That’s the title of one of four, count ‘em, four different presentations I’ll be giving at MACUL on Friday. (How I got talked into that I’ll never know!) When I originally submitted the idea, I saw it as a way to show how blogs in schools were evolving and branching out, and to have a conversation on the ways in which they would continue to mature. And while I still see that being a part of it, I’m feeling like the bigger, and in some ways, more important discussion is what we need to do to insure that blogs in schools even have a future. I don’t mean that in a defeatist sense as I obviously believe these tools need to play an important part in our teaching and practice. I mean it in the “what are the obstacles and how do we overcome them” sense. So I’d like to start the presentation early here by looking at the most widely articulated impediments to adoption of the tools and offering some very thin, discussion starting ideas about how we might respond to them. This assumes, of course, that you believe (as I do) that these tools can make significant contributions to our practice and to our (and our students’) learning, that they in fact do have the potential to fundamentally improve what we do in the classroom. And, it assumes that we all have access.

These are in no real order, though I’d be interested to hear what the top choices are.

  • Fear (for kids’ safety)–There has been so much blog angst of late regarding MySpace and blocking/filtering of other blog sites that we either have to start our own marketing campaign or change the name of the tool. (But some have been saying that for over a year.) The fact that not all blogs are the same and that we can keep our kids safe with a bit of common sense doesn’t seem to be resonating much in some parts, though on the flip side, I have been heartened to read of districts where blogs are being implemented widely albeit with homegrown tools that I’m not sure will scale to other districts (though that would be nice.) Some of this isn’t fear as much as it is a control issue, an easy excuse to reel people in and stifle creativity and imagination which can be threatening. Solution: Twofold, I think. As an edblogging community we need to keep pushing these discussions out into the open as I think half the problem is the discussions aren’t even being held. There have been a couple of reasoned responses of late that we need to keep highlighting and referencing. Second, we need to continue to press for safe, open source solutions that schools can run internally with a minimum of tech support (or that can be cheaply hosted.) There are some already out there, and some on the horizon, but they’re not coming quickly enough.
  • Fear (of change)–Barbara Ganley covers this far more articulately than I ever could:

    …the fear of free-falling, of moving away from the known, of relinquishing control and of the impact on our time and the resulting pressure on how we train our teachers. It’s one thing to talk about subject-centered, collaborative-centered, connected learning (via blogs or not); it’s another thing altogether to make it truly a reality in classrooms employing blogs in ways many edubloggers write about, including me.

    It’s a great post, full of connections and synthesis that is a poster child for the type of writing and thinking that blogging (connective writing) demands. On the K-12 level, I think this is even more acute. There are so many pressures in terms of curriculum and outcomes and test scores that to take a leap into the unknown with blogs is scary at best and nightmarish at worst. Especially if the tools demand not just an understanding of technology but a redefinition of good pedagogy. Social software, connective learning requires us to rethink our practice, not just our curriculum. Solution: We need to keep highlighting and celebrating the successes that teachers are having in terms of raising the quality of learning in their classrooms. The good news is that there are more and more teachers who are seeing this happen. The bad news is there still are not enough. I’m feeling very teased these days…

  • Time (or lack thereof)–This is obviously a huge issue, not only in terms of time to learn the technologies but also time to figure out how they impact practice. (Not to mention the time it takes to make these a part of your own learning system.) And it’s one that I’m not sure has an answer in the current construct of public schooling. Let’s face it, most teachers are not willing to sacrifice too much more of their personal time to learn new technologies, and in most cases, you can’t really blame them. I was an English teacher for 19 years…I should know. (How did I learn all this stuff anyway?) Solution: The only obvious answer is to infuse preservice programs with instruction on the potential and pedagogy of these tools. I mean seriously, how long are we going to be teaching teachers how to do PowerPoint presentations which are becoming more useless by the hour? As for current teachers, without a fundamental shift in how we perceive and fund education, this will remain an intractable roadblock for all but the most highly engaged and motivated.
  • Standardized Tests and Assessment–Similar to the fear of change, as more and more districts start tying teacher salaries to student test scores, and as long as current political winds keep blowing, there is going to be less and less motivation to move toward pedagogies that may be more relevant and effective in a connective classroom. I’ve not heard too many serious discussions taking place about bringing high-expectations performance assessment into the mix, even though now it’s becoming easier and easier to do so. This is quick becoming a world of performance, and we need to think about how we can best connect that to assessment. From Dewey to Wiggins, most “experts” agree that if knowledge doesn’t translate to skill in doing, it’s not really worth much. We’re not measuring much of that at all right now. Solution: Vote. And keep trumpeting the fact that there are alternatives to standardized assessment that are being implemented around the world.
  • Lack of Research–I’ve been grumbling about this one for a couple of years now, and I’m still amazed that there isn’t more out there, good or bad about how blogs and the like impact learning. Amazed. Yeah, there is some stuff here and there, but it’s not much to carry to your curriculum supervisor and plop on her desk. (I’ll be right back…let me do another search or two…wait!…some more here and there!) Solution: C’mon Laura…get crankin’. And for the rest of you teacher/researchers out there…we need more than a continual stream of generally positive stories of transformation (although that helps greatly.) We need some numbers crunched.
  • Lack of Support–This kind of ties into the fear of change angle in that it’s hard to try any of this without an adequate tech safety net, especially when the online tools are coming under fire. And with technology budgets being cut rather than supplemented, many schools are way behind right out of the blocks. The good news is the tools are cheap. The bad news is they still break from time to time, and if we’re going to invest our own time and our kids’ sweat into using them, we need to make sure we have help to keep them working. Solution: While there are many schools that can support their own hosting, there are going to have to be hosted solutions that are “safe,” from blogs to aggregators to photo sites, etc. All of those exist, but none have wide implementation as far as I can tell.

    That’s a start, I think. What have I missed, misread, or misstated?

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