Every Day I Write the Blog

Every day I write. That much is true. Some days I write pieces of books, and some days I write pieces of blogs, and some days I write letters and instructions and grocery lists, but every day I write.

Part of that writing happens because of my job. I write emails. I write notes to myself to remember what I’m supposed to be doing. I write comments on student work. Every day I write.

A large part of that is because of social media. I am a frequent poster to social media, so much so that I advise you to go ahead and unfriend me before we even meet if you like a nice, quiet, and orderly news feed. Every day I write. Every day I post my thoughts, my opinions, my frustrations, my dreams, and my good wishes for others on social media. Sometimes I post very fervent reflections on my beliefs. Sometimes my Facebook page reads like a “This I Believe” archive site.

I post, and my thoughts float on down the stream, and I lose track of them, and if I forget what I said or even that I said it, there’s no point in looking for it later. No matter how much in love with my own post I might be, I will not take it out to admire it again later because putting it there in the first place is an act of saying goodbye to it. I say what I say and, like any conversation, the moment passes, and the comment floats away.

That’s okay. That’s the way Facebook works, and maybe that accounts for its popularity. Things happen on Facebook in a way that mimics the fleeting nature of face-to-face conversation.

On the other hand, I created a blog post about some genealogy work that I did called “Infamous Cousins” on August 13, 2011. The most recent comment I have received on that post was submitted on December 12, 2014. That comment might read a little like spam, but it really isn’t. It’s just my uncle. After more than three years, family members are still discovering this post and still commenting on it.

Facebook is the conversation, but WordPress is the book.

I often post reflections on Facebook these days that I would have once reserved for the blog, and I do that for a couple of reasons: (1) It’s easier, especially if I am already logged in to Facebook on my phone; (2) I get more response when I post straight to Facebook because lots of people skip links but read status updates.

Sometimes I regret that I didn’t keep up with my status updates. Sometimes I would like to be able to link back to my status updates in order to further develop an idea. Sometimes I would like to be able to search through my status updates just to find out if I’ve already told the same joke, or if I actually told it three times last week. None of that happens easily on Facebook, but it does happen easily on a blog.

Facebook is for passing thoughts. Blogs are for projects.

Facebook is for making a speech at the high school pep rally that no one, including yourself, will ever remember. Blogs are for writing inscriptions in high school year books that someone will pick up and smile over in another 35 years.

Facebook is not the book. The blog is the book.

Every day I write.

Is Facebook Irrelevant to Schools?

Joshua Kim writes about the irrelevancy of Facebook for Inside Higher Ed, bringing up some salient points. Twitter is typically more useful for discovering information, he says, and students don’t really want their teachers in their Facebook business.

That may be true. I tried creating a Facebook account just for communicating with students this past semester, and it didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped, but that was entirely my own doing. I ran out of steam. I couldn’t keep up with multiple Facebook accounts, plus Blackboard, plus everything else. I did encounter some students who said they preferred not to friend a teacher or classmates on Facebook. I had others who used the Facebook chat function to ask me questions about class.

I don’t think Facebook is irrelevant. I do discover plenty of professional articles and ideas amongst the silliness. I also think there’s a way to make it work for teacher/student interactions. Like everything else, that’s probably a matter of trial and error.

What I do believe is that this isn’t a Facebook v. Twitter standoff in which one will rise clearly victorious over the other. Students use a variety of social media. Schools should too.

Everything depends on what you need the tool to do. Do you want to disseminate information? If so, you need both Facebook and Twitter. Think about using a service like Tumblr or a Twitter application like TweetDeck to simplify pushing the same information out to multiple accounts.

Do you want to help students build projects or portfolios? Think about using Twitter with a blog as I wrote about yesterday.

Do you want to hold virtual office hours? For me, Facebook works best for that, but I’ve seen it happen on Twitter.

Do you work in a situation where Facebook and Twitter are both blocked by your school? In that case, you might want to ask your IT people to unblock Ning so that you can make a social network just for your class. This way you won’t have to worry about whether you are intruding on the students’ social spaces.

We’re only just starting to think through the impact of social media on education. We’ll see a lot of shifts and turns along the way. Sometimes those turns will mean one phase is ending as another begins, but sometimes they just mean a particular phase is rearranging itself.

Facebook has not yet worked the way I wanted it to with students. I don’t think that means it doesn’t work. I just think it means I need to keep rearranging the way I approach it. I also think it means I need to see Facebook as “a” way to communicate with students, not “the” way. For the foreseeable future it seems we’re going to be broadcasting our classrooms in multiple directions at once. And that’s okay.

Teach them where you find them, I was told as a new teacher. They’re everywhere now, and that’s where we’ll reach them.

Writing as Play

In a previous post, I talked about the need for more playtime in tech training for teachers. I think that goes for students as well. I was interested then to see this article about schoolchildren improving literacy through social networking. I found the article through @newsfromtengrrl on Twitter. I then ran across Alex Reid’s blog post responding to the same study. He says, “I don’t know that we are going down a good path if we really try to tie enjoyment to writing.”

I don’t even know what to say. On the one hand, I do appreciate his point. When I wrote my own teaching philosophy last spring, I said that writing and learning to write are constant struggles. So if we see it as all play and no work, we aren’t going to get very far. If we’re too easily satisfied with our writing, or indeed if we’re satisfied at all, we probably aren’t doing it right.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun and productive at the same time. It doesn’t mean we’re off the tracks if we try to make it fun for students. It doesn’t even mean enjoyment on the part of our students shouldn’t be one of our primary concerns.

Alex Reid refers to students with an excess of self-esteem. Honestly, I don’t get too many of those at the open admissions two-year-college. I get a whole lot more who are struggling for even basic literacy and who have all but lost hope in their own capacity to learn.

I see other students who have talent and some belief in their own talent but who lack direction, focus, drive, or whatever it takes to believe their abilities matter enough to make something useful out of them and of their lives.

I see all kinds really, and with every kind of student I see that finding pleasure in writing does lead to better writing. I see that being socially engaged as writers leads to better writing.

The study that says Facebook improves literacy skills in kids doesn’t surprise me at all, and that is who it targets. It’s about kids. If we don’t make writing fun for them, we’ve lost them already. We’ve lost the chance to teach them when they’re at their most teachable.

Universities, especially graduate programs, operate under different assumptions. A grad program is preparing people to be part of a profession. A two-year college is more about preparing people to be productive members of a community, to live their lives the best way they can. A grad program weeds people out. A two-year college brings everyone in.

We have to have different philosophies. But I never got anywhere much by taking myself or what I do too seriously. Practicality humbles theory every time. It humbled Einstein. It humbles me.

I write this because I care about teachers and students. I write this because I believe I have something to say. I write this because I believe that writing for an audience makes me a better writer, and I want to always be in a process of improving. I write this because it is a way for me to have a voice in a profession from the perspective of the place and situation that is my own particular reality. I write this because I bore easily, and I feel bad about myself if I’m not reading, thinking, learning, writing. I write this because I want other people to care about issues in education as much as I do.

Most likely I don’t know or understand every motivation I have, but I do know this much. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t enjoyable to me. I have too many other things I could be doing.

I think about that when I think about student writing. Malcolm Gladwell’s claim that 10,000 hours of practice is required to become expert at any skill resonates with my own experience and observations as a writer and a teacher. I may not be a virtuoso, but what I do have is the confidence to try, which has stood me well time and again. I wasn’t born with that. I didn’t have it when I first when to college or even to graduate school. But in the last twenty years I’ve spent well more than 10,000 hours writing when I was just goofing around, just playing, just amusing myself and my friends.

That’s worth something.