student-centered learning doesn't (have to) equal anarchy. no, really.

After two long and in-depth discussions on EdTechTalk, as well as many hours spent Skyping with my cohort Barbara (Sawhill), I believe more strongly than before that requiring blogging is, simply, A Bad Idea.

The point of our school systems, on their most basic level, is for students to learn how to learn. Teachers are supposed to figure out how their students learn, and then to equip them with the proper tools so they can do so for themselves. What they learn, beyond a basic set of necessary skills, should be a decision made primarily by the student (with guidance from teachers, family members, guidance counselors, community members, etc). And the point of student-centered learning is to encourage students to take an active role in their own education. This, however, requires that a teacher doesn’t make assumptions about what they (think they) know about their students vs. what students know about themselves. And it also requires that the teacher give up a bit of control – not over the running of their classroom, but over the methods by which each individual student learns.

So, how does this relate to blogging? Blogging, despite what many may think, is not inherently social. Sure, many (most?) people who blog do so because they have something to say and are looking for feedback from others. A smaller group probably don’t care whether or not they receive any feedback; they neither advertise nor hide the existence and location of their blog. But another group exists: those that blog because they have something to say, but that don’t care to share those thoughts with anyone else.

Why would anyone blog for themselves, you ask? Why wouldn’t they do something that ensures privacy, like creating a Word document and storing it on a local drive? This is where many forget that blogging is just a technologically-advanced way to keep a journal. (There’s a reason it’s called, ahem, liveJOURNAL.) Personally, I have several reasons for keeping a completely private blog. It’s practical – I don’t have to worry about backing up or organizing any files. All that is taken care of for me. It’s also easy – though I do use html in my posts, I don’t have to. I can simply type jibber jabber if I feel like it. It’s convenient – I can update, edit, or create new posts of any length at any computer with internet access without then having to worry about whether or not I saved the file to some private storage area and also deleted the original from the public local drive. And, most importantly, it’s comfortable – I can publish half-formed or poorly-formed thoughts about absolutely anything without fear that someone might misinterpret them. Or, I can get frustration out of my system in a healthy way that I won’t regret later.

But none of my reasons should matter. The point is, I have them. I choose to maintain a private personal blog. It is my right to do so. The same should go for educational blogs. What right does anyone have to say that a student’s work-in-progress, or even a final product, should be published for everyone else in the class to see? Some people don’t mind falling on their face in front of an audience. For others, the fear of public failure is paralyzing. Should we start requiring students’ papers to be posted on hallway bulletin boards for anyone and everyone to see? No, of course not. And if we do want to put a particularly excellent piece of writing up to congratulate a student, wouldn’t we ask that student, first? And then respect their wishes should they choose to not have the work displayed?

Student-centered learning isn’t about cow-towing to students who are looking to do as little as possible. It’s about recognizing that respect goes a long way, and that teachers who give respect are 1) more likely to get it in return and therefore 2) more likely to help their students learn. And isn’t that what we’re all here for?

Ryan has been proudly maintaining and contributing to Language Lab Unleashed since 2005, and is the current President of SWALLT. Since the summer of 2013 he's been causing trouble with his all-star colleagues in the UMW DTLT; when not wrangling websites Ryan can be found doing strange things with heavy objects.

7 Comments

  1. ryan · December 5, 2005 Reply

    dave:

    my blog has, in fact, been published for the world to see. that i have refrained from telling the world where to look for it makes it no less of a publication. (for the record, wikipedia has this to say about publication: to publish is to make publicly known, and in reference to text and images, it can mean distributing paper copies to the public, or putting the content on a website. so, by virtue of my blog being available to the public via a website, it is therefore published, and meets the criteria for the standard definition of a blog.)

    but! i digress from my real issue. i’m not arguing against educational blogging. i think blogging could be a great educational tool, and so does barbara – that’s why we’re implementing it for several winter term courses, and also for two spring semester language classes. i’m also not arguing against imposing rules on students. (have i mentioned i’m not asking for anarchy in the classroom? i believe i have.)

    i’m simply arguing that blogging is not and does not have to be social to be effective. furthermore, i’m arguing that allowing students to actively participate in forming their own education is better than assuming that one person can and does know what methods are best for each and every one of their students. falling on one’s face ceases to be an effective mode of learning when a student stops trying. even if i was to agree that everyone should learn to fall and get right back up, teaching can’t be about how students should react. it needs to be about how they do react. and, how do you know that unless you make an attempt to find out, either by asking, or by considering and providing alternative solutions?

  2. dave cormier · December 5, 2005 Reply

    I understand and agree with your position, it’s your rhetoric that i’m objecting to. I haven’t said that all students should blog at all times, i have only defended blogging’s right to be considered a literacy and to therefore be included, given certain circumstances, along with any other literacy.

    my objections apply to your reply as well. The rhetoric gets in the way. Are we all guilty to some degree? of course. But it’s a fine line you draw when you call your blog “private” and then say it’s private in the sense that i didn’t tell anyone. But public in the sense that it affects your argument.

    i have one objection. Writing does not need to be social to be effective. Diary writing does not need to be social to be effective. Blogging is social.

