Kicking off a learning community

I’ve been in a few online sessions recently, and one of the questions that teachers who have figured out what Web2.0 is in comparison to using regular unleaded, is this. “I want to start blogging with my students – how should I start?.

Right up front, let me say that if you are going to start blogging – in a school which has little idea what blogging is, then stop. Turn around, drop the term ‘blogging’ and just call it something like a ‘study group’ or even an ‘e-study group’. That will keep you off the radar, it won’t add new language to the kids – who don’t call MySpace or BeBo – blogging.

It’s just that you are using ICT as your job says you have to. You’re not putting yourself out there as some crusader. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did later.

Next up, recognise that you are not starting ‘blogging’, you are starting ‘reflective’ writing in a collaborative setting that just happens to be online.

Given a choice, I’d hook this up to Literacy and Curriculum rather than ICT. Sure it uses a computer, but then what doesn’t these days. A community blog is the most efficient, instant, flexible and accessible way for a teacher to get around a class of kids; see what they are doing; thinking; who is talking with whom, who is leading whom etc., You simply can’t do this with paper! The nearsest you might get is trying to listen in on hallway conversations – but thats creepy.

Kids will comment, talk about stuff, ask questions online that they won’t in the classroom. Some of the least vocal kids in your classroom are most vocal online – if you build a sustainable ecosystem.

You do have to work on scaffolding their comments into the context of the topic, you just can’t predict what they are going to be. Ah, I just said it wasn’t hard – correction, tick off answers 1 through 10 from text book is easier as it requires far less thinking on the part of the students or the teacher. So for those teachers who hand out the low order thinking stuff (tick a box, ABC stuff) then this is going to be work, sorry.

There is a place for formal assessment. The quick test is a great way of ‘oil dipping’ to see if there is content learning happening. But is should not be the major ‘norm’ in your assessment methods, and in no way summises the learning that is happing. You might have a kid with an awesome video-blog, who stuggles on the test. Remember in 21C learning – students are developing ePortfolios and ‘online identity’ so at least now, that students measure in not just the test score!

It also takes far LESS time to do than collecting books, marking (B+ is not developing the learner) and handing them back. Those who say ‘I don’t have the time’ – are basing that assumption on their personal experiences of the past. Ignore them. The only previous ICT they needed to learn in the last 15 years has been Power Point, so they know what they are talking out – grrr.

Its conversational writing – the blog posts will usually be ‘formal’, but the comments will be a hybrid of txt and formal – and thats just fine. It’s conversational language – as language is always evolving. What we as teachers are interested in – is the learning and the use of the language. If a few *lols appear, don’t worry, it’s not a bad thing.

So here’s a quick method that I suggest those who want to start ‘blogging’ have a look at. I am suggesting that you DONT create individual blogs for students, but use a COMMUNITY blog – I use Ning, but others use 21 Classes. See why suits you. But it’s NOT THE TOOL that matters, its the ecosystem you are creating.

Heres the presentation, but don’t forget to read the other stuff under it too!

Also, don’t start the lesson with ‘today we are going to start on online creepy treehouse’! -Start by getting them fired up. Start by offering them the opportunity to have input on their learning. A nice big fat discussion. It might take you a week to get the discussion to the point where they identify that their ‘could’ so amazing things if they had (x/y/z). That time is well invested. It creates buy in and give you about 30 advocates who will be amazingly vocal in other classes over time, so you won’t have to

Build your community in your classroom – it will soon spill out into the hallway and down the corridor. Its far easier to start there that trying to convince staff that your ideas are something to agree with (initially).