Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Blogging So Far

Defining Blogging, a Year On

A year ago, I started a blog. I was looking for free hosting to create an online resource tool -mainly for the need of accessibility anytime, anywhere. I stumbled upon Blogger and my first blog was born. Quite accidentally.

A year of online discoveries and experiences has moved me further and deeper into an understanding of blogging. Mind you -still a beginner's view.

As I have already been asked by my employer to present again about my blog for students (now with wiki), I am reviewing the previous slides. And my question is:

How would I define blogging now?

Towards a definition
Where to start?
Well, reviewing what I did last year... (Would you do it differently? Comments?)

My last year focus was all about the possibilities of the tool. The how-to start and organise a blog.

Today, the point is not the tool itself; but what the tool enables.

So I'll jot down some notes in this post, as a way of clarifying my thoughts on the experience of blogging so far. Then I'll add a few links to what fellow bloggers are saying.

From tools to people

The Internet is people. But what kind of people? People in motion. People who would rather discover than wait until they are told how-to. People who resort to
meaningful nodes in their networks of like-minded people. It is the attitude in front of the screen that makes all the difference: knowing you will know. It is all there, somewhere. Findable.

1. Finding people's work
Forget Google. I haven't used it in a long while. The things I am reading now I have got to read by someone's referral. Blogs, wikis, agregators, networks or bookmarks.
Google to me now is a kind of lonely statistically driven engine. The last thing I resort to. Funny when you think
they started as an attempt at an annotated web. The kind of annotations I look for are produced by bloggers, not engines (yet?).

2. Reading a reading
I mean, looking at a topic the way others read it. Blogs among blogs, perpetual conferences that allow me to read in ways unheard of in the f2f world. If I read an info static, encyclopedic page about Web 2.0 and then print it to read with colleagues, we will perhaps be misled if we think we are exchanging
varied opinions. We are just people who share background, context and probably purpose for reading. There can be variety, yet not much diversity. Blogs show me the way a reader reads. Blogging is reading and writing in a diffused (i.e. hyperlinked) totally diverse (i.e. global, conversational) context.

3. Contacting people
Can you study today without contacting the author? Do you learn APA, write papers with the hypothesis they will be published one day in the respected, accepted journals your knowledge community reads? Really? Most of my university classmates write as if they were going to publish -knowing all the time they never will. Just a few of us will get published. But we all work hard at acquiring the style of the community we -in the end- are already a part of.


Blogging could be a way of making your first steps into a community. Perhaps being accepted and why not receive some help to make a successful entry after graduation.

4. Testing an idea
Ideas in the making propel blogs. Not finished, corroborated thesis statements which are far less engaging for people to comment on. Posts need to leave an open door for readers to contribute with their
thoughts. A blog is a vehicle to put your thoughts to the test. Rollers for your thoughts!

5. A blog is a learning engine
A node in your PLE (personal learning environment). A virtual zone of proximal development. Learning happens when you connect to other people (other, meaning diverse , not just a group of different people). Reading alone with my books is half way to learning. I need to ask. If the author cannot be consulted anymore, I'd much rather find what their readers are writing in blogs. Always connecting, constructing, learning.

6 A blog is a seed
Once published, a post starts a perpetual journey. A blog-powered thought can start travelling aimlessly, but will get ahead with other bloggers' breeze. Ideas swifting on the blogosphere. Post towards a post. If they contribute to the conversation, they will somehow find land to grow in a far off blog.


Afterthoughts

What a blog is not
A blog is not a book. Not even a chapter. It is always a draft, a preface, maybe an appendix or addenda.
Not all punctuation is applicable in a blog. Take fullstop, for instance. When a post ends in a fullstop, the comments read: Great, good! They add nothing to the conversation.
Better end your posts with a question mark or semicolon. Meaning, thoughts please;

And this leads me to something my blog is becoming right now...

7. A social network node

My blog is the main carrier of my ideas and identity. My thoughts in the making, my classroom experiences tell more about me than my degrees. My blog is where other people in the conversation can get to know who I am and which conversations will engage me most.

Other people. The Internet is all about meeting people. Choosing the teachers that will make you grow. Where can that happen? In social networks. But that is subject complex enough for a brand new post.

