Blogs for Learning and Reflective Practice?

With nearly 147 million blogs currently identified on the web, why should you consider adding yet another blog to the burgeoning blogosphere?

I’m not sure if that is the right question to be asking when we invite students to share their ideas on the web, but that is what I did. I wanted them to consider developing a rationale for writing in the open that could support learning and reflective practice, as well as explore opportunities for connecting and community building. I also understand that my asking them to enter this space is potentially at odds with what some might call “authentic” purposes for writing that are individually motivated. Many have written about the tension and disconnect that can emerge when students engage in this kind of writing for course-based purposes, and I still like Stephen Downes’ take on it.

I believe it is a valuable experience for students to engage with writing in the open for the purposes of reflecting on their learning and connecting their ideas with others who are engaged in a similar pursuit. Consideration of the potential audience is at once humbling, exciting and unknown. From my perspective, there is no other way to reap potential benefits of this experience, or to be able to level a reasoned critique of it, unless you engage in it.

All said, the brief clip below of Seth Godin and Tom Peters talking about why they blog seemed to resonate with us as we discussed a rationale for blogging. In less than two minutes, Godin and Peters offer some of the most honest and encouraging advice I’ve heard…

While their perspectives are great for a general audience, I think their message could apply to educational blogging as well. There are probably better examples for supporting my rationale for blogging in education, but the clip really gets the job done for me. As I think about specific educational examples, I’m hard pressed to find something that tops Gardner Campbell’s view of why he asks his students to blog, or Henry Jenkins’ call to academics to write in the open. Taken collectively, these examples form a foundation for my rationale about why I ask students to engage in blogging to support reflective practice and learning.

I know that there are multiple ways and reasons to engage students in the use of blogs in education…and probably an equal number of reasons not to. So I’m curious…if you are a fan of blogging to support learning what is your rationale? If you have some push back in the other direction I’d really like to hear that as well…

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Learning is the Conversation in the Community

conversation

The idea that learning within a community is – at its core – the conversation among members of that community, is not necessarily a new idea. Combine this with the fact that I’m a big fan of the notion of communities of practice, and you might be surprised that I’m even choosing to write about what is for many a commonly accepted idea. So I’m going to try to briefly describe a recent experience that really drove the idea home for me in a new way.

In the past few years I’ve been fascinated, and at times confounded, by the ways the web has transformed opportunities for communication and exchange among people, as well as the ways in which virtual communities can be formed and sustained. In fact, I’m still trying to come to terms with the ways in which my own understanding of “conversation” and “community” have been, and continue to be, altered by my participation in web-based communities. Like many folks, I read and comment on blogs, use delicious to share resources with my network, connect with people on twitter, collaborate with people on ning sites, and even begrudgingly let Facebook vacuum up my data in order to stay in touch with friends. All these forms of participation can be seen, on some level, as “conversations” that take place in various communities that are networked and distributed…a part of my personal learning network. I have come to value these opportunities to connect and learn a great deal, and at times some of the exchanges do seem to be conversations. I am also learning more about how my practices are shifting as I attempt to teach in this networked environment. Lately however, I find myself asking more and more – What constitutes a conversation? Are my activities on blogs and twitter really conversations? When does a distributed network of networks on the web constitute a community? How do you recognize the shared “ah-ha” moment among learners in a web-based environment? These are slippery questions for me…

Which brings me to a recent conversation in a class I was teaching. We happened to be discussing how digital media has changed the landscape of learning, and the potential value of the ideas of the PLE and PLN for adult learners. We had read a piece from Stephen Downes, Learning Networks in Practice, and it generated some interesting perspectives. One perspective was that Downes’ view was old news, pretty much business as usual, while others suggested that his ideas represented a fundamental paradigm shift for education. The tension between these two perspectives made for some valuable in-class discussion. I recognized a quality about this exchange that was missing from the distributed and often fragmented conversations that take place in my PLN.

It was a shared event where people in the conversation could all recognize learning that was the result of collective conversation in the moment. It was a meaningful experience for me. It seemed to be a collective “ah-ha” moment; a moment where the learning is the conversation in the community. It was beautiful. I do not routinely have that experience in conversations that are distributed and networked, that is, where those in the conversation have a shared recognition of the learning. The networked learning seems more individual and parsed to me. I’m having a hard time seeing the community learning in the cloud. Maybe it is my over-reliance and need for physical cues…the head nodding & the non-verbals…the follow-up questions and the comments of affirmation…where the learning seems to get named. I like that. I’m looking for similar cues in the networked environment, where members of a community can experience the collective acknowledgment of learning. Perhaps this happens for folks, and I am just a novice network learner not yet able to see the markers. Maybe I am not dialed in to the subtle ways that distributed learning networks come to shared understanding. Or, it may be that my view here is simply a lament for the vestiges of my thinking, which suggest that learning in community, somehow needs a face-to-face component. Ultimately, I’m not sure the “place-based” experience is necessary, but my sense is that the realization of collective learning and shared understanding among members of a web-based community is more challenging to nail down. So I guess my question at this point is whether its even necessary to identify collective learning that results from the – conversation[s] – in a networked community…is it? If not, I need to figure out how to better navigate without those markers. If it is, I need to get much better at understanding how multiple entry points, fragments of perspective, and varied learning trajectories coalesce to represent learning in a distributed network on the web.

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