Blogging and Time

I’m looking at a busy week ahead: guiding students through a research project (once again iPODs are coming to the rescue–more on that this weekend), helping international students untangle the English language, mentoring my thesis advisees, participating in an edtechtalk.com Ed Tech Talk Show Sunday morning with Dave Cormier and Jeff Lebow, presenting some of my classroom podcasting adventures at the CET podcasting seminar, presenting social software and digital storytelling to The Orton Family Foundation, several conference calls hammering out talks I’ll give this winter–and on it goes, which brings me back to the issue all edubloggers touch upon–TIME.

When I think I’m about to be sucked right into this screen, I head out with the dog and connect with the details of the land–of course sometimes in the back of my mind even then I’m thinking about blogging and teaching, for I often lug my camera with me:

frostyleaf.jpg frostonleaves.jpg milkweed.jpg
and then post the images to one group of students or another. I know that will strike some people as too much–of my having a hard time drawing lines between my personal time and my professional time. But one of the appeals of social software for me is that it allows me to feel as though I am talking and writing through and around and in time and space rather than in discrete, finite boxes stapled together. Hmmm…I’m not sure that makes a great deal of sense. Let me try again: through multimedia blogging’s connectivity, not only can I link my writing to the thoughts and ideas of people I read online, I can link back to my own earlier thoughts or beginnings of ideas through the archives and internal search mechanisms–I am linked to my process and progress, and to my homelife as it intersects with my work. And each time I do, the story becomes denser and more interesting to me. So questions about time–how much time this Web work takes–are difficult to answer and seem , well, pretty beside the point these days. I blog when I have something I am working out; teaching with blogs takes as much time as teaching with anything else. And taking the time to play around with Frappr for my world bloggers and learn how to skypecast a la Will and how or if I can use it in the classroom is part of what I do as a dedicated teacher–I stay up with my field–teaching. And of course good teaching takes a lot of time. Reflective practices take a lot of time. Nurturing communities takes a lot of time. So I’m okay with the time it takes.

Indeed, what I am discovering in this work is an integrated yet fluid approach to life. Think folksonomies. Think tagging. I want to be able to roam through my day’s work a bit more freely than I can now, pulling in the various parts of life together rather than separating them into neat boxes.

A new sense of class time: Yesterday I had my students take several online quizzes on paraphrasing and comma usage. They clearly enjoyed themselves–a bunch of eighteen-year-olds playing a little interactive game. Being together in the room, doing the exercises in pairs, shouting out results and scores to the full group, asking me questions–they felt like kids again for a moment as though they were letting that part of themselves into the classroom for the first time. We’ve pretty much eliminated playfulness from the college classroom (except for in the sciences)–we have no time for it–and for the first time yesterday I really saw the benefits of bringing some gaming into my courses. Slowing down. Of course now I can’t wait to talk with Bryan next week about what he’s been discovering in gaming in the higher ed world–and suddenly I’m back to thinking about Janet Murray and Howard Rheingold and Henry Jenkins. I’m back reading Adrian Miles’ blog. For me blogging slows time down because it asks me to forget about time as I reach out associatively into ideas. At least that’s how I feeling today.
Sunday, when I’m participating in my first webcast? I’m sure I’ll feel the press of time, big time.

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Blog Woes with MT Upgrade

My latest post has gone missing for the time being as we upgrade MT. I’ll be back on as soon as possible. The joys, the joys…

Creative Writing Students on Podcasts

My EL170, Introduction to Creative Writing Course just wrapped up the semester (well, formally–that is; we plan to meet one more time to read and screen finished projects), and it was, I think, about as good as it gets for a teacher, and a pretty remarkable first blogging experience for them. If ever a class had a chance of moving the blogging community out of the classroom and into their lives at semester’s end, this would be the one. Of course there’s the distraction of summer, and the fact that 80% of them are going abroad next year. Will this community and its vehicle call loudly enough to keep them blogging collaboratively? Will the creative writing focus morph into something altogether different?

One interesting outcome of this blog-centric class is their embrace of the podcast. They loved recording their own work and then hearing it on the blog, and they found it helpful to hear someone else reading their work, and to hear the rest of the class read their work. I see it as one of the elements that created a kind of magic here this semester. They even asked me to record the silly poemI wrote and read to them in the final class meeting.

Now they want me to record myself reading a story to them. And they want the one student who has to leave campus before the group get-together to record her poems and post them to the blog, so we can play them that evening and have them for posterity.

I also think the podcasting had something to do with the number of students wanting to try out digital storytelling for their final projects–having discovered the pleasures of reading aloud and recording, they were open to experimenting with multimedia authoring as well. One piece of the technology puzzle naturally led to another, and as they gained skill in using the tools, they also gained the critical apparatus necessary for becoming astute readers of New Media. Once again, if the pedagogy leads the technology use, and if that pedagogy has the formation of a strong learning collective at its center, then the learning outcomes will be quite stunning.

