Saturday, October 04, 2003

BloggerCon 2003 IV

Weblogs in Education: AKM Adam, Patrick Delaney, Lance Knobel, Jenny Levine, Kaye Trammell, and Brian Weatherson

AKM Adam is an associate professor of the New Testament at Seabury-Western. Pat Delaney is a librarian who works with the Bay Area Writing Project. Lance Knobel was responsible for the program of the Davos meeting in January 2000. Jenny Levine is an Internet development specialist for the suburban library System in Burr Ridge, Illinois. Kaye Trammell is a mass communication doctoral student at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. Brian Weatherson works in the department of philosophy at Brown University. Here is a rough transcript of their discussion:

Lance Knobel: What interests me about the Weblog world is that it's a number of largely disconnected spheres. There's very little connection between the worlds of people reading about journalism, people reading about economics, and people reading about political philosophy. We're going to discuss a variety of aspects of Weblogs in education, from K-12 education to serious scholarship. That's a tall order, but we have an interesting group.

Delaney: I'm a high-school librarian and a staff developer for the Bay Area Writing Project. I use Weblogs in about six ways.

Knobel: Are you doing things and people need to read you or are you encouraging people to use them themselves?

Delaney: I'm a domain manager for a domain of people who use Weblogs.

AKM Adam: I'm AKM Adam. I teach, I'm a homeschooling parent, and I'm a manager of an online site for theological researchers. I'm a personal blogger, as well.

Brian Weatherson: I'm Brian Weatherson. I'm a professor at Brown University. I use blogs for two things. I have an old-fashioned writing notebook. And I have a blog of new philosophy that's been published on the Web in the last 24 hours.

Kaye Trammell: I'm Kaye Trammell. I teach in the online journalism track at the University of Florida. Go Gators. I'm a doctoral student researching a certain kind of blog. I'm also incorporating blogs into our curriculum so students use blogs. I've also been instrumental in bringing blogs into a variety of curricula at the university for designers and students taking a technology and culture class.

Jenny Levine: I'm Jenny Levine. And I'm a librarian. I work in the suburban library system in Illinois. I'm trying to get librarians to use blogging. I also do my blog, the Shifted Librarian.

Knobel: Pat, you're using Weblogs for writing. What do Weblogs offer that other means don't? What's new?

Delaney: K-12 teachers have very full plates. I call it digital paper. I don't call it Weblogs. What you can do with Weblogs is read, write, and research. As a representative of the Bay Area Writing Project, I don't care what people teach. They should be writing. We're moving from a paper classroom environment to a digital classroom environment.

Knobel: The Web is a writer's medium.

Delaney: And a reader's medium. And a researcher's medium.

Knobel: Is it the ease of use that matters? Does the openness of it matter?

Delaney: The bigger notion to that is the notion of audience. One of the fundamental problems of a teacher giving an assignment is that if the teacher is the only audience for a project, who gives a crap? With blogs, other people outside of the classroom walls have the potential of paying attention to them. The publishing aspect of traditional writing is embedded in blogging. 13-16 year olds love making their Weblogs look good. In the writing process, you get an idea, you brainstorm, you draft it, you get some feedback, you revise it, and you publish it. Bryan Bell does the same thing with themes. It was an amazing moment to watch seven blograts listen to Bryan talk about the way he does his work. That's how writers do their work.

Adam: One of the peculiarities of my working environment in a seminary is that almost of my student expect to become clergy. The openness Pat mentions is something my students dread. What if they say something their bishop doesn't like? We need to compel students to express themselves in public. The leverage we've got is that they're all preparing to become public communicators.

Knobel: This thing about getting caught… When I suggested Brian as one of the panelists, someone asked if he was tenured. If you're not tenured and you're blogging, is that a problem?

Weatherson: Probably not in the way that you think. A lot of what I've written is faulty. That's OK. When I started, it was for a real micro-audience. But with Google and archiving and so forth, some of it can get back to whom you're writing about.

Knobel: Kaye, with your students, is the openness of the Web an advantage?

Trammell: Their perception is very different than mine. Students have always had very clear expectations about what they should write when they turn in a paper. When you're blogging, you're on their turf. Students know how to use the Internet. They're free to say anything they want, but then you put the constraints of the classroom over them. Students have to contribute to a personal or professional blog, and then they have to contribute to a class blog. In their professional blog, they'll say things they never would have said in their reporting classes. How can we transcend that?

Knobel: There's an issue of decorum. Are you imposing that, or are they finding a different voice by the medium? I'm not sure what the problem is.

Trammell: I'm opposing it. I'm the online editor, and I tell students the rules about the content I expect from them. They find a different voice. I encourage them to use that as their own personal commentary column. It's a fine line between what I expect and what they're giving.

Levine: The public library has a blog on Blogspot for 4-6 graders about book reports.

Kaye: It's definitely an evolutionary process. Do we give them lots of rules? It depends on what the role of the teacher is.

Delaney: There are a couple of issues we're dealing with. One is legal. You have to be careful about ID'ing students. In my district, this is all so new that no one's blown the whistle on any major gaffs that have happened. It'd be good for the education to learn about what SIPA and COPA mean for grade schools. School admins are overworked. If something bad happens it's very easy for the admin or a parent to go to a superintendent and shut that blog server down.

Knobel: Does it diminish the value to put it behind a wall?

Delaney: We used blogs in a summer writing camp. The first year, we assigned teachers to the Weblogs. They went into the Weblogs and responded to the kids. The next summer, we didn't have as much money and not as many teachers responded. We asked students to comment on each other. People were upset that people in North Dakota weren't reading their poetry or that people in California weren't telling them how cool they were. You have to earn your audience.

Trammell: That publicness is one of the most important things we have going for us. There's a two-person relationship between a student and a professor when you're writing your paper. The student can allow quality to drop. If it's on a Weblog, it's public. Anyone can read it. I pitch it that everyone is reading it. Potential employers. Your mother. The chair of the department. It makes them think more about the work that they're producing.

Delaney: Someone on the journalism panel talked about localization. In school, you might not get someone in North Dakota.

Levine: Then there's what people were saying about critical evaluation of the people that you're reading.

Question: If students are writing for the public and we scale this up, students around the world are producing a large part of the content for the world. That's extraordinary. Students become authors.

David Weinberger: Should everyone learn how to blog as a life skill? Or is it like singing, and not everyone should do it public?

Delaney: I don't call them Weblogs. It's digital paper. I want people to learn how to use digital paper as a writer, a reader, and a researcher.

Trammell: Should it be a lifestyle? What blogs offer is a voice to every person who wants to have it heard. Little Kaye Trammel from Kansas can have a voice and have her voice heard. How you critically think about what happens in your world make everyone better. I want students to learn how to use the medium in a way that won't get them fired.

Levine: You're not going to get this without information literacy. When you talk about kids doing research, going out, and finding links, they shouldn't just use Google. There are databases that libraries license.

Delaney: It's not quite there yet. Yeah, everybody who has a certain amount of money and school districts that have a reliable server admin have access.

Ethan Zuckerman: One of the major obstacles at Harvard is a pretty aggressive privacy policy. For technical reasons, we've decided to make student blogs only accessible within Harvard. Is this something we need to be aggressive about to make sure these are blogs and not just class reports?

Weatherson: If you give students the right to use pseudonyms, it gives students the option. People might say it goes against the public nature, but very few students do it.

At this point, my attention wandered, and I turned to continuing to try to get online.

Knobel: I don't know if we can make any real conclusions. But there seems to be tremendous belief and pent-up energy about the potential of Weblogs in education. You're going to have a radical shift of expectations from students, from parents, and from teachers.

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