Friday, April 20, 2007


Inspiration for today's post: Sole-Smith, V (2007, April). The upside of online. Family Circle Magazine, 69-73.

I'm sorry to say this article is not available online, but I'm hoping Ann and Crystal just might subscribe to Family Circle. Richard, I'll try my best to extract the most important points from the article, unless of course your wife subscribes as well!

While enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon of skimming through magazines, I came across an article that includes some real statistics about teenage online usage. The blog has become mainstreamed to include all of society rather than only those who are priivy to the newest technologies. There were some interesting points about the benefits of the web (including blogs) for kids and some insightful commentary by experts and teens.

First, let's explore some stats. The source of this information ranges from surveys to studies conducted by numerous outlets.

1. "More than 40% of teens who go online say they're more outgoing when they talk to friends on the Internet" (Sole-Smith, 2007, p. 69).

It's all about connection, isn't it? As educators, learners, friends, or humans, we are always trying to make connections with others. We want to feel like we're part of something and fit in somewhere. The Internet seems to allow children and adults to feel "empowered" because many feel more secure behind the wall of the web than face-to-face (p.69). Additionally, as we have seen with Celest's Skype classroom, students who are home schooled are able to identify with the class and feel as if they belong.

2. "Twenty-six percent of online teens think the Web helps them deal with subjects that are hard to discuss, such as health and sexuality issues" (Sole-Smith, 2007, p. 70).

Yet another connection to our previous discussions. Blogs allow students to vent to peers who understand what they're going through. Sole-Smith writes "In the event of a tragic loss of a peer, pages and profiles often turn into memorials where friends of the deceased post their feelings as they grieve" (p.70). We've seen this over the past few days as the friends of those killed at Virginia Tech have posted memorials to honor their lives. Not only have these memorials served as a place to read about those lost, but they have become places for conversation, reflection, and catharsis. The author does make a good point that a child who starts to withdraw from the outside world by spending all of his or her time online might require counseling or help.

3. "A third of teens and 17% of tweens say they're able to share more with a friend online than in person" (p. 70).

Allow me to revisit the following discussion by referencing a quote made by our lovely group member Crystal Crozier; "Technology cannot replace face-to-face human interaction." I agree. At the same time, I do think that there are moments in time when technology allows us to connect with others on a deeper level than face-to-face communication as the above statistic confirms. I've always been somewhat fearful of saying my true feelings (especially when negative) to friends and family members when I am right in front of them. It's much easier for me to send a card, an email, or instant message. Richard, I know you will be one of the first to respond to this, but I'm asking if we could possibly amend the quote to the following: Technology cannot replace face-to-face communication altogether, however there are certain situations in which technology offers a superior emotional and intellectual outlet.

4. "Eighty-six percent of teenagers believe the Internet helps them do better in their classes" (p. 73).

Wow! Anyone else pleasantly surprised by this statistic? Even though I teach elementary age children, this is a definite incentive for me to create a blog next year. As for the improvement of writing skills (since I'm trying to synthesize my thoughts), I'm a firm believer that constant writing is one crucial key to success. Of course it's not the only element of powerful writing, but the exposure to different styles of writing, not to mention the public element of blogging, should facilitate gains.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Blog culture: Making connections & Making sense

Inspiration for today's post: Moving to the Public: Weblogs in the Writing Classroom. Lowe, C. & Williams, T.

In this article, Lowe and Williams discuss the impact of blogs in the writing classroom. I especially enjoyed this reading, as it addressed the public vs. private debate with substantial research by both professionals and teachers. Writing about the use of blogs as a journal or as a more public conversation tool, Lowe and Williams state the following: "However, to use blogs merely as a tool for private journaling is to privilege our understanding of journals as private writing spaces without considering the benefits of weblogs as public writing" (¶ 2). Well said. This topic has come up on my blog before, but it's worth mentioning again as I must consider all sides to blogs before implementing one in the classroom.

Lowe and Williams go on to list several ways they use blogs, ranging from answering questions about a particular reading to exploring personal thoughts. They argue that blogs allow students to approach thoughts in a comfortable arena from which they can learn and gain insight. Consider this idea: "Because of the benefits of social interaction, most writing teachers would agree that students sharing their writing—making their writing public—is important" (Lowe & William, (¶ 11). Absolutely. As a writing teacher, I see such growth in student writing when they observe their peers, discuss work, and create final edited versions. The difficulty with face-to-face communication among students young and old is the grouping of students. When a shy student is paired with the most outspoken student in class, the shy kid might squirm into his or her shell and get academically bullied by the loud one. That's a definite plus of blogs. They allow the quietest child (or adult for that matter) access to the same space, the same time, the same passion as anyone else. Each student can easily achieve the feeling of belonging and equality, unlike in the classroom.

