In my third month of writing here about 21st century education, way back in March 2007, I put the pom-poms down, stopped cheerleading, and started thinking about all the ways schools can kill the learning that is possible when students have a simple laptop and a blog. This snippet from a post from back then says it all, and my views haven’t changed on this one. (Add “and laptop learning” whenever you see “student blogging”):
[My] last two or three posts–and the comments, thank you – have conjured depressing visions in my head at random moments. I’m a bit worried about the future of student blogging.
I fear we teachers are going to ruin it for the learners.
“Blogging is just another way to turn in homework.” That’s the sentence that scares me. Because that’s how non-blogging teachers, and perhaps those unfamiliar with literacy pedagogy – communication across the curriculum, writing to learn, authentic writing, and more – will probably use blogging in the classroom.
And it will become drudgery. And the students (not learners here, because “teacher” can’t let go of being “teacher,” dominating, squelching, and dictating to students) will bang out the minimum for “blog homework,” as in old days, and turn to something authentic. Like their MySpace.
Toward a solution (or at least mitigation): train teachers in the philosophy of blogging before letting them use it in their classrooms.
[Update 6 hours later: I misspoke when I said "my views haven't changed" since I wrote this. They have. I don't think any longer that "training teachers in the philosophy of blogging" (or 1:1 learning) is enough to make it work, if they're not also mentored by someone who is immersed in the 21st century learning movement - and that mentor is acknowledged and supported. Teacher training is no evidence of teacher learning.]
Since writing this, our school has become a 1:1 Apple laptop school. All the students have blogs. They have iLife, so they can podcast, make iMovies, the whole nine yards. One of the students in my PLN class, Younsuk (you may have read about his Basketball Without Borders project, in which he and another student have arranged Skype interviews – in class – with Asian college and pro basketball players, and podcasted them on their WordPress.com blog), recently wrote the below on his “schooly” (required) blog. It’s just a snapshot, and I wish he’d have offered a possible solution for getting students to write on their blogs without somehow requiring it. I also wish he’d have the opportunity to learn that visual communication, the language of film, is a valuable (and not easy) skill to develop as well. But still, there’s much to learn from him. And he makes me wonder if my “prophecy” is coming true. Here it is:
[Our school] thinks we’re cool because the students carry around MacBooks. But carrying around a laptop doesn’t make a school cool, although it will certainly make the school look cool. Did [the school] get MacBooks so we can look cool? I hope not.
What are some of the cool things we do with our laptops?
[Most] students would be shouting, “iMovies!” right now. It is unique that we don’t write papers for our English final exam. Instead, we make movies using iMovie. But, is that really cool? Because I think there’s more potential to this than making a funny iMovie just to get grades for English class. I would understand it if it was for a movie making class. But does making iMovie enhance our skills in English…?
[Our school] is just trying to look cool by trying to use MacBooks whenever we can.
I’ve had too many teachers assign us to “make an iMovie” for this and that. I had to make an iMovie for my World Geography class and Asian Studies class. I was surprised when even my Spanish teacher told me to make an iMovie. It is obvious [our school] is trying too hard…to look cool.
And out of all my classes, Writing Seminar is one class that I think “is cool.” Yep, you guessed it right, it’s his class.
Personal Learning Network, or PLN is what we’ve been doing the whole semester in this class. We use our MacBooks to interact with people from all over the world, and learn how to write for [a] true audience. Not just that, we learn how to accomplish stuff through networking and meeting new cool people.
I have done some big things in this class. I have interviewed Asian college basketball players, uploaded the interview on our website to spread their words and break the stereotype of “Asians can’t play ball.” Some of them play professional basketball right now. I’ve interacted with some real people.
It’s much easier to see what I’ve done if you click here.
Now that’s the right thing to do with these laptops.
Macbook gives us “true audience.” In other words, it is real world out there.
While the MacBooks in the Writing Seminar classroom are shining, the other MacBooks in other classrooms are crying. They say, “what the hell am I doing here?”
I replied to Younsuk on his post, and will share that here as well:
I have a fantasy that, because you and others honestly express yourselves about your educational experience on your blogs, you eventually have an influence on how your classes are conducted – in other words, you teach your teachers and admin how it feels to be their student.
It’s delicate. You shouldn’t attack individuals or be too harsh, but at the same time shouldn’t mute your criticisms out of fear.
This medium can be powerful. Student voice can be powerful if it uses it. I’m thinking you and Soojin Lee and a few others could intentionally create change by focusing your efforts on starting discussion online about what changes you’d like to see.
I’ve read your entire blog tonight. I’ll be using some of your quotes in an upcoming post, and possibly in a book I hope to write this summer.
One last word, in defense of teachers: they’re new at this. Many of them don’t get it at all. So patience is only fair. They’re trying. But you can help them get it through good-willed criticism and instruction. You can teach them.
Stay in touch, Younsuk. You know where to find me.
I share this for many reasons, but primarily this: it’s not enough to “give professional development workshops” to teachers about 21st century education, and equate that teacher seat-time with effective training. Let’s be honest about that. We all know seat-time and certificates are no surer proof of learning for teachers than they are for students.
Younsuk’s situation brings up another important issue as well: laptop schools that don’t truly, really, really have true, true, true “coordination” of instruction risk burning students out with “three iMovie final projects,” as is Younsuk’s case, all due the same week. A good movie takes an hour of editing for every minute of the final product. I wonder how many minutes these students are expected to produce for their finals. It’s scary. And the solution is a real tech coordinator who monitors the load of production the same way a bus coordinator coordinates a workable bus schedule. You can’t leave this up to chance.
Finally, Younsuk’s mention that Macbooks help learning by allowing students to connect and network with the world is something no teacher or administrator is going to understand without doing it. It’s 20th century education with a shiny bell and whistle otherwise. Just a new way to turn in homework. The immigrants in power will think it’s cutting edge, but the students will think otherwise.
I’m curious what all of you read into this. I give credit to my school for trying to pioneer this territory, and expect that things will improve. But it’s not an easy task.
You can see all those old “Saving Classroom Blogging from Teachers” posts from Spring ’07 here. The ideas there are arguably more relevant, now that blogging and digital storytelling and all that are spreading, than they were a year ago when I wrote them. The comments, as usual, hold the gold:
- On the Uses and Abuses of Student Blogging
- Teacher Think-aloud on Student Blogging (a Fresh Start)
- Post-script on Student Blogging Think-Aloud
- On Classroom Blogging 3: Sucking It Dry: Teachers as Vampires
- Blogging 4: Seeking Stakes for Dracula’s Heart–Moodle for “homework,” blogs for “real work”?
- The Conversation Begins: Saving Learner-Bloggers from Teacher-Vampires
- More on Protecting Classroom Bloggers from Teachers
- The Silver Bullet? One Idea for Saving Blogging from the Werewolf
- Phoenix, Blogging: Writing Beyond School
- “Teachers as Blogging Vampires” and “Blogging as Conversation” Gone a Bit Surreal
Photo credit: “Portrait of a Monkey” by s-a-m