Our conversation this evening began innocently enough with Gail Desler, the technology liaison for the Area 3 Writing Project in and around Sacramento, California, describing her work over the past four years with blogging in the classroom. Last year 3 different Writing Projects and 5 schools joined together in a project called “Youth Voices: Coast to Valley.” Given that we have stolen their name, “Youth Voices” in an attempt to broaden our network of schools, we are delighted to include Gail and her teachers in the elgg at http://youthvoices.net! Last night Gail said that some of the same teachers from last year’s work would be joining the new Youth Voices. A great question that Gail has been asking is, “How can we sustain and deepen online conversations on a blog?” And part of this has to do with finding the right balance between personal blogging and common blogging around a theme or text.
Of course, Gail couldn’t leave it at that! She is also bringing video-conferencing, and this led Paul Allison and Lee Barber to think about how to structure their weekly Webcast, Spacecast. Susan Ettenheim is also working to create an online radio station at her school, following Chris Sloan’s lead in Salt Lake City, Utah. This conversation led to an educator from Florida calling in to discuss the kinds of video-conferencing he and his colleagues at an aquarium are doing. Eventually we got Troy Hicks into the conversation, and he pushed in his provocative question: Should all teachers have their students blog? Or, What technologies should we be encouraging teachers to use?
This conversation, like many of our discussions on Wednesday evenings, leads me (Paul) to think that been we — those of us who are working with Web 2.0 technologies in our classrooms — need our own separate discipline. Maybe it’s just my present teaching situation that leads me to feel this way, but I wonder how many others feel like teachers without a discipline. In my school, I’m variously known at the computer or technology or journalism teacher. I teach a “studio” or elective subject which meets when the core-subject teachers have meetings to co-plan their classes. Obviously, since my classes happen when these vertical (or discipline) meetings are taking place, I can’t really be part of any of these teams of teachers. The only exception comes once or twice a month when Friday afternoons are set aside for vertical meetings. Even then, I usually find myself in a room with talented teachers of art, drama, dance, yoga — all of us trying to remember how we ended up on the same team, the “Studio Department.”
This week was unusual. The art teacher, who chairs our Studio Department, was out at a meeting when the rest of the school was scheduled to meet in departments. The Humanities team was meeting with a consultant from a local college in one room, and in another, there was a meeting about the new smart boards that were being introduced in our school. Which meeting would I go to: literacy or technology? At the last minute, over the public address system the drama teacher and I were invited to the Humanities meeting, and seeing little use for a smart board in my own classroom, I was happy to join my colleagues who teach reading, writing, and history in the 6th - 10th grades, the Humanities Team.
I have a lot of respect for these dedicated, hardworking, smart young teachers. Yet while sitting with them in this meeting, I kept asking why so much effort is being put into teaching personal narrative. For weeks and weeks and into months, every year from sixth through tenth grades, students are trained in the craft of writing vignettes, anecdote, and memoirs. Teachers model particular techniques, make lists of expectations and rubrics for assessment, and read and red-mark stacks and stacks of personal narratives.
I wonder though what these teachers would think of Dave Warlick’s notion that “a teacher who is not using technology [is not] doing their job.” Warlick has been arguing that we should stop talking about integrating technology, and instead start talking about a new kind of literacy. For example (August 29, 2006)
Much has been written lately about technology in the classroom — as to whether it is optional or even relevant. This conversation is understandable, given the time of the year. I ask myself two questions in reaction.
- Can a teacher be a good teacher without using technology? A resounding “YES!”
- Is a teacher who is not using technology doing their job? An emphatic “NO!”
But, of course, it isn’t so simple. “My kids use the pencil sharpener. That’s technology.” It’s why I try not to use that word, and urge others to stop trying to “Integrate technology” It’s too big. It means too many things. It’s why I keep hammer[ing] on literacy, that it’s information that has changed (digital, networked, overwhelming, and the more esoteric changes that have come about because of the read/write web). If we can expand what it means to be literate to reflect the changing information environment, and integrate that, then we might start using technology for what it is, the pencil and paper of our time.
Given all of the tools at our disposal — blogs, elggs, podcasting, webcasting, videocasting — what should we be teaching? A few weeks ago (26 Sept 2006), Will Richardson asked on his blog:
What’s in Your Curriculum? Is there anyone out there who has all of the below integrated somewhere into the curriculum? 4 out of 5? 3?
- Wikipedia–as in teaching kids about the collaborative construction of knowledge.
- Cell phones–as in teaching how to use them effectively as tools for “just in time learning.”
- MySpace–as in teaching the safe and effective use of the Internet to build networks and publish content.
- Martinlutherking.org–as in teaching the skills necessary for navigating a world where editing occurs post publication.
- Google–as in teaching the skills to find the information we want. What other “basics” would you add?
Will received some pretty interesting answers, and these are worth checking out at his site. The reason I wanted to copy them here, however, is to suggest the body of teaching and learning that exists for the development of this new discipline. There is so much in this “new literacy” that we call Web 2.0 that we need our own discipline.
Please join in this conversation…