Sunday, June 29, 2008

Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents

Reporters without Borders publishes the Handbook for Bloggers and Cyber-Dissidents. It's a collection of essays covering things like how to set up a blog, how to blog anonymously, journalistic ethics, how to avoid censorship, and blogs as a modern source of news (particularly in countries where the traditional press doesn't have any freedom).

Particularly since it's written as a series of articles, I can see this being a great tool in the classroom. It raises provocative questions, it's edgy, and it can really engage the imagination of students. It casts the whole topic of net safety in a different light. While learning net safety tactics used by people whose lives depend on it, students will be able to draw parallels to their own net usage.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Classroom blogging limited by lack of technological ubiquity...

The most limiting factor that I currently see to using blogs (or most computer-based technologies) in the classroom is simply the lack of computers. Most classrooms only have one or two computers, and it's difficult to really run with the technology when you can only count on having each of your kids on a computer for maybe one period per day in a lab. Sure, students can use computers to do their homework, but that's not really integrating them into the classroom, is it?

Few schools yet have wireless networks, either. Installing wireless networks and equipping students with relatively inexpensive handheld devices such as HP iPaqs or Asus EeePCs (possibly with Bluetooth keyboards, or voice recognition) would probably be the best option for providing actual in-classroom (as opposed to computer lab) access to a computer, which is really essential to fully leveraging the technology.

Currently, with students trekking to a computer lab to work on computers, the educational experience centres around the computer or the technology, rather than the subject matter. Once every child has a device capable of net access, then the technology will have become ubiquitous enough that the focus will not be on the technology, but rather on the subject matter.

When the technology itself is thought of as akin to pencils and paper, then students and teachers will be able to truly focus on what they can do with the technology. Even better, teachers will be able to integrate the technology into all aspects of their teaching practice.

I'm looking forward to the day when I'll be able to use technology throughout the day, rather than sending my students home to do the fun stuff.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Following my previous posting... while there's no exemption from thoughtful composition on the Internet, some of the communications methods available online do entail different writing conventions than straight exposition in order to be effective.

These conventions generally fall into the category of formatting, such as quoting of text from messages one is responding to, trimming excess quotes, how to properly intersperse comments amongst quotes, various ways of indicating emphasis, conveying emotions and body language through emoticons and abbreviations, and so on.

These conventions have come to be known at netiquette. Below you will find several guides to netiquette:

Don't dismiss the importance of proper netiquette! Just as people may dismiss your writings due to poor grammar and spelling, failure to follow proper netiquette will lead to your online writings being dismissed if you present yourself like a complete newbie.

The Message is Independent from the Medium

One of the dilemmas facing educators is what role spelling, grammar, writing style, and so forth should play when assessing student assignments. If a student's writing is absolutely atrocious, yet they somehow manage to regurgitate a few basic facts, should the student receive full credit?

The consensus among educators seems to be that unless the subject area is English or Language Arts, then content (unreadable though it may be) is King. This laissez-faire approach, however, fails to serve students' best interests.

While a hypothetical history assignment's grade shouldn't hinge entirely on grammar/spelling/etc, we need to make students understand that following proper writing conventions will be a component of all their grades in all subjects.

Knowledge trapped in a student's mind because they lack the ability to communicate it effectively to other people isn't terribly useful. We're doing students a disservice if we tell them gibberish is acceptable because somewhere in there we found a few facts regurgitated.

Mastery of language is the cornerstone of communication. How can we expect students to get to the point of using higher-order thinking skills, and to engage in meaningful discourse, if we set them up to be constantly wasting their time stumbling over language hurdles?

The ability to clearly elucidate an argument allows one to focus on the intellectual question at hand, rather than spending time deciphering what someone meant in a poorly written missive.

A variation of this issue arises when the writing medium changes from paper and pencil to keyboard and screen. Do we allow a lesser standard in online communications? Do we define writing in a different medium to be less formal?

I say that as long as the medium (text) remains the same, then the means of inputting and transporting that text (Pony Express, Canada Post, electronic mail, instant messaging, blog posts, etc.) should not change the basic tenets of clear and effective communication when using a textual medium. When the medium changes to include sound, video, or visual arts, then the definition of effective communication changes to match.

A typist does not reach the same heights of speed when composing a thoughtful message as they do when simply copy typing. As educators we need to impress upon students that just because a faster communications method emerges, thoughtful composition must still remain if communication is to be meaningful. In this respect, the message is entirely independent from the medium.