I'll end with my thoughts about a question posed by Lowe and Williams: "Isn’t it possible that the paradoxical situation of creating a risk-free space in which to enable risk-taking has led compositionists to forget a primary purpose of privacy, which is to provide a comfortable writing space, comfort which can also come from community?"

I guess I never thought of it that way. While I do believe there is a great place for journals and I would never, ever put my most personal thoughts and deepest emotions out there for all to see (that's just not me), the beauty of the blog as a learning tool is that it provides an outlet for open communication that extends beyond the walls of your community. I've arrived at this conclusion; The decision to use a journal vs. a blog should be based on purpose. Journals certainly have a place in our lives, especially when recording private thoughts. You can keep a public journal without any communication purpose, but it seems like you are missing out on the greatest opportunities for growth. I've learned so much from the commentary on this blog...I would argue that my peer comments have directed me to new knowledge faster than many of the readings. That is by no means meant as a knock on the articles I have read. Instead, it is a testament to the power of discussion, interaction, and a complete affirmation of the potential for intellectual growth when blogging.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Blogging during a crisis....

I've previously mentioned the power of blogs during times of catastrophic events and trauma such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. Tragically, we can now link the significance of blog communication to yesterday's Virginia Tech massacre.

Students locked down in dorm rooms relied on the Internet as their only source of communication. Click here to read the correspondence between a current student who was trying to obtain information and those who wanted to offer words of support. I would imagine that this dialogue was a source of some comfort. Simultaneously, others turned to blogs to write down their thoughts, concerns, and to inform loved ones of their safety. Click on this link to find out how a Fox station in Kansas City even hosted a chat session with Va Tech students and created a page for citizens to convey their condolences. As you probably know by now, friends of those killed have set up memorials on Facebook and this ongoing dialogue allows us all to connect with victims in a raw, real way.

How Media are Evolving

In this article, Dan Gillmor discusses how the course of events yesterday show us how the media "shift" from old school media such as newspapers and television has evolved to newer, faster, not to mention more personal methods of communication like cell phone videos and blogs.

Any average Joe with a computer and some time has the opportunity to hear primary-source accounts of the events rather than waiting for the news media to process packages and relay information second-hand. We have access to gut-wrenching tales of sorrow, despair, relief and shock like never before. And this is just the beginning.

Now I realize my blog purpose is to find out the potential for technology to improve writing and you might suggest that this conversation has nothing to do with writing skills....well, I have to argue that when you're writing about the most poignant, heartfelt, disturbing moments in your life, there has to be a level of growth as a writer. These students are simply going someplace with words that they have probably never ventured before.

The dialogue between Va Tech students and the rest of the world is in its infancy. One local news station said that blogs are serving as a sort of therapy for many affected students and staff. I'm not so sure as to its potential in that arena, but I pray they are right. We shall see in the near future. On a personal note, my thoughts are with the entire Virginia Tech community, including those involved or affected by this tragedy. I wish I could express my feelings of sadness at the loss of such precious life, such potential, but to be honest, sometimes words just are not enough.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

My friend, media...

This morning my dog had a fit. As soon as we stepped outside the sliding glass doors into the backyard all of the red hair on his spine spiked, showing his agitation with someone or something. At first I assumed it was the ominous weather that greeted us creating such doggie drama, however I soon realized that a gray tarp from the construction pile next door (where they're building a new home) had blown its way into the far corner of the yard. No, it was not large- probably about a 4 foot square piece. Such a menacing gray tarp, let me tell you. What followed was a series of growling, whining, sniffing, barking, and running away each time the tarp crackled with the wind. My dog had given life to this tarp, assuming it was real.

Amusing? Definitely. Far fetched? Apparently not, even for those of the human kind. In The Media Equation, Reeves, Byron, and Nass state that "media equals real life" (p.6). They argue that through research and investigation, we can conclude that all humans respond to media as if it is real. For example, in a U.S. congressional hearing in which Shari Lewis and her puppet pal Lamb Chop attended, Lamb Chop made a statement and a senator then asked Lewis if she held the same opinion. Laughter came only after a brief pause, as, according to Reeves, Byron, and Nass, people thought this behavior was normal and absolutely acceptable (p. 12).

