Saturday, March 29, 2008

Reflections on Two Blogs

I opened up my RSS reader this evening. My current method of reading is to start with the items that are shared with me by one of four people: Dean, Darren, Michael, or Paul. I actually have six people I share items with, but these are the four who seem to use the shared items option.

I found out about this option one day early in my use of Twitter. If you have someone on your GTalk account, you can add them as people who show up under “Friends shared items”. It’s great because they will certainly read some of the same blogs, but they will also have different tastes and that assists me in finding new-to-me blogs.

Tonight, Dean shared an article written by Graham Wegner in response to an article written by Doug Belshaw. Oh what a tangled web we weave. Doug speaks about feeling unhappy with the focus of newer people in the community having a focus that is more on making connections than expanding the pedagogy of technology in schools. He says:
One thing they [educators blogging] had in common, however, was a revolutionary message: that education must adapt to the 21st century or suffer the consequences. There were fantastic conversations to follow across these blogs.
He fears:
Those that were formerly in the classroom and relating the changing world and tools available to everyday educational experience are no longer in those positions; educators who have no desire to transform education are blogging. The edublogosphere has changed from being about ‘the conversation’ to being part of ‘the network’. It all smacks a little too much of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and, to be honest, viral marketing of Web 2.0 apps.
At the end of Graham’s post he writes:
But I think that Doug is still interested in that bigger conversation - the one that did dominate the edublogosphere a year or so back. Maybe it has evolved into new forums and that discussion will have more power over on a Ning like Classroom 2.0, although I see a lot of the classroom teacher connection stuff happening there too. But there’s a lot of conversation out there - one can choose to connect to the visionaries and push for meaningful change or extend one’s global staffroom to gain support, inspiration and resources in equal measure.

You should read both articles and all the comments to get the full take on the conversation. I was originally going to leave a comment on Graham’s blog, then I was going to leave on Doug’s, then I had too many thoughts to put in a comment, so here I am.

I enjoyed reading both takes on the changes these gentlemen are seeing in the educational blogsphere. You see, I started a blog several years ago when a group of students thought I should see what was going on outside the classroom. I didn't find the edublogosphere until a year ago, and didn't really feel comfortable "conversing" for several months. I have been seeking change in my own school for the last six years.

The reason I became a school computer teacher was that when I was in business I ran training projects. One huge project taught people how a containerized shipping company’s computer systems worked. This was back in the early 1990s. We were making multimedia productions when it was a massive effort to get sounds, images, and interaction working in a Windows environment. We created the original training for each computer system in English, then it was converted into eleven other languages. As I was working, it occurred to me that the best way to learn something is to teach someone else. Not revolutionary to most, but to me it was an important idea. The company moved out of state, I chose not to move, and ended up staying home with my boys for six years.

When I returned to the workforce, my son’s principal was looking for a computer teacher. I offered my services and was hired. I knew in advance that the teachers felt that they “couldn’t” use the computers in their rooms because they either didn’t work or didn’t have “good” software on them. I was really excited to find that Hyperstudio was owned by the school. It would fit the bill for a multimedia program that would allow students to create projects to teach other students.

When I arrived, I spent the first year going to every room, fixing every computer, purchasing software to give the teachers KidPix and/or Microsoft Office. I also got a second computer projector. There was one in the computer lab. There was a networked printer that was not connected, a file server that was being used as a desktop computer, and a couple of airports (wireless access points).

Here I am six years later. Things have changed for the better, but I’m still restless. K-8 all have access to the Internet, networked printers, useful software, and six laptops that can be brought into a class. Apple changed operating systems and as a result I really need to get everyone off of OS 9, but that takes time and money. I really want the Pre-K 3 and 4 classrooms to have Internet access too.

We have a great computer lab, but some teachers only see the students 42 minutes a day. I am seeing the pressures of that reality as I teach two sections of math per day. It really takes a lot of effort to get the projector to class, bring up the laptops, or take the class down to the lab. I’m lucky in that I can use my twice per week computer classes to conduct technology enriched math lessons.

Since connecting with the greater world over the last year, my classes have changed dramatically. You should take a look at the difference between the wiki from last year and the work from this year. For me those were big changes from standard computer class transitioning to what I'm learning in my newly connected environment.

I write in my blog about my adventures in the classroom. I read other blogs and I leave comments. It expands my thinking. I continue to try to encourage others at my school to use our technology. It’s hard to get the school to enter the 21st century when most of the equipment has been at the school longer than I have. This isn’t a complaint, either. I know that the equipment is immensely serviceable.

What I’m learning online is how to begin to encourage the staff to use our equipment. I want all our students to be ready to work in 2017 and beyond. When they leave the school this year, our eighth graders will have received an excellent computer education.

