Why do we blog?

I’ve mentioned recently that my friend Nina has started writing a blog focusing on the early years classroom. She’s doing amazingly well, but already the questions have started.

Why are you doing this?

What do you think will come of it?

etc, etc, etc.

Anyone who blogs has heard it all before. The lack of understanding from some and their disbelief when you explain that you willingly do it in your time away from your workplace, is a more common reaction than the ‘good for you’, comment you might be expecting.

Reading Robert Darnton’s article yesterday, I was struck by something he wrote about the changing nature of publishing;

“The eighteenth-century Republic of Letters had been transformed into a professional Republic of Learning, and it is now open to amateurs—amateurs in the best sense of the word, lovers of learning among the general citizenry.”  

This is why we blog.

We are lovers of learning.

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Blog or thesis?

I attended our School’s Yr 12 Valedictory dinner last night. A wonderful celebration of the incredible young women who attend the school I teach at. The guest speaker was a former student who had left the school 10 years ago. She spoke of time at university and post graduate studies completing her Master’s degree. It got me thinking.

I’ve never pursued post graduate study, feeling for many years that effort was beyond me. And yet I look at the body of work that is this blog and I wonder. I wonder about the intrinsic motivation that drives me to share my thoughts with others, I wonder about the hours of effort that have gone into this, I wonder about the remarkable experiences I have been privy to as a result of this space on the web. I wonder all this because no amount of effort on my part in this space is going to give me the piece of paper or credentials at the end of my name that would allow me to pursue a career beyond a secondary school setting or accrue a higher income.

This blog is the place where I am developing my thinking and testing a few theories along the way. I suppose my assessors are the audience of readers. I suppose this could be seen as the evolution of education. Blogs are spaces where self directed learners are writing their own thesis and are allowing readership and interaction to determine success or failure. 

I received an email today about a post graduate course of study in ICT education. At the moment I can’t conceive of any going anywhere near it because I just can’t imagine how I’d be able to fit it in. Some might say that is foolish on my behalf. Why not invest some time in getting qualifications doing something that you are immersed in anyway? At this stage I just don’t want to go to a place where assessment will be driving what it is I am learning. I’m happy to create my own agendas and see where this will take me.

Who knows? Maybe a technorati ranking will hold some weight in years to come.

Dinner with John and Jan

I was really fortunate Tuesday night to catch up with John Connell and his lovely wife Jan who were visiting Australia with Cisco, the company John works for. His job is Education Business Development Manager for the Emerging Markets – covering South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Middle East, Eastern Europe and Russia. John has been an encouraging mentor for me as I’ve traversed the edublogosphere. I first met John at the ASLA conference in Adelaide last year where I presented about Digital Storytelling. John was a keynote speaker along with Stephen Abrams. Both spoke about the need to transform education in response to our changing technological landscape and both mentioned that they wrote blogs. I spoke to John in the tea break and told him of my desire to get involved in the transformation and he told me that he could see that I would. An empowering statement from him that helped put the fire in my belly to get involved. I started reading his and Stephen’s blogs (along with Will Richardson’s) and started my exponential learning curve that has led to this blog and all that has come with it.

John has been a reader of my blog and has made the encouraging comment or two along the way. These have certainly inspired me as I hold him in high esteem. John’s blog is insightful and he ponders the difficult questions that arise as we all tread carefully through new territory. When he knew he was visiting Melbourne he emailed to ask if we could meet up. I was thrilled. Those of you who operate in this online world will know that it’s exciting to meet someone face to face who you know only through their words. As it turns out, I crashed a dinner that was already organised – John was obliging enough to ask if I could attend! 

I had a lovely time meeting John and Jan and am very pleased to report that we had a lot to talk about and not all of it was centred around blogging and education. It really is wonderful when you meet someone and you find that they are just like you sensed them to be from their online presence.

Thanks John and Jan. Hope to meet up with you again some day.

Blogging 101 – 6 months in

Today it’s been exactly six months (and one day I’ve just realised!) since I started writing this blog. What have I learnt??

You can reach out and share knowledge with the world. A surprise to me really – I did think this was going to be a resource for my school but it’s become much more than this.

It can be hard work writing a blog and sourcing ideas for posts. I’m going to go back on my initial declaration that I was aiming to write a post a day. There really is no need to post so frequently. If I find something interesting to share I will do so. but I’m not going to work myself into the ground when there is so much to balance in this life.  What has been interesting is that there is such a body of work in this blog that I’m finding it gets hits even on days when I haven’t posted.

There are amazing educators out there willing to encourage and foster the growth of new voices in the edublogosphere. Thank you to everyone who has read my posts, posted a comment or subscribed to this blog. Your readership has renewed my connection to education and made me realise there are enormous possibilities for the future.

