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Blogging Matters

Why Blog After All?

For those (still) outside the blogosphere the question of why we blog does not even reach the status of a poser. It is not that easy to see why blogging matters to us. That is, you should imagine an impassive voice mumbling 'Why do you do that?' 'Doesn't it take too much time?' And you might even hear a voice -almost carrying the force of a full stop over the issue- demanding: 'What for?'

These voices were trained by the same education we have had. At the time before blogs could be envisioned. Blogging in education is still in an infancy or adolescence that sometimes needs to prove its value to the world of adults. To the actors in education. Universities have a pattern of success that builds upon tradition, method, research and plan. Our passionate talk of integrating technology sounds too like you-niversity, too informal and even dangerous.

The unsettling power of innovations is equally felt by peers and managers within the organisation. When the school needs equipment to set up a lab, the old question of ROI (return over investment) will crop up. What's the benefit of all this time-consuming blogging experience after all? And us, pioneer teachers, cannot explain to managers this need that, although becoming pervasive and evident to bloggers and Time magazine, doesn't yet exist for them. We tell them that we should bring this experiences to the class because the nature of information distribution is different and our students will need to face a new world. Come on! Even change is changing!

As a student of mine told me this week, this can be a hard message to pass to management. Leading companies like Apple have a strong innovation policy that overrides any market study. They do not stop development investment because they still need a survey to know what will sell best: they just do it right. And they create what we will find hard to live without. Ford said that if he had asked people what they wanted, they would have answered: Faster horses.

Schools though, are traditional artifacts. In order to replace obsolete PCs we will need to show management the investment is worth it. Needless to say, we will prove it with our own free and voluntary time investment/contribution! (No comments on this, please. Just read on). We tend to think that with more PCs at school, things could be different. But it is not a question of simply having equipment and broadband connections that can bring about the change. As Kelly from Canada very sharply points out in his comment in my previous post:

"We have access and we have the people who are trying these tools but there are few who are truly aware of the power that they have."

Sometimes even the teachers who embrace Web 2.0 have their own mind fetters to blog and end up clogging the Internet with book pages. And it is a power issue. At the planning stage of your blogging project you can hear your inner voice saying: What if my manager does not like it? And you must shut it up or you cannot really blog. Period.

It is a whole new frame of mind that has to change to make it happen. Playing with the tool and creating a hybrid online context can help. When I started my FCE Blog, I started a website on a blog engine. It wasn't until much later that I found myself blogging there. So I clearly arranged sections (always available at the site footer) like: Disclaimer, acknowledgements, site rules, privacy, links. And I am still preparing one on accessibility (still learning about it). After that, I believe I will become the first edublogger ever to have all those XX century links on a footer!

You want to laugh? According to MyBlogLog link-tracker stats, nobody seems to click on them! Except perhaps, the people who have taken to blogging after my presentation. Teachers attention is always drawn to them. The "book nature" of my blog. They also tend to start modeling their blogs after my profile or sections and I always wonder why don't they go for the more Web 2.0 aspects first?

I believe that part of the success of my blog in my school community is due to its seductive hybrid nature. You can -if you want- read it as a book. It is, though, a highly disruptive hypenlinked environment that is dressed up with some order, organised sections and a flavour of a book that one day will have a post called "The end". Reading all my blog and its links would take ages. Students will be forced to make autonomous decisions as to what to click, read and learn. And that is the essence of it.

Sharing, always sharing
I think that presentations by new teachers who blog can function as a decisive change agent. Sharing what we are experiencing -more than showing statistically proved facts- is indeed powerful. People start blogging!
Some teachers have told me about their playing with draft blogs that were never published. But they gave it a try.

I am happy to read the blogs of Patricia and Gabriela, attendees at my last year presentation of my students' blog. Their work is entirely a personal realisation of the task. They have taken things from me, but they have translated them to their own way of talking to students.

This week, Gabriela has opened up a new blog. She is no doubt Taking it Further. Her own introduction in the profile section, her account on learning paths, her writing style... all bear the marks of an accomplished blogger.

Don't read this, just listen to her:

"I’ve always wanted my students to get involved in their own process of learning. We teachers can artificially create the need to learn, the need to communicate but only if you go beyond the single moment of the class, you will be able to appropriate the language and in doing so, you’ll stop feeling that English is an appendix [...]"

