The Use of Blogs in the Classroom

You might have seen that Apple released its new product the iPad. (Boy, that name is going to be the source of a lot of jokes.)

There was a lot of excitement on my campus about the iPad as ACU is a leader in using mobile and Web 2.0 technology in the classroom. Also, from what I hear, Apple is going to make a run on high school and college textbooks with the iPad. No more bookbags. Just the iPad.

Given my status on campus as a blogger I've been involved in a lot of the experiments to use blogs in the classroom. Last year I filmed this bit of video reflecting on those experiences. I'm also posting this because many of you have never seen me in person. Well, here I am:

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8 thoughts on “The Use of Blogs in the Classroom”

  1. As someone hoping to be in a similar position as a professor someday, I wrestle with the question of technology in the classroom, especially in light of Wendell Berry's thorough-going critique. On the one hand -- and speaking as a blogger! -- I recognize the idea of "engaging and teaching students where they already are." On the other hand, I simply have no interest in further entrenching bad habits, diminishing attention, and the increasing inability to live a day without checking email or Google Reader every ten minutes.

    Thoughts? Observations of students, or of your own life?

    Another way of putting this is: I don't own an iPhone for a reason; and I am not sure I want to live in a world where everyone else does.

  2. Brad,
    A couple of random thoughts and observations...

    I agree with your concerns. One of the things I've noticed, now that just about all my friends (ACU faculty) have iPhones, is how, when we are all sitting around talking, multiple people pull the devices out and fiddle with them. This has disturbed me so I try, though I fail many times, to leave the phone in my pocket when "at table" with people. I am also keen not to pull the phone out at church. Highland, due to all the ACU faculty there, probably has more iPhones in it than any Church of Christ in the world. So I'm very self-conscious about pulling it out in church because is functions as a socioeconomic/educational symbol. The devices are very expensive and I don't want to show it for fear that 1) I'll create fissures in the church or 2) make people want something that might not be a good budgetary idea. I'm sure you understand what I'm saying. Basically, although I judge no one, I fear the phone creates cliques at church.

    On the other hand, I don't know if we can ever go back. Web 2.0, as best I can tell, is hear to stay. And it has good sides and bad sides. So I think it important in a university setting to have some people explore, discuss and provide criticism about the spirituality of all this. To use language from my "spiritual powers" series, what is the "angel" or "demon" of Web 2.0 and mobile devices? This is another worry of mine, that my school becomes such a promoter of mobile technology and Web 2.0 that we drown out the voices of the critics amongst us. We need to let the non-iPhone faculty and student flourish here as well. People who hate technology need to be leaders on this campus as well.

    In short, given that technology isn't going away, I think the best thing a university can do is model how to live humanely amongst the machines. A college campus is a good place to mix a monastic and technological conversation. How do you enter a world full of these devices and the omnipresence of the Web without losing your soul?

    Regarding my own life, I've done a few things to help me keep a balance:

    1) Like I said, I try to keep my phone in my pocket a lot.
    2) I monitor how I'm feeling when I'm away from the phone or internet. Am I present in this moment? Or am I having withdrawal symptoms?
    3) I deleted my Facebook account.
    4) I've removed all blog stat counters and trackers from this blog. When I first started this blog I was obsessing about hits and readership stats. So I removed those things and settled into a journaling approach, writing for the pleasure writing. Toward that end, I've been tempted to disable the comments on the blog. No because I don't love comments. But because I love them too much. (As in, why is no one commenting? Or, look at all those comments! It's a neurotic thing.) However, without comments I couldn't form relationships (such as they are) with people like you and many others who comment here, what I think of as my "blog friends." The benefits of connection outweigh the self-esteem issues associated with seeing if people "like" a post or how many comments it does or doesn't get.

  3. In engineering school, remember similar discussions surrounding allowing scientific calculators in the classroom and during exams. GPS total stations vs. transit & level surveying. I remember computer-aided-drafting versus hand-drafting fist-fights. I remember the consternation over email replacing the Post Office. As far as I'm concerned, these new gadgets are tools (and not much more), and sooner or later they all get implemented and replace the old ways. I really don't understand all the hand-wringing and consternation over their use. It still takes intelligent students to make good use of them. I guess it's just a shifting of what is defined as menial tasks.

  4. Richard and Brad,
    As an ACU grad (1995) who now teaches math at a Comunity College, I have some strong feelings about technology in the classroom. I teach 6 classes a semester, and love beign able to use technology. However, in my opion, technology does not make the teacher, any more that white boards over chalk boards, or overhead projectors, or whatever. I look back to myself, I was doodling in some of my classes, or doing math homework during others. (Yes, that includes Bible class, sin sin sin ....)

    I have found that being "counter culture" fights a fair bit of this. As in, I ask writing and essay questions in my math class. I make students work together in class. I also use technology extensivly.

    I could type much more, but I actually have a department meeting to go do. If you want fun, watch a bunch of educators in a meeting. Talk about rude behavior! Most of them are doing the same things they complain about their students doing in class.

    A whole new spin on "Do unto others....."

  5. Justin,
    There can be a lot of unnecessary angst about all this. I've enjoyed blogging and the iPhone and, if I had to choose, would keep them rather than leave them.

    Your comments are spot on. I've noted no differences between students and faculty in how they use the phones during meetings or public gatherings. Both groups pull them out and use them while others are speaking. In many ways, humans are humans, be they 50 or 18 years old.
    On a general note, I'm actually more intrigued by the iPad than the iPhone. Two things, IMHO, limit the usefulness of the iPhone for education:

    1) You can't read textbooks on it. The iPad will allow students to have all their textbooks at their fingertips.
    2) Although you can read blogs well on an iPhone it was difficult to write a blog post of any length.

    My hope is that the larger iPad keyboard will allow students to write more easily. You couldn't write much of a research paper on an iPhone but you might (we'll see) on an iPad. If you can, I'd say the iPad might be the research/classroom device of choice Higher Ed.

  6. This makes me think of James K.A. Smith's post last fall on his blog about the recent book "The Tyranny of Email" (not sure about the author). He noted that, sure, individuals can make healthy decisions, but in order to foster healthier and saner habits, we need a community whose habits create space for health, time, and sanity. To relate it to your point, Richard, about ACU having the opportunity to mix monastic and technological practices, I think it should be priority #1 for ACU, precisely as a Christian university, to have an ongoing conversation about how to inculcate healthy habits in the practice of technology, and not only foster learning of "how to use" it.

    That is, how do you teach students the responsibility of checking their email daily for class and other news, while also training them to resist the urge to be bound to it, or to feel the need to check it more than a few times a day? That seems to be the essential question.

  7. Brad,
    To be honest, I don't know where on campus this conversation is taking place in any intentional way. Just like I don't think the students get any explicit instruction in any of the spiritual disciplines (unless they take an elective class). It's one of those lifestyle issues that tends to slip between the disciplinary cracks. Perhaps this could be something they bring up in Christianity and Culture, a class all students have to take.

    Informally, the conversation pops up all that time. But to really address the issue we would need to be more intentional. Perhaps we can get Brady Bryce to have a regular Spirituality & Technology track at Summit. You'd make a great speaker.

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