This brings me to another personal experience, this time related to television. Last week, my husband and I were watching a Mets game. For those of you unfamiliar with this stellar (yes, stellar) team, they were the 2006 NL East division champs. April is the very beginning of the season so crowds are often sparse and subdued. It caught me off guard to hear the deafening roar of the stadium as the Mets rallied and took the lead from the Braves. Nonetheless, I was pumped! My heart was racing and I felt like I was right there. I said to my husband "Wow. If the noise level is like this in April, can you imagine October?" With that, my husband asked for the remote and turned off our surround sound. The crowd roar was still loud, but no longer deafening. It had never occurred to me that we didn't have surround sound last season and I was unaware of what a difference it made in the overall experience of watching a game. It took me from watching to feeling more like a participant. My point is that I was fooled. For me, the media equation was very real. Not only was I fooled, but it changed the way I wanted to enjoy the game. I immediately insisted we turn the surround sound back on so that I could feel those heart-palpitating cheers again.

Yes, I was fooled, however I do have some doubts. Reeves, Byron, and Nass believe that although the human mind has the ability to work itself around the media equation, it is often too challenging. They argue that "The automatic response is to accept what seems to be real as in fact real" (p.8). Haven't I learned from my "mistake" regarding surround sound? It seems all too likely that from this point on I will recognize the difference between what is real and what media creates. Sure I prefer to listen to the games with the more powerful, life-like sound, but does that really mean I am incapable of knowing the difference?

Whatever the case may be, there is no arguing the power and potential of media which affect so very many facets of our lives. It makes a valiant effort at bridging the gap between what is real and what appears to be real and it absolutely entertains. Perhaps we are no more inclined to decifer media from reality then a dog can decifer a tarp from a dangerous creature. I would certainly like to think so.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Facing the Digital & Real World, with or without hope.

Inspiration for today's post: June 2, 2006 blog entry by Barbara Ganley.

Ganley offers readers a chance to read the speech she presented at the first ever UK edublogging conference. She discussed several key points that struck a nerve.

"The assembly-line system of marching out knowledge in tidy boxes to be delivered at defined times in specified places produced generations of docile factory-workers and obedient, avid consumers. But our children, in spite of what they’re told and the obstacles placed in their path, have moved out of the boxes and into a fluid world where what’s evolving online is as vital as anything off" (Ganley, 2006).

We've read about the digital divide, we all know it exists, and yet today's rapidly evolving society is beginning to leave the have-not's in the dust. Don't agree? Consider Ganley's statement that research shows those who survived Hurricane Katrina and had access to the Internet were much better able to cope with the catastrophic course of events. The digital world offered information and, more important, connections to devastated residents. Remember my previous comment about the surge of blog usage during the September 11th tragedy? Those involved with blogging at the time felt such connection to the tragedy because they were able to communicate with those who were affected, those who knew someone who was killed, or miraculous stories of survival. As inhuman as the blog might seem, it has certainly shown its power when it comes to human feelings. In fact, the blog (along with other technologies) provides an outlet for the individual to communicate things that otherwise might be left unsaid. Teachers who are as rigid as wooden sticks are ignoring the correlation between today's digital world and the real world. I'm one of those teachers when it comes to IM language. Yuck, as I said before. Perhaps I, too, need to rethink my position and realize that we're not a stagnant world and things will keep spinning with or without my presence. There's an undeniable connection and those left without are at a serious disadvantage. Technology is more than a means to make things faster or easier, it is a way to connect, discuss, and learn from others.


"I have to stop hoping that anything can change; instead I must go about getting the work done. Inside. Where it counts. We edubloggers have to get our acts together, as you are doing here by gathering at this conference, forming communities amongst ourselves to lay out the direction. We’ve got to get the word out, show models, examples, proof—that means everyone of us needs to blog...We must listen as much as we talk. We must reach out to one another. We must risk failure. Every one of us in this room is deeply involved in the unfolding uture of this next generation, and as James Martin of Oxford’s Twenty-first Century Institute has observed, it will be up to this transition generation save this world or to lose it entirely" (Ganley, 2006).

Intense? I think so. Ganley faced losing hope but instead pressed on, knowing that "getting the work done" is more powerful. I'm not sure I understand the losing the world idea completely in this early state of my technology research, but I do understand the importance of opportunity and exploration. I'd be curious to hear commentary from the other participants in this conference.

Blog, the marriage counselor?

