Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Starting to think about where to begin with a batch of digitally challenged teachers

I'm not exactly where this all started, but I've been hashing out the subtleties of using blogs and blogging in the classroom. There's been some good conversation about just what is the best use of blogs by students as part of a class. Clay has smartly drawn a fine distinction in the pedagogy of using blogs in class, separating them into two different types, for two different purposes. Others have pointed to earlier portfolio assessment models as a place to look for further ideas for refinement. Check out Clay's post and ensuing comments) Essentially, it comes down to what we, as teachers, believe will best serve our students. All this talk has prompted me to look back on my short journey of discovery this year. If we are going to ask - expect - demand - other teachers to embrace this new technology and use it to promote 21st century skills, where is the best place to start with a batch of digitally illiterate teachers? Or even those with basic digital skills who are still unaware of the full educational potential of web 2.0. I can't imagine that my path would be the most effective model in which to bring others along.

Let me step back in time a few months...

When school started in August, a fellow English teacher told me about the blog she's starting this year to post a daily record of class assignments and lesson plans, like a resource for herself and her students. It serves the purpose of providing her students a place to get the work they miss if they're absent, and serve as a repository of her lesson plans throughout the year. Cool, I thought. But I have my web page for that.

Then come October, a colleague of mine shows me a blog he set up for his AP Calculus class. On it, he had posted questions and asked students to respond. It was a model he found engaging and new, an assessment he said his students shared. I was familiar with blogs and understood the general idea of what they were, specifically what made them different from web pages, for example. What a great idea, I thought. I could do that, too.

I set up an account in Blogger and created a site for my English 10 class. On the blog, I posted a few open-ended questions related to our readings. I played around with the comments section, figuring out what was required to allow commenting, either from students our others. I spent some time talking to another colleague, a special education teacher who co-teaches one of my English 10 sections with me. I decided to try it out while reading The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds. I put up a prompt, brought the kids to the computer lab, paired them up, and showed them how to comment. That was the first assignment.

That was October and November. Meanwhile, I set up my own personal blog and began reading some others I came across. I discovered Bloglines and began compiling feeds. I discovered wikis and experimented with a few collaborative writing projects. I continued to blog about it as best I could. It's through the blogging where I've benefited from the knowledge of others farther along this path than me. I've listened to them hash out ideas, or present new uses for the emerging social networking technology.

Which brings me back to the original intent of this post. As we bring others along, where is the best place to start? What is the one or two most important web 2.0 tools or concepts a newbie should be taught? For example, there's no sense teaching someone how to set up a Bloglines account if they have little concept of what kinds of blogs or other feeds are available. The social bookmarking and networking tools are wonderful, but require a deeper understanding of the types of information and ideas out there.

Eric maintains an excellent wiki where he organizes his technology resources under the following categories: one-to-one; one-to-many; many-to-many. Blogs are under one-to-many. I like that categorization. Maybe the best way to spread the word is to use those categories, and start by showing other teachers the potential of one-to-many. I'd love to know how such efforts - these drops of change in otherwise stagnant pools - have gone in other schools, where the ripples of change have begun to spread.

To me, it makes the most sense to show a newbie how to set up a blog. And by extension, the easiest and simplest use of a blog is posting content-based prompts to which students respond. It's simple, straightforward, and most closely matches an instructional model that digitally illiterate teachers are familiar with. We, as teacher-leaders, must understand any distinctions between different types of student blogging. The potential I saw in blogging when I first asked students to post comments to my prompts was powerful. For the first time, they had the opportunity to read each other's ideas. Although it was not truly embedded in that form, it did provide me that glimpse of the power of web 2.0 that has led me here.

photo credit: Disperse by CentralJake on Flickr.


Tamara said...

Hi, I've been reading your blog for a bit now and don't think I've ever commented. I thought I would say hello and share some links with you.

I received my teaching credential just a couple of years ago in San Diego. My best class in the credential program was Ed Tech with professor Bernie Dodge.

I'm not sure if you have heard about Bernie, but he's an amazing professor who is the creator of WebQuests and teaches great EdTech courses for teachers. It's where I learned about blogging about 4(?) years ago. Anyway, hope you find the links useful and I think what you're doing is great.

Bernie's Blog
WebQuest Model http://webquest.sdsu.edu/
Blogging in the Classroom

And...if you google "blogging in the classroom", you'll get a ton.


Clay Burell said...

Nice post, Bing. You've been "Daily Diigo"-ed :)

Patrick Higgins said...


Just found your blog tonight as a result of Clay's recent string of posts about the nature of blogging in the classroom.

The question you bring up is one that I am tackling tomorrow morning actually. I am teaching a class called "Welcome to Web 2.0" to a group of about 15 teachers. As I am preparing the workshop, I wonder where blogging's place is in all of the tools that I will show them. Is it the most important? I think so, yet it is also the most time consuming. Time, I have discovered, is the most often decried stumbling block to blogging for teachers. Yes, they say, we would love to blog and interact and be passionate, but the demands placed on them are too great and constraining, that there is no time to blog and read others.

Here are is the wiki address for the workshop: https://workshoponestop.wikispaces.com/Welcome+to+Web+2.0.

I keep a blog that is used as more of a newsletter for the district, and the plan is to use that as a way to ease the staff into the idea of keeping a blog. That address is http://techdossier.blogspot.com.

Any input would be appreciated; as a teacher, I would really like to hear how you feel we can hook teachers into the power of this medium.

Mr. Miller said...

Thank you Tamara, Clay and Patrick for your comments.

I've found the experience of blogging to be time-consuming (both good and bad results) but lately it's begun to pay off more and more as I've discovered connections to other teachers like you. Thanks for the resources and ideas.


Patrick, I'll be checking out that wiki and I imagine that at some point will be undertaking a similar venture to educate other teachers in the district (I hope). As I continue to wrap my brain around all this, I'll be sure to provide some input for you.