Tweeps vs Bloggers

I was asked this week if I thought blogging had been replaced in relevance by Twitter. I don’t. Here are few examples of why I think blogs under-pin much of what flicks too and fro in  micro-conversation — especially the disputants that want education to change.

At some point, someone somewhere decided that being good at using computers was important. Office automation changed the way we organised the office. A secretarial pool provided services for those not important enough to have an exclusive. The mechanical and electonic typewriter gave way to the personal computer.

Within a few years these machines were connected to each other (as long as the token ring held)  saving us the bother of even walking from desk to desk. Only the very very important retained a real secretary. Most of us now have a semi-autonomous bot called email. Which often burys us in busy-work. How many emails do we all receive with half-thought out ideas, incomplete documents or questions that seemingly have already been answered. At least the typing pool meant THINKING before sending.

The internet, or rather email — wiped out an entire human office network. I wonder how the bored despondency on Revolutionary Road would have been changed if April Wheeler was on Facebook, or her husband was a tele-commuter [insert new project idea].

The physical shared reality of work-home-life today has been forever changed by connected communication. Our peers and friends are milliseconds away and some of them are warlocks – and critical to the development of schools and students.

Meg Hourihan in 2002, blogged about ‘what we are doing when we blog’. The post includes some foundational information – outlining the framework and mechanisms that differentiates an essay or journal from a blog.

She explains

we’ve embraced a medium free of the physical limitations of pages, intrusions of editors, and delays of tedious publishing systems”.

Rebecca Blood’s hammer and nail’ post from 2004 is an excellent essay on blog development and culture. She talks about Robert Wisdom putting the term weblog into our vocabulary, going on to talk about distinct differences between a blog, ezine and journal. I love the way she talks about blogs “amplified one another’s voices” and “dependable sources of links to reliably interesting material”.

Read Karl Fisch’s  jack-boot post entitled “Is it okay to be a technologically illiterate teacher?” from 2007. The statements and comments from that single post at the time hit the edublogger community like a concussion shell — but three years after, Twitter is reliving the highlights. Today Karl is wearing the big-pants, writing for the tech section of the Huffington Post.

He makes the comment

“Whenever I post to The Huffington Post I’m going to cross-post here, and I’m going to both ask and count on all of you to get involved in the conversation there as well as here”.

There are plenty of references and RTs about “Shift Happens” and “Did you know”; but what Karl recognises is the power of conversation. All of that flows into Version 4 of the video — [use with care as you’ll scare the sheep].

I see many edu-comments about digitally illiterate teachers, whom often seem to take pride in their lethargy — in Twitter, but Karl nails it — in his blog.

Seth Godin wrote recently

“helping them see your idea through their lens, not yours”

Godin thinks our biggest challenge in trying to attract people to our idea of what is ‘the right’ solution. Social and personal learning networks as concepts are as magical as Tinkerbell — if your audiences’ lens is digitally-myopic. A solid argument or thoughtful reflection on a blog is far more tangible to newcomers.

In Twitter we move between networks of people — in a blog,  interest comes from comparatively small intersection of my Tweet-pool. I would miss blogs for more than tweets.

Finally, and much more recently – Elizabeth Helfant wrote in her blog, Helcat Rants and Ramblings: Defining Emerging Literacies

“Literacy has changed, whether we want to recognize that or not.”

She outlines various notions and factors that are critical in under-pinning and attempt to shift pedagogy and ideology out of its Edwardian robes. That one post is more powerful than a week of hash-tagging and system-slagging.

We cannot forget however that whole school development is important. Schools are not teachers vs admin vs executive — they are chain — and we need to take a holistic approach. It is likely that our future writing-work will not be committed to Microsoft Word or passed to the secretarial pool – but to chains of conversation connected.

Frustratingly, the insane decision to focus on ‘the desktop’ fails to understand the internet is the platform, not the enemy in schools. We will have to wait years until the madness subsides however.  In the mean time, the internet is alive with hacks and work-arounds, so strong is the desire to be connected to others.

The internet is not a collection of ‘tools’ and ‘websites’. Anything outside MS Office is not scary or emerging — to be viewed with suspicion.  If we wanted to be really spiky in staff-development – we’d be talking about 3G mobile, augmented reality, serious games and de-schooling. Yet here we are — a decade later – fighting to get blogs in the classroom and Word off the desktop. If you want to quit smoking, don’t buy cigarettes. If you want to change pedagogy – don’t build typing-pools, embrace the conversation by reading, commenting and creating yummy blogs.


Reflective Writing 1-2-3

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‘REFLECTION’ is a word closely associated with 21st Century Learning. I thought I’d write a post on how to improve critical literacy though a 3 step adjustment to read/write activities in the classroom.

Watson (1997) says “Reflection encourages students to – self examine, self-asses and evaluate their own practice. Without reflecting, the student is at risk of practicing in a manner if unquestioned routines, accepted directives and/or rote learning.”

This short observation highlights the need for students to question, not simply to recount or answer declarative questions with read/write tools. There is bountiful research that suggests talking about what they are doing, not just what they or others have done, encourages the conscious practice of discussing the consequences of their findings and actions.

We need to ensure that testing for prior knowledge is more than asking declarative questions at the beginning of a (lesson or tutorial) learning instance. The facilitator should be conscious of three stages of reflection and also consider selecting different tools to achieve this. For example: Use a combination of micro-blog, game and video. This also encourages students to explore a more diverse media landscape.

1. Reflecting before acting – preventing unnecessary errors. Making sure the student is aware of the outcomes being sought. Asking students to predict the activity, talk about their expectations and possible fears as the activity is revealed to them. What can they do already and show you? What skills are they missing that will help them? This can be though a series of microblog posts for example – as the teacher begins to reveal the activity though providing readings or given them mini-tasks to complete – not just delivering content.

2. Reflect during the activity – use methods to monitor their actions during the event in order to maintain contextually appropriate performance and effort. This is often though feedback from the software itself – such as sound, images, scores etc. In a game this is in-built, but in a MUVE it has to be designed. Teachers need to pay close attention to this phase, to ensure the learner is challenged but not frustrated by poor feedback, or not understanding the importance of it in the learning sequence/pattern – from the teacher or the software.

3. Critically review their actions and experience after. This last action is dependent on recall. Technology often allows recall to occur as events are recorded in some manner such as a blog post, or screen shot. Self and peer assessment to deconstruct the learning process should be combined with encouraging the student to record that event and use that evidence to support their critical reflection.

The outcome,  activity and the assessment should not be limited to a predicted performance. “I think they’ll be able to do it” or “I think I can teach using that”. Design the task so that the student can modify it (up or down), to negotiate their curriculum and perhaps explore incidental or peripheral ideas outside core curriculum content. This might mean making a video, interviewing people, performing a role pay together with text based activities.  Pacing the activity also helps, changing the emphasis from one activity to another to allow you to uncover more about the learner. Keep the tools VERY simple, look for ready-to-learn solutions, so that students learn to select their own tools to demonstrate their learning. Consider that when you first start using read/write media – you students will have little idea what to do and the social dynamics are all over the place. Most games will train you to operate effectively individually rather than in a group -which is much more complex. By default you have ‘groups’ of learners … but initially, this is a good way to learn more about them as individuals, which you can use later in wider approaches.

Ref: Watson S. (1997) ‘An analysis of concept experience”. Journal of Advanced Nursing, vol.16 pp 1117-1121.