Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Edu-blogging, the revised version

As mentioned in my last post, classes began today: I'm teaching an upper-division blogging class and a lower-division writing-intensive women's lit class. And I'm really going with the social software this semester. Sure, I've "used" blogs before, but I've never taught a whole class on blogging, and I've never had so much of the work of a class happen online (my women's lit students are each keeping a blog and are also working together on a wikispace). I feel like, after a year's worth of blogging, that I understand something about these technologies and their generative potential that I didn't really understand at this time last year, when I more or less thought of blogs as glorified paper journals.

And I need to remember, now, my own pretty rough thinking about blogs before I was myself blogging as I work with students who are new to these technologies. In my women's lit class, a few students knew about blogs (and one of those was in my class last spring, where she blogged). No one knew about wikis. S'awright. No big deal. I have to admit that I was expecting more bloggers in my blogging class. Turns out there's only a couple. S'awright. OK. That's what I'm here for, right? To teach.

And I'll keep in mind Barbara Ganley's latest entry, in which she talks about the ways that blogging often takes students in liberal arts classes by surprise:

Let's face it. Students come to the liberal arts not really wanting technology in the classroom--at least not initially, not to the degree that I shower them with. They want the convenience of it, sure, but the rest of it? Do they really want to blog to the class and beyond, putting their flawed work on display, discussing discussing discussing in public? Do they want to hear their own voices on the audio files embedded onto the blogs? Play around with Photoshop in a literature class? Create tag clouds in political science? Such exercises initially seem like add-ons or smack of high school to them--this isn't what a liberal arts college is all about, what they had imagined even when we make the pedagogy transparent, as my colleague Mary Ellen Bertolini is committed to doing. I have a reputation as the blogging teacher around here, so students know they're in for something different when they step into my class for the first time, but still they're skeptical, resistant even. They have romantic notions about the liberal-arts college life conjured through the stories of their parents, the movies, their high school teachers. Blogs and wikis; skypecasting, podcasting and digital storytelling might be fine in high school, but in college? Many students think not. Many think the magic of learning means to come under the spell of a charismatic, "brilliant" teacher whose lectures entertain and inform. Even in discussion classes, the students expect the teacher to do most of the talking--and indeed, if there were a study conducted, I bet most discussions classes are really call-and-answer sessions dominated by the teacher's questions and commentary.

This kind of classroom takes some getting used to--and teachers have to be okay with students feeling a bit off-kilter to begin with in the course (my students often liken their experience during the first couple of weeks to free-falling). But just wait until a student gets a chance to learn within a class using this technology effectively. I don't think my students will ever look at learning or their role in their education quite the same way again.

That bit about liberal arts students not coming to class expecting technology is so right-on. I think about myself as a college student: I took a "computer literacy" class under duress. An English professor (who wasn't even my professor, just a professor I happened to chat with at a social function) told me that computers were something I really should learn, that just majoring in English might not land me a job. Of course, I was full of myself and thought that *I* would not have trouble landing a job with an English degree since *I* was going to teach English. Harrumph. But I was also an insecure first-generation college student, so I was worried that maybe he was right. So I took the class. And learned basic computer programming, which was fun, and, which, as a lover of logic and geometry, I was good at. Too bad I never really followed up on that: I couldn't program anything now to save my life.

Anyhoo, it's useful to remember that even though it's the year 2006, the liberal arts often remain a refuge for those who would rather not deal with such things as technology. And so the job becomes one of performing their intractability, of performing technology as liberal art.

1 comment:

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I'm not sure there is a field immune to the benefits of blogging. Where it takes us is anyone's guess.