Pat Delaney was the first ed blogger that I came across 2 1/2 years ago when I first stumbled on Web logs. At that time, the whole concept was pretty much under the radar, and even with some serious digging, nothing turned up anyone who was doing more thinking and writing about blogs in schools than Pat. He was and continues to be an inspiration.

So when Pat, in response to a post on Ken Tompkins site, writes “I’ve begun to wonder if there is any value to blogging beyond ‘hype,'” I can’t help but take notice. And on his own site today, Pat says

“…the bloom is off the blog. Which is to say that if I’ve discovered anything this year about writing online it’s that “online” is NOT the best place for writing that aims at anything other than pointing.”

To give Pat’s observations some context, he’s been playing with Tinderbox of late (which unfortunately has no Windows version.) His early reviews seem to be leading his ratcheting down of Weblog worth, so much so that a couple of days ago he quipped “blogging, schmlogging.” I’d be less than honest if I said his words haven’t given me some pause.

I know I’ve been coming to the point where I’m needing some real results as to the power and usefulness of Weblogs. Now that enough teachers have kicked the tires so to speak, many are wondering about the engine and whether or not it can take us to where we want to go. For the English teacher, right-brained folks like Pat and Terry and I, these questions focus directly on writing process. I know that when I first started using blogs with my students, the biggest pull was the publishing aspect, that part of the process that I always felt lagging. The freewriting, the muddled and messy drafting, the peer response…all of those pieces felt pretty well addressed in my classes. But the work and time that went into finding non-manufactured audiences for my students’ writing was almost always too intensive to make it work. With Weblogs, it was almost too easy.

I haven’t been convinced that Weblogs are great for process. The tool I use, Manila, needs some more switches to flip in terms of private and public posting that I think would make it more effective with the pre-publication stuff. We’ve been posting for over a year on the difficulties of all public space. There’s just a lot of messy stuff that writers do that needs to be done in private, and I think that’s what Pat refers to in the excerpt above about writing offline. Weblogs, and Manila in particular, weren’t created for the creative or expository writing teacher in mind. We’ve been working with a less than perfect tool, and maybe Pat’s just come to the conclusion that from a writing perspective, blogs aren’t going to cut it. In their current form, he may be right.

But I still think Weblogs, and in particular Weblogs in schools, are more than just hype. From my experience, they are a heckuva lot better than folders, they facilitate communication between peers, mentors, parents, and teachers, they provide discussion space for thinking and writing not done in class, and they provide an easily accessed (for the most part) archived and searchable record of all sorts of work and knowledge. And those potentials as a communication and collaboration tool I don’t think have come close to being realized yet.

And I think there’s something to be said for blogging as a genre, as a way of writing that doesn’t fit into our traditional definitions of composition but has some inherent value nonetheless. The blogging process isn’t as messy as other forms of writing, but the product can bring about some meaningful learning for students in terms of critical thinking and media literacy. There is much yet to explore here.

Toward the end of his post today, Pat says

In less than a week using only its basic applications, it’s [Tinderbox] become my primary writing space. A little testing of it as a note and bibliographic organizer shows it’ll be my primary researching and informational reading tool as well. It’s led to less blogging and more researching, reading, thinking and writing. Uh oh, sounds like a resolution…

I hope I’m not reading that right, ’cause it sounds as if Pat’s moving toward taking his forward thinking ideas offline, leaving us with an occasional well-processed no doubt excellent piece of writing. I’ll be looking forward to reading it, but I hope he’ll continue to share his struggles too because that’s really where I think the power of of many of the Weblogs I read is, the immediacy of ideas in their sometimes inchoate, un-thought-through form. I’ve learned a lot from him and others through their messy spaces. I hope that continues in 2004.

Happy New Year, everyone…