Allow me to end with a strange, somewhat humorous thought. If the blog does so much for personal communication, learning, understanding, and discussion, why not use it in marriages? I'm a writer, so it is my nature to write apology notes before saying the words, or to express my feelings in a poem. It's much easier for me to offer my true feelings in writing, rather than speech. I can totally see myself responding to my husband's "sorry for leaving the toilet seat up again" post with a "I accept your apology, but...." This could lead to a life-altering discussion about the importance of leaving the seat down, especially when it is 2 am and I don't know what I'm doing! Something might actually get done instead of the typical "mmmhmm." A stretch? Perhaps. But isn't it true that most marriages fail because the couple lacks communication skills? Hey, if it ever comes down to that, I might just give it a try.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Inspiration for today's post:
Content Delivery in the 'Blogosphere.' Dr Richard E. Ferdig and Kaye D. Trammell, University of Florida, T.H.E Journal Online, 2004.

I thought it was time for a blog check-up to compare my actions with those recommended by Kaye Trammel and our very own Dr. Ferdig. I know our group has referenced the article previously, but the information is pertinent for all of us. In the article, Ferdig and Trammel offer some tips to help a blogger integrate the blog into their classroom.

1. "Consider blogging yourself" (p.2).

Hooray for Instructional Computing! We are all currently experimenting with the blog, which allows us to know the technology before passing it on to students, who are, ironically, likely to pick it up faster than any one of us.

2. "Spend time visiting other classroom blogs" (p.3).

This is undoubtedly one of the best ways to gather ideas for your own blog. There are hundreds of possibilities for blogs, as my own research has shown. Although I have looked at various classroom blogs, there is still work to be done. In order to get a comprehensive outlook, it is crucial that I continue to explore classroom blogs. Trammel and Ferdig recommend, a site that I have yet to consider.

3. "Model blogging for your students" (p.3)

Ferdig and Trammel offer the following suggestion when beginning a classroom blog adventure:
"Spend several sessions introducing the concept of blogging, how it is done, why it is done, showing good and bad blogs, etc. Then, provide a set of strict rules for blogging such as frequency, length of posts, number of hyperlinks and staying on topic" (2004, p.3)

I'm the type of person to just jump right into things, so I am appreciative of this suggestion. When the time comes to introduce the blog, it is important that I remember not to throw the kids into the deep-end without their floaties. Similar to classroom management, a good example of routine often helps students stay on target.

4. "Make the blogs more public" (p.3).

Ferdig and Trammel suggest that a connection with the community on the outside of the blog might lead to an increased level of thoughtfulness by students when posting. Instead of pounding the keys to finish and be done with it, students take more time to explore their minds, their writing, and their creativity all because someone is watching.

5. "Explain the 'reach' of blogs to students" (p.3).

You can't use the blog to tell off a friend and then go back the next day to edit your message because you've made up. The damage may have already been done. In the classroom, it is important to show students that their writing, as edit-friendly as the blog may be, is permanent and damage may be irreversible. This is another tip to break out in the early introduction of my classroom blog.

All in all, I'm on my way. The purpose for this post was to check myself before I wreck myself, if you know what I mean. If you're going to put so much time and effort into something, you should make sure you're going about it the right way. I feel confident in my progress thus far, but I realize there's a lot left to be done and the true test comes in August when my class blog will finally begin to shake and bake.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Dizzy with Excitement & Skype

Happy Easter! In honor of the Easter eggs I didn't get to color this year, today is a pretty pink text day. :-)

It has happened again! Fred Roemer, the teacher whose website was the subject of my March 26th entry, has posted a response on my blog. Without sounding too geeky or pathetic, I have to say this blog is one of the coolest educational tools that has ever found its way into my life. It becomes more meaningful by the minute and I just love the quality of discussions we've been having. Roemer's response is very thoughtful and he cleared up some of the confusion between a log (his primary purpose) and a blog.

As for the Jeff Utecht communication, I'm impressed. I think we have all found something useful and I noticed that Richard even responded to one of his posts, keeping the dialogue alive. Very cool.

I nearly missed Roemer's post, which leads me to a few tech questions:

First, is there any way to be notified of new posts to your blog other than to scroll through old posts? You all know this is my first attempt with blogs, so I probably sound ridiculously amateur and I apologize. I know the RSS feed subscribes you to other blogs, but can you include your own?

Next, how are these people finding out that I posted blogs about their sites? Are they searching for their name? I'm curious.

On to today's inspiration:
Usually when I say inspiration, what I mean is that the article inspired me to write. Today's site did so much inspired me as a human being. This is a MUST SEE!!!