I came across this podcasting lit game today as I poked around a bit to see what other people in lit and creative writing might be doing in their classes with podcasting. A useful tool for learning about writers’ voices. I’d like to see the professor let the students do the readings, too, though, for I am convinced that they learn by doing the reading and then playing it back.

Less successful though promising this semester (but only because I ran out of time before I could post the podcasts) was recording students giving short presentations twice–once in my office where they could read their talk if they liked, and then once in front of the class. My plan is to embed both versions on the blog for them to compare and to evaluate. Our students need a good deal of practice in public speaking, and though we can give them feedback, hearing themselves will provide much more effective self-evaluation tools. Podcasting is so effortless (compared to videotaping, for instance) that we should be able to model and analyze their presentations with them almost on the spot. Next semester…

Social software and our students

Usually I think and write about how I see blogging working in my classes from my standpoint as teacher. I’m interested in the pedagogical ramifications of writing on the Web for the Web, of enhancing a strong student-centered learning collaborative through a virtual community of practice. Increasingly I find my thoughts are moving beyond the hows and why of technology integration within my classroom (for the mostpart that’s working pretty smoothly) to what’s going on for these students outside, beyond and after they leave my classroom community.

What impact does a classroom blogging practice have on students in an environment in which blogging is the exception. What happens to students who have blogged collaboratively as well as individually in my classes when they discover that outside a very few courses, there’s little opportunity for multi-media authoring, blogging or wiki-making? Will they start asking for blogs in their other classes?

How does the world experience these students? On the one hand, it’s interesting to see the press picking up on the social software phenomenon in colleges with articles out this month, for example,in the Christian Science Monitor on colleges using student blogs as recruitment tools, and the Washington Post, which has written intelligently about wikis in Mark Phillipson’s Bowdoin classroom:

Some course sites read like journals, some like debates and some shimmy in and out of topics with music, photos and video pulling readers along. One of Phillipson’s students drew a picture of a poem; another made a movie. Wikis can encourage creativity, remove the limits on class time, give professors a better sense of student understanding and interest and keep students writing, thinking and questioning.

Students in sophomore [Georgetown] Craig Kessler’s English class got hooked, and he said they became closer and more engaged than in any class he has taken. When the semester ended this winter, students asked the professor, David Lipscomb: Could they keep writing the blog?

Ah, yes, this is precisely what I’m wondering–what happens to students wanting to keep blogging after the course is done. What happens to their professors who hear about this virtual community of practice from their students (rather than from me)?

Even though I find that recent national coverage of political bloggers and even articles in our student-run newspaper and the fall issue of Middlebury Magazine on some of my students’ blogging has prompted more questions about blogging from colleagues, they aren’t moving to the blog or to Web-authoring with any speed. For one thing, they feel as though they don’t have the time to think it through–how to use social software within an already pressured syllabus and successful classroom. And so while many faculty use Middlebury’s homegrown CMT, Segue, few use straight-up blogs or wikis, and even fewer have students blog as part of their courses. And that’s fine of course. But where does that leave the student who gets a taste of blogging and finds it to have a positive impact on their learning? What happens when this student sees an opportunity just ripe for blogging or wiki-authoring? Will she speak up?

Mind you, most students will happily (or not so happily at first as I mentioned in my last post) blog away in my classes and then drop the blog at the end of the course. Some of them even get uneasy a year or two down the road about their early writing remaining on the Web long after they have grown beyond that level. (Are they reading the accounts of bloggers losing their jobs?–A topic I’d like to return to at some point–the uneasiness some students have about putting their work out there becuase of the permanence of the Web) But this past year I’ve also had a number of students upset about losing the blog at the end of the semester–first because making the switch from Manila to Movable Type wreaked havoc with old course blogs and momentum was lost (I’d like to give some thought one of these days to that question, too–what is the significance of momentum to the classroom blogging/wiki experience?), and so the blogging community from those classes lost its footing and its identity as bloggers; and second, because once one’s left a blogging community, blogging can get awfully lonely. Students do not, in my experience, wish to hang out there alone with no one reading and commenting and linking. And they really don’t know how to get their own blogs going–they don’t, perhaps, have the patience to build up a blogging community. They like the one I set up for them. It’s easy, and they’re already connected to an experienced, engaged community.

