Saturday, September 08, 2007

The "Secret Society" of Bloggers

For the last few weeks, I've been struggling with this question. "How do I get teachers excited about blogging?" Well, I could write a blog that explains how valuable blogs can be as a teaching and learning tool. But then I realized that would be about as effective as handing someone a DVD called "How to play a DVD". If they could play it, they wouldn't need to watch it. And if you're reading a blog about blogging you're probably already aware of the value. Okay, so blogging about blogging is out. What else can I try?
Can we reach those non-bloggers by blogging? Obviously, no. - Webloge-Ed, January 2007
Essentially there are two kinds of people, those who blog and those who don't. Happily I'm a member of those who blog, but I'm in the minority. Those who don't blog, seem to look at those of us who do like we're members of some secret society. We have this mysterious network and communicate in strange and cryptic ways. Want to see an example of the gap between the do's and don'ts? Walk into a teacher meeting and tell your colleagues, "I'm sorry I was late. I was tweeting with one of my Second Life friends about a Webinar we had last week and was trying to set up time when we could Skype about it." I'm guessing you'll lose most of them after, "Sorry I was late."

It's obvious that training is needed. But watch out! While the corporate world can force technology change on it's employees, trying to do that with experienced, tenured, educators invites disaster. A different approach is needed.
Why do we treat teachers so delicately? Why do we forgive them year after year for not adopting contemporary information and communication tools? Why are we satisfied with small steps? Well, the answer is simple. Teachers are special. They are smart, resourceful, incredibly accomplished, and they work miracles — they make a difference. They influence so many lives and they are revered. It’s clear. How can we treat them with anything but awe and respect... David Warlick, September 3rd, 2007

It looks like a step backward is necessary. How much sense does it make to tell a teacher they should be making a blog when they're not even reading blogs? Look how I got started. Someone told me about a great blog (Weblogg-ed) and at first I treated it like a web page. Then I began bookmarking interesting blogs and checking them periodically. Later I discovered that I could add live bookmarks to my Firefox toolbar using the RSS link. Now I'm using an aggregator, Google Reader, to keep track of the dozen or so blogs I follow. I was reading blogs for months before I even considered making my own, but it was a process.

So the first step is to get teachers reading blogs. I like to pick pick out a few teachers and start by sending them links to some blogs that might be appeal to their discipline or grade level. The goal is to get them excited and let their enthusiasm generate interest among their colleagues. Here's a good place to start. (Thanks to Amy Lundstrom for the link.)

If they like one or more of the blogs, I show them how to subscribe to it using RSS. Here's a great little video clip that explains RSS in plain English.

Once teachers have started taking control of their information using RSS, they've reached the first step - they've become consumers. They have also taken their first peek into our secret society of bloggers. To get them in the rest of the way, you want to encourage them to start commenting on other people's blogs and eventually try creating one of their own.

I really like how this graphic explains the 4 C's of online communities.
Source: Participation Online - The Four C's

Blogs are just one of many tools available to teachers on the read/write web. To learn more about others, I suggest you check out Jennifer Dorman's course wiki called Online Connections, a recent Cool Cat Teacher Award winner. Even if you're not enrolled in the class, the site is a great resource for learning more about for wikis, podcasting, social networking, social bookmarking, and online collaboration.

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