In the other blog article, it was said that people run through one tool after another on Twitter. This is true. It was also said that there are an awful lot of people just jumping on the bandwagon of the next tool rather than focusing on the why of the tool. That’s true too. In the long run, for me, I find projects to work on collaboratively with other teachers. I learn more about the people as a person. I find answers to questions in the middle of my day.

I use my blog to chart my course and reflect. I believe my students are getting more out of our work in computer class as they create podcasts to reflect on what we’re learning. I know why I use each tool. It's not the gee-whiz look at what we're doing. We do it to reinforce learning. I have one class learn from the other. They create information to share within the school and around the world. I see the force of global communcation in operation in my husband's work.

I’ve also had the opportunity to work with new teachers in a different situation. I know that I had an impact based on conversations I’ve had since the training sessions outside my school. But, for me, it takes reading blogs, commenting on blogs, writing blogs, participating when I can at, and my ins and outs at Twitter. I can combine the best of all these things into my own unique presentations to teachers in and out of my building. All these wanderings help all the students in my school prepare for eventual jobs. I learn more and more everyday.

Everyone has their own story. I think that to change things in education, we need people working at all levels: in their own school, within a school system, within a region, and in turn globally. It takes all kinds of voices to make change happen.

Even over the last couple of months, I've noticed a change. Maybe all the public speaking engagements are bring more people to the table. What remains to be seen is whether people will continue to stick with these social networks over the long haul and continue to try to effect change at whatever level they are involved. For many people it may be a fad or lead to becoming a consultant and that’s ok too.


  1. Thanks for sharing the story of your journey here, Ann. I haven't yet read Graham's post, but I've appreciated the conversation in response to the one by Doug.

    It seems to me that we definitely need the new pedagogy that Doug refers to. The reality, however, is that major change cannot happen overnight.

    While change gradually unfolds, I'm excited because when teachers adopt some of the newly emerging tech tools and plug them into established classroom models, it still has the potential to make a very positive difference. There are learners who have experienced only failure with traditional tools who now can be successful.

    Change is often messy and painfully slow, but I'm awfully glad that it is happening. The changes you've helped to facilitate in your school offer just one example. The ways you've learned and grown as you've begun to network illustrate the tremendous benefits of online sharing. --Paul

  2. I agree. It's hard to change a whole school system, and it's obviously a global situation.

    One of the hardest things for all of us, including the children in school, is that we mirror our experiences.

    I see so many of the teachers I meet online trying new things. I believe those that are prominent in my mind have a solid pedagogy behind their work with their students.

    I think many of us like to experiment, but it doesn't mean that we throw all of these things into the mix in the classroom.

    Thank you for your thoughts. Graham's post is certainly worth a read if you have the time.

  3. I started blogging a short time after Doug did and can vouch for the rapid expansion of teacher bloggers. What I have also noticed over that time period is that with so many choices it is easy to choose to read only within one's comfort zone. For example, when I started reading blogs, I had to subscribe to David Warlick because he was one of a handful of easy to follow edubloggers who posted regularly and was talking up the school change issues that Doug makes reference to. I now have the luxury of ignoring Mr.Warlick because I can afford to be more discriminating in my reading - I can find voices more relevant to me as an Australian primary school elearning coordinator and teacher. But the comparative scarcity of edubloggers two or so years ago made me read some people who I might not make the effort towards if I was starting out today - people like D'Arcy Norman, Leigh Blackall, Doug Johnson, Rachel Jeffares and the inimitable Artichoke. But being in the earlier adopters group doesn't mean that I get to dictate the proper topics for discussion for other educators following behind. I think that having skeptics, visionaries, realists, radicals, optimists and regular grassroots operators in the mix can only reduce the echo chamber effect. If Doug really wants the school change conversation, there are bloggers who will willingly accommodate him. But sometimes dwelling on that particular topic exclusively can be frustrating and demoralising - which is the point Chris Craft made in his comment. I personally need a variety in what I read and even in what I write. That's why occasionally I'll break things up with something light hearted or left of centre. That might frustrate some readers who only want the well written, insightful probing content. But blogging has to serve the writer's needs first. If a reader finds that annoying - well, there are plenty of other earnest blogs to read. Same goes for bloggers just writing only about the latest tools - the readers will get bored and move - but if that excites and moves that blogger, it's their right and their blog.
    Anyway, I'm rambling here so I'll wind up this comment by saying that I like the way you've thought through Doug's post and hopefully, you get some more responses here.

  4. Thanks for this lengthy and considered response to the blog posts by myself and Graham. It's encouraging that you're reflecting on the tools you use and developing pedagogical uses for them. :-)

  5. Graham:
    I am continually in search of different educators to read and learn from. I do tend to shy away from blogs that are purely reviews of products. I especially enjoy reading the reflections how teachers approach their work with their students. I continue to come back to your blog for your mix.

    I truly appreciate if you made it to the end of the post. I got a little long winded. I look forward to learning from you as I get to know your blog.