I’m a few days late getting to Jon Becker post’s “Reflections of a new-ish blogger,” but in our digital world of asynchronously empowered conversations, I don’t think that is a bad thing. I read David Warlick’s post “10 Ways to Keep your PLN from Running Amok!” several weeks ago, and remember thinking to myself, “Boy I am sure not following that advice.” David offered as advice item #1 for reading blogs:
Try to hold yourself to a limit of bloggers you are subscribing to. It may be 10, 20, or 30 — whatever feels comfortable. But don’t make it an uncrossable line. You may discover, with experience, that you can follow more than 10 bloggers.
I have not set a limit on the number of people I am following. I’m not sure what my current running number is, but it is a LOT. My information processing procedure, when I encounter a new blog of someone I’d like to hear from again, for the past several years has been to add them to the “education” blog category I maintain in Google Reader. This certainly leads to FAR more posts in my aggregator than I ever have time to completely read and process, but it also results in a wonderful diversity of ideas, voices and perspectives that are just a click away on my laptop or iPhone when I have the time and inclination to do some blog reading.
In his post, Jon laments “awesome cocktail party conversation[s]” which are taking place on a limited number of educationally focused blogs. He expresses a sentiment I have heard from others (Most recently from Tom Hemingway via a series of emails) that the blogosphere can be a lonely place, and it can be a frustrating experience to share one’s thoughts and not receive any replies or feedback directly on one’s own blog. It can also be frustrating for some when linktribution is provided initially on an idea, but the conversation about that idea moves “off blog” to another location, and initial credit for an idea is lost in that process.
A fair bit has been written addressing Jon’s post (see Vicki Davis, Kate Olsen and Stephen Downes‘ recent posts for some examples) and multiple thoughts occur to me in response as well. I’ll try to be brief.
As Will Richardson pointed out right away on Jon’s original post, conversation is the best focus over statistics. Jon has started a good conversation, and many of the people he pinged with his post have chimed right in. I think that fact demonstrates the accessibility which literally anyone has to conversations which are taking place “out here” in the blogging world, and at least to an extent argues against Jon’s thesis that “private cocktail party conversations” are taking place. The only comments I delete (other than the few spams which get by my WordPress filters) are those which are from commercial advertisers rather than educators wanting to participate in and contribute to conversations. It is true I do not have time to read every ping my blog gets these days, but I do read a fair number and often respond. I do read every comment to my blog. The fact that anyone can join a conversation on my blog or someone else’s blog doesn’t seem to really be the point or issue Jon was highlighting in his post, however. I think his point is that he’d like to host conversations on HIS blog which have lots of participants, similar to what he sees happening elsewhere. The good news is, I think, nothing from a technical standpoint should be stopping that from happening today and moving into the future. There ARE lots more people “talking” out here in the virtual ether in 2008 than there were in 2003 when I started blogging. Just look at the number of members of Steve Hargedon’s Classroom 2.0 Ning now: 7338 as of tonight! That is astounding. The good news is that, as is the case in “the edublogosphere” more generally, membership is open in the Classroom 2.0 Ning. In addition to the good news of open membership, there is the fact (highlighted for me awhile back by Kevin Honeycutt) that a post on Classroom 2.0 is literally guaranteed to be seen by hundreds of educator eyeballs and usually responded to in short order.
I have wondered for some time what our information environment is going to look like in five or ten years, when far more people are actively publishing content to the web. I certainly do not have a crystal ball. (As an aside, I’d love to have to have a palantir, but to date I’ve had to just settle for using that as my home access point SSID.) No one DOES know in precise terms what the future holds, but I think it is a safe bet to predict LOTS more people are going to continue getting online, sharing LOTS of additional ideas and perspectives. The user created content genie is out of the bottle, and although many school districts continue to try to fight against this reality via policies and draconian content filtering, I don’t think that reality is going to reverse itself. As a fan of diverse global voices I think this is intrinsically a good dynamic, but it certainly is a challenging one from an information processing perspective.
I couldn’t agree more that there’s no saturation point for good ideas. But, I also think it’s very possible that one could throw out good ideas that nobody really hears or pays attention to or…I have a colleague who, for about a decade, was saying that ed. leadership professors needed to evaluate what they were doing. We needed to know if we were preparing effective leaders. Finally, a couple of years ago, the profession heard him and evaluations are under way. Now, outsiders are challenging the efficacy of and need for university-based ed. leadership programs; there are no data (yet) to refute those challenges.
