Ed Blogger was a great chance to meet some really good people. I am consistently struck by the quality of the edblogging community. They are genuinely concerned with how to make education better, and their ultimate concern for students is always apparent. People who are new to this seem genuinely amazed at the level of collaboration and willingness to share ideas, but that seems to be the best part of it all. Pat did a superb job in getting this whole thing to come together, and I’m already looking forward to the next one.

Having said that, however, I feel like I’m leaving San Francisco with more questions than answers. During our conversations yesterday, it became clearer to me that I need to start differentiating between using a Web log and “blogging.” (Dan Mitchell noticed something similar.) This thought isn’t really a new one, but it just sort of crystallized itself here as I noticed a lot of what was being said about the art of blogging, the physical act of writing in a Web log, was really irrelevant to our discussion of education. I don’t think there was anyone in the room yesterday whose students were truly blogging. There are many who have students using Web logs, but, for instance, when I asked Pat‘s student Nathan Edelman what he used his school sponsored space for, he said it was basically to post assignments. (And he drew a chuckle when he said that he likes this ability because it allows his classmates to use his work if they need to.) When Nathan wanted to start really blogging (i.e complaining about some of his grades,) Pat set him up with a site on Weblogger. And Nathan is going to town.

This is an important distinction for a couple of reasons. One, I’ve really come to believe that the act of blogging can be a valuable way to learn to write more effectively. I know there have been a lot of definitions of what Web logs are, but I’m not sure that is the case with the act of blogging. To me, the process of blogging is, most of the time, an ongoing series of steps: 1. Find and read material that is relevant to your life. 2. Capture the essence of this relevant reading, give credit to its source, and synthesize those ideas into a piece of writing that advances a personal, perhaps greater understanding of that topic 3. Publish that writing for response and for perhaps pushing someone else’s thinking on the subject. 4.Read some more. It’s a process that I think teaches and practices a great deal of critical thinking, information literacy, research, collaboration and composition skills that on one level I think may be difficult to replicate with any other writing instruction. I know traditional expository writing instruction comes close, but rarely is there the personal interest in the writing that blogging provides. And it is that personal interest that I think helps writers really own the process and make it real, which in turn leads to some real learning.

But I’m wondering today if that kind of writing is truly possible in schools, both for students and teachers. I’ve taken this space off my school server and now have it hosted independently. When a teacher came to me last week and asked that I set up a personal blog space for him on our server, I felt compelled to turn him down when he told me he wanted a space to air his personal opinions. The big question for me right now is how can I replicate this important writing process in a way that students can truly experience the power of it under the mostly understandable limitations imposed by schools. I’m trying in my journalism class. My kids are trying to really blog about a topic that interests them, but it’s still pretty contrived. And to be honest, I need to spend more time on the process with them anyway to make sure they are getting the benefits I described above.

Now I’m not saying that Web logs aren’t very valuable teaching tools. They certainly are, for all the reasons that we have modeled and discussed many times. I think from a classroom management and electronic portfolio standpoint (and many others,) the benefits and the potentials are many. But on some level, I’ve kept hoping that this was going to be more than a tool. I still think it is, but it’s not as easily recognized as I was hoping.

Terry Elliot (who should do more writing in his Web log) and I talked yesterday about the need for some real research into what happens to student learning when kids use blogs. Do they become better writers? Do they learn to be more reflective? Does the organizational aspect of Web logs in some way impact what they are able to achieve? Terry wants to start doing some research, but it’s a hard question to pose and to measure results for. Marion’s WIDE initiative may be a valuable piece of research as well. Sure, we can do many things with Web logs, many good things. But what real effect are they having on student learning? Maybe we’re at the point where we’re ready to tackle some of this, because it would go a long way to overcoming some of the barriers of entry that many teachers face with this right now. (That’s Part II of this post.) And now that we’ve had a more or less official “convention,” could research be far behind???

More as this settles in, I’m sure.