Friday, August 17, 2007

Blog Skeptics

After having read and commented on David Warlick's new blog post, Some Good Conversations...,
I find myself thinking about the skeptics I know concerning blogging. My husband is one of them. He is a computer programmer and honestly is brilliant concerning many things. He just doesn't believe that people want to read other people's opinions. He said that not everyone is an expert. I tell him the value of having this kind of communication with other professionals and you can just about see his eyes roll to the back of his head. To be fair, he doesn't "get" teachers anyway. He constantly teases me about how "touchy feely" many of us are. He opts out of most teacher gatherings because he says we always talk shop. He loves what he does, but he leaves it at the end of the day and finds passion in riding his bike or lifting weights or spending time with me. He doesn't understand that teaching can be my passion.

I have given up trying to explain teaching or blogging to my husband. He is proud of me for getting in there everyday and making a difference. He supports me in my continuing education. He knows that passion is one of the reasons he married me. So I consider that enough.

But if I can't make him understand the benefits of blogging, how can I make other skeptics understand? I was sort of amused by David's skeptic. By voicing his opinions on David's blog, he was part of the very conversation that makes blogging so great.

Personally, I know I am new at it. I know I used to be intimidated to write in my blog because I never feel like I have anything of real importance to say. But having gotten over that and started, I have connected with people all over the place. I am no longer afraid to leave comments on others blogs. I am feeling enriched by the many conversations around me. I am grateful for being part of this community.

7 comments:

Gary said...

Sherry,

Since I assume that I'm the skeptic you are referring to, allow me to clarify my position.

While I believe that blogging has numerous limitations it also has great strengths. I personaly blog (http://www.stager.org/blog) and am the editor of an online publication in blog form (http://www.districtadministration.com/pulse). I invite you to subscribe to both.

I have also taught online for more than a decade, including the creation of one of the world's first online Masters degree program, the award-winning Pepperdine University Online Master of Arts in Educational Technology program. I led professional development at the world's first two laptop schools (1990), started one of the world's first computer camps for kids in 1982 and have taught some of the most at-risk kids in the most under-performing settings in Australia, Canada and in the U.S. I've also worked with teachers and computers in a number of developing countries. My Ph.D. was based on the creation of a high-tech alternative learning environment inside a prison for teens. I spent three years commuting from L.A. to Maine in order to work with the kids and their teachers.

This is all a way of saying that I am not by any means against the use of computers in education. I'm against the thoughtless use of computers in education and what my colleague Seymour Papert calls "verbal inflation."

David Warlick's suggestion that asking a teacher candidate which blog he or she reads just seemed to be over the top and granting unreasonable stature to blogging as an indication of teacher quality.

It's also worth considering the educational value of blogging to teachers and students. They may not be equivalent.

Thanks for speaking up and keep on blogging,

Gary
www.stager.org

SherryC said...

Gary, your credentials are quite impressive and given that, I can’t imagine that you and I would have ever had the opportunity to meet, let alone have a conversation of differing opinions. For that, I am incredibly grateful for blogging. For the record, I have a Master’s of Science in Technology in Education and Training – done completely in the online environment. There is no way I could have managed my Master’s and working at the same time any other way.

Face-to-face conversation is wonderful. I had the opportunity to attend a local TIE (Technology & Innovation in Education) conference here in Rapid City in April and the NECC conference in June. During both I was blogging and interacting with others about the information I was getting. Frequently, I was given insight to help me see that information in another way. I will also have the opportunity to go to the NCTE conference in New York this November.

You mentioned mind-numbing soul-killing classrooms and NCLB. Both of these are part of why I read books, journals, and many blogs. I used to teach middle school computers. This year I will be teaching 8th grade English and Social Studies. I am doing this because I believe that by integrating technology, I can make these classes less mind-numbing and soul-killing for my students. I believe that if they are engaged with learning, test scores will go up and that will help my school get off NCLB’s Plan of Improvement. However, if you think for one minute I am going to insert unnecessary technology for the sake of technology, let me assure you that will never be the case. In English, our focus is on writing. There will be a great deal of pencil to paper. There will be reading and research. Yes, I want my students to put some – not all – of their writing on a blog. I want them to learn about audience. That audience does not have to just be me. This will also give me an opportunity to discuss both casual language and formal language. I will also have the chance to discuss what they ARE putting on the Internet. My students put horrifying things on their Bebo pages. Who is teaching them what is and isn’t appropriate? Their parents don’t know enough about these sites to help them. Schools are blocking these sites, so it isn’t discussed in school – or at least MY school. Yet, the kids are out there doing what their doing and you are right, it is going to come back and bite them later. I have to teach them. I have to help them understand right from wrong in what they place out there for the whole world to see.

