Over the last few days, I've been privileged to be a part of some extremely interesting and engaging discussions about the nature of "blogging" in education. The Social Software Salon and Edublogger Hootenany sessions were incredible, unstructured, free-flowing, and unbelievably interesting. Essentially, there were no "presenters" and no "moderators" - both were completely open and lively discussions that I was lucky to be present for.
There were several recurring themes that emerged from these sessions, stated from multiple perspectives by several people with different backgrounds. Here's my Colesâ„¢ Notesâ„¢ version of these sessions. It's not unabridged, and if I'm missing (or misrepresenting) anything, I'm going to Trust In Blog that I'll be corrected. I'm sure I'm forgetting large tracts of the conversations - they were recorded, and will be available as podcasts as soon as Jason and Brian have had time to edit and publish the audio. In the meantime, the wiki pages (linked above) for both sessions provide some background (thanks to Brian for setting those up).
Blogging is not a classroom/class activity
We talked about the current implementation of blogging in the context of a class. Someone mentioned that a student may have 5 different blogs - one for each class - and must post content to each blog in order to get "credit" for their work. And, at the end of the semester, the blogs are nuked from orbit. So, not only is a student's work divided across several quasi-related locations, it is so closely tied to the Class that in ceases to exist after the Class is over.
But, what we're hoping to approach is the mythical "lifelong learning" - if content is tied to a Class, that implies that Learning occurs only in that Class. And that learning starts from scratch in the next Class. And for the following cohort.
Learning can occur outside of the classroom
If we assume that Lifelong Learning is a fact of life, we likely have lives outside of the Classroom - even outside of the School. People learn, teach, share, publish, connect, etc. in all parts of their lives. The real value comes from being able to make the connections between the activities - by valuing "non-classroom" activities as much as Classroom ones. One example was about an individual that was extremely active in their community, but that activity wasn't valued as part of their Education.
The learner is in control
The current model places the Teacher or the School at the centre. Blogs are provided as part of The Institution, tied to a Class. But - what happens when the semester is over? When a student graduates? Moves to a new school? If they don't own their own online presence, their incentive to making it a meaningful part of their practice of teaching and learning becomes very small. If the learner is at the centre - and they own their own stuff - they are able to use their own content in all parts of their lives, at all times. Instead of having a "class blog," why not have a class aggregator - pulling in the relevant feeds from the learners in a cohort? Learners publish to their own space (blog, Flickr, del.icio.us, digg.com, etc...) and tag content as being relevant to a course or topic - and have a "class aggregator" do the work of bringing the content together into one place.
By placing the learner at the centre, and assuring that they are in control of their own online presence - and taking advantage of that presence in various contexts (including within and between Classes) we can reinforce (or at least model) Lifelong Learning.
The Teacher/Professor/Instructor is not the boss
By extension, the current teacher-is-boss model isn't valid. Everyone in a Class is a learner - including the one(s) being paid to be there. Cluetrain applies as much to education as to business. By taking advantage of the connections between all learners, and using the various pieces and types of content that they all publish, the role of the Teacher can shift from being a disseminator of information to a mentor/coach/guide.
It's about more than blogging
It's about the read/write web, not blogging. Take advantage of the stuff that learners are publishing in whatever modality they are using. If they have a blog, use that as part of their learning program. If they post photos to Flickr, use them. If they bookmark in del.icio.us, use those. Stories flagged in Digg? Comments on Slashdot? etc...
This stuff doesn't need IT support
This was a radical idea - but obvious in hindsight. IT provides services that are difficult or impossible for individuals to access outside of The Institution. Email is the classic example. But, the read/write web is composed of tools that enable individuals to publish their own content. IT isn't required for this to happen. How can The Institution better enable integration of the various bits of content that is being published by the individuals who are associated with it? What if IT and The Institution shifted its focus to that of aggregation rather than publishing?