Should Students Blog?

During the second week of EDU 6323 – Technology as a Medium for Learning, I had my graduate students examine blogging for learning.  In addition to starting Michelle Miller’s Minds Online, they read Stephen Downes’ Educational Blogging, Henry JenkinsWhy Academics Should Blog, Steve Wheeler’s Seven Reasons Teachers Should Blog, Sue WatersTop 10 Ways Blogs and WordPress Are Used In Schools, and Vicki DavisLove Song to My Readers.

To add to the context, I also asked students to view Sir Ken Robinson‘s TED Talk:

Finally, I asked students to go to Teach 100 and find 3 blogs that resonated with them.

Their discussion posts aggregated yielded this Wordle –


The blogs they liked (and the spread shows the diversity of 14 graduate students):

So, a mixture of corporate blogs, edited blogs, and individual educator blogs.

One of the questions I asked my students was whether students “should” blog?  The answers were generally positive, but with interesting additional notes.  Some felt that we should start students journaling in elementary school, but within safe zones … with mixed feelings about the appropriate age for students to blog on the open web.  Others felt that grading blogs diminished their learning potential – it led to extrinsic motivation rather than intrinsic.  Most felt that blogging needed to be purposeful and aligned with learning objectives.  Most saw a clear alignment between student blogging and Miller’s call for course redesign through technology.

As to whether teachers and faculty should blog … most were skeptically positive.  In fact, one student decided this was the week for her to stick her toe in the blogosphere.  Unfortunately, within a day of her establishing her blog through GoDaddy, it was hacked and hijacked.  An unfortunate learning opportunity for us all … and she does plan to try again with a more secure setup.

This exploration of blogs leads next week to exploration of web searches and website validity.  It should be interesting!


The 30-Day Challenge Recap

30 Day ChallengeEnoch Hale has captured all the questions he, I and others asked during the 30-Day Challenge.  See his post at “Day 30!!! – Thinking Directions.

I previously linked to his first 15 days is his second 15 days..all worth reading:

Looking forward to new digital challenges!

{Graphic: Bikram Yoga}

A Conversation about Blogging

This spring, I am fortunate to be once again co-teaching GRAD-602 with Jeffrey Nugent.  We are joined this year by our CTE Graduate Fellow, Laura Gogia.  As we have done in the past, we will have our GRAD-602 students reflecting on the class using individual blogs.

Jeff, Laura and I sat down Friday morning to discuss blogging as a genre.  As Seth Godin noted in his discussion with Tom Peters back in 2009, blogging is so much more than a web publishing platform.  Jeff, Laura and I discussed three ideas:  (1) writing in a hypertexted media,  (2) the ability to add images and videos to text, and (3) the art of commenting.

Have a listen, and let me know through comments how this did or did not resonate with you…

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EDCMOOC Week 3 and Being Human

edcmooc sign

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We have moved into our third week in the University of Edinburgh’s Coursera MOOC – E-Learning and Digital Cultures and have shifted from examining utopias and dystopias to an examination of what it means to be “human” in a digital age.

This is a timely examination for me, as it gave me a new lens through which to examine the blog posts of my own students in GRAD-602: Teaching, Learning and Technology.  More on that later.

The week began with quite a few of us uploading images to Flickr to represent our take on this massive course.  To date, there have been 328 uploads to the edcmooc Flickr site.  (WARNING – Time Suck) It is fascinating to see the various visual representations.  Mine pales in comparison to some of the really creative examples displayed…but it was a fun activity to start the week.

In this second block of the MOOC we are asked to question: ‘what does it mean to be human within a digital culture, and what does that mean for education?’.  As in previous weeks, we had a series of videos and articles to review.  We watched a couple of video advertisements here and here that suggested breaking out of technology and being human (though breaking free sometimes required technology).  World Builder involved the creation of a virtual world to help a comatose patient escape her situation, while Made of Meat was a cute look at humans from an alien (and robotic) perspective.  Steve Fuller wrapped up the videos with his TED Talk in Warwick on Humanity 2.0.

Fuller’s talk raised a couple of interesting themes for me.  First was the idea that “humanity” is an artificial construct.  He provided a history of the concept from ancient to medieval to modern times, noting that it is difficult to define what it is to be human.  Neil Badmington in his introduction to his book Posthumanism (2000) suggests that what makes us human is the capacity for rational thought…but will that definition need redefining as AI improves?

