Some Gems from Week 1 Blogging

During the first week of ADLT 640 – The Theory and Practice of eLearning Integration into Adult Environments – we looked at the changing landscape of learning (with hat-tip to Jeff Nugent) and the Evolution of Elearning (with hat-tip to Ruben Puentedura)

A term that came up in class when defining “e-learning” was organic…a natural part of the learning environment.  I have never heard it described quite that way, but this really resonated with me.

You can check out their blogs here.  There were some interesting take-aways.

From Julia:

Is there a difference between “online learning” and “learning online”?  Online learning is the buzzword that we use to define an alternative and formal method to learning that is still evolving.  Learning online was what my sons did – fluid, organic, and not associated with school.

…and from another post by Julia:

However, nine minutes of conceptualizing about hybrid thinking in the next 20 years left me even more personally aware that this is truly the most intensely stimulating period in the history of the earth.  I am at the same time both excited and a bit overwhelmed by the prospect.

From abryk:

So to answer the question: YES! Online teaching is absolutely marked by practices that are different from face-t0-face courses. The two are not equal. I am not saying that one is better and the other is worse, but that the two are distinctly different settings that require distinctly different methods to facilitate learning and engagement. Unfortunately, I feel that many educators prefer the safety of classroom limitations than the risk – no, challenge – of seeking to successfully educating online. (Similarly, many of us learners fear the challenge of adapting to learning in an online environment.)

In a similar vein, Jennifer noted:

There seems to be this great divide between those who are against technology and those who are strongly for it. I personally feel in the middle.

Another student blogged:

Although in-person is preferred for lengthy or certification trainings, I would argue quick hit e-learning is the preference for many people. To increase the popularity of longer e-learning courses educators must figure out how to incorporate the cultural aspects of the classroom into e-learning.

Caitlin posted an interesting observation about elearning she had experienced:

I’ve taken other eLearning classes since.  One was an entirely online course in accounting, not my strongest subect anyway. It also wasn’t what I was hoping for:  I wanted a guide on how to use software to do small business accounting, and instead I was caculating payroll taxes with a calculator.  Bogus.  It gave me a bad impression of online courses because it used the pervasive “post an original post to blackboard, and comment on three other posts.”   The format was really foced and unnatural.  Plus, who wants to comment about accounting? … So now we’re talking about elearning, and I’m looking at it from the lens of an Adult Ed student, one who still has most of her professors use the post-one-comment-three method for most of our reflective blogging.  It begs the question:  who came up with that ratio?  Why is it so pervasve?  Sometimes it begets engaged comment threads, but a lot of the time there are three comments that say things like, “Yeah, great post, I agree!”   or some variation therein.  I think we can all agree, that’s not a conversation.

And from Mo:

The question that needs to be asked is: is technology changing/transforming/redefining how we think of education? The obvious answer is yes if we look at the trends in the use of technology in the classroom. Looking carefully at the current education, however, we can see that technology is used to replace the old ways of doing things in many educational settings. It acts as a direct tool-substitute with no functional improvement.

Lots to chew on….

This week, we explore the learning theories of behaviorism, cognitivism, constructivism, and connectivism as they relate to elearning.

Voices of the Students

voices2At a meeting this week, my colleague Mary Secret was discussing her online classes.  Mary has been an active member of our Online Advisory Committee and teaches both online and face-to-face in our Masters of Social Work program.  She had done research in assessing online classes, and she suggested that it would be good if we researched the “voices of our students” online.  That phrase has stuck with me all week…driven by my own students and some fascinating things that I am seeing them do this semester in my class.

In my graduate online class, ADMS 647 – Educational Technology for School Leaders, we have been blogging weekly around a variety of topics.  My students are all Visiting International Faculty working on their Masters in Education, and none had actively blogged before.  The establishment and development of a blog was the first order of business in our class, and they all successfully started a blog on the open web.  As future school administrators, I thought it important that they spend time on the open web, with all the inherent problems that might create.  As their blogs started, they really had no preconceived notion of what I expected, so their posts took on the format of a paper digitally submitted through a blog. During the first four weeks, the students explored and posted their research on a collection of web tools that could be used instructionally.classblogs

Their blog posts began to show a shift as they reflected on that initial journey.  In a short four weeks, they had moved from being fearful of the web to being enamored with it.  Their successes at posting multimedia presentations through their blog brought home some of the possibilities that this class was designed to showcase.  Importantly, the tone in their blogs became more personal, and the commenting between and among students  increased as well.

