If handing blogs to students means a shift in the way they write, then shouldn’t it also mean a shift in the way we look at their writing?

Why are we having such a hard time INTEGRATING rather than applying technology in all but a very few classes? — Perhaps because blogging seems not to honor the high-level formalized version of Bloom’s taxonomy that we’ve come to associate with “good college writing and thinking.” This isn’t any earth-shaking revelation. But it’s something I find myself talking to people about almost every day.

Dennis Jerz, in notes from a 2004 CCCCs presentation on the Forced Blogging Paradigm, mentions the tension between blogging formal papers and “real” blogging, which is of course more fluid, more improvisational than much of the writing assigned in classrooms.
With this tension comes the teacher’s reluctance to make or adjust to corresponding shifts in the entire classroom paradigm, in the role of the teacher.

In the 1970s and 80s, following the lead of Peter Elbow and Donald Graves , among others, we focussed on process–how to get ideas stirring and on the paper, how to infuse the process with energy and excitement. This kind of writing instruction is now limiting–we have to move beyond this now codified approach. Of course, detractors think that blogging embraces the messiness, the anything-goes-mentality, the very worst of the writing-process; and on first view, student blogging can be extremely undisciplined and informal, dynamically unruly in its humor and irreverence, its disregard for rules and conventions. Yup, this work unsettles just about everyone–still–teachers, administrators, parents and even the students themselves. We hand over the reins of our courses in large part to the students themselves. At least, this is my approach. And sometimes our students write downright incoherent entries due to a lack of simple copyediting , (take this recent one on my artswriting blog, for example). What do we do? Do we jump in and correct the mistakes, clean it up before the world sees and judges? Or do we wait to see what the class will say or do? Will anyone notice? Will anyone care? And if they don’t?

On the collaborative class blog, a doubly public space (student writing being thus published to the class community and to the anonymous blog-reading public beyond), we shift our focus to pointing out what is working and where, and what questions have been overlooked, or when a potential avenue has not been considered. We treat student writers as worthy and able contributors to the larger, historical conversation about our subject matter. And so (no matter how much we might want to from time to time) we don’t jump all over them on the blog. Or at least, we don’t ink up their writing. We keep them writing, joining the conversation, learning by doing, learning by reading, learning by making mistakes. To some it seems as though this slow-response mode means that we’re letting kids get away with shoddy writing. And once we add multi-media options into the mix–forget it, we’ve bought into the whole easy-is-best, lowest-common-denominator-works-fine American reality, our detractors worry. Parents worry. (I heard another set of them ask just that question this past weekend during a presentation of student multi-media work.)

And yet because the work is truly published, they do not ultimately get away with sloppy thinking or writing, except in the most informal spaces on the blog. They do not hide behind process the way many did in the 70s and 80s. They see all their previous posts and all those by their cohorts, and they learn from their mistakes. Right there in the open.

In a way, we’re returning to the old Socratic classroom ideal and also to the English system of the tutorial, saying to our students, “Go on–through the blog, check out the world and what’s going on; try out your writing out there. What kind of response do you get? And then in class and in my office we’ll talk about effective writing. We’ll put pressure on it. Then you’ll go out and try again.”

When I took a look today at some of the writing starting to open up on the artswriting blog–especially between writers–I see them loosening the chains, the fetters of AP English thinking and writing; I see them asking questions of one another to get them to push the writing along. Until they have something to say and feel that they’ve gotta say it, the lessons of sentence variety and structure and rhetorical grammar will not matter. Publishing raises the stakes; they want to move their readers, to entertain them, to educate them–they are writing for a real rather than a manufactured or nonexistent audience. They are writing with purpose and so begin to ask me questions in those f2f conferences about flow and style, about voice and humor, about the hows and the whys.
And then I make them read and emulate, and tear apart what they read from a writer’s perspective.

