Toe Dipping in Technology

Dipping Toes

As many of you know, Jeff Nugent and I teach a graduate course in the Preparing Future Faculty program called GRAD-602: Teaching, Learning and Technology.  Our 24 PhD candidates and post-docs spend the first 6 weeks exploring different potential technologies, such as blogs, Twitter, Diigo, and other networked applications.  Most of them are familiar with Facebook but had not used other social media.  We are attempting to familiarize them with the notion that today’s web is social, connected, and participatory.  So they are dipping their collective toes.  We are having them blog weekly and are aggregating their posts with NetvibesThe course feed is here.

We are seeing some excellent writing in their first posts, but few have caught on to commenting so far.  That will come with time.  We are also seeing some interesting push-back on the use of technology in teaching and learning.  One student posted today:

“…When this class started I was slightly apprehensive about the idea of creating a blog, but I could see the usefulness of it and I resolved to at least give it a good try. This Twitter thing though…I have to say I have several negative feelings about Twitter and I’ve been against creating one and just kind of hoping the Twitter craze would pass by sooner rather than later.”

 Another asked:

“…how can a teacher measure his or her student’s engagement when the latter resorts to technology? Does technology facilitate to live by seven golden Principles of improving Undergraduate Education? The answer is both Yes and No.”

And a third blogs:

“Doesn’t showing up for class and being prepared to share your ideas and knowledge still count for something? While technology opens education to many in various parts of the world, one of the things that both articles mention is that education is social and collaborative. We still need to discipline ourselves to come together and share ideas face-to-face. There is something innately human in this, and while it can be improved with technology-based material prepared for a variety of people, you cannot take this away without changing the essence of what it means to be human. We learn by doing, but we also learn, especially as youngsters, by following examples. Technology in isolation, maybe even in majority, sets a poor example.”

Okay….I am cherry picking some comments, and the class as a whole is not setting up an “Occupy 602” camp.  But with only 100 minutes a week together face-to-face, I find it fascinating that the conversation is not only continuing between classes in the blogosphere, but surfacing ideas that have not come out face-to-face.

It would be neat and helpful if our colleagues around the world checked out some of these student blogs and joined in the conversations.  These student are still attempting to frame social media in their past frames of reference, and the global networked learning that COULD occur is so much broader than that.

So come on in, the waters fine!

{Photo Credit: Ben W}

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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}