I’ve had blogs in my classroom with my students for six full years. When we first started, we could only find a few others around the world who were doing this same kind of work. We ended up in the New York Times, on CBCand on Cnet as well. I saw blogging as transformative, giving students a voice to the world. I was proud to proclaim that I would never again have a classroom without blogs as they changed the possibilities.
I spoke too soon.
Last year and this year I have seen a change in my students. Whereas blogging in the past had pulled in many students, engaging and motivating most of them, in the last two years, I have seen more of a drift from the platform of long blogging. It required more work as a teacher to motivate students to write and fewer students were writing simply for the joy of writing. It seemed like a classic case of diminishing returns.
Yet I was confused as students stayed motivated by using technology. Skype calls with others classes and with outside experts brought excitement and interest. Time spent in chatrooms, taking photos and producing videos all brought students together and motivated them to work for sometimes hours on end. This was not a case of the “flash” wearing off.
Taking the time to consider this deeply, I’ve reached the conclusion that the killer app in classroom blogging isn’t the platform. Kids aren’t motivated by blogging because they have a cool space to write. The killer app in blogging isn’t blogging after all – it’s connecting and communicating with others. It’s about the community that develops around your platform.
While I’ve always talked about networks and communities in the past, these connections were always visited as one benefit among many. Now, in my understanding of technology based pedagogy, the aspect of community has moved front and centre. Kids are motivated by technology for the connections it helps them to establish. Whether those connections are based on blogs, on flickr, youtube, a wiki or in a chatroom – the aspect of communicating with other real people around the globe is what motivates and inspires learners. The connections inspire accelerating returns and positive feedback loops. The connections gives students a window into other’s lives and spaces.
This is why I am thinking of making a change next year. For years I’ve worked within a standalone blogging community. I have had a mother blog for my classroom and the students have each had their own spaces. Next year, I am thinking of building around a structure that makes the community aspect front and centre. I am wondering about centring my classroom community around a buddypress site with wordpress multi user activated. A site like this would allow students spaces for long form blogging, as well as spaces for shorter work such as groups. It would also allow students to share other things such as photos and videos in a single place.
Time for another reconsideration of technology based pedagogy….