One former student I write about from time to time, the bloggerless blogger, jumps onto every blog he can, but he won’t start his own blog no matter how much I encourage him to do so. He craves the collaborative MOTHERBLOG and its emerging spontaneous conversations, the linking between blogs on the blogroll, not the monologue of a single blogger posting out into the wind day after day. Other students dream up discrete, finite blogging projects (in India and Antarctica, for example). But they feel alone, and craving the energy, the commitment and the connectivity of this kind of engagement with the life of the mind afforded by the sleepless blog.

And so, I am working on ways to extend the blogging past the semester, and how to create MOTHERBLOGS that might link majors or students out on study abroad programs–to think of ways to keep these marvelous classroom blogs alive as more than archives for the next group to learn from. It’s not enough to put the students in the center of the classroom; we have to help them see themselves as creators of communities of practice beyond our semester-long gatherings.

Thoughts as the semester opens…

Evening after evening as I chopped vegetables for dinner, I used to listen to All Things Considered and think that of all the media outlets, NPR made some effort at carrying NEWS, at finding out what’s really going on. But lately, I’ve been getting restless as I listen to yet another broadcast of what sounds just like what they had covered the night before instead of a ferreting out of what’s really going on–where’s the piece about the government requiring Iraqi farmers to purchase their seed from American companies instead of carrying seed over from the previous harvest, for example? Did NPR’s November 24 spot do more than give the story a quick soundbyte?

And so, I find myself more often than not, checking the Web for news or flipping on the iPOD instead of doing what a historian’s daughter , a political activist’s sister, and a resident of the sometimes proud state of Vermont used to do. And then a couple of weeks ago when I decided to give NPR another try, they did a little piece on podcasting. And at the end of it, I felt as though they had just coasted across the easiest, the top-layer of podcasting. Really. Why did they even bother except that it filled time, was hip and diverting.

Fortunately, not all is so bleak– listening to my students, past and present, and to my two teenaged daughters, I see how exciting and efficacious learning about the world and its current state can be if it’s done thoughtfully. Last week I watched my fifteen-year-old stuffing the last few items into her backpack for a four-month journey to South America with The Traveling School. She has propelled herself through high school at a ridiculous speed, careening through four years of high school Spanish and English and history and science and math in two and a half, learning little. Bored. Fed up. Restless. Schoolwork so empty, so driven by meaningless standards, and so cut off from her life–what she’s thinking about and wondering about–that the only goal is to get through school as quickly as possible. And so off she went with nine other girls and three teachers, learning about the world as they go.

And then there’s the phonecall today from my older daughter at Barnard College who was so jazzed about her “reacting to the Past” class that she just had to call. History is taught not through lecture but through role-playing experiences. To hear that kid talk about Rousseau…wow…

And then there’s my student Piya who took her blog to India and narrated her journey, examined the ideas and circumstances of the culture, and received replies from an incredibly varied readership–her peers at college, her professors, her family, and other readers interested in the Indian diaspora.

But these girls are lucky–and privileged–to be able to seek out these kinds of meaningful learning experiences. And as many point out to me, especially those involved in public education, I teach in a magic cocoon of a place, with the luxury of small classes and prepared, motivated students excited about their studies. True true. But I feel we could be doing so much more here where I sit, too. After all, didn’t the folks who run NPR and the other so-called independent media go to these kinds of schools? How can I promote more deep critical independent inquiry in my students while encouraging them to develop community awareness? How can I equip them with the skills to use writing to communicate their ideas, discoveries and experiences to the world–to speak out?

One way is to keep exploring the possibilities of integrating technology effectively into the classroom–not the gloss and shimmer of the hip and the new but the educational and community-building potential of the tools. I am excited by the kinds of experiments Héctor and I are undertaking this semester exploring collaborative memory and knowledge making through narrating the courses on a wiki shared by our classes, and podcasting student presentations to create an ongoing, living archive of the learning as well as a powerful self-evaluation tool for our students. I can explore ways to use these tools to engage learners, to extend the reach of the classroom, to help make the learning meaningful. But they have to get out of the classroom itself. And sometimes the only way that’s practical is virtually.

And so these are my notes to self as I begin the new semester–use the tools carefully and with pedagogical purpose in my classes, reflect often on the experience, collaborate frequently with colleagues here and at other colleges, and experiment fearlessly.

Conference Highlights

It was great to see Sarah Lohnes at NITLE, and my students are getting a charge out of the fact that she used their blog, awZ, as one of her classroom blogging examples during her presentation on Blogs in Higher Ed.

Another highlight was the fabulous keynote speech by Elizabeth Daley , Director of the Annenberg Center at USC. She spoke about multi-media authoring as a viable means of scholarly academic discourse, and about the reality of using and understanding media in our lives and classrooms. She exhibited examples of exemplary student and faculty multi-media authoring while insisting on the need to ground the work within the discipline, within the professor’s research, explaining that at USC, her group partners with professors across the curriculum who first will use multi-media authoring in their own research before bringing it to their classes. She argues that you cannot slap technology onto the classroom and have someone else come in to teach a unit on technology and then leave once the unit’s done. You, as the teacher, have to understand and use the technology as an integral part of your own authoring and research process. Yes! Well, she was just extraordinary—her group is developing a multi-media authoring product (easy easy easy, she says, though still in Beta stage): pk3. They are also publishing an ejournal, Vectors, the first peer-reviewed, cross-disciplinary journal publishing multimedia work in traditional disciplines. Elizabeth Daley is, it seems, a visionary who makes things happen!

Nothing like getting the teacher out of town and off the blog to get the students in there, blogging it up—in the most informal of tones in their discussions, I must say–
I showed them how a Dutch blogger has referenced their blog on hers, (of course, being in Dutch, there’s no way to know exactly what the writer is saying about them and their blogging efforts), a revelation that has them surprised and pleased.

On the blog right now discussions are developing along several lines: politics and art, the issues raised when writing a reviewin a local periodical, the need for a story-without-words to be a story nonetheless with a comprehensible narrative arc.

Phones, Cameras & Games in the Classroom

Héctor speaks quite convincingly about how this new generation of adolescents is not truly the Net-Generation, but rather an in-between generation, neither here nor there, because they have heard as much about the time before computers as they have experienced life with computers. Until recently, I didn’t completely agree with him, but following some new-media moments with my students and my children, I’m coming around to his way of thinking.

Some observations about these kids:

Their parents are immigrants to cyberspace–they are, then, first generation inhabitants of this world. And as such, they move between the old and the new, largely being schooled in the old traditions (the old country, if you will, of a classical education) while living with their peers in the new world where they move with an uncanny (but oh-so-privileged) ease with their cellphones in their pockets, their iPODS in their backbacks, their laptops underarm. Of course, these plugged-in students swarm to the open spaces of our new library to work in close quarters with one another at the college computers (where are those laptops now?), watching movies or writing papers or conducting research or IM-ing–all of the above, probably, simultaneously– back-to-back, side-by-side tapping away, lost within their own little worlds but touching one another, together, as much as possible. (I’ll have to post a photo of this phenomenon sometime soon.) Accordingly,there’s an electric atmosphere tinged with tension–feeling the excitement of the new land while carrying the expectations of the old.

I watch in wonder as they roam so fluidly, integrating the various media seemingly seamlessly into their lives. My daughter at Barnard will call me from the streets of New York as she exits the Metropolitan Museum with a clutch of friends, to tell me that she saw her favorite Degas again; I can hear in the background her friends talking; she breaks away from me briefly to say something to them; a taxi horn blares. “Bye, Mom–gotta go catch some dinner now,” she says and hangs up. Calling someone is a much more deliberate act for me–I isolate myself from everything else to hold the receiver in my hand and focus on whomever I am calling, at least for that brief moment. Not so this generation. (More on cellphones here)

And my younger daughter sits in the back seat of the car, as we drive home, text messaging and chuckling to herself, and once we’re home, races to the computer to IM while she hooks into some music station, plays a few rounds of some online game or other as she does her homework. I am often aghast. And in awe. My brain just can’t cope with so much simultaneous stimulation.

We, old-country denizens, fret, “It’s a fractured, fragmented, shallow way of living.” And yet, the bolder among us, those with some vision, see that perhaps we can learn a thing or two by bringing computer games, interactive television, texting and the like into our classrooms. It’s not exactly a “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality, but a realistic and open-minded inquiry into the possible benefits of the characteristics of this new world.

I, for one, would love to get my hands on one of the new iPODPhotos to try out in my classes–podcasting and the like.

I’d like to think about how FLICKR might work in my arts writing class, especially when we’re on the road and have camera phones handy.

What if my students wanted to create something truly interactive, a game for a final arts project? Several of them have already moved past me in their projects, composing music, taping phone conversations (with permission) to post, conducting online interviews for their artist profiles. Of course, they also get very very frustrated when the computer freezes or crashes, when they lose files or something seizes up somewhere. They’re incensed and swear they’d rather do without technology altogether. Ha–I’d like to see ’em try!

Will these kids get out there and vote tomorrow? That will be my first question in class in the morning–before “What’s new on the blog?“–did they (or will they) vote? Will these first-generation cyberspace inhabitants see voting as old-country or new?

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Sites related to texting and gaming I plan to spend more time checking out in the coming weeks, to think about how and if some of these approaches make sense in my classroom include:

The Shifted Librarian’s thoughts on text messaging in educational contexts (thanks to Will Richardson)

Work being done in the UK on computer games in the classroom, Here and here (thanks to Stephen Downes

And Flashstories from Stories1st.org.