Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Blog-on and teacher-coloured glasses

First, 11 comments. Wahoo and thankyou. Of course this reawakens my need (duty as a community member) to engage with the blogs of others. Reciprocal fairness is important, and I think should be explicitly stated in a new community. A case of making expected community norms explicit (Australian Flexible Learning Framework). Also amounts to how we socialise, we will naturally miagrate away from those who do not respond in kind and towards those who do. However this was not going to be my 'point for the day.'

Horses-for-courses was. Now I should research that phrase but I want to go home soon, and what I want to it to suggest is that as facilitators we should support tools that best meet the needs and competencies of the community. Blogs seem a more mature tool, are more demanding: demand more confidence and time, require more effort to go to other blogs, requires more effort to put often spontaneous, unstructured thoughts of others together (which may often need to be deconstructed and the context inferred - good understanding of a person's context and 'voice' or personality may only come with reading a lot of their blog (Alexander springs to mind).

My feeling is that with a newbie community, little experienced might be better to start with a discussion board (forum) : easier to comment on a topic (less personal). Over time as confidence builds, include blogs. This is from the perspective of building a professional learning community of maths teachers which I am researching and hoping to help build. The blogs seem to me to be important in providing a tool which teachers can use to reflectively document their learning journey, how their understanding ois changing, particular issues that have transformed their thinking, sharing 'a-ha' moments with the hope they might be of benefit to others. A good tool for applying the action research model of professional development.

I also see the value of the personal voice coming out in blogs. It is in the blogs much more than the forums that we are likely to see meaning being made, and see learning and PD occuring. In many cases they might also add to a sense of ownership, particularly if they are a boundaried blog (i.e. all blogs togetehr on one site), as opposed to a Single Blog/Blogger Centric Community, the Central Connecting Topic Community and the Boundaried Community. Nancy White has a great podcast or article (your choice) on blogging and community.

As Leigh's comment to the previous post suggests, like water, community members in a blogosphere will find their level, they will find their niches which will usually be places that match their level of safety and provide the level of energy and interest and relevance to motivate connecting and reciprocal commenting. Some potential dangers though?: feelings of exclusion, elitism, missing out on meaty/worthy content, the formation of self-benefiting subgroups that is a little hidden under a bushel (weird, but Hayse's poetic discourse is a little contagious, though maybe this is the reality of me writing in my blog and now feeling more comfortable to express my voice - relates a bit to what you said in an earlier comment trishus; and also raises the issue of is it safe to share who you really are to big wide world - open/closed).

But yet I still see the forum as being the central tool for sharing information and collaborating. For my mind, with many members, topic structured comments with easy-to-follow threads of ideas will probably be of greater worth than chronological blogs for a professional learning community with clearly defined goals.

In conclusion: It is not an either/or (like most dichotomies we as humans love to generate), but rather a complementary association.

And to end: Thankyou to Leigh for raising the challenge of taking off our teacher glasses and looking at a facilitator's role with new eyes. What sprung to mind: a teacher-facilitator thinks about facilitating learning; an unincumbered facilitator tries to create?/ massage an environment that is conducive for learning to occur. More thoughts on that later.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

What a load of blog

Here follows alittle bit of a end of the working day rant. To be honest I always thought the word blog was annoying. Now that I have one and read some I am coming around a bit, but have yet to perceive their great value in promoting community.

I am yet to be convinced. I don't know if I am a Scrooge, but 'bah humbug' springs occasionally to mind when I hear people effusing about blogs. Mind you my opinion has slightly changed over this. My participation in FOL has to do with following Leigh's blog. I suppose that is the heart of it, trolling through blogs, eventually finding one or two you admire and respect, RSSing them, learning, commenting engaging, following links to things you may not have found out about yourself. All well and good.

The bad as I see it mirrors problems with the internet as a whole. Miles wide and an inch deep. In the end we can spend a lot of time reading through the opinionated blogs of others with no vetting of what they say. Using your own noggin is a valuable way to do this I know and will probably help in formulating your own ideas and constructs. Yet some external measurement, support or correlation with authenticity would be nice.

Here are some rambling thoughts on potential issues when trying to use blogs as a community-building/facilitating/sustaining tool:

- it takes time. there are too many blogs fed into my reader to bother going through them all. There is limited time at work, and I like to spend time with my family. I am happy to hear what people ahve to say but I don;t want to have to open their feed have a look to see if is anything useful.
- related to this is the disorganisation of the content and the difficulty in browsing previous content. It is categorised usually chronologically. How do I know if that person has blogged something useful? I might be able to search if the blog has the facility to do so and I knew exactly what I was looking for. But often I wouldn't have a specific idea and identifying worthwhile posts/topics is difficult. Chronology lacks a great deal of value as a way of storing information. Tags are ok, but limited. This is where a website/wiki is a better option. Put what you think is your 'good oil' on the front page or provide clear links to it with short descriptions. Then it takes a small time commitment on the viewer to ascertain yes I will look further or no I will wait till next time.
- People probably get their favourite blogs and then ignore the rest. If a blog has been quiet for a while (like mine) then many people will probably be less likely to look, even if they see that new post has been made in their reader. I wonder if there are people out there who feel a little disenfranchised because they perceive their blog is less well visited or even largely ignored.

I am sure for many of those who have or dedicate the time to perusing the blogs, making the comments, going to another blog, and so on, are establishing productive connections with others and mutually enagaging in productive learning. I will try and find a blog of someone in here who waxes enthusiatically about a blogosphere and obtain their perspective.

Even the group email we have makes it difficult to read through., Not sure if I am using it incorrectly, but a flood of emails come in, and when I go online to the google groups site, it doesn't seem that much better. I'd like a nice threaded discussion list.

I feel that an online discussion forum is a better idea, structured on ideas rather than time, collated rather than dispersed, easier to skim through. Occasional comments by peripheral users are more likely to be noticed and responded to. Yes, a nice threaded discussion board, such as http://meetro.lefora.com

Well time to go home. As I said a bit of a ramble, not 100% thought out, but then general feelings and considerations play a huge role in how people interact anyway. A blogosphere may be of use for a bundle of tech-savvy time free bloggers, but not so great for the vast majority of everyone else. There are other better ways.