In the early part of the course we were told to set up an RSS feed using Google Reader or Bloglines and then subscribe to a minimum of ten blogs. Being more familiar with Google at the time, I just typed Google Reader in the search field and googled it. I was saved the time of creating an account as I could use my Google account to access Google Reader..gggreat!!! While I had often heard the term RSS and seen it on numerous website, I did not know what the term meant, neither was I clear on how it worked. Prior to setting up the RSS feed, I was of the opinion that only ‘audio feeds’ could be downloaded. Maybe it was because of the ‘sound waves’ looking icon that is used to indicate that a RSS feed is available. It was after I started subscribing to blogs and seeing the feed in my Reader account that I said to myself ‘ok, a feed can be picked up as text too’. It was like moving to online banking, where you were spared the time of opening each bank statement that came for your different accounts and cross-referencing the paper files. All the blogs that you subscribed to were right before you, it only required you to scan the feeds, choose what was you were interested in and focus your time on the information that mattered most.
Blogs and Blogging – I must say I had quite a distant relationship with many of these tools before I started this course. Firstly, I had never created a blog and even though it was not a daunting experience it was a pretty enlightening one. Well, I decided to use Blogger to create a blog account, but I really don’t remember why; I had commented on blogs in Wordpress, so now that I think about it, it is interesting why I didn’t go straight there to create my blog. Maybe it was because Blogger was the first site that came up when I googled blogs. I had fun creating my blog. The evening that I started it, I think I spent the greater part of the evening deciding which picture to post, what to write about myself, what was the look and feel that I was most comfortable with and all the frills associated with creating it. I remember dragging myself from my computer and saying, “remember this will not be marked and you have at least another week to finish it”, then spending a few more hours before turning in long past midnight. It was a great feeling of accomplishment when I finished it, I hate how I sounded :( , but I loved how the blog looked :) .
Secondly, I had blogged before, but Richardson would mostly call it ‘simple blogging’, though I did move along the spectrum sometimes, I’m sure it never made it to ‘complex blogging’. But then again, would the act of just responding to comments and questions on a blog be considered blogging? I think there should be a different name for it (if there isn’t) so that we can differentiate between the two activities.
Have you ever heard a conversation where Person X said: Y, you have not emailed me in the longest while and Person Y responds: Of course I have, up to last week I sent you two emails; then Person X responds: Y, those weren’t emails, those were just ‘forwards’. That’s the kind of feeling I get when trying to say what I used to do, before I started this course, I was just sending ‘forwards’ not ‘emails’. While forwards are emails, it is assumed that the person sending an email (that is not a forward) invests some thoughtful time and effort into creating it before hitting the ‘Send’ button. Now that I had started blogging and not posting comments, I started dreading the sound of my blogging voice. When I read my first blog that I posted, it was like hearing my voice on an audio tape for the first time and saying ‘that’s not how I sound to me’.
2. Discussion of the tool in terms of my own personal learning
Blogs, Blogging for PD and RSS
My personal learning about these tools has certainly changed over the past 3 months. Only time will tell if I will keep my blog alive or revamp it and change the look, feel and content. It’s has been a valuable experience and though I may not continue it in the realm of a U of A student, it may just morph into a blog for personal and professional interest. I must say, it was somewhat intimidating when I began to write these blog posts, but I have learnt to take bigger steps as the course progressed. As an individual, I will be more conscious of my comments that I post on other blogs, shifting away from the all too spontaneous and shallow responses that I am used to making.
Blogging for PD - the thought just instantly makes me feel small. Will individuals value what I have said? Will they think of me differently? How will I know the kind of value that I have added to the profession? I guess it’s just the feeling of uncertainty that has caused all these questions to be buzzing in my head. Right now I am at a crossroad in my life, thinking of changing professions, but then thinking, is that really what I want to change my profession to? How much will I be able to contribute to a field which I am new to? For now, I will continue reading blogs for PD and posting questions and comments, but blogging for PD – that is not in my books just yet.
RSS – A former co-worker of mine always used the quote “work smarter, not harder” and I always used to tease him that he was just lazy. But I soon learnt the merits of that saying when I became a member of a project team within the company. Real Simple Syndication mirrors that quote. There is a lot of information to wade through and it would surely be harder if I were to log on each of the blogs that I had subscribed to and to wade through the sometimes waist high content that is posted. Unlike some of the tools that we explored in this course where there were varied values based on whether I used it a student or individual, RSS strikes me as having one main value and this value extends to every sphere of my life. I am away from home, but the RSS feeds from the Jamaican newspapers keeps me posted on what is happening. As a student, as an individual, as a social person, as a professional thinking of changing professions, as a religious person - I can subscribe to all the different feeds that peaks my interest and group them accordingly. I can then choose to tag, bookmark, and share or email what I find interesting with others of like passions.
