This from Michael Newman, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin on lessons learned from 6 semesters of class blogging: "The idea that anyone born after the mid 1980's is a 'digital native' is way overstated. Some students [there are still some in every class] don't have access to a computer at home. I still don't know how to solve the problem of the student with limited computer access (or skills) blogging less than the student who has broadband and a laptop. My sense is that this is often a class (and race) issue, which is to say it's the product of a larger structure of inequality that makes it harder for some students to succeed in school."
And here we go again. I've heard [and seen] how technology levels the playing field--opens the world to people in isolation of all kinds [through geography, disability, language, etc.] I've heard [and seen] how technology enables, even draws out participation from diverse individuals and groups, gives voice to scores of the voiceless across the world. I've heard [and seen] how it creates a sense of community, connects people, gives them the freedom to become peers, even friends, across ideologies and oceans.
But it's not that simple.
Sometimes, especially when we are unaware/insensitive to the possibility, technology can actually intensify already staggering class distinctions. When we assume that all students have the same access, that they have the same skills, abilities, and understanding of the technologies--their norms and mores, their capabilities, their limitations--our educational use of technology [however instructionally effective and engaging it might be] becomes a perpetuation, not just a product, of the larger structure of inequality that keeps these "non-natives" out of place, out of privilege, and out of power.
These things ought not to be.
Because this whole thought was more of a passing side-note than a point in the post, let me just briefly summarize some of the lessons Michael mentions:
- Group blogs work better than a collection of individual blogs in terms of fostering communities of practice. Make the blog into a communal space, an extension of the classroom, he says.
- Don't mandate the number of posts and especially comments, it's cheapens the conversation.
- Integrate the blog into actual class instruction; use examples from it, devote significant blocks of time to discussion of content on it, make connections to upcoming content, always with liberal doses of explicit personal praise to the author.
- Create space for metacognition about blogging, the participatory internet, community and media in general.