 It doesn’t matter if you don’t know everything about how a blog works before you start writing one. When I started I really had no idea what I was doing. I’ve learnt on the job so to speak. You will too.

I’m lousy at widgets. For some reason I struggle to embed the code properly and nothing works like it should. I’ve tried to put some interesting widgets in my sidebar but it never works. I need help!!

We are a connected world now. I’ve been able to have my students get involved in projects that have happened because I am writing this blog. There are so many possibilities for our students to experience a connection with other students and educators around the world if you bother to make the effort to forge these links. All it takes is effort and a desire to make your classroom more interesting for the students you teach. 

Writing in a hypertext environment brings people to you. I can’t believe some of the people and organisations who have noticed me as a result of linking to them. Amazing what is possible really. Makes me want this for my students too. 

Twitter is a natural extension of blogging. If you’re writing a blog (and even if you’re not) you should be interacting with your network via Twitter. It connects you in ways you never thought possible. I’m indebted to Clay Burell who guided me through Twitter and enabled me to form a network overnight by doing a shout out for me.  

You can establish a voice in the edublogosphere and be heard. It comes from posting and from contributing to the conversations by taking the time to comment on other people’s blogs. Comments matter. They do to me anyway. You can see your stats tick over, but the return you get from reading a comment someone has taken the time to write about a post you wrote is very empowering and keeps you going.

It’s all about having a go – a great Australian phrase that I think sums up my effort thus far. I’ve been having a go and will continue to do so. Let’s see what the next six months brings with it.

Thanks for visiting. I appreciate it.

Eyes Wide Open – bloggers to watch.

One of the good things about being on school holidays has been having some time to explore links that take me to blogs I haven’t had a chance to discover due to the demands on time when working.  There are two in particular that have caught my eye for different reasons.

First discovery came from a tweet from Alec Couras. He was highlighting the vimeo reflection from Dan Meyer, a maths teacher from California who is five years into the teaching profession. I loved his reflection; it’s one of a series of ten he is making and I intend to watch each one. He is a refreshing voice; a young teacher with ideas and someone who is not afraid to challenge the thoughts and opinions of ‘names’ in the edublogosphere. I had been wondering where the young teachers were in the blogging community; following Dan is going to lead me in the direction of them I’m sure.

dy/av : 002 : the next-gen lecturer from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

The other interesting blogger for very different reasons is Matthew K. Tabor   He writes this about himself on the front page of his blog;

Matthew’s background includes work in higher education, executive recruiting, consulting and government. He consults on graduate/professional school admissions, academic media and educates privately. He writes out of Cooperstown, New York.

What drew me to this blog was a post he has written about why he didn’t attend the NECC conference in Texas titled, A Bit More Education Techno-Twaddle; Why I Avoid NECC, 2008 Edition. This is his take on edubloggercon;

The EduBloggerCon is a tiny part of NECC – I understand that, as some sessions are more sensible than others – but the sheer lack of intellectual diversity [a statement which will undoubtedly be criticized as inaccurate], the techno-fandom, the 100% Process/0% Content split will keep me away. If I wanted to sit on the floor with a notebook, I’d go to a Halo 3 LAN party. At least those have HotPockets and Mountain Dew.

His sentiments marry with the opening keynote from the conference; the need to have a devil’s advocate to help stem the echo chamber effect of listening to like minds. That’s one of the reasons I’m subscribing to his feed; I feel the need to listen to the devil’s advocates. They will stretch my thinking and help shape my thoughts about the use of technology to support learning. The comment thread to this post is very interesting. This was my contribution;

I’m very interested in reading you often now that I’ve discovered you through this post. I’m new to the edublogger world but have been energised and excited through my involvement. I’m more excited about the possibilities for education now than I have been for many years. I was feeling stale but now look at things with fresh eyes. I don’t consider myself a tech geek, far from it, but I do think our teaching can benefit from the experiences technology can enable in our classrooms. My focus remains strongly on how the learning of my students can improve as a result of using technology- I’m not such a zealot that I think it’s the be all and end all of everything that can be achieved in classrooms. I am concerned about the echo chamber effect of working in these networks and welcome the opportunity to read you and others who will challenge my thinking.

We all need to read widely and explore varying opinions – these are the skill sets we expect from our students when they examine a topic of interest. We expect them to have investigated all angles before coming to a conclusion. Good practice that we need to model too.

 

 

    

Guest on Open PD – who would have thought!

This morning I was skyped into a conversation about blogging on Darren Draper and Robin Ellis’ Open PD session. I found out about it via a conversation on Twitter with Sue Waters, who was musing about the difficulties of waking up at 5.00am (or earlier!) so that she could take part. Sue’s an incredibly generous person (and prolific blogger and twitterer) who is always willing to champion others and bring them into the fold. I’ve only been communicating with her a short while, but already this is blatantly evident. I always admire others willing to share the knowledge around – it’s the mark of a good teacher.

