Yesterday we had a skype call with Gardner Campbell, professor at Virginia Tech, and social media teaching guru. The skype call introduced me to many ideas about eLearning that are not new to many of were new to me. A few take-home messages for me from the call:
1. We should be blogging. By “we”, I mean teachers, faculty, administrators–anyone who encourages others to share their ideas in the blogosphere should be putting themselves out there as well. Up until yesterday’s call, I never had a productive frame around which to put blogging. It was always, to me, something that no one would read anyway, that wouldn’t be very interesting, that most importantly wouldn’t be very academic–and who would care about it anyway? Gardner got me to think about blogging as “an honest attempt to reflect on learning” as well as a personal record of my thinking and learning. This was also a great way to think about students’ blogs and their potential fear of putting half-baked ideas out into the world. There are several ways that this transfers into science teaching, learning, and instructional design. (1) The idea that thinking happens best when it’s done together is something that we of course always encourage in science teaching but never transferred to blogging. (2) Writing to an authentic audience is something that we try to put into every project we design for kids. Whether it’s for their local community or university scientists, having an authentic audience raises the bar for the final project. This is applicable to blogging as well–when your ideas are out in the real world, it encourages balanced, thoughtful writing. (3) The open-ended nature of blogging mirrors much of what we try to do in science: give students complex, open-ended problems to solve that don’t have one “right” answer. Blogging without a word/page limit, without a specified end-goal, having to use your own judgment and your own sense of quality control–this is authentic work!
2. Gardner said, “passion is encouraged but civility is required”. I loved this! There is a fear that by turning the students loose “in the world”, they will engage in inappropriate behavior online and reflect poorly on us as instructors and represent themselves poorly in ways that will end up affecting their futures. This brings up the very important idea of making the norms and expectations for students’ conduct explicit. Gardner talked about teaching students to represent themselves appropriately online. In this moment of instant, constant, persistent communication and conversations, students need to be able to engage in conversations in the moment. They need to blend their passions and viewpoints with balanced reflection so that they create an archive of their own ideas that people will actually want to listen to.
3. Gardner puts some structure around participation in his courses. For example, he requires his students to blog twice a week (a good metric for me to follow as well!). What is really interesting for me about this is how he makes his expectations explicit to his students. He tells them that while they can blog twice on the night before class, that doesn’t really count in terms of being part of the conversation. Here is where he brought up the idea of “digital citizenship” and his attempt to build a classroom community where everyone is responsible for each others’ learning. He tells his students that this will mirror many of the activities that they will encounter in real life: people will be evaluating them on both the extent and the quality of their engagement in conversations. So, it’s not about word limits or point-grabbing–it’s about an overall quality of engagement. In response to the question from his students of “can I make up the blogs?” he replies “can you make up a conversation?” In my quest to connect students’ out of school lives with their in-school learning, this represents for me a perfect example of how you make these connections. Blogging in out-of-class time forces students to engage with ideas of the class in a way that is more than just the rush to read the readings for the next day’s class. It is more consistent engagement that have the effect of helping students make connections between their own lives and the ideas in class.
I come away from this conversation with Gardner newly inspired to try to engage my students in social media that is really social–letting them explore their own ways of representing themselves and their ideas while trying to figure out for myself how to communicate appropriate norms and behaviors. I want to build in my students a sense of digital citizenship, and the first step in that is being a digital citizen myself.