Over the past three weeks, we have explored areas that fall in the seamier side of the web, such as the rise of the cyberbully or the slanderous uses of social networking.  We also discussed a perennial sore point – the degree to which the internet is blocked in schools.  It has been eye-opening to the students – all of whom are practicing K-12 teachers. Their blog posts have become more emotional as they internalized some of the issues educators face on the web.  As that occurred, it appeared that for some, simply typing a response was not enough.

So a fascinating thing has occurred over the past two weeks.  Several of my students have begun to record videos where they talk through the issue under discussion for the week.  To be honest, it caught me by surprise.  I am grading their weekly blog posts, and it is actually easier to grade a text-based product over an audio-based one.  I can also read faster than I can listen…giving me an appreciation now on why some undergraduates listen to podcasts at double speed!  Yet, I find that the ability to hear inflections of voice adds a new dimension to these student blogs.

I am glad that they are not all doing it…though it may catch on.

What I do find interesting is how blogging – and the ownership of a blog – changes a dynamic in student-teacher communication.  When I first started teaching online a decade ago, I tended to have weekly discussions in the discussion boards and papers every few weeks, which I would mark up and return with a grade.  The shift this year to a blog format has allowed both the “discussions” and the “papers” to merge into a new format.  My students have been reflective and operating at a higher level of Bloom’s Taxonomy in their posts.  They have also experimented with incorporation of aspects of Web 2.0 into their posts.  So we have seen, in addition to the videos mentioned above, experimental use of Wordle and Slideshare as aspects of posts.  This has definitely shifted aspects of my class from one controlled by the faculty to control in the students’ hands.  A student-centered approach to learning…what a concept!

It has been 15 years since Barr and Tagg published “From Teaching to Learning” in CHANGE magazine, and yet in all that time, nothing I have done in my classes has had the impact on my teaching that student blogging has.


This was a cute road sign snapped by Major Clanger on the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, between Portland and Beaverton, in Oregon, and posted to Flickr.  What I like about my student voices is that they are very real…and they contain some good ideas.  They use of student blogs is transforming how I teach.

{Photo Credit: yugenro, Major Clanger}

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New Bloggers

classblogsI mentioned in my last post that I was shifting my online instruction this semester from one based on Blackboard discussions to one based on blog posts.  Over the weekend, my graduate students posted their first blog posts in response to an assignment.

I am teaching a graduate class called Educational Technology for School Leaders.  This class has thirteen K-12 teachers working on their Masters in Education, and these students are scattered over three states.  The option of getting together face-to-face does not exist.  Based on initial introductions, none had ever blogged before, and most were pretty nervous about setting up their blogs and publishing on the open web.  That nervousness was precisely why I wanted them to dip their toes in the waters and begin to experience the possibilities of networked learning.  As future potential administrators, I believe it is helpful if they swim in the same waters in which their students swim.  So blogging through the semester is one way to achieve that goal.

I provided links to getting started tutorials for our school blog, Edublogs, WordPress and Blogger, but left it to the students to decide what platform to use.  The distribution was pretty even across the choices.  All thirteen successfully set up their blog and then successfully posted their first post on time.  I pulled the various blogs together into our class Google Sites page.

As the illustration to the left demonstrates, they did not just grab the default page.  I was excited by the diversity of design and styles that they chose for their own blogs.  I also was excited (as were several of their classmates) with their experimentation right off the bat with embedding videos and pictures.

And quite frankly, I was impressed with their first posts.

As an assignment, I asked my students to watch the YouTube video “Welcome To My PLE“, in which a 12 year old girl describes how she uses the web for learning.  My simple question to my students was – would Wendy (the 12-year-old girl in the video) be welcomed in your classroom.