I had problems with ustream and the skype call dropped out a couple of times before we finally established connection, but it was well worth taking the time before work to get involved. Things like this make me realise that I am part of an incredible network of educators who are all focused on moving us forward. I’ve said it before but it is the stand out impression I’m left with after entering the edublogosphere. It’s like I’ve discovered the staffroom I always wanted to be a part of except that it exists in a digital environment!

On another good note, I had parent teacher interviews tonight and showed many parents our blog which is set to private. I discussed the notion of moving it to public in the future so that our students could connect with classrooms outside of our walls. Mostly positive reactions to the idea with comments referring to myspace and facebook and the internet presence the kids already have. Very interesting. I sense a shift in the air. 

Putting out the call – how do we break down the walled gardens?

Right. I need help.

There, I’ve said it. Today I have struggled with how I am going to go about creating a form for our parent community to sign regarding use of what we are calling ‘connective reading and writing’. (Thanks Clay Burell, we stole it from your document that you have available on Google Docs).  A supportive staff member put something together meshed from Clay’s document but we feel that it is going to create much more work for us if parents elect to select the provision that says teachers will moderate all comments.

So, I’m putting out the call. If anyone out there knows of a sensible permissions form that explains connective reading and writing in a manner that  a parent population will understand, please let me know. I’d really appreciate some guidance here.

George Siemens writes a great blog called elearnspace.  It’s well worth reading – it really is an e learning space. A recent post ‘The strength of walled gardens’, linked to an article called ‘The strength of garden walls’ from a blog called A Touch of Frost.  Peter Tittenberger writes the blog, and was commenting this day on the use of Wikis in his environment and the way they are set up with participants being invited to join. His comment is that people are comfortable with this set up as it is very similar to the way learning management systems operate. We’re finding the same thing here. Wikis set up using invite keys are a hit because people feel safe with them – the only chance of corruption comes from within the walled garden.

What he said next about the changing nature of our flat world resonated with me;

“Privacy and anonymity are still concerns, but here too, increasingly, many (especially the young) are willing to sacrifice these for the ability to publish, to access information and to connect to others. People are willing to make their lives transparent and give data miners open access to all their online activity, just as Google, Wikipedia, et al have given them open access to information.”

I think he’s right. My students happily contribute comments to this blog but people of an ‘older’ generation seem slightly paranoid about putting their name on something that is open for the world to see. I suppose I am less hung up about offering wikis and blogs on a public platform because I am writing this blog. It is empowering to receive feedback from the outside world and I truly believe that it has improved the quality of my writing. Let’s face it, I probably haven’t written this much since I left college!

I have no idea who may be reading this post, but if you can point me in the right direction so that we can effectively break down our walled gardens I’d appreciate the help.

Network power

I was exhausted last night when I finished writing yesterday’s post. Had about six hours sleep then had to get up early to take one of my kids to an early morning swim session. Arrived very early at work and logged on to check out the blog traffic. Wasn’t expecting much; who would be interested in reading about why I decided to start writing a blog and why I think it’s important to get our students learning in this environment.

Well, one look at my blog stats suggested otherwise! Last night’s post generated more traffic than I’ve ever had before. John Connell was kind enough to leave a comment and in a subsequent email said that he thinks a post like that resonates as it reminds bloggers about why they do what they do. Vicki Davis gave me some analogies she uses to describe the differences between wikis and blogs;

“I like to think of wikis as the collection and the blog as the album. Wikis as a chorus and a blog as a solo. Wikis for fact and blogs for opinion and voice. I think that both are needed as we try to teach both collaborators and individualistic thinker/inventors.”

Thanks Vicki. I used this in the afternoon PD session with my fellow staff – one participant read this and said, “That’s perfect, now I understand the difference. I was too embarrassed to ask before.” I think this is something we need to be very mindful of. During the session I was referring to plugins and widgets and had to clarify with the staff that this terminology has become familiar to me because I work with it now. It’s become relevant to me  – another example of how we learn best – when something has meaning for us we take it in, understand it and apply it to our needs.

My colleagues seemed interested and I got a round of applause at the end so that must mean something. One of our Heads of Year is keen to get involved in the Global Cooling project and sent me an email during the presentation so hopefully we’ll be able to get on board and have our students feeling empowered and making a difference.

Thanks network – being able to show my staff the huge spike in my blog stats and the cluster map locations were two of the most effective moments in the presentation. I think people could see that the world really is becoming flatter and we could be exploring possibilities for our students to operate in and learn from this collaborative network. I’ll wait and see if the seed planted today bears fruit.