Smart people make me happy

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Okay. Truth be told, not ALL smart people make me happy. I like to be challenged in my thinking, but in ways that are collaborative and generative. To date, that has been my experience at ETS. My colleagues here are helping me think hard about blogs as portfolio, particularly how to take full advantage of features that support social interaction and learning. As Brad Kozlek passionately asserted at a recent meeting, blogging (at least the version we are talking about) encompasses much of what higher education experiences should be about -- creative expression, critical reasoning, professional discourse, collaboration and communication. Read more about Brad's views on blogging at Blog of Brad (of course).

For all of the talk about 21st century learning, I still don't see too much of it in action. We often teach our students to use technology tools when our time and energy might be better spent adjusting the norms of participation in learning communities. What does it mean to be accountable to the community through your interactions and contributions? What role does technology play?

This afternoon I am exploring some tools (small pieces, loosely joined -- I get it now and will never laugh about it in public again) that might help us get there. The first is trackbacks, and I was happy to hear from Cole and Brad that they are widely misunderstood. I was clearly one of the folks misunderstanding them. I had been solely focused on comments as the primary vehicle for demonstrating social interaction and discourse. This presents a few problems. The biggie is that when you comment on someone else's blog, the content is no longer yours. What if I am writing a meta-blog on my development in a particular professional domain and a crucial piece of evidence turns out to be a comment I made? As an alternative, consider that instead of merely posting a comment that I post a reflection on how reading a peer's blog and commenting on it advanced my own thinking about something I was grappling with AND I include a trackback to that blog post. This approach seems to me to render a much more useful form of evidence when it comes to examining my own learning over time and the kinds of experiences, assignments, social interactions, etc. that influenced it. It also takes advantage of one of the most powerful features of the web -- interconnections. Thanks, Brad, for helping me understand the potential of this blog capability.

The second toy/tool I am playing with is the embed feature which Brad activated on my blog earlier this week. Forgive my techno-ignorance here, but my understanding is that it allows you to create a live feed to the original post. If the original gets updated, it is updated on your blog automatically. Pretty cool. Of course there are all sorts of copyright issues that will need to be addressed. Imagine the possibilities, though. Once again, keep the focus on discourse communities and social perspectives on learning. If the blog post of a peer (or instructor, or expert, or...) has a significant impact on my thinking and professional development, I can write a reflective entry and embed the original post. I am including Brad's post on the embed feature here as an example.

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Carla, I am excited to be able to work with you on this project. You're covering new ground, and I'm happy to be able to support your work.

Trackbacks tend be abused by spammers, a lot, and that has dulled enthusiasm for the idea in the general blogosphere. In a learning environment I think they can be a killer feature. Perhaps there is some way to tie it in a social network, to prevent spam and to also to help visualize the discussion.

There are a handful of important points being made in this single post, but probably the best one is that I won't be laughed at for talking about small pieces -- maybe you can mention it to Scott. The idea that the web is a platform to let us do these things is really amazing ... it is good to see people getting it, but I still find myself banging my head against the wall when talking to the majority of people.

Here is my question -- how do we make these ideas more concrete to the majority of our audiences? Where to begin? Students can get it, but can the faculty leading them? Am I assuming too much or too little? What are the steps we take to get to the next level? I am betting that most of the people we'll expose this work to will look at us, scratch their heads, and shrug their shoulders.

I can tell you how exciting it is to be traveling down this path!

BTW, the fellowship is with ETS not ETC ;-)

Oh my god! I can't believe I did that. It is fixed.

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