My students were across the board awed by the prowess this 12-year-old demonstrated in her use of the web.  Many felt that they would be intimidated by Wendy, though others wondered if Wendy was already in their classes.  As a group, they felt motivated to becoming more comfortable with the web so that they could effectively guide Wendy as she took control of her own learning.  In fact, they tended to cherish the fact that Wendy felt responsible for her own learning.  As one of my students noted, she wished she had 15 Wendy’s in her class.

There was also an interesting underlying theme regarding not whether they themselves would welcome Wendy, but rather would their fellow teachers, their parents, and their administrators welcome Wendy.

For a group of self-proclaimed technophobes who feel they are way behind Wendy, I was very pleased with their first post.  It is a good baseline from which we can grow as a group.  We will continue to blog weekly on different topics, and in the coming weeks, will explore some of the more difficult issues of ethics, politics, and law regarding the web.  I suspect that the quality of the posts will continue to improve, and I would ask those who follow me to take a moment and check out our class Google Sites page and if moved, comment to some of my students.  Nothing adds quality to blogs like the realization that someone besides the professor and Mom is reading their work!

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Blogging Into the New Academic Year

teacherblogMy Fall 2010 online course kicked off this past weekend, and unlike face-to-face classes, the process of getting to know my students is slow but interesting.  Three-quarters have now logged in, but by the nature of the design, it will be a week before many of them begin interacting with each other.  My students are all Visiting International Faculty from a variety of countries, working on their Masters in Education from VCU while they teach in K-12 schools across three states.  I am using the Wimba Voice Board as a way to hear their voices and begin connecting with them.  They were here this summer as a cohort, so I would suspect that they have already formed pretty tight bonds.

As the outsider, I wanted to do something a little different with their introductions.  I originally planned to have them use the game at that computes their breed as a dog, but as luck would have it, the site went down the day the course started and still has not come back up.  So as a back-up, I redirected students to the dog breed calculator at Dogster.Com.

But that is only the icebreaker.  After teaching online for 15 years and blogging for nearly 3 years, I felt that it was time to practice what I preach and move my students from commenting in Blackboard discussion boards to more open reflecting on the web.

After all, this course is entitled Educational Technology for School Leaders.  In this digital age, “educational technology” increasingly means web-based technology.  Over the last three years, I have found that the K-12 teachers I teach start this course with a real fear of the web.  Part of that is the fear of the unknown…the fear that they will appear less knowledgeable than the children in their room.  But the other fear is based on genuine issues of safety, inappropriate behavior, and lawsuits.  As Scott McLeod noted last year, if we are not working on the web and teaching appropriate use of the web to our children, who will?

So it is time for my course to stop exploring the web and start using it.

blog_instrWith only 13 students this fall, this feels like a good class in which to try this.  Neither I nor they should be overwhelmed.  Following  the good example set by Jon Becker in his Education Politics class, I have created a Google Sites class space to aggregate the RSS feeds from my students.  As they are checking in to the Blackboard space, they are finding links to four potential blog sources that they can use to create their blogs.  The first few to do so are following advice that I got from Jeff Nugent and have passed on to them, which was to suggest that they could blog anonymously.

Bill Kist listed some good blogging guidelines on page 73 of his book The Socially Networked Classroom from Bud Hunt which I am modifying for a graduate level class:

1.  While your blog is your space, treat the one your are using in this class as your academic publishing platform.  Speech that is inappropriate for your classroom is probably inappropriate in your blog.  While critical reflection and healthy skepticism are part of blogging, your comments should always be presented in a way that reflects how you present yourself in your classroom – as a professional.

2.  You are not required to divulge your identity in your blog nor identify your school.  Your blog is a public space on the Internet.  Do not share anything you do not want the world to know.  As a recent video noted, what happens in Vegas stays on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a host of blogs.  Assume that a future employer will review your blog and write accordingly.