  3. ryan · December 5, 2005 Reply

    I’m at a bit of a loss as to how to address your objection. What is the difference, as you see it, between writing, diary writing, and blogging? What is the threshhold for a blog being public? One person knowing? Two? A class? What about closed learning environments where only certain people with a username and password can have access to a blog? Aren’t those blogs less public, and therefore less social than mine, which has no username or password in order to view it?

  4. dave cormier · December 6, 2005 Reply

    Hey bud and ryan.

    blogging is about potential audience. The way the intention affects the writing is about how it is written for an audience. If I’m potentially writing for the whole world, it’s going to affect the way i look at facts. If it’s permanent, it will affect the way i look at spelling.

    The reason i like elgg, ryan, is that it addresses some of your concerns about levels of privacy. You can cast it to the world, to your community, group or even keep it just to yourself. It gives you that flexibility. Those are distinctions that i consider very important.

    Let me give you an example. One of my Chinese students is a little on the lazy side, she also Canada, and i’ve been spending a fair amount of time trying to explain to her about intellectual property, about citation and about the value of a spellchecker. I tell her that the former can get her into a lot of trouble and the latter is kinda like getting prepped for a job interview, does it affect your argument – no, but it can change the way people look at you.

    “what people?” she says.

    At this point, blogging changes everything. (more later, gotta get to work, i think i’ll write a blog post on my blog for this)

    great chatting as always ryan

    and bud.

    cheers, dave.

  5. dave cormier · December 5, 2005 Reply

    Two things! one, this is the definition of blog from wikipedia: A weblog (usually shortened to blog, but occasionally spelled web log) is a web-based publication consisting primarily of periodic articles (normally in reverse chronological order). Although most early weblogs were manually updated, tools to automate the maintenance of such sites made them accessible to a much larger population, and the use of some sort of browser-based software is now a typical aspect of “blogging”.”
    notice it says “publication”. meaning to make public. Your definition of blog is not the standard one, regardless of your journal / livejournal argument. (pine-apple / pine apple) You are keeping a diary using blogging software. I agree. It also makes good diary software. But, generally speaking, no publication, no blog.

    You’re creating a bit of a straw man with this argument.
    1. No one is claiming that we make students post everything they’ve ever done on a blog. There is a middle ground between posting everything you’ve ever thought and never posting at all.
    2. When we say student-centered we still impose rules upon how students are going to do their work. They need to be able to spell. To format their essays, drawing etc in a standard way. They need to know how to make an argument. They need, in most cases, to be able to hand things in that are typewritten. Some people might add, they need to be able to blog. It is not knowledge! it’s a literacy.
    2b. Yes, the students choose. But if they are choosing philosophy, automtive repair or quantum mechanics they are choosing between a set of literacies and knowledges set out by their instructors (if we continue to accept our experts based school system). As a writing teacher I say – you will need to know how to write a thesis statement, to blog, to use citation! it’s included.
    3. Learning to get over “falling on your face” is part of learning too. That, and a decent teacher will help you avoid doing that anyway.

    dave.

  6. barbara · December 5, 2005 Reply

    oooh! I’m making popcorn, sitting back, and watching the feathers fly. 🙂

  7. Bud Hunt · December 6, 2005 Reply

    I’m going to be paying close attention to this conversation as I get ready to blog with students in a classroom again. I’ve moved back and forth on whether or not to require a student to blog. Making a student go public can be a traumatic thing – but it can also be a wonderful opportunity. I know that writing gets better when a student is writing to someone other than their teacher.
    I also know, though, that not everything a student does is or should be open to scrutiny. In a speech class, I must require a student to give a speech – but I can allow the student to choose the specific audience and the topic of the speech.
    The question of what stays private and what goes public is an important one. I don’t have any certain answers about that yet, but I intend to talk my way through the issue soon. I’ll probably podcast the conversation – even if it is a monologue.
    A minor point – but perhaps an important one. Writing in, inherently, a social action, particularly when it’s published. Sure, the audience might be small (one, or three, or three hundred), but the act of publication assumes an audience. That virtual audience, the one you consider when you choose your words, phrasing, and all other elements of your writing, completes the writing circuit.
    Using blogging software to keep a personal journal, diary, or whatever might be a neat way to write anywhere and keep a central record of your experience – but it’s not necessarily blogging.
    Posting that record of your experience online is, in some small way, a social act – if the audience was irrelevant, you’d never make the writing public.
    Can a blog work in a closed school environment? Probably. But what’s lost versus what’s protected when you build a fortress around your classroom?

    Wow – pretty rambly. Didn’t mean to spew quite so much. Hope it made sense.

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