When do I Blog?

11:30 AM

I did a number of sessions at the MACUL conference last week about blogs and wikis, and watched Will Richardson present a couple of others. One question that continually comes up is “when do I blog, and when do I use a wiki or discussion board?”

I can certainly understand why people who are just beginning to think about and use these tools might be confused. They are similar, in that they all three involve collaboration. All three also result in user published content going to the web. However, I think that there are some specific differences that influence why, when, and how you would use these tools.

To the right is a diagram that I use in one of my presentations. It needs to be updated to include podcasts along with blogs. Here’s the run down, as I see it.

  • Forums are a tool that allows people to share and respond to ideas. the goal is to build knowledge through a cross-pollination of ideas. Instructionally, you use an online forum when you want students to process ideas and insights by sharing information and responses.
  • Wikis are used to publish. However, a wiki site is usually intended for a closed community of people where layout and formality are not crucial. Like forums, the goal is to build knowledge through collaboration. But the knowledge is organized more like a web site, so that it is available for retrieval when needed. We are constructing a knowledge product for easy and convenient reference by a specific community. Instructionally, you use wikis when you want students to work in collaboration to produce a document such as a classroom online dictionary of words covered during the school year.
  • Blogs (and podcasts) are more about publishing. Although there is a collaborative component, the intent is not discussion, but the publication of one person’s (or small group’s) ideas. A blog should be more formal, because it may be read by a wide variety of people with differing frames of reference. Instructionally, blogs are about communication. The goal is to take an idea and communicate it to a broad audience as effectively as possible.

These are not hard lines. Certainly, there will be overlaps between these descriptions. There will be times when there’s value in publishing an online discussion. There may also be times a wiki is used for sharing and responding to ideas, and where a blog is used as a discussion board for peer-review. But I hope that the distinctions I have described here might help some teachers to better understand these emerging tools.

A Story within a Story

On Saturday, Doug Johnson, a highly respected educator, thinker, and author, posted a message to the WWWEDU mailing list suggesting we view “a very interesting (and frightening) short clip on the future of how technology may impact on the News.” The clip can be viewed from the following URL:


The above page announced that:

In the year 2014, The New York Times has gone offline.
The Fourth Estate’s fortunes have waned.
What happened to the news?
And what is EPIC?

The video itself, which is attributed to the Museum of Media History and the Tampa Bay Federal District in Florida, provides a accurate portrayal of the developments of media, media retrieval, distribution, and social software. After 2004, it projects developments, primarily at the hands of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. It is a chilling account of a media world based in self gratification rather than hard and accurate content.

Ironically, the video is challenged by Paul Nash, an equally respected educator and technologist from New Zealand. He researched the video, exposing the fact that neither the Museum of Media History, nor the Tampa Bay Federal District exist. I further investigated the video, tracking down one of the writers and designer of the Flash production. He appears to be associated with with INdTV, started by Al Gore (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A45826-2005Jan3.html) and also authors a blog, called “Large is the New Medium” (http://www.robinsloan.com/blog/)

So, is EPIC worth watching or using?

Does it depend on who the author is? Yes. Does it depend on the author’s agenda? Of course! Does it depend on its accuracy. Without question! But, perhaps most important, does it help you accomplish your goal? Bottom line!

Why would I want to recommend or even show this video in a workshop? In order to imprint the point that literacy, in the 21st century, is far richer than merely being able to decode the text in front of you. It means being able to:

  • located appropriate information,
  • extract meaning,
  • critically evaluate the information in terms of your goals and environment, and
  • being able to logically organize the information into valuable personal digital libraries.

Now, thanks to Paul Nash, I have a story about the story to further make my case.

A Ballet of Light & Sound

Of all of the mailing lists, of which I am a member, my favorite is WWWEDU (pronounced “We Do”). Moderated by Andy Carvin, of the Digital Divide Network (http://digitaldivide.net/), this is one of the oldest and most influential online communities on the Net. It has one real problem, though. Because many of the members are long-time educators and followers of the effects of the Web and related technologies on education (not to mention the smartest people I know), topics tend to stray away from the original intent, using the Web in educational environments. Andy, being the father-figure that he is (is he 25 years old yet?), regularly has to bring us back on course.

Straying is what has been happening over the past weeks as the group debates whether technology in schools is good for our students, or actually a detriment to achieving standards. One of the members, an education leader in NYC, lamented the other day that education in the U.S. has such constraints laid on it because of this that and the other.

Now I am a true believer in the power of the story. One of my all time favorite keynote speakers is Dr. Jennifer James. She talks about the leader who affects change by telling a compelling story, and a compelling new story is what we need to reshape the image of the 21st century classroom.