3.  Finally, practice good scholarship on the web.  Link to your sources.  Give credit to others if you use their thoughts.  If you do link to a website, make sure that you have reviewed that link.  If it contains material that might make others uncomfortable, think before you use it.  We will be exploring the darker side of the internet in Module 3, but that does not give you license to pull it into our class.

With the links above, I am obviously focusing on the technology as I help them start, but I also think that it is important that they see this blog as a real departure from education as usual.

They are used to college courses requiring them to work and submit original thoughts (through papers and online discussions), and they are also used to that original material being shut off from them at the end of the semester.  That is the way universities have taught for hundreds of years…and the original learning management systems simply replicated that model.  But as others have been doing (and I have enjoyed watching Jeff Nugent do this with his classes, as well as the neat work up at University of Mary Washington), some students have been given ownership of their own intellectual property.  The blogs that my students create will belong to them…to do with as they will.  I will be grading their use during my course because that is what professors do.  But the thoughts they raise and the reflections they post will be theirs.  They may or may not continue blogging after this semester, but my hope is that they will connect to the larger network of fellow learners…and in the process, become better able to advise the not-so-savvy digital students inhabiting their classrooms.

By next week, they should have created their own blog.  I am going to have “topics” for reflection on a weekly basis, and part of the rubric for grading includes commenting to fellow students.  Their first reflection will be on the “Welcome to My PLE” video I discussed in my July 14th post on the Socially Networked Student.  I am interested in their take on this 7th grader and her use of the web for learning.  Bud Deihl and I used this video in our talk at Elon University and got some interesting push-back from some faculty who only saw an ability to cut and paste.  I am wondering what my students see?  Is she typical?  Would she be welcome in their classrooms?

The students will post by September 10th and comment through September 12th.

I am excited and looking forward to seeing where this use of social media will take my learning and their learning as the semester unfolds.  For those of you who have taken this approach already, any advice will be welcomed!

{Photo Credit: cogdog}

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Is the CMS Dead? (…and other UMW FA 2009 Fun)

Bud Deihl and I traveled north a few miles to attend the University of Mary Washington’s Faculty Academy 2009 in Fredericksburg, VA.  It was a chance to reconnect face-to-face with some of my Twitter friends like Martha Burtis (see her reflections on this day here), George Brett and Laura Blankenship.

One of the highlights for me was the lunch debate between the Right Reverend Jim Groom and John St. Clair on “Is the CMS Dead?”  In a lively back and forth, the original Edupunk Jim suggested that the course management system was only good for management, not learning, and as such, SHOULD be dead … but appeared to be more undead (I knew zombies would appear at some point in his talk).  John countered that he thought the talk was about CMS – conservative mid-sized sedans – and that he thought most people wanted a sensible automobile and not some do-it-yourself hovercraft!

Both gentlemen gave great passionate arguments to their side.  I talked to Jim afterward and asked why the question had to be CMS “or” open systems?  In the past two semesters, I have used the Blackboard CMS for the things it does well (document and link management, rosters, grade management), but also used blogging, Jing and wikis for collaborative work with my students.  In other words, Blackboard served as a portal and launching point for my students into the open web.  This seemed to me to be a case of “AND” rather than “or.”

I enjoyed the lunch debate, but in reality, the whole day was fantastic!

James Boyle gave an invigorating keynote on “Cultural Agoraphobia: What Universities Need to Know About Our Bias Against Openness.”  Having just come off the Board of Directors for Creative Commons, he was uniquely qualified to discuss this issue.  He started with a history of the internet and how openness was a bug meant to be fixed later, but the internet grew more rapidly than anticipated and openness spawned many wonderful opportunities and profitable enterprises.  It definitely caused problems and concerns, but also amazing positives in the business world, entertainment, government, and education.  Yet, Boyle stated that education has yet to deal with its concerns and instead simply is biased against openness.  He noted that openness meant not only the ability to copy but also the ability to improve.

Thoroughly enjoyed the talk.  Jeff Nugent has recently had us at the CTE discussing licensing our Center organizational web material with a Creative Commons license.

I attended a great panel discussion by UMW faculty on their use of blogging in their classes.  It was a chance to see a very diverse mix of blogs associated with writing classes, art classes, science classes and math classes.  One of the take-aways was that blogs allowed time for students to reflect on critical issues for which there just was not time in 50-minute classes.

Cole Camplese of Penn State University gave an excellent talk on emerging trends impacting teaching and learning.  I loved his observation that we view what our students do as “technology,” but that it is only technology to those of us born before technology.  To the students raised in a wired world, it is simply a means of communication and connection.  I was blown away by the fact he listed that 40% of students at Penn State no longer bring a TV to campus.  They get their “TV” and entertainment straight off the web.  He noted that our universities are still designed as if our students are going to receive our wisdom and reflect it back to us, when in reality, through their own content and knowledge creation, our students act more as amplifiers than reflectors.  At Penn State, they have cast blogs as a form of digital publishing and are exploring ways for students to keep their own digital content.  If blogs are viewed as personal content management systems, then digital expression is seen as a form of scholarship that must be systematically supported.

I was also impressed that a third of PSU faculty reported using YouTube instructionally.  🙂

The last session of the day was a workshop run by Laura Blankenship on “Creating a Personal Learning Network for Yourself and Your Students.”  We will be discussing the same topic at our upcoming Teaching and Learning with Technology Institute in June, so I was interested in seeing how Laura presented this concept.  She did a great job by first focusing on problems that needed solving, and then brainstorming from the group web applications that could be used to solve these problems.  In the course of the discussion, we discussed RSS feeds, Google Reader, delicious, Jott, and a host of other tools.

One last side thought – Twitter was very active among participants, and the hashtag #umwfa09 made note-taking unnecessary.  However, Twitter had scheduled maintenance today which hit right at the end of Cole’s talk, and it was momentarily frustrating to lose it mid-conference (so much so that I complained about it in Facebook!!!)  🙂

Great day – looking forward to Day Two tomorrow!

A Year in the Spiral

It is the last day of 2008, and as with many others, it is a time for reflection.

2008 was certainly a very different year from my 57 previous ones.  Even though I had worked with computers for years and had engaged in online learning for the past dozen years, in many ways I was a creature of the Web 1.0 era.  I did not grow up with interactivity – I grew up with Basic computer language and dial-up modems.  The computer was a tool that I used primarily offline, but I did go online to go places (my online class in Blackboard, Google, Mapquest, even Wikipedia).  In my developmental years, my web interactions were mostly one-way and teacher-oriented.  I remained in control of my journey and knew where I was headed.

With my colleagues at the Center for Teaching Excellence, Jeff Nugent and Bud Deihl, I had begun dabbling in Web 2.0 apps like Ning sites (Classroom 2.0 and College 2.0) and delicious in 2007, but I was still primarily a voyeur.  My colleague Jeff would prod me to try out different sites or check out different blogs, but I did so rather passively.  My “network” for the most part consisted of people I worked with and a couple of others.  At the start of the year, I was subscribing to about ten blogs and a variety of journal and news sites. It was not until January 13, 2008, that a blog post by Michele Martin grabbed me.

Over the course of a couple of days last January, Michele discussed her own growth online and illustrated this with her social media spiral shown above.  I saw myself in that spiral, and recognized that to grow, I needed to move higher up the spiral.  I had moved from isolated consumption to aggregation in 2007, but I was still of the mindset that few would be interested in anything I might have to say.  I really cannot say why, but Michele’s spiral was the tipping point for me that moved me to start my own blog.

Michele cheered me on during that first month, as did Sue Waters, a new “friend” whose advice and guidance helped be grow as a blogger.  My network began to grow as I entered the spiral of commenting and blogging.  By May 2008, I felt confident enough to join the 31-Day Blog Comment Challenge.  It was exhausting but illuminating, and it added new friends like Ken Allen to my network.  Along the way, I learned that my “personal” learning network was really a social one and not an individual one.  I was learning from the likes of Will Richardson, Michele Martin, Wes Fryer, Vicki Davis, Jeff Utecht and many, many more – and that learning was social.  These superstars were interacting and commenting on my comments and blog posts!