So I don’t use blogs in my classes for my students’ personal rants or diaries, but as a public space in which we must try to reach our readers and move them; we don’t want to contribute to needless fill in the blogosphere. We should want our writing to count, to matter, to move something or someone–every time–if we get favorable responses that strike us as honest and authentic, then we’ll know we’ve written well or at least not badly, and that writing matters, our writing matters.

Australia, Canada, France Blogging

Once again I find myself turning to bloggers from across the sea as I seek to ground the art in the scholarship, and to break away from viewing authoring on the web as just a means of publishing the things my students and I could do just as well without the Web.

I turn a good deal to people I met at BLOGTALK2, including Lee Bryant and Suw Charman at Headshift, and Mikel Maron with his WorldKitin England; Ton Zylstra in The Netherlands, and from Canada, the inimitableRoland Tanglao and Cyprien Lomas in addition to Aaron Campbell and others.

But I find myself heading to Australia on most days, especially when I’m feeling a little stale, a little uninspired. Just look at the exhibition,Australia Culture Now 2004 when you need help remembering why you’re doing this in the face of a lot of resistance. Of the many bloggers down there doing interesting and fresh work, Adrian Miles is keeping perhaps the most interesting blog of allVideoblog:Vog.2, the first filled with exceptional insights into Web authoring, the second explorations into vogging. His article “Soft Videography” is a must-read for those of us interested in thinking about how authoring video for the web differs from that for the big screen. I am thinking of trying out with my students some of what he’s been doing–really creating digital stories in the Web environment rather than merely embedding “finished” products on our blogs.

And by way of Bryan Alexander (and orginally Jill Walker (in Norway) comes word of a new book on blogs (in America) from Paris, “The Mirror and the Veil…”. Looking forward to reading it.

These artists, thinkers, bloggers, voggers from around the world have me wishing I could take a semester (a year!) to travel about visiting their classrooms and their labs, adding an f2f element to the e2e reality.

TIME, SPACE and the Edublogger

As the fall semester’s opening looms in the near distance, as summer deadlines line up at my door, as the Project for Integrated Expression students pack their bags for their Friday arrival on campus, and as I try to get to my new course blog, I find myself thinking about this blog and how it has given me the space this summer to ruminate on bloggy notions, to argue with blogger friends and colleagues, and to play around with some multi-media options. As I turn to the awZ: artswriting ‘zine blog‘ I’ll be torn about where to post my reflections, questions, narratives and essays–There? Here? Both places?

Clearly I don’t have the full interconnected blog system down–I’m not exactly sure where one blog will begin and the other end. I’m not sure I am envisioning the full potential of the spaces within the blog and between the blogs. Will I eventually have a handful of blogs in addition to my course blogs? Special topic blogs, project blogs–that kind of thing? The blog within the blog within the blog? I did a bit of sidebar blogging on my Contemporary Ireland Blog, called “BG Daily,” when the students took over the blog and posted their own entries to the homepage space.

I’d like to see more examples of higher ed blogs linked to one another, weaving a fabric of a single person’s oeuvre, in a sense, course to course, project to project, or community to community. Not just listed side by side or in some kind of table of contents but really linked, woven, referred to, used again through a living archive. I’d like to do even more of that in more own course blogs though my students have done a bit of it in all my classes, picking up threads from one another’s work and spinning them into something new, seeing the Web as “more complex, unpredictable and dynamic than any novel that could have been written by a single human writer” (Manovich, Intro, New Media Reader, 2003, 15) After all, what Robert Coover described in his NYT Book Review piece, “The End of Books,” in 1992 is still, I believe, true:

Writing students are notoriously conservative creatures. They write stubbornly and hopefully within the tradition of what they have read. Getting them to try out alternative or innovative forms is harder than talking them into chastity as a lifestyle. But confronted with hyperspace, they have no choice: all the comforting structures have been erased. It’s improvise or go home.”