The second idea I pulled from Fuller’s talk was how many are reconceptualizing themselves in cyberspace – developing a second self.  This resonated with me.  Do I have a different “humanness” as bwatwood in Twitter or this blog or Facebook than I do as Britt Watwood in person?  Perhaps I do.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  Is my physical being enhanced or damaged by my virtual being…and would the answer to that question differ based on colleagues or my wife?

We read two articles on humanness and education.  Steve Kolowich in Inside Higher Education discussed “The Human Element.”  While noting the growing body of research about the effectiveness of elearning, he suggested that the issue of poor retention has much to do with the lack of human touch.  He noted a move by Douglas Hersh to move his college away from Blackboard towards Moodle, so that they could more easily incorporate video and audio components into their online courses.  Hersh suggests that engagement and audio-visual connections go hand-in-hand.  Increasing social presence through visuals could increase engagement, comfort, trust and ultimately retention in online studies.  Hersh’s 2009 dissertation studied the satisfaction and completion rates of a sample of 145 students in his “presence”-oriented learning environment compared to a similar sample taking their courses through a “traditional” LMS. He noted that “students feel more satisfied in their online courses when they feel engaged through human presence design”.

(Talk about human presence…as I type this, I am waiting for the noon Google Hangout session with our five professors….)

That said, I agree with Reggie Smith of the United States Distance Learning Association, who noted that adding flash did not guarantee results – it is the meaningful engagement of both the faculty and students that made the difference.

The other article was Lowell Monke’s “The Human Touch.”  Monke discussed the issues with having an uncritical faith in technology.  He focused on K-12, but suggested that exposing kids to computers early was similar to exposing them to church and Fourth of July parades – rituals to initiate them into a culture.  What I took from his article was that filling schools with technology did not address society’s problems as much as getting teachers and kids to use technology with a human purpose.

Which leads me back to the graduate class that Jeff Nugent, David McLeod and I are teaching this Spring.  Our 25 students are reflecting about the use of digital media in teaching each week – check out our class portal and please engage with our students!  I was struck how some of the posts and comments this week connected with this theme of humanness.

For instance, Laura in her blog post “A Rainbow Connection” noted that she was exploring “networked thinking and its role in the evolution of humanity.”  In the comments, Megan notes “I want to know the people I am “engaging” with.” Laura replies with ” Well, if we are to embark into online education, it’s not about replicating face-to-face but rather reproducing the magic of face-to-face.”

In the comments to a post “To Tweet or Not To Tweet,” @filly47  states:

I am saying this with an open mind. I am not against learning and trying new things but at the same time I am not going to blindly believe that all technology is for good. I have changed my mind on the usage of facebook as a learning medium and do believe that some classes could benefit from twitter (such as the social sciences or ones where opinions are taken) but not necessarily biology. It would take far more than 140 characters to answer a question and personally it would be easier to do so via spoken word. That being said-youtube videos may be the connection that I would be more apt to (spoken word and ability to demonstrate a theory/process).

This same theme of the spoken word having more impact showed up in Caribou Cafe’s post “A Short List of Why I Will Not Be Using Twitter…“, with a desire to answer in person over typing out an answer.  For me, that is the human element coming through again.  Yet, these students are also grappling with their “other self” as Fuller suggested.

In “Digital Tools to Maintain a Digital Presence,” @evanibm notes “Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, Google+ all have a place in our ‘individualistic yet craving for connection” or “loving our independent spaces yet craving to be part of a community”, type of lives.  We all need human contact to survive as healthy human beings.”  This view was countered by @magistra14 in the comments in “Twitter, Facebook, and Networks, Oh My!“, which noted “I’m not computer adverse. I repair and upgrade my hardware all the time. I’m also not people adverse…I am just an intensely private person and feel one needs my permission to know much about me, and no one has the right to demand more of me than I am willing to give.”  And @ScienceTeacher noted in the comments in “Web 140.0” that “Maybe there’s something to also showing our students that it’s a good thing to ‘get away’ from technology for a bit…but that’s just my personal opinion.”

So, thank you, #edcmooc team, for week 3 and this discussion of the human side of digital life!

Google HangoutSpeaking of the EDCMOOC team, another fun Google Hangout today.  You can watch it hereBud Deihl and I sat together to watch it, and amazingly (given the number of people worldwide viewing and engaging on Twitter, Jen Ross mentioned one of my tweets and two of Bud’s.  Talk about an instant human connection!  It has been fun watching this team engage with the learning community within this MOOC. One of the things I have appreciated is their own self-reflection on the process.  They are blogging together at Teaching E-Learning and Digital Cultures, and I have enjoyed their posts.  This is a grand experiment, and it is nice to follow their own perspectives, questions, and doubts!

