingly scarce time for solitude and the conversation so indispensable for thoughtful study and reflection.”

Even with this reflective blog and my posts about blogging as letter-writing and slow-blogging, I know I moved too fast, glancing at the books piled high, at the road, at the world around me, at the colossal problems in my community and the world. Now I observe the nuances of my father’s expressions, reading his face and his body for signs of pain. I do jigsaw puzzles with him, slow piece by slow piece, noticing the subtle spill of colors and contours of the picture. I go to the community’s library and pick out a wondrous array of books in the discard box–I wonder which of the men and women I pass in the halls donated the Lawrence Durrell, which the books on Ancient Greece, the pulpy thrillers, the self-help volumes, the Ogden Nash, the Pico Iyer. Some of them look well-read, others untouched. I look inside the front covers, think about writing a post of found inscriptions, remember how as a child I collected antique spectacles and old photos of people until someone (a brother? a friend? a teacher?) told me it was kind of creepy. I wonder where those spectacles went.

I read slowly as I sit with my parents, slow-moving books, deep-observing books such as Bill McKibben’s Wandering Home, about his long walk from his home in Vermont to his home in the Adirondacks, a book I will use in my new class in the fall, a book that combines close observation, personal narrative and an urgent call to action. This I want my students to read, especially as we move into a year of presidential campaigns, of critical questions about Iraq, about who we should be in the world. I want them to have time to slow down and turn over in their hands the urgent questions of our time and I want them to think about time and place. I want them to remember their own collections of spectacles and connect them to the world.

How do we help our students, these Milennials who, Marilee Jones, Dean of Admissions at M.I.T., described during her keynote (at the Tufts University’s conference: Educating the Ne(x)t Generation), as the least healthy (most anxious, sleep-deprived, poorly nourished) generation ever: “The collective pressure is making kids sick.” As she pointed out, we have only ourselves to blame for this debilitating pressure: parents and most of their teachers are Boomers, the self-involved generation all about happiness and self-actualization and choices, our identities caught up in careers, caught up in our kids’ identities– we’re over-involved with them, we live vicariously through them, and have high expectations of them. How are they expected to slow down if we don’t? How are they supposed to have time to think creatively or mess around outside if even the playgrounds we build are managed?


The new rituals of traveling back and forth to New Hampshire, of hanging out with retirees instead of college students during my semester leave, of being with my father as he slowly moves towards the end of life and then with my seventeen-year-old daughter at home as she moves towards the beginning of life away from home have me wanting to take a class on a trail–the same one week after week, sometimes with notebooks or cameras or recorders, sometimes without, silently, sometimes as a group, sometimes solo and see what happens. It has plunged me back into the pleasures and significance of unexpected informal learning, the importance of paying attention to the local, of learning to look at the road every week and see it, really see it for the first time in twenty-five years, instead of listening to music or zoning out into thoughts of my teaching, of my blogging, of my parenting, of all the things I have left undone.

The road is one I’ve been driving for over twenty-five years but never every week. At first, this fall, the shifting light and color of the natural landscape (fall melting into winter) and the shifting rhythms of the human travel week (quiet Tuesdays, busy Fridays) kept me occupied. At first I played around with my camera:

Then gradually I started taking note of the particulars of the humanscape I had never noticed along the way:

weybridgebarn rochestercemetery

And now back home I think about how lucky I am to be on this journey right now: how next week I’ll be giving a workshop in Denver to independent-school teachers with Barbara Sawhill who has written a beautiful post about informal learning with her students through Skype and talkand then back to my Vermont-New Hampshire commute before heading to the U.K. to give a talk to educators in the post-16 sector. Thinking about K-12 learning, about post-16 learning, about teaching, about what social software has to do with any of this, all while tracing this quiet, intense passage with my family has been remarkable. I am acutely aware of the importance of examining how and why we privilege certain kinds of learning and learners in our classrooms and to thinking about the value and context of everyday informal learning as Peter Sawchuk does in his excellent book: Adult Learning and Technology in Working-Class Life. In those talks I want to explore ways in which moving out into the connected spaces of the internet can bring huge gifts to the classroom–any classroom– if we ground our learning communities in the very real and present local. Even in traditional learning institutions teachers and students will benefit from considering and sharing their own learning histories, then noticing and experiencing the contact zones within this learning community, noticing and experiencing the landscape and peoplescape around them, thinking about why and how such things as blogging might help to deepen the learning or inhibit us as Laura wonders in a recent post, as we connect to one another so publicly as my student Katie explores in a wonderful post that in part answers, I believe, Jill’s question about whether students are tiring of blogging.

