The choice of technology will have a huge impact on how this unit unfolds, so the decision must be made carefully. I don’t want the technology to inhibit my flexibility to adapt the unit as it progresses, and I don’t want it to take the focus away from the self knowledge that is my main goal. So if I had my students make a short video about what they learn in their independent investigation, it would take far too much time in and out of class. Furthermore a video is a finished project and conflicts with the design of this unit, to produce self knowledge, which can often be difficult for an adolescent to express.
I need to pick a technology that draws out the student’s self knowledge, and I would like to use a technology that allows for dialog between student and parent. A blogging tool is a natural fit for these two goals. It is designed to display thoughts in a journal-like format and its public nature allows students to share their thinking with their parents. During the independent investigation phase of the unit, students can easily produce a weekly post about how their thinking is unfolding.
Blogs could truly redefine what happens in this unit. A simple reflection journal hosted on blogging software could become a way for the student to communicate not only with peers and parents but with anyone on the world. However a blog can also very easily simply be a substitution for a reflection journal. For this blog to flourish, it needs to impact both the content and the pedagogy of the unit. First, the students need to be genuinely motivated to pursue their subtopic. Second, they need to see the communication afforded by blogging software as an essential tool in their repertoire as they investigate their subtopic. To successfully accomplish this I need to spend a great deal of time framing the unit and motivating the students. The actual technical skill to create a blog ought to be one of the absolute last items on my agenda.
Using a blog makes it essential that the content is engaging. If students cannot find anything in the unit that they want to share with their classmates and parents, why would they care about a blog post? It will become a dead space that they are forced to fill with “stuff the teacher wants” and no real learning will take place. I have had blog projects like this in the past and I am wary of making the same mistake.
Using a blog also affects how I deliver the unit. For one, I will need to give students at least a half hour each week to produce a blog post (maybe even more). And if the blog is a space that becomes owned by the student, it can become a powerful tool combining all of Dewey’s primary impulses for learning. Posts can be about cool articles a student finds (inquiry), about how their thinking on the topic is developing (construction), a direct message to their peers or parents (communication), or even just a place to put up a doodle, drawing, poem, or other piece of art (expression).