More on Blog-Based Collaboration versus Discussion Boards

Alan Levine, at CogDogBlog, did an outstanding job of picking a recent entry of mine apart, giving it better feet to stand on. Read his article, Distributed Conversations: More Than Four Reasons, a response to my posting, Four Reasons Why the Blogsphere Might Make a Better Professional Collaborative Environment than Discussion Forums.

Just in Case You think this is Glamorous

Just in Case You think this is Glamorous

The day started out great, with a warm welcome at Asheville High School, in

Asheville, NC — hands down the most beautiful city in the south. I

delivered a modified version of my redefining literacy address to the

combined faculty of the school system, and it was very well received,

especially by the district administration. I heard again about the

challenges of breaking through resistance by parents, when trying to

dramatically restucture aspects of schooling.

I hear this again and again now, that parents want their children to have

textbooks and all of the other trappings of their education experiences of

10, 20, & 30 years ago.

Bu it was a good morning, preceeded by a great evening, having dinner

downtown (Paris style) with the district’s highly innovative ed tech staff.

Things went on pretty well during the drive to Greenville/Spartanburg, where

I was starting my three legs to Amarillo. While gasing my car, a reporter

with Library School Journal called to ask some questions about classroom

blogging. What a world. Being interviewed at the pump.

Then things started to turn bad, when my flight was dalayed, going to

Atlanta. I didn’ worry, because I had a fairly liberal layover in that huge

airport. But when we landed, and I saw that my flight to Dallas was taking

off in 15 minutes, I learned how huge. I came in on D31 and had to get to

A20. I use to run so gracefully.

Missing the flight, they booked me on the next one that would still get me

there with a half hour before Amarillo. Alas, approaching Dallas, the pilot

informed us that weather was forcing us (and a slew of other planes) to go

into a holding pattern. After some time he came back on with the

announcement that we would be landing at Dallas Love airport to refuel. But

jus as we were approaching that airport, they turned us toward DFW and we


After an automated text massage indicated that the Amarillo flight was

delayed, I arrived at the gate only to learn that the plane was still at the

gate in Schreveport (sp). One delay after another, they finally canceled the

flight at 10:00. I got a room (see right) and I am now on the shuttle, going

back to the airport. One last try to get to the conference in time.

At least my thumbs are up to it, having ryped all of this into my mobile

phone 🙂

What a world.

Just in Case You think this is Glamorous

Originally uploaded by David Warlick.

Four Reasons Why the Blogsphere Might Make a Better Professional Collaborative Environment than Discussion Forums

I have been experimenting a good bit lately with integrating some of the emerging web tools (blogs, wikis, rss, podcasting, etc.) into my presentations and workshops, attempting to expand the scope and dimension of these events. For most of my presentations at NECC, I used a wiki page for my online handouts, enabling participants to come in after the presentation (or during if we’d had WiFi in the presentation rooms) and add their own insights on the topics. Some of the wiki pages also aggregated web links from my account and related external blog articles written by participants after the session (and by colleagues before the session). This was accomplished by tying in with Technorati’s ability to generate RSS feeds based on keyword and tag searches.

With this experience, I’ve been wondering about using some of these tools to establish professional collaborative spaces for schools, districts, and school consortia. Our tendency is to look to discussion boards and mailing lists for online collaborations, and all things considered, these may remain the most effective tools for many collaborative efforts. However, let’s consider some potential benefits of making educators active participants in the read/write web.

The set up might look something like this:

  1. Each cooperating teacher establishes a weblog and registers their blog with Technorati or some other wayport.
  2. The school establishes a series of unique tags covering various topics relevant to in-house communication and collaboration. For instance, Sanderson High School may have a tag called shs-extra, for extra-curricular activities. The tag shs-sci would relate to science subjects, teaching, and/or supplemental opportunities.
  3. All teachers would be trained in using and organizing an aggregator. Bloglines would suffice, but there may be more powerful applications that may serve better for further aggregating content. Teachers would then subscribe to those educators most connected to their work responsibilities, and also subscribe to tags and search terms that are otherwise relevant to their work.
  4. The school would also establish a building (or consortia) account on a social bookmarking service (Delicious, Furl, etc.) organizing tags based on various subjects of instruction and professional topics. The account could be managed and organzied by the school’s library/media specialist. Teachers would also aggregate these web links and contribute to them on an ongoing basis, constructing a growing library of online digital content.

Now this all sounds a bit complicated, and it isn’t simple. Managing its assembly, introduction, implementation, and support would require some expertise and vision on someone’s part. However, might there be some good reasons to go to this trouble, beyond the fact that teachers should be learning to use these information tools and perhaps integrate them into their learning environments.

