I engaged the students in my class briefly in a discussion about our use of blogs in this course as a means of engaging in a broad inquiry into what they thought about blogging and how it was being used as a part of the class. Of course, this is a required part of their course, and not done for recreation purposes, and so their comments need to be considered in that context. But generally, the feeling was that blogs allowed a greater possiblity for personalization and were perceived to be a much more pleasant, even a 'fun' way in which to discuss their own histories as readers. We briefly discused web CT and they agreed that it was "boring"; too much text, too much white space, and frankly, too reminiscent of academic papers (which for these students, in their final set of courses in a two year program, was someething they wanted to forget!). One very interesting comment was offered by a student in response to the question "Do you write differently on the blog?" The answer was pretty much a "yes" from several class members, but perhaps more revealing was the comment "because someone might come and read your work, you do a different kind of writing". So in other words, the awareness of an audience, and the possiblity that an audience will comment on your entry, effects how you record your own ideas.
What is particularly interresting for me about this comment is that it suggests that the forms of writing that we ask students to engage in in class and as a part of the assignments we give don't have that quality of 'writing for an audience'; or as is often said in the literacy scholarship "writing for a purpose". Of course, I am speculating here on the basis of a single comment, but it strikes me that this may illustrate the perception of written tasks we set for students as a part of our courses and for illustrating their learning/application of knowledge. THE PURPOSE OF ACADEMIC WRITING?
The writing performance is likely perceived as being without much purpose at all: simply hoop jumping for an instructor. This is not to say that there is no benefit to the written projects we give students: many assignments are particularly guided by the practical considerations of practicum lesson planning, so these assignments would generally be seen as more useful and purposeful. But the component of sharing with others, outside of your instructor, what you know or understand seems to be the central theme of this statement about "writing differently". If the work is meant to be shared, and if you want to convey what you think/believe in a way that invites others to respond, then the writing needs to be different.
Perhaps the key here is the two way nature of the dialogue in the web blog. In typical writing assignments, we expect a one way communication: I am the "expert" in this area, you as student, need to demonstrate you are engaged in becoming an "expert" like me through your work. It is not perceived to be, nor is it often treated as a two way dialogue: the paper is the end piece, the finished product, my closest approximation to becoming what you want me to become in this field of knowledge. And it marks an end of my production for you and/or this course. It seems to reinforce a linear rather than a spiral means of considering how we learn as adults and teachers.
Blogs invite dialogue: indeed without it, they really serve no purpose. Their presence on the web suggests a degree of openness to the world; an invitation to explore what I think, and for you to respond to my thoughts in-kind.
That is why I think I like using blogs in this course, because I am trying to engage students in a dialogue on their beliefs and values, more than I am trying to "teach" them about particular techniques for using children's literature, or what particular books are useful in the classroom. The way in which we explore beliefs and values is highly self reflective, but conversations serve to benefit our self understandings. As I've often discovered myself, the process of writing about an idea helps me solidify my own thinking. Talk serves this function as well, and so oral dialogue is a feature of reflection and learning too.
So I think blogs are a means of creating a dialogic space, one that naturalizes the functions and possibilites of dialogue: if I consider the earlier comments from the student who says she 'writes differently" for her blog, maybe what we are really talking about is a hybrid form of dialogue, one that evokes a different kind of socio-cultural/technological literacy.
Another important feature of this "dialogic space" however, is the element of "fun" that was referenced earlier. Indeed, in this sense, the blog mimics play. By its invitiation to select formats, colors, and providing simple tools that enable all to quickly learn how to post images and links to other websites, the blogger becomes player, engaged in experimentation, "fooling around" with images and colors that help illustrate who they are and what they like, think about, believe etc. In this way a blog serves as a marker of identity: I can make this a space that belongs to me by importing and posting images and provocative comments that invite people to "see" who I am and what I beleive. I wrote about this in my previous blog post, and so I won't dwell on it again, but see it as an important feature of how dialogic talk/writing is motivated through this medium.
From a pedagogical perspective then, it seems to me that this medium offers a very useful tool for particular kinds of questions, ones that invite self reflection, and benefit from sharing of similiar and/or different ideas. Perhaps it is not suited for the "traditional" assignment: for example, I asked my students to engage in a review of a multicultural book to see evidence of how they could apply critical tools and demonstrate awareness of naturalized bias/stereotypes in some texts. I'm not sure this particular assignment might have been enhanced if it had been posted on a blog: perhaps if the illustrations were a critical feature it might have offered some benefit, but the purpose of the assignment was not one of exploration of ideas, but a representation of what they had learned.
From a professional perspective, it also models the kind of sharing that we encourage our teacher candidates to engage in as they ready themselves to become teachers. They can not only share thoughts about topics related to the course, but they can share resources they find by inserting images or links to other sites; they can share favorite books that fit particular curricular goals, and in this way provide others with the benefit of their investigations. In turn, others will share with them: this is the spirit that many say is the foundation of the worldwide web. Open sharing without borders/boundaries.I'd love to hear from anyone who wants to comment on my observations, reflections