So I asked the group to tell their stories. What stories do you tell your students, teachers, administrators, board members, or the community that you hope helps them to change the lens through which they see classrooms and school, to a lens that is more relevant to the future for which we are preparing our children. I set up a SLATE (http://tinyurl.com/4hgr5), inviting people to submit their stories on a discussion board, and a few have already. I posted a story last night that I am still in the process of polishing, but I thought I’d also post it here for your consideration.

It could be most any early evening in the Warlick household. But this particular story focuses on a quiet Friday in early December, 2004. Supper is over, the dishes away, the sun is down, and the family is settled. Brenda, my wife, sits in a comfortable chair by the large window that opens to the deck. With a floor lamp, shining over her shoulder, she is reading a book — a historical novel.

I’m downstairs in my office, reclined in my padded chair, ear buds plugged in and watching the DVD playing on my notebook computer and projecting on the external 19 inch flat display — probably my fifteenth personal viewing of The Bourne Identity. My wife and I are both settled back enjoying our stories.

The house is quiet except for my son, Martin, who is laying on the sofa in the TV room, game controller in hand, and barking orders over his headset to no visible person. His game system is connected to the Internet, via broadband service, and he is directing the actions of four other players. Two of them personal local friends, and the other two are friends he has only met within the virtual environment of the game.

To the uninitiated, they are playing a video game, attempting to defeat the alien soldiers of an invading army in a place called Halo. Yet, the activity that holds the attention of the players is not a game at all. On close inspection, it may surprise the casual observer that Martin is not playing on the 30″ TV, but on his computer. The Mac savvy observer may also think it odd that he is actually playing through iMovie, Apple’s pre-installed video editing software, and that Martin is capturing the video of the game as the players interact. With no aliens in sight, they are engaged in what could only be called choreographed calisthenics.

Martin is the director, instructing the other players to fire tracer rounds as they hop gracefully, crisscrossing each other along the rugged landscape. At another point, they are piloting one-man gun ships through the air, spinning end over end, and bouncing from wall to wall in a space city. When they finish, Martin imports into iMovie a favorite song by the Deftones and then edit the video clips to correspond with the action of the music, creating a violent but elegant ballet set to heavy metal noise.

The importance of this scene is in the way that the two generations use information. The adults consume their information. They read and watch the stories, relaxed and receptive. The youngster, whom we are preparing for adulthood, almost never merely consumes information. He is accustomed to interacting with the information, and interacting with other people through the information. He acts, reacts, plans, collaborates, and builds experiences that are personally meaningful, sharing artifacts of his experiences with others.

My question: Is the education that we are imposing on these students designed for a generation who consumes information, or for a generation who will undoubtedly invent brand new ways to play/shape information into the answers of questions, solutions of problems, and the accomplishment of goals.

Note: What Martin is creating is an emerging art form, invented by young gamers, called Machinema (A blur of Machine and Cinema. In a sense, Machinema is closely related to puppetry, except that the characters are digital and the story or dance are planned and implemented using common editing software.

It’s not about Technology — It’s about Information

Several weeks ago I walked into our TV room and found my son on the couch, hooked up. My office is in the next room, so I grabbed my camera and shot several pictures. The situation was nearly a caricature, except that it was completely true.

Let me take you on a tour. The white wires that plug into his ears are his iPod. He is a peculiar sort of kid, in that he is probably listening to classical music instead of a guitar band. He wants to become a professional musician.

In his hands is a game controller. I believe that he is playing with an Xbox, but he also has a PS2 and a Game Cube. I’m impressed with myself that I can even list his game systems. You may see a head-mounted microphone and ear plug. Many of the games that he plays are multiuser quest environments where he works with a team of other players, through the Internet (some do not speak English is their first language). He can chat with them orally if they also have broadband Internet. With those who do not, he chats with the black keyboard that also came with his Xbox system.

The silver laptop is an old Mac, with which he is chatting with local friends using AOL Instant Messager.

The point I want to make is that when we look at this picture, we see technology. He has practically surrounded himself with tools, that he uses to play, and sometimes work and learn.

However, when he thinks about this experience, he doesn’t see technology, he sees information. The technology is nothing more than the window, through which he is accessing, interacting with, and expressing information. It is the information that gives his experiences meaning, and it is information that:

  • Moves,
  • Changes,
  • Comes from far off places (almost instantaneously),
  • Interacts with him,
  • and it Glows.

This is why we, as educators, need to stop thinking so much about integrating technology into the curriculum, and instead, think about this changing nature of information, redefine what it means to be literate in this new information environment, and then integrate that. If we can accomplish this well, then the appropriate technologies will come along on their own and for their own best reasons.

Exactly 2¢ worth!