In Social Studies, I really don’t want to use the textbook. I have read my textbook and I just can’t imagine anything that could make history more boring. US History is not dull. Does this mean I won’t use primary documents? How can you teach without copies of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution? There are many primary documents that my students need to see and study. There are even amazing websites that I think could be useful. And guess what – I have found some blogs that are also excellent.

I don’t believe a teacher should be hired or fired based on what blogs they read, but the very fact that they read blogs shows me that they are out there engaging in conversation with other professionals. There are far too many teachers I know that still teach in the lecture/test method. I would LOVE for them to be reading some blogs. Or books. Or journals.

By the way, I have added your books to my book list. I am pleased to have more time this year to read something other the textbooks I read for my Master’s. Of course, I only have this semester since I am starting my doctorate in January. I also have several hundred pages of friends’ dissertations to read. I like their topics and want to see their writing style before I get to that point. I am going to take you up on your invitation to subscribe to your blogs.

I am feeling very comfortable that my use of blogs for me, as well as my students, has educational value. While you are right that Web 2.0 isn’t the answer for everything, it is also a tool that our students will be using in their life. It does have value and they need to know how to use it appropriately. It can be very useful and engaging.

At a time when I am trying striving to be a better teacher in my class, I have found your remarks to be slightly discouraging. You are not the first with this attitude I have encountered either. I have weighed this out more than once. I just don’t believe what I am doing is wrong. I think all tools have their place. I will evaluate and re-evaluate what I am doing through the course of the year, just like any good teacher would. If I am not engaging my students and they are not learning, I will find something else to do. I will use common sense and balance and I have no doubt I will find success using all these tools to our advantage.

Anonymous said...

fantastic! I think that going back to the classroom is a great and courageous idea! Let me know if I can help!

Gary Stager

Tracy Rosen said...

I think that asking about what blogs teachers read is a valid question, as valid as asking about what writers or presenters I am influenced by.

You said it well, Sherry:
I don’t believe a teacher should be hired or fired based on what blogs they read, but the very fact that they read blogs shows me that they are out there engaging in conversation with other professionals. There are far too many teachers I know that still teach in the lecture/test method. I would LOVE for them to be reading some blogs. Or books. Or journals.>

The worse thing that may come out of the question is that a teacher who had previously not read blogs may begin to do so. Wouldn't that be great!

And Sherry - kudos to you for returning for your PhD! I will be doing the same next year.

I recently completed my Masters (f2f with my cohort, and we used some online collaborative tools as well) and in some way find it hard to believe that I am putting myself back in the situation of studying again...

SherryC said...

Gary - I have never left the classroom, I am just going into new subjects. I like the thought of trying different curriculum so I don't get stale to my students.

Tracy - I am excited to pursue my next degree, but only if it leads me to a place where I still make a difference with students. Too many of our administrators in our district seem to have been away from the classroom for too long. That worries me a bit.

Sheehy said...

As one who has gained a reputation for reading blogs and utilizing them in the classroom, I think it might be helpful to add that one of the great highlights of my summer as been that I have not had time to read blogs much. I list reading as my biggest recreational activity, but the reading I do on blogs usually brings to mind quips from folks like Thoreau, who cast aside the idea of reading the newspaper.

I think I have downgraded my reading a bit by sticking to blogs too heavily, because I tend to read them at "skim and scan" speed and then acquire a style of reading that I unwittingly transfer to other genres - and it takes me a bit of time to switch tracks.

I have some favorite bloggers, but I cannot say I have been profoundly challenged by them in terms of teaching pedagogy - much less, anyway, than I have been challenged by conversations with my colleagues or my mom (who teaches too). In fact, one of my great disappointments with blogging and education is that the conversation has not really expanded that much - it's mostly about technology, which means to me as an educator, blogs don't achieve the topically relevant content I find in, for example, the English Journal.

And when I taught a class touting blogs (as tools mostly, not as professional development) I felt a bit silly not being able to tell a room full of educators that there were bloggers out there that they surely would want to read. Instead, I linked them to my favorite bloggers, and they didn't like them at all (I didn't expect them to, but what else could I do?).

I whole heartedly endorse a comment like Gary's concerning the stature of blogging. Blogs are a wonderful tool, but at this point they fit and fill their own niche. Some people have time for it, and other people think that reading Thoreau and Annie Dillard is a more noble assignment. We have, after all, only so much time to engage is such activities. Take right now. I am going to quit writing this comment now instead of trying to wrap it up in a wonderfully articulate manner, because I'd like to quite staring at the computer and read at least a few pages of The Divine Conspiracy while I have the chance.

SherryC said...

While I have NEVER said stop reading books and journals, I have gotten a lot from many of the blogs I have read this summer. I thought I was following you, Geoff. Really trying to keep up. Guess I am wrong AGAIN.