Here are four reasons why teachers should blog together:

  1. Teacher Blog Articles come from the Person.
  2. A teacher blog article comes from the person first, and the teacher second. Discussion boards are designed around topics. Blog environments are designed around people. This means:

    1. The teacher’s writings carry with them the teacher’s identity through the template or skin they have chosen, and through their writing style.
    2. When the writing is associated with the person, that person may be more likely to consider more carefully, and compose more precisely, their ideas before they enter the conversation.
    3. A History teacher may be more likely to subscribe to the blog of Ms. Oren (a literature teacher), than to the literature discussion board, perhaps discovering new opportunities to collaborate and cross-pollinate ideas.
  3. Blogs extend beyond their primary community of interest.
  4. Weblog writings can be available to the extended education community, further ensuring more care and thoughtfulness in the conversations and more fully conveying to the extended community the growing complexities, challenges, and opportunities for preparing children for the 21st century.

    On the other hand, making teacher collaborative blogs available to the public may also suppress valuable exchanges, so this feature should be considered carefully.

  5. Blogs and other RSS content can be organized uniquely.
  6. Blog content would be received and organized uniquely by each user, through their personal choice of aggregator. In addition, news, web searches, and social bookmark content might also be integrated and organized into the educator’s aggregator. The result should be a teacher cultivated personal professional digital library.

  7. Individual blog articles with their comments and links to related blogs can serve better as a stand-alone document and line to for other interested people.

There are other potential benefits for establishing blogging/RSS environments as well as other potential challenges. I am not advocating that we replace discussion boards as a collaborative environment. Merely, I am suggesting that in some instances (or more) we might consider a carefully designed RSS connected environment as a content-building, experience and skill sharing, professional community.

I would love to hear your ideas, and if anyone might be interested in piloting such an implementation, I would love to contribute.

Reading or Chorus

I always scan through my Technology & Learning News feeds for the latest in the world of education and technology, and I never miss the IntantPoll. Polls are fun. But beyond that, I believe that in a time of rapid change, what people think and believe can be as valuable as what we know.

This month the issue surrounds high schools and the potential cost of devoting more time to reading instruction for struggling students.

As more attention is focused on improving reading in middle and high schools, many districts are rearranging schedules to provide more time that can be devoted to reading instruction for struggling students. But given the demands of the modern high school curriculum, that time often comes at the expense of elective courses such as chorus, vocational classes or Junior ROTC. Do you believe such trade-offs are a good idea?

You can read more about the issue in a recent St. Petersburg Times article, To Pump Up Reading, Schools Cut Back Fun. The article describes how ROTC programs could lose their funding, because so many of their students will be pulled out for reading instruction. The military attitude seems to be alive, though, as John Leanes says, “We’re going to overwhelm our students with reading strategies,” about his school’s take-no-prisoners approach to literacy.

Now don’t get me wrong. Kids have to learn to read. But it seems to me, that a no prisoners approach to basic literacy instruction is not going to make teenagers suddenly love learning and want to stay in school. What’s going to turn a 17 year old around is the soul of a classroom.

The guiding experiences for my own children in high school were their band and ROTC teachers. Both of my children read very well, much better than I do. So they are not a fair comparison. But how much of the soul of teaching and learn are we willing to give up, for the sake of statistics. We are serving human beings and their futures, and human beings do not affect their futures with literacy skills, all though these skills are important. They affect their futures with passion. Without it, they just slide along — reading or not.

You can still participate in Tech Learning’s InstantPoll.

2¢ worth.

Addendum: One of the messages in The World is Flat is that the basic technical and academic skill jobs will be outsourced. The niche that U.S. workers will continue to fill are the high touch, interactive, and creative jobs.

A Glimmer from Cobb County

I have enjoyed an entire morning at home, in my office, planning to catch up on my blogging. Yeah right! Now, with e-mail caught up, several phone calls, and travel details settled with Brenda, it’s time to pack and hit the road again. This time it’s sunny (hot and humid) Fayetteville, North Carolina, where I’ll be teaching middle school teachers to build and maintain classroom web sites.

Mabry Web SiteBut before I leave, I want to share something that Jim Wenzloff, a friend from the Detroit area, pointed me to yesterday. Now I must say that most school mottos leave me a little dull. But what appears on the home page of Mabry Middle School in Cobb County, Georgia indicates the kind of school I’d want my children attending.

“Making Learning Irresistible for Over 25 Years.”

I love this. It’s not about performance or achievement or any of the other productivity-style goals that appear, for good reasons, in so many school mottos. It’s about making students partners in a community of effort that helps them to grow into better people. I suspect that a school that makes learning irresistible, also makes good teaching just as hard to resist.

Another thing that impressed me about this school site, beyond the fact that the principal is an excellent blogger, was his urging that all parents read “The World is Flat” by Thomas Friedman, before the school’s open house night. He wants the entire education community to “…have a deeper insight into (his) remarks about what (they) are doing at Mabry Middle School to begin preparing students to be global life-long learners and collaborators…”.

This, from a county that does not want to buy laptops for their students. Cheap shot, but it’s how I see it.

Outstanding work by Dr. Tim Tyson, the school’s principal. A glimmer of hope for our schools.