In our classrooms we have for so long woven pretty pale, stiff excuses for richly hued, complex, textured tapestries of a group’s time together thinking, listening, talking and creating. We can do better. I can do better, by honoring the personal and informal and ordinary within the confines of formal learning, by slowing down, by messing around, by looking for signs of the lynx and beaver all while asking why people crave the sameness of a Starbucks, while as BBC Washington correspondent Matt Frei says about recent stories in the news: “We have been captivated because each one of these escapades featured an unscripted moment of hilarity, insanity or frailty in our otherwise so scripted world.”

I’d like to explore other kinds of unscripted moments in my classes–slowly– the personal and ordinary, turning them over and over in our hands, connecting them to our formal learning experience and to each other in our pursuit of deep learning about ourselves and the world and how we want to live within take our participatory culture .

Ganleymen1939.jpg My grandfather, my uncle, my father ( the older brother) in 1939, Upstate New York

Fertile Learning Grounds: “Network Ecology Stories” and “Creative Vernacular”

decembertree sunrisedecmber
Bryan Alexander raises some really interesting questions in his latest post, “Web 2.0 Network Ecology Stories“, a post extended by Alan Levine this morning.

Bryan comments on how –in his example– digital photos posted to his blog become “microcontent connecting people along lines of shared interest, based on what Ton Zylstra calls ‘social objects.’ Very easy, fluid, direct.” And then at the end of his post he asks:

How are we acculturating these practices? Is this sort of social object networking part of information literacy, media literacy? How often does popular culture represent this practice in tv news, search scenes in movies? And academia, from scholarly bibliography practices to general pedagogy, from The Chronicle to advising grad students, how are we making, sharing, digesting such stories?

These questions, looked at from a slightly different perspective (that of a teacher designing a new first-year seminar for the fall about reading and writing contemporary creative nonfiction), open all kinds of promising avenues for my teaching. I want to think about how my students might examine and experiment with these new, truly dispersed yet interconnected narratives assembled bit by bit, one creator not necessarily even aware of the movement of his/her expression as it is connected to asynchronously, digested, reworked, and remixed.

Are Bryan’s and Alan’s stories pointing to emerging forms I can use, a new kind of renga, perhaps, Exquisite Corpseor Web 2.0 freestyling? Or do we take what we find and create new stories simply by isolating them within a new context, like Spencer’s “Found Fridays,” one of my favorite weekly blog-stops. The potential problems of “found” are raised by the recent article in Slate (Thanks, Hector) by David Segal: “Can photographers be plagiarists?” And this morning’s NPR’s Scott Simon piece about presidential hopefuls brings up tensions arising from stories popping up when least expected–politician stories have shifted due to cellphones and real-time citizen reporting (the two senators interviewed remarked on the disappearance of humor in speeches, the lack of substance as hopefuls grow ever more wary of how their words might come back to bite them). Incredibly interesting and important things for our undergraduates to be considering as they get ready to leave school.

I can see the class thinking about what someone like Sophie Calle might do with these new kinds of overheard and found stories. Or they might try out an Oliver Luker-esque use of ” the socialised internet for the development and presentation of contemporary art and literature” aiming “to establish a new curatorial discourse based on artistic working practices.”

Indeed, I’d like students to explore the role of what Jean Burgess calls vernacular creativity in their own lives and locales, and in their own creations. Why do spend so much time worrying about the evils of wikipedia et al and so little time thinking about the rich potential of discoveries online, of unanticipated learning that is as likely to be postiive as negative?

Perhaps, in mulling over Bryan’s questions and the creative possibilities offered us by our transparent connectedness to the world, we’ll try out some community collaborative storytelling such as compiled by a group in Northern Ireland, including my favorite, murmur.

Little did Bryan know that his post would help me in this work of considering the broad outlines of a learning experience for new undergraduates. Lovely.

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.


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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