I’ m trying, believe me.
I really haven’t yet figured out the spatial relationships or the potential for the image to supplant text. But it’s comforting to read that other bloggers are still feeling their way in the dark with their own questions of time and space:

Suw Charman, inveterate blogger who suddenly finds herself making her living blogging (her personal blog, Chocolate and Vodka”), and her professional blog, Strange Attractor), has had a few uneasy moments:

I am not the only person to deal with the fact that, at some point, your personal blog ceases to appear personal and starts to appear professional. At the beginning of the year Michael O’Connor Clarke went through the same thought process that I am going through now. Journalist David Akin has more recently felt the need to explain who pays for his blog.

My students do not blog long enough at a clip to feel that kind of metamorphosis (12 weeks unless they take back-to-back courses with me or with my close colleaguessince very few other profs are blogging in their classes around here.) This kind of blogging ends (unfortunately) for most, at the end of the course, a built in death notice, if you will

Suw also says, on “Feeding the Beast” post:

Blogs are the same, you have to figure out the boundaries of your comfort zone – how often to post, what to post, what style, how that fits in with your job and the rest of your life. Failing to find out where you’re comfortable will almost certainly result in a decreased desire to post, neglect of your blog and ultimately, its untimely death.

Balance. When the topic of the upcoming opening faculty meeting is “Time,” you know you’ve really got to see the value of blogging to stick with it, especially beyond the linklog kind of blogging. It takes time to develop a blogging rhythm, to know how deeply you want to delve into any particular topic, and therein lies the “Catch-22” for many erstwhile classroom bloggers–they don’t have enough time to give blogging a real go, to understand the need to integrate blogs carefully into the pedagogical framework of a course in order for them to have any significant value. It takes time. And good blogging, as Suw, points out, takes time.

Gadgets in the Classroom

Via Paul Amsbary comes News Observor’s chat with Duke University’s Tracey Futhey about an-iPOD-for every-student program.

In my previous two postings and now over at Héctor’s Future of Communities class blog, Héctor and I have been discussing teachers and technology, and the reality of this new generation of tech-reared students reaching our undergraduate classrooms, and their relationship with technology and history and their own place in the world. Now along comes this interesting interview–

Futhey says, “How can we now take something that is a consumer application and see if it has significant value as an educational tool as well? It’s an experiment.” What I admire about this statement is the willingness NOT to have the answers, to experiment! Ha, imagine an entire university experimenting with iPODs in the classroom! And to understand that the kids are already using the tool and enthusiatic about it–what if we take these “gadgets” and see how they can be used creatively as part of the learning process–how can they be used for positive change and not just for their entertainment and/or commercial value?

I’m hopeful that the Duke University experiment will go well because Futhey understands that:

Technology is just another tool. It’s a very powerful tool, but it all really depends on how faculty view and consider the learning experience. It’s not the be-all, end-all. Technology is not going to take a mediocre teacher and make them a good teacher. Technology can help a good teacher to deliver the tools more effectively, sometimes more interactively and extend the reach to the students outside of the classroom. But it’s not the solution; it’s part of a package.

Indeed. Of course it gets me wondering just how they are helping the faculty incorporate these tools. Are there workshops? Is there mentoring? What’s the incentive? What’s the support system being put into place?

Convergence Theory?

I am struck by the convergences in my life (usually I am talking about emergence)–never before have I found myself nodding my head quite so vigorously when my older brother, who works as Director of Organizing and research for CSEA, speaks about his work in California, for example. And I don’t mean to imply that Michael and I do not see eye-to-eye on the issues confronting our culture and our world. Not at all. Indeed, I just gave a toast at his fiftieth birthday party crediting him with much of my political-consciousness education and for the gift of a passionate relationship with Ireland among other essential parts of my life. But before now I have always admired his work rather than felt I could contribute to it in any way–I listened but rarely if ever advised –he, trying to change the whole world by working to change the political realities of wherever he is–California, in particular. What could I, writer and college teacher, possibly have to tell him the ultimate do-er?

