In Defense of Education Blogs

A MeetingA number of people, including Matthew Tabor, have taken exception with a blog post that I wrote last week, Another Question for Interviewers.  To be fair, my article was not as clearly written as it should have been.  I have done some editing of the post, but have not removed any of the original text.  In a way, I am apologizing but in a way I am not.  The ambiguity of the article gave Matthew and others an opportunity to share some ideas that were important and that I agree with.  Tabor is an excellent writer and good thinker with a perspective that is quite useful to educators.  There is very little in his three part article (Part I, Part II, Part III) that I disagree with.  But I feel a need to defend the value of blogging in education.

The program director for my graduate degree was brilliant.  She was a mathematician.  Although she had never taught in a K-12 classroom, she had a fair handle on our challenges.  However, she taught entirely from the writings of great education thinkers and from juried journals.  I learned a great deal from her.  I respect and revere her.  But I have to say that what I learned during those years from the listservs and newgroups I was reading at the time, written to by other practitioners like me, was AT LEAST as valuable to me and my work as what I learned in the data-oriented writings that we read and were tested on in graduate classes.

“You see, I was a real teacher.” 

“I taught real 7th and 8th graders in a real classroom.” 

“I taught in a real community and I taught real curriculum.” 

Each of my students was different.  There was no other classroom exactly like mine.  The community that I taught in was unique and back then I determined the curriculum that I taught.  Real teachers face new situations every day.  Every child has a different story, a different frame of reference to build on.  Every classroom has its own tools to use, or lack of tools.  A real teacher has to be resourceful, inventive, tenacious, and absolutely critical to success is a community of other real teachers and conversations.

I know that conversation is a vague term, but the conditions that real teachers work in are shapeless and unpredictable.  I recently had a conversation with Francis Bradburn, Director of the Instructional Technology Division at the North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction.  We were talking about their IMPACT Model, and how the pilot schools had been studied, the data analyzed by a partnership of universities in NC, and one of the most interesting findings (more on other findings later) concerned their staff development procedures.

The schools brought in professional staff developers from across the country.  A few even brought me in, from just down the road.  But the professional development that seemed to have the greatest impact was a practice that they developed, where grade level or subject area teachers met with their school’s media specialist (librarian) and tech facilitator (integrationist) for extended self-development.  They casually talked about what was being taught, challenges, and history, and they all worked together to identify media that might be used, technology applications, and engaged in the training that was needed to implement those resources in their instruction.  They were unscripted conversations between professional educators — practitioners.  They pushed and pulled and through collegial conversation, they worked through it — and student performance improved.

Again, rigorous evidence-based education literature is essential to teaching today.  But in the real world of schools, no classroom is a laboratory.  No student is a specimen.  ..and the idea that scientifically tested and prescribed best practices alone will help children be prepared for their future —

Well that’s the fallacy!

Image Attribution:
Novák, Vlastimil. “LISSTEN Board Meeting Feb07 4.” Vlasta2’s Photostream. 11 Feb 2007. 25 Aug 2007 <>.

14 thoughts on “In Defense of Education Blogs”

  1. Hi David! I’m late to this little debate. I’ve read this and I scanned over Matthew’s 3-part reponse. I don’t have time to get into it today, but I’m going to jump in soon.
    This is huge in the corporate world of eLearning as well and much of this discussion applies. Here’s 2 points I will touch this week.
    1) The tools absolutely need to be installed first before the rest is defined. These tools require a significant paradigm shift in the thinking of technology in ed/learning and I think that’s the part that Matthew is missing. And the fact that everyone will use the tool a little differently.
    2) Just because a University hires a professor does not immediately give them genius status. I say drill the profs with questions or else endure the pain of my first graduate level course. The prof was a moron with a PhD. He played tapes that bought at conferences and asked the students to teach the technology for him. The total loser couldn’t get published and was seen at ed conferences stumbling drunk with condoms falling out of his pockets.

    Bottom line: If you are a college prof and your are NOT engaged in current technologies…especially if you are a prof in EdTech…then you should be drilled and humiliated by your students. We don’t NEED you any more! We are connected to great minds from all over the world via this technology. If you aren’t one of the profs that I’m finding then you don’t exist. I don’t care how many journals have published your work.

  2. David,

    Thanks for this post, but I’m unclear as to what you think needed to be edited.

    What do you think of Tabor’s concern about being needlessly confrontational based on such scant evidence as whether a professor blogs or not?

    One of the problems with blogging interfaces is a technical one – commenters cannot edit their work.

    Another problem is that discussions evaporate so quickly and more thoughtful dialogue is derailed.

    He who hesitates is unread and an author can easily change the subject by adding new articles.

    Thanks for keeping the conversation alive, although I’m not quite sure if you have changed your perspective or not.

  3. I am a high school English teacher, and when I was a teacher of content (literature and compositions about literature), it didn’t matter to my students whether or not I was technologically savvy. I was teaching them the past, so they expected me to use my own college texts and notes. Those printed texts were vessels of Truth about my subject area, and I shared that Truth with my students.

    But now, I am a teacher of skills (literacy, research, communication), and my students need me to help prepare them for the future. Do I have any credibility with my students if I am not part of the great (internet-based) public discourse? My students and I know that the act of publishing does not guarantee Truth, and we must critically read any text. Our school library provides so much more texts electronically than physically. When my students publish their own papers, they can publish to an audience of one (me) or they can share their work with many. I am learning with my students, and they know that I am highly motivated to move forward into the 21st century with them.

    I began my Web 2.0 journey just this summer, and my school, SILSA, the School for Inquiry & Life Sciences at Asheville, just began its first year of IMPACT model implementation. I look forward to the support that this model will afford me as an educator.

    Everything I know about any of this I have learned from reading a blog. My mentors are classroom teachers who blog, and, even though I have never met them, they have taught me much. From the big dogs like David Warlick, I get inspiration and encouragement. From all of them, I get a sense of belonging.

    I’m just waiting to be able to add an RSS feed from a blog written by a teacher at my school. That will be cool!

  4. I would love to set up a class blog, but my district is moving quite slowly about jumping on the bandwagon right now, despite all the money they spend to prove to the public otherwise.

    Staff developers are not classroom teachers. Unless classroom teachers are given access to the technology, well then, I suppose that kids won’t get to use it either.

  5. Gary Stager, you miss the point, as did Mathew Tabor, of asking a professor what she reads. It isn’t to challenge her, but to show her that you are interested in the readings that interest her and that you want to read some of the same things so that you can better follow and contribute to the class.

    IF the professor is challenged by the question, then it reveals very early in the term that this professor has the wrong take on education: she sees education as an exercise of her power, which this question calls into question. We’ve all had professors such as this, and I for one never wish to have another.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *