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For Attention

2012 September 3
by Jabiz

I got blogs on the mind. Yes, more so than usual. I’m swimming in streams of whys and hows, and yes, even a few whats. Next Monday, I will be part of a school-wide TV show style panel discussing this very topic. Set up by Jeff Plaman, Clay Burell and I will share our ideas on the subject. I am honored to share the stage him, and curious to hear what the master of Unschooliness and one of the earliest blogging influences on me, has to say on the subject five years since we first crossed paths on the web. This will be the first time I will meet him in person. Hi Clay looking forward to our chat. (I will share this with him, so maybe we can start the discussion right here in blog format. Imagine that!)

Later this month I will presenting a webinar with the great folks at The Digital Media & Learning. The topic is wide open, so I thought I would further explore the topic of Blogging with Students. Is blogging still relevant, important, or  necessary in 2012? I hope this post will help me gather ideas, so please take part in the comments below. I know that Bud Hunt has done extensive work on the subject. (Side note: I have been asked to invite a few people to the Google Hangout which will be moderated by none other than Howard Reingold. Please let me know if you are interested.)

This post is meant to help me refocus my attention and attempt to come up with a simple explanation on what a blog can be (I do not like defining blogs in one way), and why I still find blogging with students worthwhile. I will focus mainly on the role of blogs for middle school students as this is the group with which I have the most experience.

What is a Blog?

We have been having some great discussions at the table. Contrary to their perceived “nativeness” most middle school  kids have no idea what a blog is. Yes, they understand the act of re-blogging an animated .gif of (insert random image here) or of sharing photos of  friends on Instagram, or Facebook updates or even Twitter, but when asked if they know what a blog is, most have no idea or think that it is a very personal diary where people confess their every thought to the world.

The fact that blogs can be spaces for critical thought and analysis of ideas, a place to share understanding or a place to reflect with a wider audience is foreign to most teenagers. But since they get social sharing that is where I have been directing the conversation,

“Why do you share photos, updates, tweets?”
“Why do you share anything with anybody? Everybody?”

We had some very interesting answers: to bond, to connect, build friendships, to find like-minded people, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about, perhaps the most honest answer, “We share for attention.”

My first reaction was to think “Wow how petty.” I felt a sudden sense of sadness to think that these kids need to share to be noticed. After my initial feelings of pity, I turned the critical reflective mirror on myself and realized that I share for attention too. We all do in a sense no? I am writing this post because I want you to notice, to listen, to hear. To understand.

The true revelation came, however, when I noticed that wanting, needing attention is need not be a sad state reserved for lonely teenagers and sad adults trapped in a purgatorial state of arrested development. Wanting attention is perhaps one of the simplest of human emotions. Is not craving attention, the need to be noticed the base of  love? Do not our children crave our attention from the day they are born? Is not their happiness contingent on the quantity and quality of said attention?


cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by dino_olivieri

If sharing is the need for attention and kids share to be noticed, I see the blog as an extension of the classroom, where their other social sites are the playground. Kids will do the craziest things to be noticed, for attention on the playground when no one is looking, but isn’t the classroom a place where teachers help guide and mentor kids? A place where we help them find healthy ways to seek attention?

When people ask me what a blog is, I say,

“A blog is a place where I help students find depth in what they share, in order to gain attention for what they feel and think. It is the place where students can build a confident public voice.”

Readers of my blog, know I am a bit obsessive about identity, expression and community. I see student blogging as a homebase for the exploration of this idea:

Blogging gives students a voice (expression) to help them build a better understanding of self (identity) in the search for like-minded peers. (Community)

The big questions is how can we do this authentically? How can we create an environment that allows risk-taking? A place that is safe, but still real. I think that the how may be another blog post.

What do you think? Is student blogging still relevant? Is blogging dead? Did we fail with too many Homework Assignment blogs? Or are there authentic student bloggers out there? Before you go all cynical, let me tell you that I have some pretty jazzed kids already who are sharing quality and quantity without any assignment from me. We are just getting started... Do or do not do. There is no try.

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12 Responses leave one →
  1. avatar
    Jeff Plaman
    Twitter: jplaman
    permalink
    September 3, 2012

    Jabiz -

    I too have been thinking about this a lot, as you know. That’s why you and Clay will be having the conversation and bringing your experience to an audience
    .
    You said something to me in one of our conversations on this subject that really stuck with me.

    “Blogging is my home base”

    That simple statement, I think, is the reason why we introduce blogging to students. They carve out their spaces on the different social media environments Tumblr, Pintrest, Twitter, Facebook, Google +, Instagram & Flickr! All of them have different styles and we all go there for different reasons and interact with different people. But, the blog is their space. It’s the place they own. They control the look and feel, what’s written there and the rules. I think that’s important in this age when we often feel like (especially parents) the internet as being something that is thrust upon us – this is the place we control. We determine what it’s all about and it can/should be the center of our digital identity.

  2. avatar
    William Chamberlain
    Twitter: wmchamberlain
    permalink
    September 3, 2012

    Blogging is as relevant as kids writing their own song lyrics, poetry, journaling or creating diary entries. It is as relevant as kids painting, playing sports, joining a band or playing Dungeons and Dragons. When is the last time anyone asked if anything of these (other than perhaps D&D) were relevant?

    My point is blogging is another way we can express ourselves, all of which has a certain amount of attention seeking built in. As for authenticity, what makes something inauthentic? Does being assigned make it that way? Have you ever had a student create something beautiful, magical through an assignment? I know I have.

    Nothing resonates deeply with everyone. That isn’t a reason to worry, it is a reason to celebrate.

  3. avatar
    onepercentyellow
    Twitter: onepercentyello
    permalink
    September 3, 2012

    This space has been tugging at my neural net lately. As I’m preparing my presentation on autobiographies, I can’t help but think of the links between narrating our own story and narrative therapy. Our lives are stories, and the more adept we become at telling our story – to ourselves as well as others – the more able we are to rewrite, revise, and repurpose our stories. It’s the basis of narrative therapy, and I look forward to studying it in narrative education. @ cogdog’s look at a blog@cogdog’s look at a blog as a place to store things for me, easily makes me think of storing ME for me.

  4. avatar
    Mike Kaechele
    Twitter: Mikekaechele
    permalink
    September 3, 2012

    Jabiz,
    My team teacher and I have been discussing having our students blog this year. We’re leaning towards making it optional and having a class blog. Every student will be developing a portfolio in Google Sites so they could also have the choice to set up a blog Page there. I just don’t want it to become another assignment but writing they choose to do. What are your thoughts on how to establish a culture where students want to blog?

  5. avatar
    September 4, 2012

    I’m envious and happy for you that you will get to meet Clay- please share my utmost appreciation for his long run at being an outspoken force on the web from as long as I can remember it.

    Blog/blogging are a funny, laden words and I am not surprised they don’t have traction with kids. People who have been around a while associate it with the thing, the blog, the site. I used to ask where it was a noun or a verb, and then say my answer was “yes”.

    I think it is more important to find the word or phrase that encompasses something larger- the understanding that its valuable to be active and engaged in social media spaces, but that it is better to not them define who you are online. It is the idea of asserting your place on the web, building, decorating your own home rather than being on the porch of someone else’s. Does it have to a blog per se? I don; think so, that it is the most logical way to create your space.

    And add in the comprehension that creating for and adding to the web is as key as having access to it. The idea that we do not just surf or inhabit or visit the web, but we make it, we create it.

    I’ve been a little tear (not the crying kind, the ripping kind) because it feels like, to some degree, that a lot of our colleagues are very timid to be aan active part of this space, about the need to not project mistakes, that what we need to publish is unassailable. Why are there so many fraidy cats?

    I hope you can conjure the new verb/noun.

  6. avatar
    cburell permalink
    September 4, 2012

    Interesting post, Jabiz. I particularly liked “I see the blog as an extension of the classroom, where their other social sites are the playground.”

    I care less whether my students do or do not “like” blogging this year, though, believe it or not–and care more about other goals around it all (for me this year, anyway–and for my high school, adulthood-bound students).

    Look forward to the discussion , and to finally meeting IRL:)

  7. avatar
    Paula
    Twitter: paulaguinto
    permalink
    September 4, 2012

    Tweeted my thoughts late last night and have blogged lengthily about this too. :) Like I said, worthy conversation. One am glad we are all having and where we are involving the Ss. I agree with you that it is a process and we all reach our “comfort zones” at different times and in different ways. And am not just talking about the Ss.

    Anyway, just like @cburell, I loved what you said about blogging as the extension of the physical classroom and other sites as the playground. That is so true. It’s cyber real estate and Ss have different flats they furnish and use differently depending on space and their intention, whether they are aware of it or not. This is why I love what @cogdog says here,

    “I think it is more important to find the word or phrase that encompasses something larger- the understanding that its valuable to be active and engaged in social media spaces, but that it is better to not them define who you are online. It is the idea of asserting your place on the web, building, decorating your own home rather than being on the porch of someone else’s.”

    See you later and on the grid. :)

  8. avatar
    September 4, 2012

    The great thing about facebook, twitter, tumblr and instagram is they’ve given many pe0ple easy entry into the notion of sharing and posting online.

    In 2005 when i began blogging, there were none of these platforms. There were few gathering places outside of forums and newsgroups where people where sharing in community. I say that because I wonder, if I were beginning now, if I would blog, as in write, share and reflect extensively on my work.

    With these new platforms my hope is that many see and find their passions and interests and then in the spirit of ds106 go off and create their own space. Even a space like tumblr, which in essence is a blog platform, seems to have developed a more narrow sense of what it means to share. Certainly facebook and twitter for the most part are less diverse in terms of creativity due to their restraints and more direct influence of friends and followers. The blog represents a home where you customize and make it what you want. Those other spaces are shared community spaces where you interact within their constraints.

    All that to say I think there will be fewer people blogging in the traditional sense of creating a personal space where they totally control the environment. I think introducing students to this possibility is important but they’ll always tend to gravitate to the social spaces where their peers reside. Few kids want to stand out and be as independent as a blog affords. And that’s the other issue, it’s hard to convince people that a blog is much different than their exchanges and sharing on facebook.

  9. avatar
    Ian Tymms
    Twitter: itymms
    permalink
    September 4, 2012

    Many thanks for opening the discussion Jabiz. As you know I’m relatively new to this and working alongside you to introduce the potential of blogging to students.

    I get the argument that blogs are for attention and we all need that, but I’m finding in my own writing that it is as much about distilling ideas. Writing helps me clarify and explore identity and the blog is a mechanism to facilitate this process – keep me honest if you like. One of the things I’m hoping a student blogging community might be is a place where our students can look to see and share how others are grappling with the questions that challenge them. Being part of a community means walking beside others who are exploring similar territory. That’s the great pleasure of being part of a professional teaching team, too. The sharing, comparing, challenging and celebrating that comes with exploring where we are in the curriculum and where we want to go next is exponentially richer when it’s collaborative.

  10. avatar
    Jabiz permalink*
    September 4, 2012

    Thanks everyone! Your comments are why I love blogging, you have taken my half baked idea and dressed it with insights and scarves of your making. Here is what I heard you say:

    A noun or a verb? (Blog affords independence)

    The Internet need not be something thrust upon us – blogs are the place we control. We do not just surf or inhabit or visit the web, but we make it, we create it. We learn to assert our place on the web, building, decorating our own home rather than being on the porch of someone else’, having said that, “Being part of a community means walking beside others who are exploring similar territory.” We do explore togther.

    The more adept we become at telling our story – to ourselves as well as others – the more able we are to rewrite, revise, and repurpose our stories. We learn to store ME for me. Writing helps us clarify and explore identity and the blog is a mechanism to facilitate this process.

  11. avatar
    Abhinav
    Twitter: qyNDtoIAiaVA
    permalink
    December 25, 2012

    she gets it! & you were very patient & sweet while teahcing twitter to her. wish & pray that our baby maia will be as patient & sweet to me & hubby, @qpidx, when we’re that age.does your mom now have a twitter account? if so, i would follow her! by the way, i’m now following you :)thanks for also sharing the common craft video. i’ll make sure to bookmark it for the next time my folks ask about twitter.more power!

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