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

(I've been reading these links while drafting this post)

Bloggers reflecting on blogging
David Truss
Learning Conversations

Tony Karrer
What Bloggers Do

In the Middle of the Curve
Blogging as Therapy

Think:lab
Forget Blogs it's all Network Effects, Baby
(video with Tim O'Reilly
)

Stephen's Web
The Egalitarian Nature of Blogging

Steve Hargadon
Educational Blogging with Will Richardson
(audio)
..................................
(Wrote my thoughts. Then I searched my RSS to see what my ELT colleagues where saying on their blogging experience)

Teachers of English reflecting on blogging:
Pab's Potpourri
Blogging Sixth Month in

EFL Geek
Five Reasons Why I Blog
inspired by:
Steli Efti
Five Reasons Why I Blog - Nº 100

More related links in my del.icio.us
http://del.icio.us/fceblog/blogging_experience

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

(Then, of course the pics! And a last edit touches before pressing 'Publish')

Pictures attribution:
woodsy
coralsee
mordoc
Nota
spekulator












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Saturday, March 24, 2007

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

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

It's Management!

The Price of Evolution in your Teaching Practice

Once you are at it you will probably not go back. After understanding that the user-driven web of blogs and wikis is a reality, teaching the old way simply stops making sense.

So you spend hours self-training, feeding your RSS readers and social bookmarkers of valuable information provided by other savvy web users. Then it is time to prepare your tools. You open your own blog, wiki, podcast and then plan to face your students with it.

Your own enthusiasm is something you must take care of. There is a world of reality offline and outside the classroom teachers are not used to facing. Success with it requires that you go deeper into management issues. Part of the newly acquired roles.

My colleague Jennifer in Buenos Aires writes an email to me after a meeting at her school where she presented to the authorities her new wiki for a class. The meeting had not been precisely encouraging.
This is what I answered her by mail:

Jenn,
I see.
Do something for us both. It might help you get some steam off after such a meeting.
-Take a piece of paper. Sorry. I mean, an email draft.
-Start listing ALL the questions you heard. Particularly the ones about security. Do not omit questions as "what's a yahoo group"
If you can, highlight the ones you think scared them most.
Then send them to me.

Jennifer answered me in her blog. A must-read I think if you are a pioneer teacher with a blog:
http://jenverschoor.wordpress.com/2007/02/20/my-first-integrating-technology-journey/

To quote but a couple of remarks she had to address at that meeting:

  • You must correct every blog entry
  • You must support the teacher and use technology as a means of allowing the teacher to improve her students practice for the international exam
How twentieth century, don't you think?

Many miles away...

In Greece, a few weeks before Jenny's meeting, Teacher Dude was Pulling his hair out!! over somewhat similar issues. Craig says:


"The more I create my own material the less satisfied I become with the teaching resources available commercially." [...] "Yet every time I mention these facts and figures and try to introduce new ideas and approaches I'm told that they won't work, they'll negatively affect exam results or that that's not what students want from their lessons. After a while there comes a time when you just shut up, keep your opinions to yourself and tow the line."

My comments to Craig:

Dear Dude,

I had noticed the low Greek passing grades from the Cambridge site and also the work of Costas Gabrielatos mentioning the problem as well. Now your post really completes the picture to me.

Down here in Buenos Aires the situation is a little more hopeful. Few teachers embrace ICT introduction in their lessons, but at least, neither teachers nor managers are desperately against it! Management is always a key defining point between adoption or rejection. That's a start.

On the students’ perspective, FCE has become a standard way of referring to a level. There is no exams craze these days; perhaps due to our 2001 economic crisis, which made the exams rather expensive for us. People value communication more than certificates. I believe no one gets a job by just exhibiting an international certificate. They will certainly be asked to speak in English at an interview. Simple.

Technology is changing faster than most minds can cope. And most teachers still love to stand in front of a classroom and know ALL. Few step into the room to learn SOMETHING. That's what postgraduate courses were made for! (I do not know whether I should laugh or cry at this!). It is not just having or reading a blog; it is a whole new frame of mind that teachers have to change to get the point. But I do believe things are getting better.

You are a pioneer in what you do, Dude. That has a price in incomprehension. I would like to tell you not to let the environment change your happy blogging mood, which makes me like reading you. Perhaps, instead of going with the crowd, try just not dealing with them. Deal with your things and always post about your ideas and your results. Some teachers might be feeling something must be changed and will not know where to start. Your blog will be there for them.

All best,

Claudia


Symmetry
If Jenny and Craig had not met before, I think it was about time.

Borges said that history is a plot which tends to repeat itself. The protagonists, however, seldom know they are part of history's game.

If you think you are alone, check on more stories like this on Doug's blog post "I can't teach properly" and make sure you do not miss the comments.

Innovations
As much as we have come to feel more than comfortable with new technologies, we must remember we are doing something new and disruptive. It's all in the changing of the rules that gets them so uneasy. Management skills cannot be far behind if we want to integrate technology and lose only a reasonable amount of hair in the process.

The teaching of management skills to prospective teachers should be introduced earlier in their studies and not just in the masters or post-grad courses. I like to think these are interesting times to be a teacher in. Yet, we cannot sail through only equipped with enthusiasm and determination.


