My Reflections on Tech Forum Northeast-Bretag’s Push

In several of the informal conversations I had with Ryan and David last Friday, they laid out their plan for a  learning space whereby all of student work from moment they enter the high school will travel with them through the four years of high school.  Let me clarify a little from what I gleaned from them.

A problem, as Ryan pointed out in our panel discussion, occurred at several points in their experience with student blogging:

  • What happened if you were blogging in science class, in English class, and in social studies?  Did you as a student have the responsibility for maintaining three distinct blogs?
  • What happened when you finished the year with that teacher?  Did your blog die?  Were you able to take it with you and continue to write on your own?

These points came up as we were trying to get at what lies beyond the tools.  Having students keep isolated, individual blogs goes against most of what we strive for: transfer of understanding from seemingly unrelated areas to others.  We want students relating semi-permeable cell membranes to porous and non-defined border policies.  Having isolated learning spaces goes a long way toward furthering that view of education that our learning is isolated into small, un-meshed parts, when in actuality we learn through our connections to already processed material.

What this calls for is a systemic change within a school whereby students are asked to create their own learning space and tie it into the appropriate places within their subject areas.  For example, if a student sat down to write a piece for social studies on their blog, but found connections within the topic to a novel or short story they read in English, they could tag it with both socialstudies and english and the learning space would feed it to both of those courses’ Moodle site.  The teachers could then review the writing and help the student make deeper connections between the two.

Having some platform for blogging that is external, but able to be configured to be private is key here.  Google Apps may work, and I am sure you could configure WPMU to do this as well (both of which are beyond my realm).  This way, the students, as they graduate in four years, are able to take a body of writing over time with them to the college level, thus it becomes their portfolio.

I am truly just beginning to think beyond the glitz and glam of this tool or that one and delve into the deep possibilities we now have.  It’s empowering to know that we are capable of giving students this ability and that it really is very close to happening in certain places.  However, the biggest hurdle is getting more of my staff on board with the architecture of it.  Not every teacher understands blogging, tagging, or even what RSS is, nevertheless the connective and transformative nature of the tools.

That, however, was my second takeaway from last Friday.

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7 thoughts on “My Reflections on Tech Forum Northeast-Bretag’s Push

  1. Getting other teachers to buy in is the largest hurdle we encounter. In recent years former students have used blogs and wikis to complete projects for their new teachers. Having the students use these tools to present and publish has been a powerful kicker to push staff not familiar with these tools to investigate them further. Thanks for the post.

    Chris

  2. Dear Patrick
    I am glad to see this conversation surfacing. I asked the same questions two years back when we set up blogs for our 8th grade. We have a departmentalized system and the teachers had set up 3 different blogs for each of the students based on the curriculum discipline, which simply did not making any sense.
    I raised this question in the blogoshere hoping to learn from those at the High School level but it seemed there were not enough teachers in any one school having students blog to have really encountered this issue.
    We still have not found the best solution and as Chris says you need all of the teachers to buy in which also presents a challenge. What we did do was say only one blog per student and use tags and RSS to monitor. In theory we also gave the students the power to identify subject tags eg if they were writing on science news they might also tag it for social studies or english if they felt it had application in that area or demonstrated some related skill.
    In practice it has been a slow start and mostly because not all of the teachers are on board and we only have 4 teachers at this level. We do have a moodle site but we do not fully utilize it in part because I have emphasized other tools. We are using Google docs much more now and that also has the potential for sharing student work as students move on.
    I hope this conversation continues. We need to seek answers and be willing to try and fail. What do they do at SLA? Chris are you reading this? If so please share your thoughts.

  3. Chris and Barbara,

    I’ll confess, as I was listening to Ryan and David talk about what they are planning, and then again as I talked with Zac and Tim from SLA, all I could think was the same thing you both emoted: I don’t have the buy-in to do something like this.

    Immediately after writing this post and talking to one of our teachers (yes, one who has drunk the Kool-Aid) I decided to scrap that line of thinking and make it available to anyone who wants it. Sort of a “If you build it, they will come,” model.

    As both of you stated, buy-in is another animal, and I’ve yet to figure that out. Before I even try selling anything, however, I think I need to focus on getting a clearer picture of what teaching looks like in the buildings I work in. If the practices that are in place are such that they are not ready to embrace something like what Ryan and Dave describe, then we as a district have a lot of ground to cover. I work with some very talented people, but being talented in this day and age is only part of the equation. I need them to have vision beyond what they teach.

    Barbara, you stated it best when you said: “I hope this conversation continues. We need to seek answers and be willing to try and fail.” Amen to that.

    Thanks for the push.

  4. Excellent questions! My own thoughts would be to do something like what D’Arcy Norman has done on UCalgary blogs with WPMU (although I think he’s got an Edublogs campus installation). I like the ability to control pretty much everything, and yet to have it very flexible. From what I understand, students are able to tag posts with course labels, which are then collected via RSS and centralised on that course’s page.

    My school division is looking into a Microsoft SharePoint services installation, which would include a lot of common features, so students would each get a “home” section with blogging, e-mail and online file storage. My concern with this is the idea of openness – I fear the division will attempt to create a walled garden site that is inaccessible for those outside the division because of the fear of “online predators”.

    I think it’s great that people are thinking about this before it becomes an issue – ideally the student portfolio is the path to take, I think. It’s best for the student, because they don’t have to log into a handful of different sites for different courses. If it’s scrape-able, all the better, because then the content can be parsed out to different applications (Moodle or Blackboard or whatever).

  5. This is a great discussion. I teach a doctoral course on educational technology, in which I require my students to experience the different tools available on Web 2.0. This semester, for the first time, one of my students informed me that a previous professor had required her to maintain a blog. She asked if she had to start another blog. (I thought that this would have been a very silly requirement. After all, it’s about the content learning that goes with the blog, not the actually experience of setting it up.) It’s only important to have the experience if you haven’t had the experience yet, I think.

  6. The setup at SLA is almost exactly what Ryan and David described. We use Moodle for course-based content and Drupal for student-based blogging content.

    When a student posts something to Drupal, they tag it with the appropriate course(s) so the teacher(s) can easily find it. The Drupal content stays with the student for their entire time at SLA, and makes a nice online portfolio. Content posted to Drupal is public.

    Moodle, on the other hand, is our “walled garden.” Student work posted to Moodle is generally visible only to the teacher or class involved. This work does not accompany the students as they move up a grade.

  7. Thanks, Tim for clarifying what you all do at SLA for Barbara. Since I originally wrote this post, I am doing my best to gauge the readiness of my district for initiatives like this, and I think I have to build some bridges before I ask people to cross them. We’ve got several islands of innovation, but not much in the way of dialogue between those islands and the rest of the staff. They are more seen as rogues doing that “technology thing.”

    For me, this line of thinking coupled with the ideas of disruptive innovation that everyone is carrying on about, is heading in two distinct directions. On one hand, do we provide the framework for these services and pedagogies for those who are not going to use them until they absolutely have to? Or do we focus on making this work for those that are not served best by our present model? I am torn lately by the idea that change should be delivered only to the ready.

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