Saturday, November 29, 2008

5 things teachers could learn from the slow blogging movement

(Cross-posted from BlogHer)

This week The New York Times featured the slow blogging movement in an article that profiled my friend and colleague Barbara Ganley. I was glad to see Barbara featured by the venerable paper, but the piece was short and didn't make the best use of Ganley or the other bloggers it cited. Here's a big part of what it missed: Slow blogging isn't just about lifestyle (the article was in the Fashion and Style section). It's about learning.

I've put together a list of things teachers and professors could learn about teaching by taking a virtual page from slow blogging. (And yes, I realize the list as a genre is more typical of quick blogging than slow blogging.)

1. Slow blogging privileges learning that is expressive rather than regurgitated.

Todd Sieling writes in his Slow Blogging Manifesto,

Slow Blogging is the re-establishment of the machine as the agent of human expression, rather than its whip and container.

Slow blogging provides evidence of sustained thought in the form of words frequently accompanied by carefully selected images. In an age of multiple-choice, fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests graded by machines, slow blogging provides an antidote to retrograde educational initiatives like No Child Left Behind.

2. Slow blogging promotes reflection and conversation.

The best classrooms allow learners to help determine the content and nature of their learning experiences. As Ganley wrote in the post where she first articulated the term "slow blogging,"

So, what am I saying here? I guess I’m moving more and more to ways in which blogging and tagging and image-sharing and digital storytelling enhance the here-and-now, the communities in which we live and work, and in this particular case, the classes we teach. And to do that, it is essential to spend time at the opening of the semester talking about who we are, what we each bring to the learning adventure, why we’re in this class, and what we hope to get out of it. We talk about building a blueprint together based on our goals and available materials, and then think about how we actually build the course experience together and alone.

Chris Lott elaborates:

Slow blogging is mindful wandering is meditative reflection is an attempt to face the fear, to take a stab at the heart, take responsibility and risk, and in the process create a gift of immense value to others, a manifestation of our particular truth.

Slow blogging is about learning and producing truths, not facts.

3. Slow blogging can work in tandem with more of-the-moment exercises and activities.

Not all learning needs to be documented with evidence of sustained thought. Sometimes blogging and learning take the form of a call to action, as Courtney writes at Feministing. A key tenet of slow blogging, at least as practiced by Ganley, is stepping away from the screen to engage with one's community offline.

4. Slow blogging builds on itself.

Earlier this month, the Oxford University Press blog emphasized this characteristic of slow blogging, contrasting it with newer forms of social media:

Slow blogging also means coming back to the same issue with new information, months or even perhaps years later. It thus calls for a nonlinear interface, less like a journal page or a Facebook wall that flits by and then deposits week-old items into archives. Think about accretive knowledge, where the accretion is slow, sure and steady, not slapdash.

Similarly, the best learning is iterative: It revisits earlier subjects, earlier theses as the learner builds new paradigms. I don't think the best learning is structured like that of, say, a typical biology survey course, where the subject matter moves apparently logically from cells to more complex lifeforms. Nor is it like a U.S. history class where all the content is structured from East to West and by presidential administrations. Yes, it may be necessary to learn the "facts" of history or the basic forms of life before making an argument or proposing a hypothesis, but slow blogging offers an alternative to learning that borrows its logic from mere chronology.

5. Sometimes the best way to learn is to write publicly.

Too many of our students' projects are never seen by anyone but their teachers or perhaps their parents. In certain instances, public accountability--the sharing of one's learning in a forum, be in online, in a classroom writing workshop, or in small groups working on the same project themes--moves learning along much faster than does private, individual study and meditation.

How might you learn from slow blogging in improving your conversations, learning, and reflection online and off?

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