Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Schools in Blogs, Blogs in schools


This is going to be long, but bear with me. I start with one specific course, than broaden the picture, muse a bit, meander somewhat, then ask some questions for which I would love some answers in the comments.

ColinMcEnroe's blogging class is over. They are supposed to turn in their final papers in hardcopy, but now that they are all bloggers in their own right, nothing comes more naturally to them than to post their papers on their blogs.

And they have written some fascinating things, some of which challenge the assumptions of old bloggers and professional blog-watchers. I strongly urge you to go and read their papers and post comments. Link to them - make them feel welcome into the blogosphere!

Let's start with Elin of Nileblog. She posted her paper in seven blogposts, well worth studying, as there are some surprising conclusions there:

The Rhetoric of Blogging (Part I) - Rhetoric
The Rhetoric of Blogging (Part II) - Science and Politics
The Rhetoric of Blogging (Part III) - Flu Wiki
The Rhetoric of Blogging (Part IV): Coffee Rhetoric Rhetoric
The Rhetoric of Blogging (Part V): Daily Kos
Rhetoric of Blogging (Part VI): Once more, with feeling
The Rhetoric of Blogging (Part VII): Closing thoughts on Nileblog

And yes, Nileblog will continue to exist in the future! Blogrolled!

Eric really took off with his blogging. He already has THREE blogspot blogs! One of which, this one, contains entirely the material of his blogging final paper about Links.

Shante also posted her paper on her blog: An exploration of the personal, and I hope she will continue blogging - she is a great writer.

Holly is a wonderful writer, but still nervous and shy about spilling everything out for everyone to read. She did, however, post her excellent paper on Creativity and Communication.

Jeff decided not to post the paper online, but appears that he will also continue with blogging. On the other hand, Dave of My Travels decided blogging is not for him and that's cool.

Screamin' Memey caught the blogging bug. That's the one to watch. No paper, though.... I believe that Semper Gumby was blogging even before the course started. It is an endless source of cool links to cool stuff.

Brett feels, perhaps of the whole class, most comfortable in the blogging medium - no qualms about posting the most personal stuff! But, where is the paper? Perpetual Perpetuity is on the roll! Also no paper.

Pangiuseppe decided mostly to comment on other people's blogs, but broke the silence to post this excellent final paper: Human Communication is Evolving in the Blogosphere.

Now, this guy's paper on 'metablognition' is of great interest to me, but it is not posted! Why? Has he moved to another blogging platform? Did this one also continue somewhere else? Both blogged regularly and then abruptly stopped. Strange...

Leon is running his own personal blog in Hungarian. But he did post his paper - RICHARD PRYOR AND SPEAKING THE TRUTH: On The Purpose and Voice of Personal Blogs - on his class blog.

I love this one! A blogger, blogging like a real pro, against blogging, but will consider continuing blogging, maybe, but probably not. Anyway, here's the term paper.

John of Jean DuBlog posted the results of his blogging ethics survey. Bill's Blither is an amazing blog. No paper, but who cares, this one stays on my blogroll.

Erin now feels free to blog on her own, now that the class is over and her paper is posted: Everyone's a Critic: Critical Thinking (or Lack Thereof) In the Blogosphere.

Something else happened in that class that is very interesting. Before the last class meeting, Colin had to warn them: "There's no crying in blog class!" And they sure cried. Dig through their blogs - especially the comments to posts in late December - to see for yourself. It is amazing how emotionally involved they got in this class. They all became fast friends. One is wondering why?

They believe this is because of a unique collection of fascinating individuals and the way they all clicked with each other. But is it really so unique? Or is it the fact they wrote their own and read each others' blogs that allowed them to get to know each other better than they would have if they just met on campus once a week for a semester? Does one's persona emerge on one's blog in ways that carefully managed image in real life cannot?

Now here's a thought: what if every class, from high school through grad school (with exception of humongous college freshman required classes that collect hundreds of students at a time), had a class blog and required students to keep their own blogs, write their assignments there, and post comments on each others' blogs? What would be good and bad consequences of such a practice if it became a norm?

Kids are already so used to being online. From AIM, XBoxLive and e-mail, through Facebook, Friendster and MySpace, to Xanga, AOL Blogs and LiveJournal, kids are definitely swimming through cyber-waters like fish.

Imagine starting in high school. Each teacher manages a class blog. Each student also runs a blog (perhaps on a platform that hides them from visitors outside of school). In each class, the class blog links to all the students and all the students link to the class blog and to each other. They are required to post their assignments on their blogs and to post links to those on the course blog. They are required to comment on each other's blogs and on the course blog.

We can assume that many students, just like the grad students in Colin's class, will also use their blogs to post stuff unrelated to class. Aware that teachers have access, they will probably heavily self-censor, but still, their true voice is likely to come out.

High school students come to school wearing a mask, an image they want to project. Freshmen in college do the same. But on their blogs, masks fall off. It is so hard to fake it online. See how Colin's students, at the very beginning of the course when they were still complete newbies, immediately lambasted XiaXue for being fake, and loved Coffee Rhetoric and Dooce for being genuine. The real persona eventually emerges.

If so many young students are uncomfortable being themselves in real life, but comfortable being themselves online, will their reading of each others' blogs help them get to know each other better, like each other better, become friends? Or is this going to be yet another tool to stir up trouble, gossip, form cliques and shun the outsiders?

Will a shy kid with great writing skills become popular? Will a popular jock be laughed at due to bad grammar and spelling? Would this be dangerous or wonderful for students' self-esteem?

How much would teachers have to learn how to monitor what is going on and interfere on behalf of victims? Would signs of depression, suicidal tendencies or aggressive intentions be detected earlier? How does one weigh pros and cons and thus organize the way this is all done?

How about college? There, each student would be a part of a number of blogging communities - one for each class they take. Will they care if they do not fit in with the engineering crowd but shine in a feminism class? How many blogging communities can one physically and mentally belong to before giving up on the whole thing?

How would mandatory blogging affect the level of reading and writing among the kids? If they know they are being read by classmates and teachers, will they try harder to write correctly? Will they become experts in detecting plagiarism on each other's posts, thus reducing its incidence overall?

Will discussions in comments sections raise the level and quality of thinking? We all know, as adults, how many heated discussions online end up with accusations of particular logical fallacies, e.g., ad hominem, red herring, slippery slope, etc. Will kids learn to recognize logical fallacies earlier if they are forced to comment on each others' blog early on in their careers? Will that positively affect the level of critical thinking? Will that prepare them better for their other college classes? Will that make them better citizens and better informed voters?

How would this affect the way teachers teach?

So, do you think it is possible to repeat the group cohesion effect of Colin's class in many other classes at difeferent ages and levels, no matter what the course subject is? Is that good or bad? Do benefits outweigh the risks? What other factors I am blind to? Comments are open.

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