14 December 2011

I was a celebrity (it was fun)

Last Friday I was invited to a session with 2+2 Childhood Studies students. It is a HE course; students do two years at our college and then continue for another two at Warwick. I had seen them already, we did an information skills session– library catalogue, Google, e-books, reliability of information sources. They also had a session on blogging with a colleague of mine, our graduate trainee.

On this occasion, I was invited as a local celebrity (their tutor, Lin Armstrong, and I couldn’t stop laughing when planned all that) to present an award for the Best Blog of the Term. It was an important event as, according to Lin, this year she could observe a real break-through with her students: most of them used a variety of online tools, including personal blogs, to support their learning and did it in a collaborative way. Lin is a great believer in connectivism – a comparatively new learning theory for the digital age – and was very excited when found that her students had started discovering and generating knowledge as a network/community of learning. To celebrate their achievements and encourage further, the ceremony was put together.

Lin presented her analysis of blogging patterns, highlighted interesting aspects of each blog. According to her, quite a number of students have already consistently practised reflective writing and linked materials they found on their own to the content of classroom sessions. They also commented on each other’s posts and developed discussions. I found it fascinating: when I studied theology I couldn’t stop talking about my readings and thoughts on the subject; the same was when I studied information science – I hardly needed any hobbies on top of that. I could recognise excitement and passion in those students.

Obviously, I couldn’t just give the award and disappear. Lin had briefed me on two aspects of students’ writing, which she wanted me to highlight – reflective and analytical. I unpacked that and then spoke on two simple matters: how to break the paralysis many of us have when start blogging; and another topic –how to survive and continue writing when everyone else around you is doing the same.

A chapter on blogging in Richardson’s Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms (2009) has the simplest and most useful advice on starting blogging: step by step, from commenting to reposting links to explaining the content of the reposted material etc. Going back to basics helps also when we suddenly develop stumbling blocks: instead of keeping silent we should engage with others gently or post stuff in a Facebook-like manner.

And stumbling blocks… Competitions are good only in the sense that they play on our inherent human competitiveness, which is everywhere, surrounds us so that that we take it for granted, ignore, overlook. From my experience, some people stop blogging simply because they can’t write as well as others do – in their opinion; or they don’t get comments from others, they are not followed by people important to them. Strategies of dealing with that can be diverse, depending on the person, context etc. I encouraged the students to remember that in four years time they may not see each other and if any bitterness happens meanwhile it will probably be irrelevant eventually. Now is precious time to develop oneself, to be jumping up and down from excitement about insights they develop and – not least important – share that: knowledge resides in networks.

And then there was a huge amazement – Cher didn’t expect her blog to be awarded… I think it was a bar of lush soap and chocolates!

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