As I taught this fall, my frequency of blogging slowed.  Part of that is due to the time spent microblogging in Twitter with many of the same people I follow through their blogs.  Part of it was due to redesigning my online course – Instructional Uses of the Internet.  The redesign was driven in large part by my experience in the spiral.  2008 was the year I made the leap to social networking, and it was transformational.  I now view my life and my job through a different lens than I did a year ago, shaped by the global friendships I have made and continue to make.

Learning in a Flat World.  The name still fits.  This will be my 125th post this year.  There have been 310 comments, comments that helped me learn – and comments from all over the globe.  I am still humbled by the ClustrMap above.  My readership is worldwide with nearly 4,600 hits since I started tracking it last February.  More importantly, I have gotten to know some of the gifted people behind those red dots marking the globe.  I see them as mentors, colleagues, collaborators, and friends.  I see the world as a different place from the way I viewed it pre-2008.

Tom Friedman remarked that the world had gotten flat and closer due to the internet.  While I loved his book and had done several seminars on THE WORLD IS FLAT, I do not think that I really understood that until 2008.

To those who have journeyed with me this past year, my deepest thanks!  You have made me a better educator!

Just think what 2009 might bring!

Bear Scat?

A few weeks ago, Tom Peters used some recently deposited bear scat to illustrate his point about the current economic times:

A little graphic but it got Tom’s point across.  Sometimes crap is what crap is.  I was thinking about this today when I found out that Edublogs has been adding advertisements in a stealth mode to mine and other Edublogs that they host.

Two things I should state up front.  First, I do not pay for my blog.  One of the things that attracted me to Edublogs was their premise that they would host a blog for educators at no charge.  In fact, if you go to Edublogs, you see the notice at right which tells you to sign up and get started for free.  And I did almost one year ago.  I have thoroughly enjoyed this blog and the connections it has afforded.

Second, I believe in the power of blogging and the networking that occurs through blogs.  I have learned much and am indebted to Sue Waters (who is paid by Edublogs) for the superb “how-to” blog she provides at The Edublogger.  The edublogging community has definitely benefited from the hosting and support provided by Edublogs.Org.

So I was caught off guard this morning when Jim Groom tweeted this to Jeff Nugent:

I checked my own blog and there were no advertisements.  But then I cleared all Private Data including log in data from my Firefox browser and then went back in to my blog – in a manner similar to one of my students Goggling me and then checking out my blog.  Here is what I found:

Very interesting!  A blog post in which I discuss things I am thankful for brings up an ad for finding the right bar! That definitely sends a signal about who I am!!!

Of course, I played no part in selecting this ad or placing it in my post.  Those familiar with how blogs work might recognize this for a pop-up ad and not part of my content.  I would wager, however, that the vast majority of people who might read my blog are not as discerning, and since my blogs are full of links, they would not differentiate between the links “Britt” inserts and the links “Edublogs” inserts.  It is Britt’s blog and therefore representative of Britt – or worse, of the Center for Teaching Excellence where I work (my disclaimer notwithstanding).

I have several other examples, but I think the one above makes the point.  Having discovered this, I then began researching it.  If one searches the Edublogs Forum, one will find a forum on ads.  Apparently, the administrators at Edublogs began looking at ways to bring in revenue about 9 months ago, and came up with a process to embed ads that would only show to those not logged in.  If one did not keep up with the legal Terms of Service nor dutifully read their blog forum, one would not be aware of this.  The administrators stated it would be too hard to email all users with this policy.

See picture at top of post.

It also appears that several users have discovered this in the past week and some are pulling their blogs off Edublogs in protest.  The latest post noted that the administrators were re-examining the policy and would email all users soon.

I am concerned enough to start looking around at other options for my blog.  I still feel that the spirit of the Edublogs community is a worthy one, but that spirit has been soiled by the manner in which ads were added without consent to the blogs of professors, teachers, and students.  I also think that it is worth paying a fee to have no ads, and would suggest to Edublogs that they look at the process Jott used to move from a free service to a paid service, including transparency in the process.