As I have noted before (and I will take credit for this term, if anyone cares) we live in a “publish at will environment.” If you want your ideas to get noticed, there is no better time than today to be a thinker, a writer, and a vocal advocate. When I wrote the document “Proposal for Elementary Technology Integration Reform: Facilitators and Technician-Aides” in April of 2001, following our Lubbock superintendent’s decision to replace all certified teachers in elementary computer labs with educational aides to SAVE MONEY via a policy of attrition, I doubt more than 10 people read that document. It didn’t go anywhere. The ideas were pretty good (of course IMHO) but the fact was, I had a limited audience. That has changed at this point in 2008, but I certainly don’t have control over the dynamics of my readership. I tend to think it is a good thing more people find many of the ideas and links I share on this blog and elsewhere of value, so they read and subscribe, but I still marvel that this entire situation has developed as it has at all. I remember learning about the term “the Warlick effect” from Ewan McIntosh back in 2005, and hoping that some day David might recognize MY ideas and share / amplify them. He did in March 2006, as a blog post and podcast. Since then, there’s been a lot of conversations… to say the least.
The reality today is that ANYONE’s ideas can be linked and shared with a global audience in an instant. Dr. Matthew Baum’s use of the term “The Oprah Effect” is different than what we are discussing here, but I think Oprah’s ability to focus eyeballs and attention on particular people, issues, books, products, agendas, etc. is very similar to what we see happening to an extent with edu-blogging today. I am honored and humbled that you are reading this post at all. If you think enough to comment on it and add your voice to a conversation here, that compliment is multiplied. My good feelings about being “read” and inspiring or hosting conversations here are not really what is most important, however. Certainly it is wonderful to be recognized, and particularly to be recognized for one’s ideas. I strongly believe, however, that our collective abilities to have these conversations is the REALLY important thing here. These conversations are not closed. They are open. While most of my readers and commenters do currently live in the United States, a quick scan of my current ClustrMap shows the readership here is global and not just U.S. centric. This is ASTOUNDING. And this invites a question which is both logical as well as important. Before asking the question, I’d like to put it inside a recent school context.
Back in February, I had an opportunity to share some presentations at Yukon High School, which is just west of Oklahoma City. This was the sign in the window to the entrance of the school: No concealed weapons permitted.
I did not interpret this sign and rule to apply to either my Macbook or iPhone. Yet could these two devices be properly construed or perceived as “weapons?” We generally prefer to call technology hardware items like these “tools” rather than weapons, but I am reminded of Matthew Koehler and Punya Mishra’s exhortation at the SITE conference in March 2006 to NEVER refer to a computer as “simply” a tool. Computers are protean devices, they said, so versatile in their potential uses and applications that it is an insult to use a term like “tool” which connotes much simpler devices like shovels or hammers with more limited functionality. Here is my question, which connects my reflections on Jon’s post to this sign at Yukon High School:
What are we going to do with this amazing power at our fingertips?
We can follow the lead of Kevin Delaney and many others, simply using our computers to surf the web for content and multimedia, as well as play games. Or, in the words of Miguel Guhlin, we can use these protean devices at our fingertips to write the future.
I hear you Jon. It can be lonely to write when no one is listening or seeming to pay attention. (I flashback to April 2001 again.) Our opportunity to have conversations which both change our practice and potentially change the thinking and practices of others, however, is unprecedented TODAY in human history. I am both humbled and electrified by that reality. Yes, I blog for many intrinsic reasons. Blogging helps me process and document my own learning journey, and I frequently benefit from this virtual bread crumb path as I refer back to old posts as well as social bookmarks in tags I’ve used. Make no mistake about my instrumental purposes for blogging, however.
I am here for the learning revolution.
Where in the past I might have been on an island, thinking about ways to transform and improve the learning environments in which I work, today I am blessed to be digitally connected to a growing network of smart people distributed all over our planet who share many common purposes. This is simultaneously difficult to fully conceive, as well as extremely motivational to understand. Dewey, Freire, Holt, and other educational reformers did not have web 2.0 tools at their fingertips. We do. It remains to be seen what we will do with the digital power literally at our fingertips.
I’m optimistic. I think we absolutely WILL help usher in a fundamental learning revolution in the twenty-first century. Will that conversation take place here on my blog? The answer to that question is: It doesn’t matter. I will move to that conversation wherever it goes, as best I can, because I want to be influenced by as well as contribute (as I am able) to that conversation and action agenda.
The learning revolution is here, and we are the catalysts of change. This is not a closed cocktail party, it is a learning movement with open enrollment. Let the conversations continue. We’re just getting started.
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