Tomorrow I have the opportunity to run a staff professional development session on the use of blogs and wikis for learning. It’s pretty crucial that I get my act together so that I can help to sway some of my colleagues as to the potential of these Web 2.0 tools for classroom use. Wikis I think are easy to sell. I think most people, once they realise what they are, can see how they offer potential to create a rich catalogue of resources, be they student comments, links to other resources or visual material that can include pictures and video. We’ve already had a good uptake with our Wikis and have seen them used across year levels as learning tools for classroom use.
Blogs are harder to sell. I have to admit to only a year ago dismissing the idea of blogs and wondering why anyone would want to write one. I think they come with a preconceived notion that they’re the ramblings of someone who might have something to say but doesn’t really have the authority to say it, so why bother reading them. It was only when I attended some professional development last year and actually listened to keynote speakers who were bloggers that my thinking changed. These people actually had something interesting to say so I thought I’d better check out their blogs. This is how I discovered the writings of Will Richardson, Stephen Abrams and John Connell. Late last year I set up my Google Reader and started subscribing to these blogs, and quite quickly, the blogs of others. What follows is Blogs in Plain English, by Lee and Sachi Leefever of Commoncraft , who attempt to explain new technologies in a simple fashion.
It wasn’t long before I started to feel that what I was onto was a great thing that was developing me professionally at an exponential rate. What these bloggers were doing was to filter information from the Web. I started to toy with the idea that maybe I could be part of this filtering process and offer comment about the things I was learning about. I figured it would be a vehicle through which I could track my professional reading and development and if I were lucky I might get a few readers along the way. So I started writing a blog. I used WordPress to set it up because I’d had a little bit of experience with it last year and it seemed pretty intuitive. My husband came up with the name after I’d told him that I wanted to intercept information that was on the Web so that others could use it. I think it was January 12th when I started writing and I expected that I’d be writing away and no-one would ever read it except for a few friends who would do so to give me a bit of encouragement.
One of the things I did when setting up the blog was to establish a blogroll. In my blogroll I added links to other people who wrote blogs that I was reading. Unbeknownst to me at the time was the fact that by adding these links I was pinging the sites of these bloggers – they were getting notification that I had added them to my blogroll. I was amazed the next morning to receive notification via my email that I had a comment on my blog. Alec Couras, a blogger from the University of Regina in Canada had sent me a comment to encourage me in my endeavours. I thought that would be it but I was further surprised to receive more comments in the following days from other bloggers offering encouragement. One of these bloggers, Vicki Davis, alerted me to the fact that I could check out my blog stats. This was a revelation and meant that I could now see on a daily basis whether or not the blog was being read. Today I have had over 1500 hits after writing for six weeks or so. Another exciting find was working out how to embed a cluster map in my blog – this indicates who is reading my blog according to their location in the world. This has been unbelievably empowering. To think that people in Europe, China, the United States, New Zealand and a myriad of other locations are reading my humble little blog is something that is helping me to forge along. You realise that someone out there is reading and you aren’t writing for nobody. I’m setting myself a target of writing a post a night which may be a bit ambitious as the pace of work heats up.
Now, you may ask, how does this relate to blogs for classroom use? Well, the connections I am making through this blog have made me realise that we do now have the ability to offer our students the experience of connecting with others in different parts of the world. I see the kick my own students are getting out of seeing my cluster map grow and wonder why can’t we offer them the same experience. It’s possible now to have our students act as true global citizens and have a voice in this world. If I can do it in the space of six weeks why can’t they. Many of our students already have an online presence in the form of a myspace or facebook page and are aware of how to use technology as a social tool. We now need to harness this same technology for educational purposes. There are other teachers out there who have projects that our students can become involved with and learn from. Clay Burell and Bill Warren have a Global Cooling Project and are interested in our students becoming involved. Vicki Davis has a Flat Classroom project and asks for other schools to get involved. We have a little way to go in terms of setting up protocols for student use of these blogs but it can be done and I think the experience will be empowering. We could be part of what has only just begun in terms of global collaboration between students and we could definitely be a frontrunner in terms of Australian school involvement. Let’s see how we go!