“I would argue that our students are not using social media to meet new people, or at least not as large of a pool as what we have access to. I can see how we can create student blogs to force the students to interact with people outside of their online community. What if we had students create passion blogs and also required them to find other blogs that are part of that passion to converse with? I can see this as an entry way into creating a different community they can learn from that could evolve into other social media places.”
William Chamberlain left this comment on my post Imagining a Classroom Without Blogs. He’s a classroom teacher with a lot to offer. He thinks deeply about his kids, his classroom and the context that he works in. When he has advice to offer, I tend to listen.
In this case he’s got me thinking about blogging in the classroom and different models that might be possible.
The current community setup in my classroom looks like this:
The Idea Hive is the teacher blog. It serves as a hub for all of the kids involved in this community. The kids each have their own spaces, and they are all connected to the central hub. This simple graphic can’t show a few things. It can’t show the connections between the kids in the community. Students read each others blogs and leave comments for each other. It also doesn’t show the connections that some of the students have with people outside of our community. While I’ve switched servers and services several times over all of the time that I’ve been blogging with kids, the model has remained the same. Some of the students have made connections with students from other places, but as I mentioned in my previous post, there seem to be fewer of these connections that are developing. As I mentioned in the previous post, this is one of my concerns about classroom blogging as it exists currently. Using this model, in my classroom, I am seeing diminishing returns. Less kids long form blogging by choice. Less active learning communities. Less active networks.
What might be another possibility? What else might classroom communities of learners, networks, organized for learning look like? Is the “problem” with the tool (a blogging platform?) or the structure of the community?
Like William mentioned in his comment and I mentioned in my previous post, another idea might be for a more decentralized model to emerge. This kind of community might look something like this:
This model might show a few different things.
1.) Students in the classroom (no matter whether they are all local or distributed) might form networks based on their interests or passions. The students would still have their own spaces and their community could form around blogs, forum groups, chatrooms, etc. The network could include students in the classroom as well as the blogs (if that is the platform) of people outside of the classroom. These students would form and grow their own community. Of course, the teacher(s) would have to provide guidance, help with tools, skills, etc. but students in this model would grow their own community.
2.) Students could locate and join already existing communities. The online world is filled with communities and groups that surround every possible interest. Instead of recreating the world and trying to create energy and motivation for students, teachers could instead spend their time helping students to locate communities they are interested in and help them to grow into valuable community members. Once again, this type of setup would be decentralized with no immediately visible core. The biggest difference between #1 and #2 is that the communities in #2 already exist somewhere online. Students locate a community, join that community, and work at becoming valuable group members and leaders.
In the spoke and hub model, the teacher blog serves as the central point of the network. The teacher can post homework, comments and write their own posts, serving as a model and a mentor. In the decentralized models, no such space exists, or if it does, it loses its primacy of place. The teacher’s space no longer sits at the centre of the classroom learning network.
The later models envisioned here pose a whole host of problems for teachers and schools. While this is exactly how we as adults function in the online world, concerns over student’s safety and privacy might preclude these models from ever becoming a reality. That would be unfortunate since this is the reality of how we function as globally hyperconnected adults. If this is the case, we will always be “stuck” with an artificial model and a restricted possibility of what the power of the web in our classrooms might be.
Moving in this direction not only changes to structure of how we work online with our students, it also changes the purpose and the possibilities. In the spoke and hub model, we often have a common purpose in mind. We are a learning community moving in the same direction. Many teachers have students write required blog posts or adhere to similar norms. The teacher serves as a mentor, a role model and a community manager. In the decentralized models, we lose that central reason and purpose. But is this a real loss? Or would the gain in engagement and motivation be worth it? What is important when we work online with students? What are we after? Do we want control over the content they are reading, writing and accessing? Or do we want them to practice the skills and abilities of being a community member online? If the skills are more important than the content, this connecting assessment that I have previously used in my classroom might be something that people could use.
A third idea might be a hybrid of the spoke and wheel system and the decentralized networks. It might look something like this:
Instead of organizing students as part of the central network, the students could build and join a community that would be based around topic of their choosing, but this community would be based off of the central hub of the teacher’s blog. In these smaller communities, students could pursue their own interests similar to the second models, but teachers would be freed from worrying about student safety or privacy since the students would still be located under their “roof” so to speak.
While this model appears to be a good compromise, I worry about its artificiality. In my experience, working in an online community does not appeal to all students (or teachers for that matter). A system like this could see students divided up into smaller silos. While it would be a good thing for them to have the opportunity to pursue their own interests, the small communities may be too small to have any type of rhythm or momentum on their own. I think that classrooms would have to work together to gather more students into these communities. A “regular” classroom of 25 – 30 students would simply be too small. In my experience with online communities, at least 100 students would be needed for this type of model to gain forward movement.
This is where I am now in my thinking. The picture of working online with students is growing more complex. There are a number of questions that we need to ask:
- what is the purpose of what we are doing?
- why do we want students to work online?
- are we concentrating on curricular content, passion based content, or the skills of being an online community member?
- what tools do we have access to?
- do all students need to use the same tools?
- what structure is the best fit for what we are trying to accomplish?
- how long do we expect to maintain / sustain this community?
- what skills do my students have being online? what skills do they need?