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A Year On a Blog

A year ago, I began blogging in a very small way–mostly to articulate some of my thoughts about teaching writing and using social software and partly to have an on-line presence to share with colleagues at home and away. I named my blog for Alfred Hitchcock’s description of his own films: Some films are slices of life; mine are slices of cake.”


mmmmm.JPG
Originally uploaded by mebertolini.

I certainly have disappointed some viewers/readers who have come to my blog looking for slices of edible cake, but I hope that others have enjoyed the slices of writing, teaching and technology that I have served up here. Fifty-two weeks and approximately 35 posts later, I continue blogging in my own small way, glad that I have left a record of some thoughts and experiences for myself and for you.
Dig in, and enjoy!


crocus

Originally uploaded by mebertolini.

I’ve been thinking lately about why I let three months go by without posting here. One reason is that I was preparing for and have since been teaching a course in Writing to Heal. I keep asking myself how I can write about teaching this course without violating my students’ privacy–as if even my pedagogy in this course should be secret. Ironically, I’m always harping about the benefits of transparency in teaching, but whenever I teach this course, I’m super-conscious of the trust my students place in me and what I owe them in return for that trust. I’ve developed protocols about what information is public and what information remains private in this course. I have a Movable Type blog site were I post changing and very general information. Connected to this site, is Middlebury’s homegrown course management site with pages I can open and close to the public. Any reader on the web can see my course description, syllabus and weekly assignments.
No one but my students and tutors can see our on-line discussion and drafts of my students’ papers. Given all this, perhaps it may seem completely contradictory that I threw the doors of my class open on workshop day to 30 high school students and two of their teachers. I did not plan on opening my very private class in this way, but circumstances often lead us down unimagined paths.

For the past three years, some of my Peer Writing Tutors have had an on-line. tutoring relationship with students from Ticonderoga High School in upper New York State just across the lake from Middlebury. Teachers and students planned a trip to visit Middlebury to meet some of their tutors and other Middlebury College students. Most of the time they could visit in the morning coincided with the time of my Writing to Heal class and the workshop on our second paper. I wondered if a few of my students would mind modeling their workshop for the Ticonderoga students. I brought up the subject tentatively in class and followed up with an e-mail to all the members of the class in which I gave students the opportunity to workshop their papers in a private location if they did not want to workshop their papers in front of the visitors. I hoped that of my sixteen students that, at least, eight might volunteer to read their papers aloud and workshop them for the Ti High students, but all sixteen agreed!
To accommodate our thirty or so visitors, I moved my class to the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research in the Library. My sixteen students formed into four separate workshop groups with six to eight visitors each. As we had done before, my students read their papers aloud and commented on each other’s work by making positive, specific suggestions for improvement. My two class tutors moved between the groups and helped keep the conversations on track. Occasionally, the high school students asked questions or made comments—but mostly they watched and listened as the 18-20 year olds workshopped their papers like pros. My students received a big boost in self-confidence that day, and the high school juniors and seniors caught a glimpse at where they may be headed academically.
One of the reasons I dared to open my very private class to visitors is that they were face-to-face visitors and not on-line visitors. workshop.jpg Anything they heard or observed that day was transitory, fleeting while GOOGLE is forever—or seems like forever. More and more, as I continue to use Social Software and web-based tools for my classes, I feel aware of the future lives of my students and the powerful search engines that will track their on-line past for years to come. Thanks to Middlebury’s course management tool, Segue, I can choose what to open and what to close on our class site. Students can read each other’s discussions and papers on-line, but others outside the class cannot. A reader of this blog, for example, can find the paper topic and worksheet used that day, but will not be able to read my students’ papers. The window for that experience opened a crack for a group of high school students, but the hour has lapsed; the opportunity has closed.

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Still Green




Green

Originally uploaded by mebertolini.

Leaves are still green here, but not for long. I have not made all the decisions about my class yet, but I have decided to do another hybrid Movable Type/ Segue Course Management mix, and so I have begun to build my sites. My class will be getting their first assignment from me in the next few days. I hope to see their responses on line before many of the leaves have turned.

From e-mail to blogging

Before class blogs gave us a voice to communicate with our classes, e-mail class lists (enabled in 1999 at Middlebury College) gave us easy, instant communication with our classes. My first class e-mails were perfunctory and business like–full of housekeeping details. Soon, my e-mails to my class became more playful as I used humor and exaggeration to hold my students’ attention.

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Blogging Delivers Resources

JAN.jpgOne of the things I love about setting up class blogs, is that I can link outward to a myriad of resources in the real world and link inward to resources I’ve created for my students myself. For my Jane Austen & the Royal Navy Winter Term Course, I found many interestings sites to share with my class. Now that I’m teaching a Jane Austen Seminar this fall, I’m wondering can I give too many resources? I hope not–because my next class blog is about to intesect with my obsession.

“Think twice, write once,” I was taught 50 years ago when the execution of writing meant inkwells, and a blotted line equaled slovenliness. Now immersed in the writing process, we encourage our students to create draft after draft, to write one, twice, a hundred times, if needed, in order to create clarity, organization, and a logical, compelling argument.

“Rethink, revise, re-see,” is our mantra now, and it is a good one, but sometimes, our students revise themselves out of a voice, and if they have no new thoughts or no new opinions from outside of themselves, their rethinking resembles an overcooked stew. Peter Merholz praises the immediacy of blogs and their importance in open up the thinking process beyond the self:

I still believe that the power of weblogs is their ability to immediately put form to thought–that I can get an idea in my head, however poorly baked it might be, and in seconds share it with the world. And immediately get feedback, refinement, stories, etc., spurred by my little idea. Never before was this possible.
Peter Merholz
Our Blogs, Ourselves. Posted on 01/25/2002.

I’ve been thinking of the value of the immediacy of blogs in encouraging thinking in regard to this online discussion my class had last year.

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Sites DOT Middlebury: the Middlebury site network.