I’m having a honest discussion with myself that a few years ago I never thought would have been possible.
I’m wondering about running my classroom without individual blogs for each students.
For me, and for the way I teach, this is a big deal.
In 2005, I started blogging with the kids in my class. I had started my own writing online earlier this same year, wanting to experiment with this new idea before I tried it out with the kids in my classroom. I wanted to see if there was any educational merit to it. I quickly found a voice and a home online and was motivated to keep writing. I connected with teachers around the world. I soon found myself talking to teachers in South America, England and Southeast Asia. There were relatively few of us online but people like Susan Sedro, Darren Kuropatwa, Will Richardson, Bud Hunt and Dean Shareski were some of my earliest connections.
When that new school year started, I knew I had to put my kids online. Cnet and the New York Times picked up the trend of blogs making inroads into classrooms. Articles were written, my kids connected with others and I began to see levels of motivation and engagement from them that I had rarely seen before. We talked and wrote with kids around the world. Over the next few years we worked with classes in Los Angeles, Peru, Malaysia, Australia, China and Columbia to name a few. We found work arounds for kids to exchange videos, photos and drawings at a time when the technology to do these things wasn’t easy to use or didn’t exist. The kids in my small town had the world suddenly opened to them. Adults from all different walks of life, occupations, and parts of the world were open and willing to share information with them. I developed a blogging rubric, met with teachers from across the world, learned to pull together learning resources and communities on a shoestring and proved to the world that kids could be onboard in an ever flattening globe.
But, as the years have drifted by, I’ve seen a change. I’m not sure if it’s with me, or with the kids I teach, but the excitement of blogging has worn off. Over time, fewer kids began connecting on their own time using their classroom blogs. Fewer kids were interested in going that extra mile. The blogs in my classroom have always been a space where a combination of things have been posted online. Sometimes my students were required to write, but often it was their choice. Over time, the majorities of these spaces have become filled with only required pieces of writing. Fewer kids are choosing to write and choosing to connect with others over their learning.
The lights in many spaces are simply going dim….
Not to be a COM (Cranky Old Man), but I believe that services like Facebook, tumblr, instagram and twitter are a major cause of this. When we first started blogging in 2005, many of these online commercial services didn’t exist. It wasn’t necessarily easy to have a webpage and publish your stuff. But as these services have taken a strong hold on our culture and become increasingly amazingly easy to use, kids are connecting with others online on their own, outside of school. It has become common place.
This is a good thing, Really it is. As many people do, I have significant problems with Facebook in terms of privacy, bullying, etc, but as far as connections and constructing a social graph and presence, it is the place to be. The size of its network brooks little competition (for the moment at least). My only regret is that when students first practiced being online in supervised blog spaces, before moving to open commercial spaces, it was an opportunity for them to develop good habits in a place where they knew someone was watching. Now, I don’t believe that this is happening as much.
The popularity and commanlity of commercial online spaces early in life for most students needs to push classrooms into new directions. Blogging was fun. It was interesting. It was a motivating place for kids to have a voice and share something of themselves in a safe space. Now, for the most part, most of my students simply see a classroom blog as another assignment. Another requirement. A hoop they need to jump through.
All of these things are coming together to cause me to reexamine blogging in my classroom. I’ve always considered blogs, wikis and flickr to be three cornerstones of technology in my classroom. While we’ve used and experimented with many other services, these three have remained constant and in high use. Now I’m thinking that it is time to reexamine this practice and to look at changing. I often don’t feel that blogging in classrooms has really reached its full potential. Connecting kids and classrooms has always required a lot of extra effort by teachers to keep it moving and alive. I have rarely seen students in classrooms connect with the fluidity that open tech spaces enables and over time it has become a game of diminishing returns.
Where to from here?
I have absolutely no idea. It is one reason that I have hesitated to publish this post. I don’t have a solution or a road forward. I still believe that the benefits of networking students and their learning are powerful. I still believe that students benefit from global voices and perspectives in their lives. But I have no answer how to get them there.
Interest / passion based communities that exist outside of schools that we simply help them to locate and join?
Blogging is not a dying medium. I don’t believe that. But blogging in classrooms as a required space?
That may be something else all together.