Stephanie Sandifer issued a challenge to edubloggers, especially (perhaps) those of us who are feeling a bit overwhelmed by the latest burst of bleeding-edge tech.

I think it’s time we — the edublogosphere/edutwitter community — take some “downtime” to reflect on what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what  outcomes we think may come from the work we are doing.

As a classroom teacher, I feel I am constantly questioning the technology and tools I use in class. Am I using this [particular tool] because it’s empowering students and moving their learning forward, or because it’s cool. It’s so easy to get caught up in the geekiness of it all; it is some pretty amazing stuff, after all. But to what end? And what of it is valuable? And what use of it is effective and necessary? A lot to think about, but here goes…

What?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about the Web tools that are now almost second nature to me: blogs, wikis, RSS and my Google Reader, del.icio.us, my Facebook. This is how I learn and what I use to access my network of teachers and my collection of resources. But I am also constantly reminding myself that many of my teaching colleagues and most of my students are not familiar with these, or at least don’t use them to the extent I do. This, of course, makes me no better than them…just a different kind of learner.

In my excitement about the direction in which education, learning and teaching is going, I find myself tempering that excitement around non-geek colleagues (for lack of a better term). I want to tell them all I’ve learned, but I fear I would simply overwhelm them in my zeal to convert them. When it comes to my students, my concern is more that I will not adequately be able to justify why I am making blogging a part of this class; instead, they may just see it as more work to do, rather than the opportunity that it is.

And so, I’m left second-guessing every inclusion and mention of technology in the classroom and every comment I make around colleagues. Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t been paralyzed by this. I had my AP English students blogging and using Google Reader last year for their research, and I am almost finished getting all my students set up with a blog for this year. My students created a study guide last year using a wiki. I believe that puts me in the brave-enough-to-just-try-it camp.

So What?

When it comes to blogging, in particular, I’ve been formulating a list in my thinking about why student blogging is worth the time and effort (and justification to others!). I need to solidify this some more, but for now..

  • In English, we always talk about giving students a “genuine audience” for whom to write, but we can never really come up with one. So, we have them write for each other and for the elementary kids in the district, or we make up assignment with fictional audiences as a poor substitute. Blogging, by nature, gives student writers an immense, general audience…and an interactive one, to boot.
  • It forces reflective thinking, which we don’t often give students time to do, nor do we show them the value of reflection in our fast-paced, bell-driven schedules.
  • The feedback is (can be) faster, more varied, and more interactive than some red-ink comments from a teacher on a paper (that is probably not going to be revised anyway).
  • Blogging gives students a voice, an opportunity to express their thinking and insight. Especially for those that may not feel comfortable opening their mouths in an intimate classroom environment (just as others may fear writing for a global audience!), a blog post may be the best way for others to ‘hear’ that student’s voice.

Aside from the pedagogical issues, blogging gets students comfortable in a region of the online environment with which they may not be familiar. The style of conversation that exists in blogging is one that many of the them will be required to use in their post-secondary education and their professional practice.

Now what?

Now, we edubloggers continue doing what we are doing. No radical change of plans, just a steady progress, a step at a time. We share our knowledge and excitement with others, slowly, a bit at a time, and give them opportunities to try these tools and let them make the connection to improved engagement and learning. We continue to pay attention to the tech world around us and learn what we can, sanely, in between our other professional responsibilties.

Most importantly, we continue to be the professional educators that we are and focus on student learning. Every new tool should be honestly analyzed for classroom use. If it doesn’t move learning forward than it shouldn’t be in class, cool or not. We continue to advocate for students, including fights to unblock sites, get laptops into their hands, make relevant technologies an integral part of the curriculum, and–if need be–speak before school boards, committees, parent groups, city councils, whomever, about why they need to be on board (if they are not already) when it comes to the realities of the new read/write web and the role it needs to play in student learning.

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