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?
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.