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Sleepwalking into the Blogmire August 11, 2007

Posted by davidit in class blog, Education, Education 2.0, ICT Integration, Inquiry Model, thinking skills, Web 2.0.
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I have been vexed of late, something has been chewing away at me and I have been like a bear with a sore head around those that love me. I must be insufferable when I am like this.  At 04:00  today I had an Eureka! moment and have found the cause of my pain.  To quote the Joker in Batman “I have given a name to my pain…blogging.”  So here I am at my computer, the house is in darkness, with  pages of scribbled notes in front of me trying to get the stream of thoughts into some sort of  coherent logic. The sun has yet to rise, so here we go, appologies this could be a long post…

I recently commented that on the Supertanker we were experiencing something of an explosion in blogs.  Blogs are popping up all over the place and some are being used for entirely the wrong purpose where a wiki would be more appropriate, but such is the Missionary zeal for this new tool, I have been reluctant to dampen spirits.  For the record, I believe that blogs are a fantastic tool for classrooms, teachers and students, but of late I have become increasingly apprehensive about their use on the Supertanker.

With all of my work to do with preparing the ICT PD cluster proposal I have been diverted from researching blogs and wikis for information, but this week has seen some kind of return to normality and I have been researching again.  Two sites have come to mind that have helped me to crystalise my unease.  The first of these sites is that of Ian Jukes, he has some interesting things to say and in particular this pdf caught my eye, an extract from that pdf is below.  In addition what Lynne Crowe has to say on one of her recent posts ties in with my unease.

Ian in his pdf is discussing the quality of skills needed to use any tool and the resultant quality of the outcome.  It is a classic case of the bad workman blames his tools…

The desire to be more than we already are has always been with us. In the old

days, levers were used to lift something that couldn’t be lifted by human effort

alone. Now most levers plug into walls, use motors, or require batteries. Consider,

for example, a guitar amplifier. An amplifier is merely an updated version of lever,

designed to take advantage of modern power sources. What happens when you give


a bigger amplifier to a good guitar player? It’s magical because the amplifier

magnifies the skills of the player.

Conversely, what happens when you give a bigger amplifier to a bad guitar player?

Not pretty is it. The amplifier simply magnifies the skills, for better or worse.

 

In recent weeks we have had a wave of crewmembers on the Supertanker abandon ship into a sea heaving with blogs.  As a result there has been an increase in stress and much confusion. On the Supertanker we have our own Fender amplifier, running with all the dials turned up to 10,  indiscriminately amplifying the good the bad and the ugly.  Unfortunately the result has been anything but magical.  I have long held the view that teachers, with their heavy workloads and snowed under with the paperwork of accountablility have reached a state I call ‘initiative fatigue.’  By this I mean that many teachers now sail under a flag of convenience called tokenism, especially when it comes to new initiatives.   Teachers want to provide a quality learning environment for their students, but really do not have the time to sit down and truly contemplate what that might mean or how it might work in their class.  In order to save time and provide that quality learning environment, all that they seek is a photocopiable resource that can be presented in class and ticked off a list that says initiative met or implemented.  Blogging on the Supertanker has become just that.  In essence blogging has been grabbed at by several teachers who want a quick fix solution to mask a bigger problem and therein lies the problem.

As you know we have spent 2007 developing an inquiry model of learning for our students.  We have decided to take this step in the light of the new curriculum document and in order that we can better prepare our students for the rigours of the information economy and the workplace of the C21.  Fundamental to this model is the requirement for teachers to undergo a pedagogical shift in their teaching style from teacher to facilitator.  We are in the midst of a fallout from the paradigm shift as argued by Mark Treadwell.  When a tool is used with a low level of skill then the outcome according to Ian Jukes’ analogy is not a good one and conversly when done with consumate skill the outcome is sublime.  The trouble comes when tools, such as blogging, are grabbed at indescriminately.  A tyre lever won’t fix a flat battery, in other words an incorrectly selected tool used for the wrong job will make a mess of the whole.

In its current guise on the Supertanker blogging is bound to fail.  The failure will  cause huge amounts of stress and generally create a negative impression of the ablility of ICTs to reduce workload and improve student outcomes when used by these teachers.  Many of the self same teachers who have heard the amplified clarion call from the Fender amp to use blogs in their classroom are the self same teachers who have yet to regularly contribute to our staff blogs.  They will not contribute to these staff blogs, because they:

  • Can’t remember their usernames and passwords

  • Can’t see the benefit of blogging

  • Don’t know how to use a blog

  • Think that paper is a better way to record and share progress

These are genuine statements (objections) made by staff members who are now happily adopting the blog as a tool for their classrooms!  That they can not see the irony in this beggars belief.

So what is the problem?  The problem is the lack of planning, of contemplation, of reasoned consideration.  Not one single teacher of this new crop of bloggers that I have spoken to has a firm grasp of why, how  or for what purpose they will use a blog in their class.  It is as if the bus is leaving and they are scrambling to get on, without knowing the destination. Just being on board is enough for them.  Even though as Director of IT at school I am glad to see this sudden interest in the use of an ICT tool, I can also see that failure and disappointment is on the horizon.

