At the beginning of this course, I professed my disdain for blogging. But, I'll admit, some of that disdain was a result of ignorance, so I committed myself to giving the process, and the products of others, a fair shake.
As each week has gone by, I have grown more and more appreciative of the process, that is, learning with blogs. I find blogging to be a particularly useful form of reflective learning for myself. On the other hand, my appreciation for learning from blogs hasn't changed much.
My dread comes from trying to make sense of that peculiar difference. After all, it comes down to "I like writing a blog, but I don't like reading other people's." Ouch. Pretty self-centred. Thankfully, however, that statement isn't entirely accurate. Let my try, and I stress try, to explain.
Here's a quick picture of my personality: scatterbrained, curious, multiple divergent interests, and busy. I have learned the hard way over the years that in order to get anything done in a brain like mine, I need to get focused and work in short, intense bursts. The Internet, as much as I love it, does nothing to help me focus. While it nurtures my diverse interests, it can suck up time like no other distraction I know... time I just don't have to lose. I limit my Internet time out of necessity for myself and my family. Babies just aren't interested in computers (although Kneebouncers does catch her attention) and it's hard to cook supper while watching videos on Youtube!
I have had to come to the conclusion that reading blogs is not a good fit for my personality. I've been using Google Reader to follow Blog of Proximal Development, Dangerously Irrelevant, Webblog-ed, and Moving at the Speed of Creativity. [an aside: Google Reader has made this experience possible... I don't think I could have done it without the wonder of RSS. It is so much more convenient to have the updates delivered to me that checking those blog pages every few days to see what is new, particularly on top of all the blogs for this course.] Each of those blogs contains lots of interesting information, thought-provoking insights, and great links to other material. They are professional and well written. But here's the rub: I don't want to miss a thing! Even if the subject line suggests the post won't be of great pertinence to me, I am compelled to read on. Likewise, I am compelled to follow links, view embedded videos, and read comments. Suddenly it's 11pm and I haven't started researching my next blog post.
Lifelong learning takes commitment and time. While I have the commitment, I don't always have the time. I am a strong believer in balance, and reading blogs as part of my commitment to lifelong learning throws off my balance. Again, I'm not suggesting that blogs are of little professional development value, they just don't fit my life and personality. I have much more success reading journals, listening to podcasts, and taking courses. I find I am better able to make good judgements about the educative value of a journal article, podcast, or course ahead of time to determine if it is 'worth' spending my time on, or is better to leave alone for another time.
While the blogs I chose to follow are generally applicable to my situation (namely, as a student of this course), I still find myself reading them with frustration, wondering when I'm going to find something truly relevant. Still, I'm compelled to read on, just as so many of our students are compelled to keep googling, convinced that they will eventually find the perfect web page.
Whew. Enough negativity. On the plus side of the blogging argument:
What a great tool for reflective learning! During my time at teachers' college, a few fellow students and I would refer to certain instructors as 'reflection Nazis.' Particularly during practicums, it seemed that reflecting took more time than any other task. Looking back, thank goodness they forced it down our throats! I know it has made me a better learner. That said, I quickly dropped the habit of reflecting in writing. But my blogging experience in this class makes me want to start again. The difference is subtle, but important: potential audience. Knowing that others may (or in this case, WILL) read my reflections makes me more rigorous, more thoughtful, and more solutions oriented.
Reading the blogs of other students in this course has likewise been a great learning experience. We have so many ideas to share! Particularly the wiki and voicethread topics seemed to bring fabulous teaching and learning ideas out of us. It was also encouraging to read how other students sometimes struggled to adopt a new technology, but always came out the other side more tech-savvy and confident. I found the blogs made us more of a community than would have happened with just the vista discussion boards-- maybe it was the personal touches we each gave our blog pages? I'm not sure what it was, but I personally always felt more comfortable on the blog pages than I did on the discussion boards.
This brings me to an interesting article I found on Proquest called Blogs: Ending isolation, from the September 2006 edition of Principal Leadership, by Cynthia Mata Aguilar. The article focuses on a small group of teachers from rural schools in the Southern USA participating in professional development to improve literacy at their schools. The teachers needed a way to communicate across a distance, and so started blogging. Like me, those teachers found that blogging helped them to learn, but also to connect with other learners.
My experience in this course, and that article, makes me believe that blogging can be a great professional development tool, both for reflecting on learning and communicating with other learners. The format encourages more thorough writing than you might find on a discussion board or social network page, but still allows comments and even collaboration (blogs with multiple authors). I mentioned how I thought collaborative apprenticeship groups could benefit from social networks in a previous post, but blogging might also be the ticket-- it has certainly done the job here.
There. I did it. Hopefully I managed to express in this, another long-winded post, how while I`m sure blogs are a treasure trove of PD for some teachers and librarians, I`m going to stick to old fashioned magazines, courses, and face-to-face encounters for my PD, if only to save my sanity.