Follow-up links
I'll be using the tag "blogging_experience" on my del.icio.us for any relevant post I discover after publishing this.
http://del.icio.us/fceblog/blogging_experience


.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Writing Tools

Reflections on Some Technical Aspects of my Blog Writing Process

Suddenly my writings come to a halt. It becomes quite difficult to produce a written piece as naturally as I keep up with the RSS information overload and my mind processing it.
I have solved the issue of information access. Not the RSS reading management yet. (I mean this). However, I can handle it. I can read, process, react, reflect. All smooth. But then, there comes the choice of tool I need to process my writing with . Not just process in a polished form to upload to blogger, but a tool that can match the way I work, the way ideas to write come to my mind and take shape. That is when all the seamless integration of read-reflect-write and post is lost for me.

Writing processor options
In my search for the ideal tool to draft my posts, I have tried all of these:

1-Microsoft word
2-Blogger edit mode
3-Google docs
4-Flock browser

Last but not least...
5- And now I am drafting this post in Google Notebook. I think that if this not ideal, at least it serves the overall purpose. Far from perfect, though. I wish I could do more!

My new writing needs
Let's say that I used to write college papers and activities with rubrics for my students. All instances of a somewhat formal writing or, at least, structured formats. No one word sentences, no dangling participles, etc. Word for Windows had always been my tool.

Now I'm blogging and a new writing experience has emerged. I am neither as formal as in my university papers nor as informal as when I email friends in English. This is a blend where I choose everytime which side of the scale will be heavier depending on content, purpose and originally intended reader or audience.

Blogging is a tool to unearth deep thoughts. When I read and my mind gets ticking, I'd better write it out or risk the loss of an idea. Capturing the moment when something made me reflect and not just the reflection is probably the blood that will inspire others to read and get blogging/conversing on. So I would like to write in an impressionistic way -so to speak- capturing that unique light that changes the wheat fields into a one-time view only.

I think that way of writing makes sense in a blog format with day and time as frames for your thoughts.

Needless to say, I write this for pleasure and I expect to enjoy the process. Different writing tools may contribute to or simply ruin my pleasure.

Let me analyse each of my available options in the light of my new needs:
1. Microsoft word.
Advantages:
-Lot's you can do there. You can post directly to blogger (with the help of an add-on).
Disadvantages:
-Too much you can do there.
I do not need the full functionality of the system. Most importantly, it is an indoors document that I cannot access automatically from any browser, anywhere. I must remember -and have time- to put it my pendrive. I change working places during the day, so access is paramount to me.
-It is an application outside your browser. Slows down the machine (depending on what's open in your browser. In mine, usually no less than five tabs). Too many clicks to go from something I am reading to a page to write. Back to consult, back to the page. Frozen windows. Aghrrr.

2. Blogger edit mode
Pros: Whatever you do is already there where you will finally need it.
Cons: By the time I sign in, click on the desired blog (I have more than one -mind you) and create a new post, the original thought I had has made two thousand twists in my head and I get this uncomfortable feeling what I am actually writing is a shadow of a post I meant. Sort of second best.
Blogger edit mode is definetely the last step for me.

3- Google docs
These are great. Not for my posts, though. They do not have the full functionality of the Office Suite, but who needs all that all the time. They allow for quick copy as a pdf or html, share, print, email, publish as webpage, post to blog.
Main advantage are
-anywhere access
-you do not need to leave your browser to work.
Still I find them slow. If only I could write inside the page I am seeing and reflecting upon! I think this need arises as a consequence of using wikis.

4- Flock browser
Flock could be the solution for quick posts that you do not need to save and review later. My reality is that I start working on something one day, then I want to read a bit more on the subject. Next, get pieces of notes together in a post. And I use Firefox. So, nope.

5- Google Notebook
And the winner is Google Notebook. Because it is possible to access anywhere to all your stored notes. There is an add-on for your Firefox that allows you to open a tiny window to work on. Easy to browse your various notes. It automatically creates a link to the page you are on.

And it is just that: notes. Then you drag and drop in the order you would present them and finish them up in blogger edit mode. Press publish. You're done! We'll see if it works for my diverse blogging purposes and composition.

Yes, I am not generally writing fully extended pieces, but notes. There are those times when I have read a lot and the lines flow towards a fully fledged post. Yet, for a more informal approach to learning, getting informed and writing about it all, therefore blog, it is best to find a tool that matches the purpose of what you are doing. The purpose and the nature. A highly structured writing environment will not produced spontaneous, thought provoking lines.

Hmmm

And I suppose the same applies when we choose among a spectrum of ICT options for our students -to be accessible in and outside the class. But that's subject for another post.


Follow-up on this:
Del.icio.us search: writing+tool

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