Hamish noted some statistics for engagement this week.  The EDCMOOC had 42,874 people enroll, of which 7,392 were “active” last week (not sure how that was defined).  While that suggests around a 17% engagement, Jen noted that there were probably some who were lurking and learning, and that the team was okay with that.

Next week, we continue to explore the human side of digital culture.  Bud and I continued to talk long after we got off the session about our positive views of this course…and the fact that we see it as a course – and I would suggest those positive vibes come from the human side of this technological experiment.  As Hamish noted, “It’s a Happening!” (…and those of us who survived the Sixties knows what he means!) 🙂

{Image credit: Eleni Zazani}


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A New Crop of Bloggers

bumper cropThis spring, I am co-teaching a graduate course in the VCU Preparing Future Faculty Program called Teaching, Learning and Technology with my colleague Jeff Nugent.  One of the requirements of the course is for our 24 doctoral students and post-docs to keep a learning  journal via a personal blog.  We have aggregated their posts onto our class portal.

In the first three weeks, we have discussed the changing landscape of higher education, the impact of the web on learning, the potentials and challenges associated with blogging, and the use of the Seven Principles of Good Practice as a lens through which to assess the fit of any particular technology to teaching.  The photo above reminds me of the excitement of their exploration, and they are definitely buzzing!

Jeff has a thoughtful post on their initial exploration of blogging in Scholarship of Teaching, Say Hello to the Web…. I thought that I would take a different tack.  I went back and grabbed the text of all 24 blogs where they were discussing their initial uses of blogs (as it appeared that only one had previously blogged).  I then dumped the resulting 17 pages of text into Wordle to see what emerged.


Very unscientific (which may turn some of them off), but here is what I see.

Besides blog and blogging, the most used words were “students”, “think”, “time”, “teaching”, “like” and “class”.

As our class is on teaching, it makes sense that students, class, and teaching popped out as key words in their blogs.  The word “think” was used multiple ways, as in “I need to think about this more…”, “I think that…” or “think outside the box.” What is evident to me is that we have disturbed their comfort zones, and this has resulted in quite a bit of thinking…which I see as a good thing.  It is working both ways.  The questions they raise both in their blogs and in class have me thinking quite a bit.

Many are both excited by the possibilities blogging affords (new information, new connections) but they are very concerned about time constraints and time commitments reading, writing, and commenting place on new Ph.D.’s.  One stated that blogging may be a luxury one does after they have established their research, But others saw possibilities that made the time constraint worthwhile,  For instance, one saw possibilities of using blogging to network in order to find a position.  Given that time constraints has emerged as a huge concern in class, it does not surprise me that it was a key word in their collected posts.

As for “like”, there were some that appear to like blogging, some that were not sure if they like blogging, and some that appear to not like blogging.  So I am not reading too much into that word.

crop5What is definitely coming through their blogs is both wonder at how technology is changing teaching and concerns as to the fit of social media to their lives as future researchers.  Our discussions in class raise equal measures of excitement and skepticism, with some frustration at the current state of higher education.  They are a focused group who fly right to the point, and in doing so, keep Jeff and I engaged and enjoying the course.  I encourage those in academia who read this blog to connect with these students through our portal and add your voices in response to their questions and concerns.  I am enjoying the experience and I suspect that you will as well.

{Photo Credits: dsevilla}

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Is Networked Learning Doomed in Virginia K-12?

classblogsThe Fall semester wrapped up mid-December with my departure for two weeks to visit family in New England, so I never really had the opportunity to reflect on my first use of blogging as a mode for instruction and class communication.  Three grandkids have a way of prioritizing your time!  Now that I have returned to Richmond…and before Spring semester starts, I wanted to think about my Fall class again.

Those who follow me will remember that this fall I had 13 bright Masters students in my ADMS 647 Educational Technology for School Leaders class.  Back in August, I noted that I would have my student blogging into the new academic year, something none of them had done before.  Over the 14 weeks of the class, I had the opportunity to watch each of them evolve and mature as bloggers.  We aggregated their blog posts on our class Google Sites page to facilitate viewing and commenting.  Their first posts were tentative and more like paper essays than real reflections.  Through commenting, they learned from each other and began to add links and then multimedia.  A tipping point occurred when several recorded  personal videos using Jing or YouTube and uploaded them as their blog posts.