Mr. Crosby and his fourth graders use the web cam communication program Skype to include a very important member of their class. Celest has luekemia and must stay at home for school. In an attempt to bring the class to her, Mr. Crosby and his students use Skype to include her in some of the day's activities. Celest is improving her writing skills as well as knowledge of technology all while interacting with a class she never knew would reach out with such compassion. When you click on the link, be sure to click on the picture and watch the video. It is 5 minutes of sheer inspiration. In my mind it is the perfect link for Easter.

The class also has a blog that you can access here. Most of the class consists of second language learners, but that only seems to motivate them more to write meaningful entries. Ann, you will note that Crosby's class is part of a 1:1 laptop initiative. Perhaps you can get some more information.

Enjoy the day.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Media Law needed a blog

Inspiration for this post:

Before I get down to the nitty-gritty, let me say we're famous! Not really, but in his latest blog entry, Jeff Utecht provided a link to my blog. His discussion relates primarily to the evolution of written language in this IM -friendly world, a subject Richard brought up in a recent post and something we have all considered. Check out

Now, on to the latest. While reading an old (2004) review of educational blogging by Stephen Downes, I was struck by a particular quote: "At the State University of New York at Buffalo, for example, Alexander Halavais added a blog to his media law class of about 180 students. Course credit was awarded for online discussion, with topics ranging from the First Amendment to libel to Irish law reform."
I took media law in college and it was my ONLY 'C' in all 4 years!! I remember the nightmarish hours upon hours of reading, the in-class lectures that were more blah than hurrah, and the inability (for some reason) to process anything I read or heard. Once I realized I was on the fence with my grade, I went to my professor and told him I was trying my hardest but didn't seem to get it. My professor merely quipped "You've never taken a law class before," and excused me from the room. Aaaahhh! If only the blog had been around at that time. Every once in a while something just doesn't sink in (with me at least). No matter how many times I read a passage or hear a professor explain, I don't get it. Now take the example of our class. The last readings, particularly Bransford, were tough for me to understand. After a brief discussion with my group members, I got the idea. That enabled me to go back to the readings, re-read, and successfully (I hope) complete the assignment. Thank you, group! You might argue that I had the opportunity to ask my classmates for help, but I was in college and would rather spend that time talking about boy troubles, the latest gossip, or the weekend plans. The class provided no outlet for discussion, no opportunity to learn from one another. This class offers both and is part of the reason I believe I feel things

A blog has the wonderful benefit of providing students with a place not only to express themselves as equals, but also a place to learn from one another. Perhaps I'm taking this too far, but I believe that in itself helps us understand each other and ultimately makes us more compassionate as human beings.

Side note:
Interestingly, the educational blogging article also mentions the impact of September 11th on the future of blogging. Downes (2004) discusses how the blog allowed people to feel like they were part of the tragedy, rather than simply a spectator.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Blogging about my blog

Inspiration for today's post: My blog (check out the last entry)

Something very cool (yea, cool) happened this week that opened my eyes to the personal power of blogs. In my last entry, I wrote about a blog article I found by Jeff Utecht, which discussed the importance of using blogs for communication instead of simple journaling. Joe (our TA) responded to my post with a quick question of whether or not I believed there was value in simple journaling. Before I could respond, Jeff Utecht himself responded to Joe's question, beginning a discussion about journaling. This led Richard to respond, followed by Crystal who also offered a link to good blogging and her comments on journaling. Are you following? Basically my blog was used as a discussion forum that led to communication, thought, understanding, and learning. I'm psyched! Isn't this what we are after with blogs?

Of course, our group has been doing something similar but we are "forced" to be here (please don't get me wrong, I adore you all and appreciate every bit of time you put into this group, but the reality is we might not respond as frequently or with as much 'gusto' if we were not required). It was quite motivational to see someone from the "outside" step foot into our world and explore these ideas with us. Hopefully the dialogue will continue.

Now for my own two cents about the value of journaling: I think journaling is fantastic and should be open for anyone to see if the author so desires. I keep a pen-and-paper journal and would consider keeping one online as well. A blog is a nice place to post a journal and a new way for the average Joe to feel like he is part of something bigger in this world. At the same time, to maximize educational opportunities with blogs in the classroom, I am beginning to think it is essential to foster a community of communication and questioning, as we have within this group. If each of us created a blog that did not allow responses, I think the amount of learning within the group would diminish. It is often through the responses, the questioning, and the encouragement that we learn the most.

I'm speaking from personal experience, of course, but I am still plowing through the research to gain a deeper understanding. In any case, thanks for the thoughts and communication. This is a blog in action. :-)