A Belated Reflection on the Students 2.0 Experience

If you haven’t read Ryan Bretag‘s and Steve Hargadon‘s posts on TechLearning about Students 2.0, they’re worth a read. And Steve’s podcast interview with Kevin, Sean, and Lindsey shows them at their wonderful best, in terms of both intelligence and personality.

I haven’t really written any reflections here since launching Students 2.0 back on December 8 – those of you in my Twitterverse may have noticed I’m feeling a bit burned out right now – so I want to do that now.

I’ll start with saying thank you to the educators out there who helped it happen: Scott Schwister and Scott McLeod for simple moral and conceptual support back when I was blogging about the idea in June; Diane Cordell, Chris Watson, Carolyn Foote, Sylvia Martinez, and Elizabeth Helfant for answering my twitter request for good student bloggers out there; Christian Long and Steve Hargadon for blogging about Sean “The Bassplayer” and Arthus Erea (that’s how I learned about these two s2oh contributors); and Mr. Winton for turning Sean on to learning 2.0 in his Scotland classroom.

Then there’s everybody who helped with the marketing. Thanks to Arthus for the idea (and creation) of the splash page, and for creating the countdown badge with his coding skills; thanks to Sean the Bassplayer and the entire s2oh team for creating the promotional YouTube video and original soundtrack; thanks to readers of this blog for playing along with the request to push the launch onto the del.icio.us hotlist, for blogging about the project and embedding the badge, and for the concerted Twitter-burst of del.icio.us bookmarks that pushed s2oh onto the hotlist in less than three hours.

Re: that Twitter marketing campaign, I said it then and I’ll say it again: it was fairly spontaneous, it unapologetically manipulated del.icio.us for a good cause, and it worked. It showed the power of a network of educators who can bother to take a couple of minutes of action to create a fairly impressive marketing sensation. For the skeptics and naysayers about this move, the question I ask is: Without this audience and this buzz, how excited and motivated would the s20h writers be to deliver a quality product and make this project a success?

Let me illustrate how effective this collaborative effort of everyone above was by comparing some basic stats about Students 2.0 – after only three weeks – with my own blog’s stats after one year:

  • Del.icio.us bookmarks: Students 2.0: 450; Beyond School, 65 (for the main page only; I don’t know how to get a total that includes permalink pages);
  • Technorati ranking (links from individual blogs): Students 2.0 150; Beyond School, 85 (new site, since Oct. 20) + 70 (old site, Jan. 1 – Oct. 20) = 155;
  • RSS Subscribers: Students 2.0: 405; Beyond School: 401;
  • Unique Visits for December: Students 2.0: over 12,500 unique visits (since December 8); Beyond School: 5,069.

Kevin Walter playfully accuses me of being a “stats whore” when I talk about readership, and I always reply that self-publishing is still publishing, and to publishers, readership matters.

So what am I trying to say here? I’ll quote from a comment I left on Steve Hargadon’s post on TechLearning:

[It all points to] the need to create more authentic publication spaces, with more authentic audiences for students that, like Students 2.0, require quality to reach that audience.

There are obviously other possibilities for such spaces, besides a student edublog, that might motivate students to “embrace the revolution” in their own education.

Music, film, photography, and writings on a broader range of subjects than education are a case in point.

In my own senior classroom, I’ve been pursuing an “authentic blogging pedagogy” that throws out prescribed curriculum altogether, and requires only that my students identify a passion-based path of inquiry and/or production, and pursue that through connective reading-and-writing, and through showcasing their own creative pursuits on their blogs.

After a few frustrating months of watching them flounder, I’m finally seeing signs that give me hope. One student had a “mission moment” in which he identified that his blog would henceforth be the space in which he published and discussed his own musical compositions, with the aim of producing a full CD by the end of the senior year.

Others have similarly chosen photography and design as their missions, and are advancing down their own paths in those directions.

I started Students 2.0 out of frustration with all the excuses we read for not pushing authentic learning with web 2.0 forward in education. Sean’s old English teacher in Scotland, “Mr. Winton,” put his finger on my ultimate hope for this enterprise when he wrote,

“This attempt to give students a genuine forum where they can give an end-users view of Education2.0 is, I hope, the thin end of the wedge.”

The “thin end of the wedge” indeed. We can, all of us, create more spaces that students want to earn their way into. The less “schooly” and egalitarian, the better – because maybe those unmotivated students Diane mentions are not motivated precisely because the types of publication they are offered online, in the end, still feel as inauthentic as the hallway displays of yore.

Thanks for taking these young people seriously, and not just giving them a pat on the head. I know I’ve been snarky on a couple occasions in comments on other posts about s2oh, but it’s precisely because those posts seemed to both miss the weight of the moment, and to coopt the revolution by taming it into a lower level of status in the edublogging caste system. It’s nice to see you and Ryan Bretag (he wrote about s2oh on TL first, as far as I know) avoiding that tone.

It’s early days for s2oh, and they have a learning curve ahead of them, but trust me: for engagement and motivation, and care for their work, they get an A+ for their work so far.