How about those of you who also use Edublogs?  Is this an ethical issue of sufficient weight that you would consider pulling your blog?  I would be interested in your thoughts.

[Photo Credit: Tom Peters, Jim Groom]

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Blogging Instructionally

I was slated to run a session today on “Blogging in the Academy” but ended up going a different direction instead.  Our workshop description stated:

Blogs have begun to move beyond personal journaling to emerge as a possible form of academic publishing.  Blogs today provide a reflective medium for publication of teaching and research, and provide a point of connection for community building within one’s discipline.  How do blogs fit in with other academic duties?  How can blogs help scholarship and is it possible for blogs to harm scholarship? Should students blog as part of their learning journey, and can students effectively blog if faculty do not?  This workshop will explore the use of blogs in both classroom and academic disciplines.

The last time we ran this session in September, we spent the entire time discussing blogging as scholarship.  As it turned out today, in polling the participants up front, no one was interested in blogging as scholarship, but each either wanted to have students begin blogging as a way of fostering student connections and communication, or they wanted to blog themselves, or both.  I found this fascinating, because several have discussed in the past week the concept that blogging is dead.  Paul Boutin in Wired magazine wrote Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004.   The CogDog barked that “Maybe Blogging is Dead After All (Or Our Conceptualization Is).” Yet it seems that when early adopters move on to something else, the majority backfill the void and pick up the practice. As Jon Becker noted in “Greatly Exaggerated,” he was not buying that blogging is dead…and the interest I saw today demonstrated to me the same idea.

So I moved rapidly past the discussion on blogging as a public intellectual, and instead focused on instructional blogging.

One example that I could rapidly showcase is the work Jeff Nugent is doing with his Mass Comm Learning with Digital Media class.  Jeff has his students blog as part of their weekly assignments, and has collected their blogs in a Netvibes site.  As Jeff noted over coffee earlier this week, he has been gratified that some of his students are now making connections with the global blogging community, and are no longer writing for a grade, but rather for a readership that they value.

What drives that value are comments.  Blogs are a great personal reflective journal, but when others begin commenting, and one returns the favor by commenting on the blogs of others, connections get made – exactly what several professors today wish to have occur in their classes.

Blogs are not mainstream…yet.  The ECAR 2008 Study of Undergraduates and Information Technology reports that about one-third of students contribute content to blogs.  I would hazard a guess that blogging by faculty is much less percentage-wise.  Yet, a small group of faculty registered for our workshop today so that they can begin.  I find solace and hope in that!

{Photo Credits: CogDog, Salendron}

Wis-Dumb of the Crowds

I subscribe to Stephen Downes’ email newsletter “OLDaily” because I find interesting and relevant items there that complement the other blogs I read. However, I feel he stepped way over bounds yesterday. One of his items was as follows:

Quick Quiz: What New Web Tool Can You Use and Get an ASUS? How about a little disclosure here? Are Steve Dembo and Sue Waters getting paid to promote a commercial product (I assume Alan Levine’s rah rah post is unpaid, though you’d never know from the tenor)? Was Dembo being paid when he started plugging it on his site back in early April? I don’t care if people want to make a little money, but let’s keep the advertising content in the edublogosphere clearly labeled as such, OK? Because, as it stands now, I can’t trust anything Sue Waters and Steve Dembo write – and that’s an unhappy state to be in. Alan Levine, CogDogBlog, May 27, 2008.

In fairly quick fashion, Al Levine, Steve Dembo and Sue Waters all stated in the “Comment” area of Stephen’s newsletter that none of them were being paid. Several others joined in the discussion as well, and Sue added a response in her blog.

It is worth reading the string of responses, and as Alan Levine noted, it is good to have pot stirrers shake things up from time to time. But I would suggest that there is a difference between stirring pots and making personal attacks, and attacking the trust of fellow educators is just a low blow. In a Web 2.0 world, one’s validity is about all the currency one has, so a very public attack on someone’s credibility online is extremely damning.

