The Vancouver Education Blogging Sessions

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 Coles™ Notes™ 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,,, 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, 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?

15 replies on “The Vancouver Education Blogging Sessions”

  1. Edublogger pre-conference session wrap-up…

    … more than ably done by D’Arcy. I’m manic and exhausted, so I’m grateful he did this. When I go back and try to make sense of this all, I will be consulting D’Arcy’s post. And an overview of the Salon from Alan….

  2. It amazes me how we continually try to fit the major cultural shifts of society into the old paradigms.

    If a paradigm shift has occured, society and education must also shift.

    To me, this is about a fundamental evolution in the way that we communicate. Collaboration and conversation through the Internet has evolved with the inception of blogs and wikis. Now, how do we use that in classrooms in real, practical ways?

    This – delete everything at the end of the semester is practical from a “cheating” standpoint but from a reality standpoint, students can save those files on a jump drive just as easily and hand it off. Then, if the files are deleted, the teacher doesn’t have “proof.”

    How about using the information from last semester as a starting point and thus collapse the information conversion process and accelerate the speed of learning as students learn from one another.

    As an educator in a classroom who is actually using these technologies, I think most folks are missing the point altogether.

    Thank you for a synopsis of your meeting.

  3. […] The Vancouver Education Blogging Sessions (Via D’Arcy Norman Dot Net.) D’Arcy shares some reflections on what he calls “some extremely interesting and engaging discussions about the nature of ‘blogging’ in education.” His thoughts are well organized with bold titles, and include this important gem: “Blogging is not a classroom/class activity.” I’m not sure I entirely agree, in fact I’m sure I don’t (especially in a 1:1 environment, or a lab, or with a pod of computers students can visit throughout the day or class period), but this sentiment might help teachers new to blogging understand that it doesn’t all have to happen in their classroom, an important aspect of the anywhere anytime learning blogging can facilitate – and an important aspect of the “porous classroom” of the 21st century. […]

  4. I’m with you on the blog not being a classroom activity and should occur outside of the classroom but is that more of a transition or do we begin that way up front?
    I’m thinking about the use of blogs in the elementary level where not only are the safety issues a big concern but simply taking the time to get comfortable with the medium.

    I’d love to see the extension beyond the school day/year but what I envision is students getting exposure in and out of school and just like their personal space at home, it may change several times throughout adolescense and in their teen years. They’ll start many weblogs until they find one that has staying power in terms of content. It would be neat to see a 6th grader maintain a weblog for 20 years and observe the changes but at the same time I wonder if it’s realistic.

    So if you have a solution, I’d love to hear it but I’m certainly with you in principle.

  5. I attended the Conference. A lot of interesting issues came up.

    As Davis said now we should think about: “How do we use that in classrooms in real, practical ways?”

    I’ve been interviewing (for my research) some teachers and designers at UBC about blogs use in educational environment and what came up is that blogs don’t answer every kind of learning and teaching needs. This is the reason why your questions is so important to me.

    I think, as everybody here, that blogs are a powerful tool but I would like to know how to use this tool in the present reality.
    To do this I think we should learn more from experiences of people who are using it and figure out what is the real value in offering this tool. For this reason I would like to know more from your experiences as teachers and … from Ewan experience (I found his post in Darren’s blog, it is very “intriguing”!)

    I hope this conversation will keep on!

  6. All good points. There are added wrinkles, too… Even if the software is “free” – there will need to be budget allocations for professional development, curriculum development, etc… These could be rather nontrivial things.

  7. No, the teacher is not a boss. And the teacher is also a learner. But the teacher is not just another learner, at least in terms of the occasion of the class or course. It’s the occasion that helps to create roles as much as the institution does. As much as we rightfully celebrate the learner, the developmental nature of education means that the teacher has a measure of responsibility and authority that no one else in the class will have. And if that’s exercised in a humane, inspiring, and generous way, such authority and responsibility represent an authentically student-centered paradigm.

  8. @Dean – your comment was delayed thanks to Akismet acting up (I’ve since disabled Akismet to prevent that from happening again – sorry!)

    One of the ideas that came up in the conversations was the concept of a “school aggregator” that pulls together relevant RSS feeds from wherever – so a student may have a series of blogs (or other RSS-enabled buckets) distributed over space and time, and the school aggregator can pull copies of relevant bits into one place for viewing/archiving.

    Something like an “EduGlu” tool, like SuprGlu and MyGlu, but at a school/institution scale, with additional functionality for grouping/filtering/archiving…

  9. D’arcy, or anyone, would you care to summarize? Either that or put up a list of features/desired functionality? After reading through the comments I think i’ve got the basic drift, I don’t think it quite coincides with what I’ve been planning (but I hope still makes it out alive). I’d be more than happy to get to work. God knows something has to save me from my homework. 😉

    (I can speak for Enej when I say that as well.)

  10. Edublogger Hootenanny – The Draggin Remix

    We recorded the Hootenanny at Moose Camp, and now Jason has mixed the thirty minutes down to a ten minute Moosecamp Mashup (4.2 MB). Jason has done an excellent job of pulling out the points, cleaning up the noisy bits, and layering it all into a very …

  11. […] D’Arcy Norman 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. […]

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