Or would, if this had anything at all to do with grades. The amazing thing, of course, is that it doesn’t.

To sum up, a few propositions:

1. We can create more spaces like this, with similar visibility to motivate quality, through similar means. You come up with the idea, and I’ll certainly return the favor you’ve given s2oh by blogging about it, helping you push it to del.ico.us’ hotlist, etc.

2. It doesn’t take a lot of work to make things happen. It does take doing, though.

3. We shouldn’t forget what this whole enterprise taught about the power of network marketing for education.

Thanks again to everyone. I’m pooped, so I’m signing off.

12 thoughts on “A Belated Reflection on the Students 2.0 Experience”

  1. Clay,

    I love the Ohsters and look forward to hearing more about their individual passions as they become familiar with their new venue.

    Perhaps they could even do a point/counterpoint on issues where their views diverge.

    Will they be mentoring still younger Voices, as the original group begins to transition into College Students2.0?

    They give me hope and keep my old brain a churnin’.

    diane

  2. We faced the sad possibility that Sean, Kevin, and other seniors would have to leave s2oh in six short months as things were originally envisioned, and then thought “beyond school” and realized that they would have value as recent high school graduates – Sean entering college, Kevin possibly going straight into business and bypassing college altogether – so we decided they should definitely stay. :)

    When the holiday ends, I hope to see them think about regular features such as you suggest. But I do like the way they often disagree with each other in comments to each others’ posts already.

    Have you listened to Steve’s podcast with Kevin, Sean, and Lindsea? It’s so good.

    And thanks again for being a key matchmaker and supporter in all of this :)

  3. I enjoyed this post Clay, good little sum up of it all… but my thanks goes to you, for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this project with such a great team. It’s something I will always remember, no matter what the outcome.

    and in seeing your comment, remembering the small discussion we had, or was it just a single question? I smiled knowing that I’ll still be welcome when I’ve left school, even when I’m out there experiencing music college.

  4. Talk about coming to fruition. Except—and this is the beauty of it—s2oh isn’t even close yet. Those stats are eye-popping to say the least. Even discounting a honeymoon period effect, those numbers suggest a real movement. And maybe more important than the quantifiable aspects of s2oh are the unquantifiable ones. Sean said it well with a pragmatic eye on a number of possible futures: “It’s something I will always remember, no matter what the outcome.”

    Since you’ve boldly thrown down the what’s-next gauntlet, I’ll take a crack at your first proposition. I agree: similar spaces, similar means. When we first started talking about student voices, there was no blueprint. You took the skeleton and hung some serious musculature on it, and the s2oh “staff writer” model sprang to life. Now, how about a complementary “digest” model, something along the lines of the Utne Reader? Regularly find and feature insightful/relevant/challenging/just plain good posts by student bloggers from all over. Could be a good way to expand the pool of s2oh writers.

    Another idea has been rattling around in my head since we started this conversation. I haven’t fleshed it out enough to know it has legs, but here’s the rough thumbnail: a blogging project pairing professional mentors with motivated students with a passionate, live-and-breathe-it interest and well-down-that-road knowledge in whatever field it may be. We’ve recognized the need for student voices to season and enrich edublogosphere conversation. So if it’s powerful learning across the board to have student voices in the mix, imagine extending the idea to other professional/creative -blogospheres. Civil engineers mentoring and blogging with bright lights of the next generation of bridge builders, for instance. Ditto with medicine, theoretical mathematics, social work, you name it. Really, it’s about getting. . . beyond school. How’s that for a novel idea? I envision a mentor/student relationship playing out as equal parts job shadow, shop talk, Socratic method, and modeling a kind of discourse for the rest of us that takes place on an equal footing, where knowledge is age-blind and ideas are weighed by their merit. Certainly the students would learn from the relationship; even more certainly, the mentor would learn something about his/her work, whether reinforcing, challenging, or pointing to the need for radical change. And less certain but almost more intriguing from my seat are the untold overlaps, juxtapositions, and synchronicities that could emerge from such an interdisciplinary stew. And I suspect most fields are even more deaf to student voices than education. Frank conversation between confident, mature professionals and bright students could be like smelling-salts to take back to those respective fields and spheres. I guess this idea really springs fully (well, maybe not FULLY) formed from the teeth you’ve sown many times about creating authentic, unschooly spaces. Connecting students with. . . well. . . colleagues, right?. . . in whatever field their rockets are pointing them toward seems like a good step. And that’s an exciting, egalitarian, unschooly idea. But even more exciting is that the unschooliness could spread to other arenas, and that those other arenas could in turn teach us a lesson or two about going beyond school. Because isn’t “beyond school” really a signifier for getting beyond anything institutional and bureaucratic? Where the walls outnumber the windows, where gray is the color du jour, and where conformity trumps imagination?

    Geez. Whew. Time to take a chill pill, as they say in 90′s (or was that 80s?) vernacular.

  5. This post was so inspiring, and it made me much more optimistic about the future of education in this country. Network marketing truly is a powerful resource for students everywhere, and it should not be underestimated. It’s nice to see that students have responded so well to it so far. Keep up the good work.

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