There’s a lot of talk in the edtech community about transforming teaching and learning by using web 2.0 technologies with students. With things like blogs and wikis and social networking and all of these neat, new, interactive tools, we can improve the way teachers teach and students learn. I’m even taking a class called “Transformational Connections With Blogs and Wikis.” But I’m not quite buying all of the hype. This is a comment that I posted on the course blog.
What are teachers and students doing with blogs that would be impossible without them? If we are really looking for transformational technology use, it has to leverage the technology in a way that can’t be done any other way.
In 1994, I had students interacting online in a bulletin board system. They were participating in asynchronous online discussions. Posting messages online, and interacting in a text forum with people you’ve never met isn’t new. It isn’t transformational.
In 1996, I had middle school students creating web pages and posting them online. They had an authentic audience. Some of their projects were referenced by others as authoritative sources on the topics they wrote about. Writing for a global audience isn’t new to blogging.
In 2001, I started playing with online learning tools, including The Manhattan Virtual Classroom. The goal was to provide an online platform to extend learning beyond the time and space constraints of the traditional classroom. Using blogs to facilitate class discussions and encourage students to take their learning beyond the classroom isn’t new.
All of these are great applications of blogs. One could make a pretty good argument for using blogs to do all of these things. But are they transformational?
Here’s what blogging brings: the network. As a blogger, I’m plugged in. I post a message, and it shows up in my readers’ RSS aggregators. When they post items on their blogs, they show up in my reader. When I comment, on my blog, about something Ryan said on his blog, it shows up as a comment on his blog. I don’t even have to go to his site to do it. I read an item in my aggregator, post about it on my blog, and my comment shows up on his site. And his comments show up on my site. We’re plugged in. We’re connected. We’re part of the same community.
How can students use this? It’s difficult to do as a class, because it’s hard to force the network to build itself. Sure, they can subscribe to each others’ blogs, and they can post comments back and forth. But when they all share the same classes in the same school in the same town, it all gets pretty repetitive and artificial. Even if the teacher works with another teacher in another school and devises some next generation pen-pal system, it’s still pretty contrived. We need lots of students in lots of different places with lots of different perspectives doing this. That’s how the real communities develop.
Maybe something like Learnerblogs is the place to start.