3. Discussion of the tool in terms of teaching and learning
At a distance learning conference, entitled the “World is Open”, the keynote speaker, Curtis Bonk presented a WE-ALL-CAN-Learn model, and argued that “emerging technologies have expanded educational opportunities for learners, and have been ‘opening up the world of learning’ for any learner at any time desired” (as cited in Anzai, 2009, p. 454). Emerging technologies have proven to be a force to reckon with, within the classroom. Learners are noticeable more accepting to these new technologies, while teachers and administrators lag behind. The differences in responses are usually based on comfort level, access to resource and willingness to change.
Can access to resources and one’s comfort level affect their willingness to change?
“Blogs have become commonplace on the Internet, but in higher education -- where methods of publishing scholarship and teaching students typically change at a glacial pace they are still considered experimental. Even though academic blogs exist, most scholars who do not have their own blogs doubt the value of this newfangled computer tool, or wonder what point it serves” (Krause, 2005).
Although Krause highlighted this point nearly five years ago, little has changed with respect to the use of blogs, wikis and RSS feeds in higher education, especially in Education faculties. With the exception of Teacher Librarian and Instructional/Educational Technology programmes that run in Education faculties, majority of the other programmes are hardly teaching with any technology, save overhead projectors, email and Powerpoint slides. Releasing the ‘reins’ of the classroom and assuming a more facilitative approach is seemingly the thrust of Web2.0 technologies.
According to Godwin-Jones (2003)“Language professionals have embraced the world of collaborative opportunities the Internet has introduced. Many tools--e-mail, discussion forums, chat--are by now familiar to many language teachers. Recent innovations--blogs, wikis, and RSS feeds--may be less familiar but offer powerful opportunities for online collaboration for both language professionals and learners.” Notwithstanding the powerful opportunities that blogs and RSS feeds offer for online collaboration, many educators are not yet comfortable with moving from Web1.0 to Web2.0 technologies.
In speaking to some educators about their use(lack thereof) of these Web2.0 technologies, they speak of the horror stories they have heard, the few hitches that they have had when trying to use it themselves, the network failures that have experienced and the apprehension of their ‘teaching presence’ being removed.
The questions that I struggle with, are: What can we do differently in order to have teachers embrace these new technologies? How can we show teachers that their ability to use the technology within the classroom will not eventually render their role as obsolete? What institutional policies are possibly reproducing tensions?
Fender (2001) suggests
• Faculty should be encouraged to participate in delivering courses using the new technologies
• Faculty need to be sufficiently trained so that they have the same comfort level with this method of instruction as they do with more familiar, traditional classroom instruction methods.
• Technical and instructional support personnel need to be readily available to work with the faculty and to support course development.
• Recognition of faculty members’ efforts by the university administration in their promotion and tenure decisions as well as in administrative decision regarding faculty financial rewards, release time, and honor systems.
Beaudoin (1990) posits these practical suggestions:
• exposing faculty, who are accustomed to working alone, to collobarative teaching arrangements
• involving faculty, as their expertise increases, in previewing, purchasing, and evaluating materials appropriate to the instructional technology available to them
• engaging faculty in pilot projects to test alternative delivery systems
• establishing an academic computing services team or advisory board across departmental lines to keep information and training current.
Can access to resources and one’s comfort level affect their willingness to change? It definitely can. As with other Web2.0 technologies, Blogs and RSS are revolutionary in the classroom, but until the teachers have been provided with the stimulus to spur their interactions with these tools, the far reaching potentials, will not be fully realized.
Beaudoin, M. (1990). The instructor's changing role in distance education. The American Journal of Distance Education, 4(2).
Fender, D.L. (2001). Student and faculty issues in distance education. Mid-South Instructional Technology Conference. Retrieved from http://frank.mtsu.edu/~itconf/proceed01/4.html
Godwin-Jones, R. (2003). Emerging Technologies: Blogs and Wikis Environments for On-Line Collaboration. Language, Learning & Technology, 7.
Krause, S. D. (2005). Blogs as a Tool for teaching. Retrieved from http://www.umsl.edu/~sauterv/blogs/blogs%20in%20teaching.pdf
Milton Ramirez , Using RSS in the Classroom. Retrieved from http://www.miltonramirez.com/2007/05/using-rss-in-classroom.html
Williams, J. & Jacobs, J. (2004). Exploring the use of blogs as learning spaces in the higher education sector. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology. 20(2), 232-247.