But during this brief weekend family celebration in Maine we just had, he started talking about the work he’s doing in leadership training with the union, how he has to help the natural leaders in every locale truly lead by not just getting their people to the polls but to run for office themselves. Why shouldn’t they take an active role in government. He showed me books–among them James MacGregor Burns’ Academy of Leadership and his Transforming Leadership. I found myself thinking–yup, blogs, Michael and digital storytelling, these tools, these modes of communicating, expressing, chronicling and connecting, could help in this essential work of unseating a rogue governor and an even worse president. Getting these leaders together in the workshop and then providing them with the means of staying in contact with one another as they move into this work, makes sense to me. And I don’t think I’m getting carried away…

All weekend I found myself turning to one family member or another, and saying, “You should really think about how digital stories [or blogging] might serve you in this work”. It was uncanny. And not a little unsettling. This medium is taking off all around us in ways no one could have anticipated. It’s glorious and inspiring and makes me think that we have a chance to make a difference in the world, to make sure that everyone has equal access to the power of stories and publishing tools and communication opportunities.

Think about how many people have viewed Jib Jab’s Bush/Kerry “This Land”? (thanks, Patti) My students could put something like this together and have some five million hits to their blog. Okay, so that puts us back to to Steven Johnson and Emergence . The whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts…

Yet another example of how efficacy is the underpinning of all of this work. Yup. Im still hammering away at the convergence of emergence, efficacy and collective intelligence. I know that Héctor Vila would say it all returns to old Emerson, and I don’t doubt that he is right, but I love the fact that through emails from teachers, conversations with activist brothers and educational-software researcher sisters-in-law, symposium encounters with IT people and young software developers–all quite new to me– my understanding of the work I am undertaking in my own classes is really beginning to take shape.

Storytelling on the Web

I’ve just waded into an e-mail discussion for the first time, one I;ve been listening in on invited, but until a post was made about storytelling and communities, specifically digital storytelling a la Joe Lambert and his Center for Digital Storytelling, I didn’t feel the urge to jump in. Now that I have, I suddenly see digital storytelling in educational contexts all over the place. Here, for instance, is a compendium of Courses worldwide using storytelling. Mind you, we’re always talking digital storytelling here, but it seems as though more and more classrooms are seeing the benefits of having kids tell stories/make movies as ways to a) create community, b)teach media literacy and production skills and c) initiate civic engagement.

Blogging from BLOGTALK

Where do I begin? Yesterday I spent 14 hours immersed in the conversations of some 30 fabulously motivated, serious and committed blogger devotees during BLOGWALK 3, to which I was lucky enough to get invited. As I sift through the impressions, reflect on what I heard and learned, I will blog them. For now (I am sitting in the Q & A session following the first panel of the actual BLOGTALK conference) I can say that people are thinking hard about the next stage for blogs and blogging–about what makes a “good” or “successful” blog and how they create networks, and how they might or might not promote action. Of the 30 there, only a handful are particularly interested in edublogging, but those that are seem interested in some of the same concerns as I am. More later…

The first morning sessions were quite interesting –Mark Bernstein from Eastgate spoke about “The Social Physics of New Weblog Technologies”–advocating hard research on how blogs affect writing and users. The talk about “Snipsnap” makes me want to look at the software that combines wikis and weblogs–good for groups.

Héctor should take a look at the work the Austrian group is doing with Zoomblox which is making blogging exceedingly easy and enticing for children. It’s still in development. Terrific project with the Viennese Children’s Museum.

Jorg Kantel sees blogs as the next step on the continuum from radio to alternative newspapers, and videos–I’d like to go back and see his presentaion text as he was rushed and had to skip a good deal of the presentation.

Jan Hoem from Norway talked about videblogs as collective documentaries and porposed some very easy collective editing features which should have a big effect on the kind of digital storytelling Héctor is doing with the Orton project.

Next session about to start. Will continue anon…