And she wrote an acknowledgements section that after winking an eye on me reads:

"
When I started teaching adults (the beginnings of time) the most fashionable book was Kernel Lessons by Robert O’Neill. By that time he visited Argentina and I attended his lecture at Colegio Lasalle. I do not remember his words, but I remember this: that day I learnt my second really true methodology lesson –teaching is about sharing. Thanks."

Don't you just like her style? She can talk about a book no one would dare use today and at the same time she adds power to her thoughts. Great.

And if this passes blog owner approval, I'll have the honour of contributing with the first comment (Yes, blame me for suggesting comment moderation to her and I am a victim now!).

Dear Gabriela,

Each day I am more convinced that teaching is all about learning.

As a teacher, I have always been moved ahead by the need to share. Remember the dinner we had in your house last January? I perfectly remember when you were asked how you started your blog and you answered that suddenly you were correcting your students' writings and thought: 'How come I am the only one reading this?' And I felt echoes of my own voice in yours.

Somehow, even before blogs, I've always wanted to reach far. I always thought that the highest point in my career would be to teach teachers one day. Not out of a need to see a bit of myself in others, but rather to set people into autonomous learning mode.

I have found in Whitman the finest expression of my inner thoughts about the definition of success in my profession:

'I am the teacher of athletes,
He that by me spreads a wider breast than my own proves the width of my own,
He most honors my style who learns under it to destroy the teacher.'

I am most grateful for your words in this post. Yet, I am far deeply honoured to read how accurately you have captured the essence of blogging, learning, and sharing it all with your students.

I am sure you will take me further and look forward to it!

Wishing you all best,

Claudia


See why blog matters? How could I know a year ago that what I wrote for my students could trigger off this? Because you cannot measure the impact of an innovation before the development stage. The talk of ROI is not applicable. Not in education please. Students' motivation and teacher's commitment matter, therefore, blogging matters. That is all.


..............................

I thought today I would post my draft on my bloganniversary, but with all this going on in my head I think it can wait.

I want to thank my student Nico, because the talk about innovations we had last class has been most inspiring for me.

Whitman's lines are taken from Song of Myself section 47 in Leaves of Grass.

I'll save related links to this in my del.icio.us here:
http://del.icio.us/fceblog/blogging_experience

Labels: , ,

Claudia,
Thanks for your rewarding reference to my blog. Right now I feel in the middle of a domino effect.

Some comments on your article:

I do not think your FCE blog is hybrid. It has one clear purpose and aims at highly defined readers: students preparing their FCE exams. Perhaps that hybrid nature you mention is within the exam itself.

As you point out students have to make autonomous decisions and that is the essence of the fceblog. That is not all. You can cope with the fact that your students are making decisions related to your own work, without you voice telling them: first do this and then that, from page 9 to 11 (or rather from this post to this other one), or the best way to do this is this, or do not do that before doing this. You are sharing your experience with your students (as you do with your partners) without being afraid of losing control. Queer nature!

Setting people into autonomous learning mode is a hard aim to get and that includes but also goes beyond our teaching environment. Our society is organized to develop highly dependant persons. There seems to be a kind of fear for the scope of autonomous minds in general. The spread of a wider breast is too often regarded as a threat. Far away in time, Whitman noted before Lacan the need to kill the teacher/parents to become a “subject”, in short, an autonomous human being.

Gabriela

Gabriela,
I agree with you that the profile of my readers is clearly defined. When I used the word hybrid, I was not referring to site contents, but to site structure. The fceblog is a blend of static webpage and blog in its organisation. A bit of Read/Only Web and lots of Read/Write Web.

When I post for my students, I always think: How much will they read after all? And the answer is: as much as they want.

There is no point in trying to control students learning path. Just guide them or invite them. If your post means something to them, they will be engaged. It is always more attractive to read a teacher sharing. And precisely to find that their teacher is also a learner who shares means a lot to them.

I am still learning about being more student-centred in class. Whether we like it or not, students in class also decide how much attention they pay to what you say.

Autonomous minds can achieve so much, no wonder they provoke fear. Sometimes even to the possessor of such a mind. I think every step we make to foster autonomous students is well worth the effort.

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