Value Added Reflection and the Introduction of a Group Blog…

I have been doing some thinking over the idea of what I would call ‘value added’ reflection vs. ‘mind dumping’. I have been doing quite a bit of posting here, and am wondering if there is any value to it. There seems to be a high frequency, but it is more paraphrasing and revising what I am reading on other blogs and articles. There seems to be a lack of original thought, although I am well aware that the idea of original thought may not even be existent.

Today I introduced the notion of a ‘team blog’ to the Literature 12 class. I felt it was amidst feelings of an immediate loss of control on my part. This was a strange occurrence, as I have been campaigning for the integration of social software for some time, but my introduction of this possibility seemed hasty…

I am not sure that it was, but am wondering over how the class could’ve been better prepared for such an introduction. I think this may be in part due to the fact that I normally only see these students in a classroom context twice a week. I am struggling with the fragmentation that comes along with this, as well as stretching a lit. class out over a whole academic year (with a government exam as the endpoint…if that was removed, I would be typing altogether differently).

Part of my angst is over the seeming contradiction between the inherent open-endedness of the blog platform versus the mandated, closed nature of the literature 12 curriculum. From the research I have done, blogs and social software have been created for a multiple of personal topics. My own blog categories is indicative of this, as it ranges from education to faith and social justice. The blog reflects the blogger.

The lit. 12 platform seems to be on the opposite end of this spectrum. It is reflected in the proscribed reading list, and lack of flexibility in teaching (I will give the curriculum this, they do openly state that these are the ‘minimum’ readings and that students should be encouraged to read beyond the course requirements, but as an educator who is trying to equip his students for success in this course–read success on the provincial exam as well as in the course– I have a lot of cognitive dissonance over introducing any ‘extra’ texts into the course package and adding to the workload of all. So, in short, it seems that although ‘going beyond the course’ is encouraged, there is no intrinsic ‘reward’ for classes who do so. In this sense, I find the curriculum, ie the mandated reading list, to be constrictive and confining. It is restrictive and Eurocentric, although there is no attempt to disguise that this course is considered a course in British Literature. When will the curriculum change from one that touts ‘British Literature’ to one that embraces World Literature? Colonialism is a thing of the past, at least it should be. High School Literature classes should change to reflect the growing diversity of our global village…but I digress).

These two platforms seem to be dialogically opposed to one another, and I can’t help but wonder if the collision of these divergent systems will result in chaos.
I am finding that the Lit. blog homepage is a great tool to use, but I keep flipping back to Barbara Ganley’s assertion that students can clearly see through the use of a blog in such a sense as being merely another layer of control:

The weblog creates a classroom that is, at least in theory if not always in actuality, available everywhere and always, in essence following us about as we move through time and space. Such omnipresence also implies that if the teacher possesses sole managerial responsibility for the weblog, it could well smack of Orwell’s Big Brotherism to the students, with an authority figure free to enter their lives at will, dictating actions and responses, or it could smack of hypocrisy with the teacher intentionally creating a schism between descriptions of the class as community and the actual practice of a benign tyrant holding the reins, as is the case with course management systems such as Blackboard and WebCT, which are teacher driven and constructed with a traditional hierarchy. ( “BLOGTALK Paper (an excerpt and in full): Blogging as a Dynamic, Transformative Medium in an American Liberal Arts Classroom? )

I can see this control in the blog home setup as it appears now. Students are free to comment on the blog, but only in reaction to my own posts. I am not saying that this experiment is a failure, as I feel it has been a great success thus far. The blog as a homepage for coursework is an efficient and effective tool. I am thrilled at the ease of use and manipulation, and students can easily access the site to get course updates and assignments as well as check the syllabus, but I do see this as limiting the intended use of blog technology.
Part of my hope in introducing a team blog is that students will have a greater voice and a platform for expressing that voice. Again, Ganley’s words come to bear on my feelings of a loss of control as she states this is an essential feeling in introducing the blog:

For the weblog to work as a facilitator of efficacious learning, it is essential that everyone has an authentic voice and an authentic role on it, that everyone has a hand in creating the medium as well as the message in an environment in which the reader becomes the writer, the student the teacher, the teacher the learner as we traverse boundaries of classroom and real world, our communities forming, shifting and reforming. The teacher has to do precisely what is most difficult and most essential: create a system of shared control, of checks and balances between teacher, student and technology[…] The teacher must have faith in the process of collaborative learning and in the students to assume their roles in reciprocal apprenticeships (Lévy, 1997, 10). (“BLOGTALK Paper? )

As I sent out mass email to my students inviting them and empowering them to be contributors to the team blog, I felt a loss of that control, and no small amount of anxiety over the ‘liberation’ of the blog. In retrospect, this is as much an effect of the above mentioned mandated curriculum as it is that of introducing a new medium that I am myself a ‘young student’ of.

Hopefully some ‘value added’ reflection…

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3 thoughts on “Value Added Reflection and the Introduction of a Group Blog…

  1. Pingback: Teacher in Development :: Curriculum Headshift. Part II :: November :: 2005

  2. J.M.,
    You go boy! And you were worried about a value added contribution…this was great. I will post a deeper comment tomorrow, but I just wanted to say….Bloody good post!

  3. Pingback: Teacher In Development » Blog Archive » Curriculum Headshift. Part II

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