Podcasting from Florence

Podcasting from Florence

I am speaking at the Macomb Summer Academy, and just finished the keynote. After the address, a young woman came up and told me an amazing story, which I podcast. So you will be able to hear it in her words.

But I just can’t wait to share. This teacher traveled to Florence this summer to visit the grave of her grandfather, who was killed there during World War II. Her mother had never seen her father’s grave and is in poor health.

The teacher talked with the man who manages the graveyard, and learned about the conditions there during the war, and the battles that killed so many young men.

The teacher, with her iPod and iTalk, recorded the conversation, and then, from the boat (which had WiFi) on her way back to the city, she uploaded the file to the Internet, because she wanted her mother to hear it right right away.

An amazing story that you should look out for on Connect Learning.

Podcasting from Florence

Originally uploaded by David Warlick.

Train to Richmond

Train to Richmond

I’m sitting at the Raleigh train station, waintitng for my ride to Richmond. I will be working with school and central office administrators tomorrow, helping them to make the connction between technology and litercy.

It will be an honor to work with the educators, who are on the front lines of the 21st century teaching and learning. Henrico County is among the first educ&tion systems to commit to a 1:1 student to computer ratio. In my opinion it is the only way to go, at the very least, we want to make our students “literate.”

But for right now, I am simply looking forward to a very simple ride to Richmond. After that gig, it’s back to the airport for flights up to Detroit , and then back down to Raleigh, from where I will drive to Spring Lake, North Carolina for two days of classrrom wab site building and blogging.

The train is coming, so I’m signing off. I must say that I am getting better qt typing on the mobile phone. I just hope that this blog is posted only once.

2 cents worth.

Train to Richmond

Originally uploaded by David Warlick.

Stand back Wikipedia

CellphediaThe ubiquitous social encyclopedia is here. Introducing Cellphedia. A thesis project by Limor Garcia, a graduate student at NYU. Go to the web site, and set up an account, sharing your name, e-mail address, a password, and selecting your “Cellphedia Groups”, one or more areas of expertise or interest. You can also limit the number of messages per day and block participation at night.

Here’s how it works. You have a question, What is podcasting? Flip open your mobile phone, and text message to the appropriate group ( your burning question, preceded with a question mark.

? what is a podcast

A number of that group’s members will receive the question via mobile phone text message. If any of them have an answer, they will text message it back:

! <question nmber> Podcasting is an audio blog that people can subscribe and listen to using their media player.

I’m still waiting for my definition, but this experiment illustrates the increased social aspect of our information environment. As a growing percent of the content available to us is attributed more to conversation than to formally published information, and as our access to that content becomes increasingly “at-hand”, perhaps our notions of what it means to be educated should be shifting.

Testing SecurityWhat happens with testing, when students can discreetly pull out their mobile phone, type the question, and receive an answer? It might not be the right answer, but that aside, does this mean that we redefine testing security?

…Or does it mean that we redefine what and how we teach?

In an information-rich and highly connected world, who is the more valuable person, one who is good a memorizing answers, or one who can ask good questions and know where to find the answers.

Ever get the sense that this planet is becoming one giant brain. Cool!

NYTimes Article on Podcasting — featuring Room 208

Student PodcastersRead this article, New Tools: Blogs, Podcasts and Virtual Classrooms, to learn more about hos some truly innovative educators are beginning to integrate podcasting into their classrooms.

THE “Room 208” podcast may just have the youngest production staff in the history of broadcasting. Written, produced and performed entirely by the third and fourth graders in Bob Sprankle’s class at the Wells Elementary School in Wells, Me., the podcast – an online radio show that can be downloaded to an MP3 player – began in April, has 171 subscribers for its weekly 20- to 30-minute shows and includes regular features like “Student News,” “The Week in Sports” and “Word of the Week.”

Todras-Whitehill, Ethan. “New Tools: Blogs, Podcasts and Virtual Classrooms.” The New York Times 3 Aug 2005. 4 Aug 2005 <>

Can you Hear me Now?

Lyn Carlisle, a teacher at my son’s high school, pointed me to this Friedman article, Calling All Luddites. All I can add is “Right on!”, and “hope we aren’t too late!”

Friedman opens with:

I’ve been thinking of running for high office on a one-issue platform: I promise, if elected, that within four years America will have cellphone service as good as Ghana’s. If re-elected, I promise that in eight years America will have cellphone service as good as Japan’s, provided Japan agrees not to forge ahead on wireless technology. My campaign bumper sticker: “Can You Hear Me Now?”

He goes states a little later:

…The world is moving to an Internet-based platform for commerce, education, innovation and entertainment. Wealth and productivity will go to those countries or companies that get more of their innovators, educators, students, workers and suppliers connected to this platform via computers, phones and P.D.A.’s.

What I find most interesting is questions like, “What does a classroom look like, that connects it’s students and teachers to fully digital and networked content?”