I remember that almost all of my students self-reported themselves as technophobes back in August.  That did change.  By December, they reported that they felt confident with using blogs, and more importantly, they were experimenting with new approaches to both blogging and the use of educational technology in their classrooms.  It appeared that they were no longer scared of technology, and in fact felt empowered.  As one of my students said quoting Vicki Davis:

“…I will not be waiting on the fence where technology is concerned. As Vicki Davis had said in the video that I had outlined earlier “we need to stop waiting on SUPERMAN and be SUPERCAN“. I will definitely be looking on what I can do…”

Similar sentiments were expressed by quite a few of my students.  I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed participating in this evolution and growth.  I made a point of commenting on each blog each week, and over time, several students began to reciprocate and comment on my blog.  They easily took to commenting on each others posts, primarily since they were already an established community from the summer face-to-face classes.  By the end of the semester, I felt a part of this community, one filled with excitement!

Part of the intent of this class was to expose these future school administrators to the open and public web, with both the opportunities and the threats associated with being a public intellectual.  I was therefore disappointed that with one exception, no one outside the class ever commented on any of my students’ posts.  Over the 14 weeks, these students generated 210 blog posts covering a variety of topics.  Yet, 209 of these posts could have just as easily remained within the walled garden of Blackboard.  Of course, I do not know who outside the class might have read these posts but not commented.  If my blog is any indication, that certainly happened.

I definitely will continue to use blogs as a means of networked learning in future classes I teach.

So if I appeared to develop a class of Web 2.0 explorers, why the grim title to this blog post?  It started with a tweet from my friend Jon Becker last Friday:


That link led to a Daily Press editorial “Texting While Teaching“, which reported that Virginia is developing guidelines that require teachers to only communicate with students through official/professional/school-based channels.  In other words, as I read this – not through social media or open Web 2.0 applications.

There was an associated article Saturday in the Washington Post: “Virginia school officials consider state guidelines to prevent sexual misconduct.”  This article notes that these guidelines are a response to a horrific case of child sexual depredation by former Manassas teacher Kevin Ricks.  The article reported:

“Ricks, 50, a former Osbourn High School teacher, was arrested in February and convicted of sexually abusing a 16-year-old boy who had been a student at the school. A Washington Post investigation, whose findings were published in July, revealed that Ricks had abused boys over three decades and had infiltrated their lives by plying them with gifts, taking them on trips, staying in touch with them via Internet social networking and throwing alcohol-soaked parties.”

Definitely unforgivable.  However, the reaction by the Virginia Board of Education is that all teachers must forgo the use of social media with their students due to the actions by one.  It would be as if after a male drunk driver killed a nun in Virginia back in August, guidelines were established to ban driving by all males in the state.  I am being cynical, but the knee jerk reaction is similar.

Interestingly, the Washington Post website reporting this proposed ban gives you the ability to share this article through Facebook, Twitter, and a host of other social media.

facebook_banIt is also interesting that at the same time these guidelines are being developed, Facebook passed its 500 millionth user.  I watched Lester Holt‘s documentary “The Facebook Obsession” last night on CNBC.  There was an interesting comment towards the end of the show.  Facebook was viewed more as a utility than an application.  One person stated that Facebook is becoming a global infrastructure for communication.

Our children deserve a safe learning environment in school.  At the same time, a role of education is to prepare children for the world they will inhabit…and increasingly, social media is a part of that world.  Guidelines are needed, but flat out bans are the wrong approach.  Rather, a tiered approach is needed to introduce elementary aged children to safe networks, with graduated access as students age, so that high school students understand and are capable of operating in a socially networked world as they reach their teen years.

We have not even reached Facebook’s sixth birthday yet.  Social media and networked learning are still in their infancy.  Yet amazing teachers like Kim Cofino, Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay have shown the potential networked learning affords.  It will take some time to sort through the issues and the rewards.  I find total bans on texting and social networks counterproductive at the very time we are attempting to engage our students in learning with the tools they are already using for informal learning.  We do not ban teen males from driving…we provide driver’s education.  Should we not do the same for social media?

As always, I would be interested in your thoughts.

{Facebook Graphic: Michael Garrett}

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Happy New Year (and Zemanta)

Rodney the RamImage via Wikipedia

Academics go by a different timeline than the rest of the world.  Our year does not start on January 1, but rather on the first day of the Fall semester.  There is a different feel to Virginia Commonwealth University today with smiling students jossling between buildings and classrooms.  I threw the switch on my online class, and already a quarter of the students have peeked in!

I am also typing this just to try out Zemanta, after seeing a couple of tweets from Darren Draper. It is advertised as a blogging tool that “saves you time, brings more traffic and makes your posts beautiful.”  Not sure much can be done to beautify my posts…but I see the rationale.  If – while you were drafting – an “intelligent agent”understood what you are blogging about and suggested pictures, links, articles and tags – it would – as the advertisement suggests – make your posts more “vibrant.”  In other words, while you craft your post, Zemanta analyzes the text and recommends additional content you can use to spice it up.  Since I belong to the category of “I could use all the help I can get,” this seems like a useful tool.

And in my first drive it seems pretty easy to use.  I downloaded the Firefox Add-On and it loaded into the sidebar of my Edublog dashboard.  As I type and save, it updates suggested Creative Commons pictures (which is where I pulled the image of our mascot above), and also gives me suggested links, such as the VCU, Zemanta, Creative Commons, and Edublog links above.  It did not suggest a link for Darren, so it is not foolproof.

But even with that, it really does speed up the blogging process in embedding links, so I will continue to test drive it for awhile.  I need to work on the picture side.  It seems to only let me put one suggested picture in.  If I selected a second picture, it replaces the first.  Might be operator error.  But I can upload a second picture manually, as I just did with the logo to the left.

Be interested in how others have used it, and any tips on better use.

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Some Good Questions – Blogs as Scholarship

I am a product of the quality movement of the Eighties. I was a Deming Disciple and in the Nineties was a Baldrige-trained examiner for the State of Georgia’s Board of Examiners for their state quality award. I have taught courses on quality management in both Schools of Education and Business. I still believe that one of the best ways a school or department can assess itself is to download the latest Baldrige Criteria and examine their own processes and results based on the questions and metrics noted in the seven different criteria.

All that is background to suggest that my ears perked up when my colleague Jeff Nugent suggested that I look at metrics associated with the scholarship of blogging as part of my goals for the next academic year.

So I started looking around. I found that there are many anecdotal pieces written in both blogs and journals that suggest that many in the edublogosphere view what they do as scholarship, but not many true SoTL-class research studies on blogging. (If you know of some, please place a link in the comments below!) This suggests that the timing is good to explore suitable metrics that could measure the value of a blog posting in terms of its scholarship, potentially allowing its use in promotion and tenure decisions.

Michael Jensen, in a Chronicle of Higher Education article entitled “The New Metrics of Scholarly Authority,” noted that most current metrics of scholarship are associated with the old model of information scarcity when thanks to the Internet and Web 2.0, we now live in an age of abundance. Peer-review potentially takes on a new meaning in a “hive mind” or “wisdom of the crowds” environment. Jensen noted that in Wikipedia, the more an article is edited, the more authority is is deemed to have. He also suggested that machine intelligence will begin to sort material on a variety of metrics, including raw links, valued links from others in authority, commenters, nature of comments, tags, and an assortment of subjective values associated with who one is, where one works, and who one associates with. Jensen suggested that it make take 10 to 15 years for these metrics to take hold, but that they are coming.

I also stumbled across a work in progress by Georgia Harper, who contemplated writing her dissertation on whether legal blogs are a form of scholarly communication. In a series of six blog posts, she detailed her development of her research project on blogs as scholarship. I recommend the whole series, but found fascinating her concept map below and linked here.

{Credit: Georgia Harper:}

Georgia asked:

– What are the existing forms of scholarship with which blogs compete or are complementary?

– How do blogs fit in the existing array of scholar’s academic duties?

– Is blogging synergistic with other academic duties?

– What are the essential features of blogs with respect to post length, temporality, style, and audience size?

– Do blogs build community?

– Are blogs useful in soliciting comments on early drafts or rough ideas?

– Do blogs harm scholarship or scholars?

– Are blogs part of an emerging web-based system for establishing scholarly authority?

– Are blogs only one part in a shift within academia towards shorter, more open forms of disintermediated communication?

– What perspectives and viewpoints do current forms of scholarship mediate, and are they different from those mediated by blogs?

Great questions – and a baseline from which one could develop metrics.

So what do you think? Is this worth doing? I would love to hear your thoughts and comments as I begin work on crafting a model of blog metrics associated with scholarship.