Trust is a slippery fellow, hard to gain and easy to lose. I have been honored to have Sue help me in my blogging – as she has helped many others, and I see the trust that other “trusted” educators have in her. When someone with the street cred of a Stephen Downes slams a fellow educator, a lot of people will take notice. I checked the Technorati stats and Stephen has an authority of 708, WAY above my 33. (I am happy to finally rank in the 6-digits instead of 7!!!) So a ton of people check out Stephen’s blog and listen to what he has to say – many more than me. Unfortunately, given the skimming practice of many on the web, a lot of people may see Stephen’s slam but not go in to the comments and see the responses from those individuals he incorrectly slammed.

The wisdom of the crowds is normally fairly good, but vocal minorities can unduly influence it. I would hope that Stephen Downes does the right thing and apologizes so the the crowd can learn from his error. We have enough people worldwide who try to build themselves up by putting others down. Darren Draper recently did a blog series on blogging etiquette. After watching this personal attack, I would agree that we in the edublog world need to step up to a code of ethics that rises above what transpired here.

[Photo Credit: Alexandralee]

Following Threads

In the Comment Challenge, Days 19 and 20, one is to comment to a commenter in one’s own blog and then go to a regularly read blog and click three links out and see where it takes you.

The first was easy – I had blogged on Sunday about Parallel Universes and Sue Waters left a comment to which I responded. As Sue has noted, blogs become conversational if one takes the time to comment.


It was Day 20 that took me in unexpectedly rich waters. As I noted in Parallel Universes, I attended the University of Mary Washington’s Faculty Academy 2008 last week. One of the organizers – Martha Burtis – has a wonderful blog that I follow – The Fish Wrapper. She had blogged a couple of weeks ago about the difficulty in getting students to buy in to the use of technology in classes, but I had not then followed the thread in her post. I went back and did so, which took me to a blog post by “Joe”, a student aide at UMW. Joe sparked a lot of discussion from UMW profs, one of which is Serena, who I met at FA2008. So I clicked through to Serena’s blog.

In her post Madcap Scheme (beta), she discusses the overlapping conversations and debate generated by presentations at FA 2008 overlaid by Twitter posts, and in particular, a conversation between her and Steve Greenlaw on the battle professors face when trying to connect to students. Steve made the comment to her on Twitter:

“I think it’s part of the academic culture that undergraduates don’t do real world. It’s not true, but the mythology is a hurdle.”

She goes on to discuss how to change this…and one of her comments really grabbed me –

“Forget about persuading this guy to adopt new technologies in his classroom. If he’s not viewing his students as scholars, then he’s not even going to be concerned about truly connecting with them.”

This ties back in to a post Jeff Nugent made yesterday, in which he said:

The next time I have the opportunity to talk with faculty members about how the web is impacting students, I’m thinking I’ll forgo the NetGen rap and see if we can come to any agreement on some of these questions:

1) What does critical thinking – on and about the web – look like?

2) How is the unprecedented access to information on the web [re]shaping our notions of teaching and learning?

3) What is the read / write web anyway? How is it changing our perspectives of publishing, scholarship, authority and authenticity?

4) How is hyper-connectivity (always on) changing our expectations and thoughts about communication?

5) How are web-based social networks redefining the exchange of ideas, collaboration, and community building?

For me, seeking answers to these and similar questions – across generations – is where we are going come to some better understanding of how to build connections among varied expectations and experiences.

These are great questions…and the right questions we should be debating. It appears Serena would respond (as she did in her post):

“My theory is this: make student creation and inspiration inescapable.”


She then goes on to provide seven suggestions for bridging the online world, the physical world, and the academic world. She proposes some radical thoughts that are cross-disciplinary, cross-media, and potentially engaging! It draws to mind Laura Blankenship‘s post this morning that “too many people are dismissive of “the kids today” who do more than one thing at a time.” Serena’s suggestions would not only condone this behavior but welcome it.

Lots of threads….and lots to think about. Follow these threads yourself, comment to Jeff on his questions, and let me know if following these threads has helped shape your view of the hyper-connected world.

[Photo Credit: Buttersweet, Randy Son of Robert]