Immersive Blogging

By Pierre Metivier

A bit of time has passed, allowing a hopefully less fuzzy look backwards, removing the knee-jerk reaction inherent to the first look at unrealized success; not completely unrealized, but certainly not fully formed and clear-cut; ugly actually.  My attempts at incorporating blogging and tweeting were mediocre in action and average in outcome.  I do think some students had light bulb moments.  The assignments, as with all assignments, were embraced by some, out-right rejected by others; it’s the vagaries of high school.

The core value, though, is there if I can better internalize the process it represents into the classroom culture.  The ‘value’ is the need…not need…imperative?…too much implied pressure….  The ‘value’ is the ability and requirement to argue a position (now almost a divine imperative with common core and the LDC modules, not to mention the next generation of science standards; feeling ambivalent about that right now actually and I digress).  Students, people, should know why they think something and be able to explain it, however pretty or ugly the packaging may be.  The blog, I think, should be less a finished product and more a ‘working things out,’ a ‘work in progress’ type forum.  There should be a discussion, an exchange of ideas, the expression of differences in interpretation, understanding, opinions; they should not be an affirmation from the mutual appreciation society.  This is the process I want the blog to be a product of – open discussion and disagreement.  Not so much focused on the disagreement as the open recognition that learning is not pre-packaged and clean-cut; it is born of hard work, internal and external conflict with information, consideration of divergent and/or opposing ideas, an expression of a momentary ‘got it’ with the flexibility to modify as more is known.  It’s a document of evolution.

What will make them effective for this purpose, the process that has to be embraced, is the commenting.  The discussion will only be generated by questions and comments after the fact.  This is the point of typing and posting the blog.  However, my failure, was not effectively working this into the course culture.  The classroom needed to be filled with discussion, disagreement, ugly thinking, and work-in-progress outcomes.  The blog is a reflection of the class.  How can the students extend a discussion beyond the walls if I did not leave them on their own to think and get frustrated and talk and hash out and push for idea exchange during class?  I have to do this better.

To share the blame with inanimate objects and items beyond my control may seem childish, but I am going to do that too.  We lost our department computer lab to a reading lab.  Technically it was relocated, but the daisy-chain attempt to get the computers online was haphazard and ineffective.  There were too few working correctly most of the time.  This is also due to the ancient nature of the computers; they need replaced.  We have no plan to replace them; our school has no plan to replace any computer.  I know this is short-sighted not to have a turnover plan, but am torn between replacing the computer lab a couple of computers at a time (it’s a Mac lab with 20+ so a ten year plan lacking in efficacy from the outset) or pushing for a laptop cart (Mac books of course).  In addition, due to a variety of issues, the school’s lap top carts were inoperative for the year.  Why do I write this bit of woe?  I think I have to take the time to have the students blog and comment during class.  If it’s important, I need to use class time (precious class time) to show it’s important; actions speak louder than words.  I did this once or twice, this is not enough.  I loved working with Terie Englebrecht’s class (@mrsebiology), but as written, once or twice was not enough.  They have to view it as a debate, not so much a gotcha as an opportunity to better understand what someone else thinks, discovering this takes time.  Perhaps the quad blogging would be the way to do this; a means of accountability, though externally applied at first, that could serve as the impetus for creating something more?

One adjustment from the fall to the spring, was a change in the frequency of the blogs: I required more of them.  Roughly, every 10 – 14 days a blog was due depending upon the course.  I also assigned all blog topics.  This is a double-edged sword.  It allowed me a glimpse into how the students were thinking and working through ideas from class.  This was good because there were trends in thinking I could address as necessary.  The bad was there was less opportunity for self-evaluation on the other stuff going on in class.  So, make the blogs weekly assignments next year?  Maybe I need to incorporate more undefined opportunities for open blogging and just cut back on the assigned topics without increasing the number?  Grading them was not nightmarish, but time consuming all the same.  I did use Google Reader to group students into course folders and keep apprised of published posts; this worked well.  (Another option is Pearltrees, but in spite of its potentially more pleasing aesthetics and organic organization, I need to reduce the newness and gain a bit more competence with what’s existing.)

Tweeting was similarly mixed.  A huge and immediate impact for next year would be to jump on board with Adam Taylor’s (@2footgiraffe) student-scientist chats.  There was some background research for the students (articles, YouTube videos, etc.) on the topic so they could feel comfortable enough to just jump in with questions, comments, thoughts to share with people doing science for a living; not to mention the other classes (not his) that also got involved.  Those were awesome.  I think even though these were Biology themed, the topics were still relevant and in the news or examples of the interaction between policy and scientific knowledge, truly appropriate to any science course looking to expand opportunities for scientific literacy.  This being one of the points of using Twitter to begin with:  awareness of current science and the process of how science attempts to understand the natural world.

I do like the use of paper.li, though probably not as an active application as it is passively driven; it served well as an archive of a student’s tweeting activity (they had to list themselves as a source for it) and part of their twitter stream.  Therein lies the limitation – it’s passive.  Scoop-it is an alternative because of the active curation required, which in truth is its issue.  Though stream driven, it is time consuming.  So, it begs the question why use this/these assignments at all?  It’s dipping the toe.  Paper.li allows familiarity with Twitter to be developed; important for those unfamiliar with the medium – most of my students.  So, keep these, but I have to incorporate them better; give them weight so to speak.  Maybe as bell ringers or exit-thingys?  It’s a thought.  I also think I’ll require students to embed a Twitter widget into their blogs, giving me one-stop-shopping: grade their blog, check their Twitter activity.

In essence, I have to change the culture of the class: encourage them to tweet during class; cuss and discuss during class (well not cuss per se but you know what I mean); not be limited by the walls and time of class, embrace the asynchronous opportunity available through blogging; and seek a deeper understanding of themselves and others.  I guess the gauntlet is dropped, once more into the breach (mixed metaphors aside).

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