I’m taking a break from writing up the implications portion of my thesis by coming over here to write some more. I’m beginning to get to the place in my research that I have some definite things to say about what I found out. But I’m having some trouble saying them. Not because I know what they are – but, I think, because of what I’m using to write. Word is not where I go to think. It’s where I go to comply. When I need to think about something, I come here, to a WordPress window in my browser1.
So maybe I’ll just try to do a little bit of freewriting here and see how it goes. Here’s what I think I know right now as it relates to my research.
To start with, here are my research questions:
- What does reading and writing for school-related purposes look like in school-sponsored online writing spaces?
- Who is doing the writing in these spaces? The reading?
- Are the new tools and affordances of online digital writing, tools like hyperlinks, and affordances like immediate publication and world-wide audience, a factor in these spaces? If so, how?
While it’s certainly not a definitive collection of all the writing that’s happening in my school district, I’m going to take a guess and say that the three weeks of blog posts from the beginning of this school year that I’ve looked at in the course of my study are a good-sized sample of the public writing happening in my school district.
And, to start with, there’s just not enough of it. In three weeks, I can count on both hands the number of classrooms doing public writing in this space. And that leaves me with three fingers left to count other things.
Are students and teachers blogging or writing online2 in other spaces? Certainly. One of the limitations of my study, one that I knew would be a problem for some of what I was wondering about, was that I am limited to public stuff. If I wanted a fuller picture of what the writing that’s happening online in my school district looks like, I need to interrogate our district’s Moodle. I need to peer into our district implementation of Google Docs. On Thursday, a teacher in our district started sharing a Google Docs collection with me from one of his classes. He was excited about the number of texts they were producing together. I’ve not yet opened the folder – but I’ve watched a hundred or so documents enter into my document list. Sometimes in real time, I’ve seen them drop into place.
Writing is happening. But why not here?3
Here’s what I know about the writiing that I am seeing:
- Students and teachers aren’t talking to each other, for the most part, via the blog engine. I suspect they are talking in class, but they’re not writing back and forth in these spaces. Three quarters of the posts I saw during the period of the study contained no comments. Of the ones that held comments, only another large handful could be considered any sort of conversation – back and forth between the author of the post and the commenter(s). If these students are writing because they expect an audience, well, then they’re still waiting.
- Because no one’s responding, there’s a sense that no one’s reading. Multiple times, I saw little snippets of text, clearly put up as tests, or left behind as mistakes, that weren’t taken down or adjusted. Why bother, if no one’s looking – or it doesn’t seem like anyone is?
- The kind of writing that’s being asked of students in these spaces? Well, it’s interesting – I can break it down into three types – daily summaries, written collectively by elementary school classes; reflective essays about various topics; and responses to teacher questions. Lots of it is writing that doesn’t require a blog. And it’s writing that involves very, very, very little source material. Very few quotes. Very few links. And the links, when they’re present, are not embedded in the text. They lie naked and open in the text. And that seems problematic to me4
- The writing that staff are doing is a little bit better5 – like students, they’re writing reflective essays, and sharing lots of newslettery information. But I can’t be sure, from this data set, if the folks they want to reach are being reached through this vehicle.
- And, yeah, I suppose that means that I’ve a significant bias about blogs and the power of blogging that, if I haven’t yet, I need to be sure to disclose somewhere in the thesis. [↩]
- Oddly, in my world, and perhaps in yours, the word “blogging” has come to mean anything written in a Web browser that isn’t an email, no matter where it ends up. Isn’t that interesting? I might be a blog snob, but that bugs me. And it probably shouldn’t. It’s less of a problem for me than it used to be – I don’t correct people now when they say that. I used to. [↩]
- That’s not one of my research questions. So what? [↩]
- But, again, I may well be a blog snob. But if the potential of the “writing of the 21st Century” is that it happens online and organically and is connected to other texts and blah blah blah – suppose it’s not. Is that *bad* or *problematic* or just unfortunate? Or is it just so? As I’m in the middle of arguing that we need to make sure students have the tools to do this sort of work, a body of data that suggests, nah, it’s not so important,” is a little bit problematic. [↩]
- Oops – judgement again. Might need a better word than, ahem, “better.” [↩]