I recently did some reading about blogging in educational settings both as a tool for students to access a greater audience but also as a tool for teachers to access knowledge and engage in reflective practice. This is my first foray into the blogging world personally although my students and I use Kidblog frequently to journal, compose and respond critically to the written thoughts of others. I have been relying on Twitter to expand my PLN and give me access to other educators for quick tips, short discussions and easy access to resources. However, the 140 character limit on Twitter is somewhat challenging in the sense that it becomes difficult to engage in more in-depth reflection both personally and professionally. I have found that Twitter in our classroom has been very effective as a microblog to showcase what students are doing in class. Our Twitter feed goes up on our class website and parents can see pictures and student written summaries of what has happened in class that day. It’s great practice for succinct writing and sharing the main idea!
When I first started using student blogs several years ago, I was quite wary of possible issues arising from allowing students free reign in their writing and commenting. I was also unsure I wanted to allow students access to the openness of the web. I had recurring nightmares about all manor of parent meetings involving issues with students posts and/or comments. At was around this time that I participated in Alec Couros’ MOOC on Digital Citizenship. The change in my thinking towards online tools for students was profound. I had always considered blogs, Twitter and Wikis to be only useable in the classroom if severe restrictions were in place. After taking part in the MOOC I began to realize that approaching technology in education in this way was instead severely limiting student growth. I some extended time at the start of the following year to focus on digital citizenship with my students and to give them the tools necessary to operate safely in online spaces. Since that time, students have become extremely careful editors and engaged thinkers in our online spaces.
I have definitely seen that through the use of blogs in the classroom, students have vastly improved their written work while at the same time fostering a sense of community beyond the walls of our class. When they see comments from students in other schools or provinces, they become extremely excited and engaged in the writing process. As stated by Michael Drennan, the existence of a more global audience immediately creates a sense of urgency with regard to the witting process. Blogs also allow a journalistic perspective to be born in students or any other participant for that matter. There is something incredibly powerful about the sharing of someone’s personal story. Stories connect us in special ways and across race, religion, and even time. Personal stories are pieces of who we are and where we’ve come from. Mena Trott is one of the founding members of the blogging revolution and shares a poignant evaluation of the power of blog’s in this TedTalk.
In this connected world in which anyone can put almost anything online, it is easy to begin thinking that our voices are too small and that what we are saying doesn’t matter or won’t make a difference. As educators, I believe we have a duty to participate in the world of PLN development through blogs, twitter and online forums. In his blog post, Do Educators Really Need Blog Posts, Tom Whitby highlights several key points that outline the merits of the use of blogs by teachers. Firstly, as Whitby states, blogs offer a sense of voice to teachers all over the world who can at once be contributors to, and participants in, meaningful conversations with regard to best pedagogical practice. Therefore, we have moved beyond merely consumers of information. Teachers can now meaningfully interact with content in an open forum. We have instant access to the authors of this content and can readily add our voices to the conversation. Starting in ECI 831 has given me the motivation to start expanding my own voice online in a more meaningful way. To become not merely a consumer and disseminator of information but also a valuable contributor.
Whitby goes on to highlight the importance of blogs as a way to maintain relevance in an increasingly changing world in which information flows swiftly. If we hope to continue connecting with students and teaching them how to navigate this raging river of online information without losing their footing or sacrificing ours, teachers must be willing to embrace these types of platforms. The freedom to create, explore and respond to new ideas related to the teaching profession should be seen as both a privilege and an obligation. A privilege because of the opportunities that exist for teachers and students alike. An obligation because this is the digital world in which our students are growing up. We owe it to the future.