In all reality how can a teacher, who has not got a system in place to rotate students, on a daily basis, through the limited number of computers in their class, irrespective of what else is going on in the class, expect blogging to work?  More to the point if there is no genuine and compelling reason to use a blog, why use it?  Before a teacher can implement a new strategy into their class, they need to know how to use it. It was my belief in the power of blogs in the classroom that was the reason that I set up our staff PLC blogs at the start of the year.  The intention was that in a safe and non threatening environment, through familiarity of use, teachers would see the benefits of and learn how to use a blog.  These self same skills would then be transferable to their classes.  For a sublime output teachers need to know how to skilfully use the tool.  For blogging to work teachers will need to have addressed the following classroom issues:

  • What purpose they are using the blog for?

  • How are they going to manage access to the blog in class time?

  • Why are they using a blog?

  • What benefits are there for them and their students to use a blog in their class?

Finally and perhaps most crucially we come to the point of Lynne’s post, sustainability.  Students can smell tokenism from a mile off.  If they have no stake in what they are doing, they quickly get bored of the initiative.  Lynne was discussing how to sustain student interest in a blog.  For me this comes down to the centre of the whole purpose of the inquiry model.  Students need to have ownership of their learning.  Once they do, then motivation is inherent, the purpose defined and sustainability almost guaranteed.

It is not the tools that are at fault, it is the level of skill and understanding of their use that needs to be improved.  Teachers on the Supertanker must invest time in contemplating how they are to manage the tools in their class, how their pedagogy has to adapt in addtion to learning to use the tools appropriately.  Teacher pedagogy and  ICT skills need to develop in tandem.  Pedagogy can evolve and develop without an increase in ICT skills.  The successful use of ICTs within a class however drives change and for success to happen, teachers have to want to change their classroom pedagogy and management.  Until they recognise that fact, they will continue to be stressed about ICTs in their class and continue to experience failure.

The sun is well up, I have a new plan.  Thanks for reading!

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Comments»

1. Marnie - August 11, 2007

Goodness me, sorry to hear that frustration is overflowing! Lucky it can overflow onto the blog rather than you having to spontaneously combust!
You are dead right about purposes for blogs and the thing that hit me when I ran the workshop on Thurs was that no one attending had any idea of their purpose or even what a blog was… but they still wanted to make one. If they wanted to learn to use one genuinely you would think they would have at least found out what a blog was before spending time wanting to learn about it!
The comment made to me by our leader yesterday was promising – he too wants them to think about their purpose before they dive into the deep end and drown.
They don’t want to learn really so maybe they need to go and join a different ship!! That would be a big relief wouldn’t it!!
Hope you get some sleep today!

2. Marnie - August 11, 2007

BTW – you sound like to definately need that beer. We should go after the course on Wednesday.

3. Lynne Crowe - August 11, 2007

I’m not sure where to start but…at least you have staff who want to get involved in blogging for whatever reason.
The staff in my school are not in least interested and for all the reasons that your staff mentioned. I have decided not to pursue it at this time in the hope that students coming through from our contributing schools will start asking their teachers about using blogs and wikis next year! here’s hoping anyway. Unfortunately our cluster facilitator, in her wisdom, has decided to really push the ‘wiki bandwagon’ even setting them up for teachers. Trouble is, unless teachers have had a pedagogical shift nothing changes except for the fact that they have a wiki gathering dust in cyberspace!
I do think you can start blogging or get a wiki up and running without a real vision of what you are going to do with it or how you are going to manage it, if you have made the shift – I did! I just took the plunge last October and jumped in feet and all. I’ve had my ups and downs but am presently on a bit of an up. But, I had done some investigating and looking at other class blogs before I jumped in.
Student bloggers – Because my students all have a high skill level and computers at home I give very little class time to blogs. But we have used our wiki extensively for cooperative class ‘projects’ (2006 and in the near future). I have tried to refine my student blogs this year to be more of an English portfolio. Last year my students were quite active but they also put anything and everything on their blog – almost like a Bebo space. As you can see I am still refining my concepts of student blogs.
Since my post re apathetic student bloggers there has been a real surge of interest from a large number of my students in their blogs. This has mainly been due to ‘outsiders’ taking an interest in what they are doing and I also tagged some of them with the latest meme. We will be starting a student one …
To conclude my rambling (maybe this should be on my blog) I think the way to get teachers involved is through the students, or one or two key students. Maybe a lunchtime ‘bloggers club’? You may even get some teachers!

4. Rachel Boyd - October 5, 2007

It is unnerving and unsettling that people just automatically want to follow because they feel that that is what they should be doing.

The blind, in this scenario, will not be able to achieve sustainability and indeed will become the typical digital holidaymakers (if they last that long!)

Like everything we do, you need to have a vision or a purpose, and know why what you are doing is beneficial and worth the effort, otherwise it will be the first thing to fall by the way-side.

Great to finally meet you f2f!

5. Idetrorce - December 16, 2007

very interesting, but I don’t agree with you
Idetrorce

6. davidit - December 16, 2007

It would have been beneficial if you had stated why you do not agree with me, so that I can work through your ideas. Just saying that you do not agree with me is almost not worth submitting. What is your point or points that you wish to make?


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