BreadNet: The Enduring Vision of Rocky Gooch

Sep 3rd, 2012 | By | Category: Archives, BLTN Teachers, Faculty Notes, Fall-Winter 2012

BreadNet, the digital network of the Bread Loaf School of English and the Bread Loaf Teacher Network, began way back in 1984. In the age of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Twitter, Facebook, and Skype, is BreadNet passé?

This summer’s lively conversation on “connected teaching and learning” gave us occasion to take stock of some of principles that have kept BreadNet a vital tool for connecting practice and learning for rural and urban teachers and students. With so many making big claims for massive audiences and massively “accessible” learning, I often reflect on the wisdom of Rocky Gooch, Director of Telecommunications for the network through most of the nineties. Those who knew Rocky remember a man who bought little of the commercial hype about technology and teaching, and who helped to shape the network around the realities he observed in classrooms from New Orleans to Alaska.

Readers who peruse the “paper” issues of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network Magazine (edited by Chris Benson and available in PDF form on the Bread Loaf website) will find connected teaching to be a given among Bread Loaf Rural Teacher Network and Bread Loaf Teacher Network projects. Below, in Rocky’s words, are some of the principles that I believe provide the foundation for BreadNet (using whatever technologies fit the landscape) as the enduring digital home of the School of English and the Teacher Network. During Rocky’s tenure, the Bread Loaf Rural Teacher Network, under the leadership of Jim Maddox and Dixie Goswami, and with support from the Dewitt-Wallace Reader’s Digest Funds (now the Wallace Foundation), networked teachers from five rural states. Later, the network grew to embrace urban and rural teachers, with participants and administrators applying many of the lessons learned from rural classrooms.

From “Information Superhighway Needs More Access Ramps,” Spring/Summer 1996

“After years of observing English teachers learn how to use computers and telecommunications, we’ve learned what’s required to…engage them in dynamic and useful networks. We know that user-friendly technology and substantial technical support are important.”

“…[W]e observe that students are first-rate technical assistants, functioning as managers and in other important roles in networked classrooms when they are given the chance…”

“Access needs to be defined broadly, including not only equipment and dollars, but also infrastructure, organizational arrangements, and ongoing technical support and expert advice.”

“The administrators of BreadNet take advantage of the longterm, personal relationships among BLRTN teachers. We learn from them about the ways they become confident, active users of computer conferencing, about the realistic use of time that conferencing requires, about integrating technologies into diverse pedagogies. “

From “BreadNet: A Tool for Building Community,”  Fall/Winter 1996

“We believe that small-scale networks such as BLRTN make a real difference to teachers who are changing their practice as they respond to the changing needs of students and schools. BreadNet is a key tool for building and sustaining the BLRTN communtiy because it allows us to communicate for many purposes and in many ways.”

“While at Bread Loaf, teachers form relationships and develop a sense of community, which they take back to their classrooms, along with the new knowledge and skills they learned to improve their teaching. They use BreadNet to stay in touch with each other and to exchange ideas, seek support, and plan projects to make learning more interesting and more participatory for their students.”

“Because the BLRTN program emphasizes content knolwedge of literature, theater, and writing, BLRTN Fellows have begun to develop new practices in response to technological possibilities…Many questions are emerging for us as language and literature instruction respond to technological change. BLRTN provides rural teachers with opportunities to enter into and shape the national conversation on literature and literacy in the age of technology.”

From “Rural Teachers and Students: Connecting and Communicating, ” Fall/Winter 1997

“Teachers spend some time online planning, adjusting schedules, talking about what’s happening among their students, and figuring out exactly what works best for them…Gradually, over a period of two or three years, teachers experiment with different approaches and techniques in the exchanges, including students in the planning and decision-making.”

“So far as we can determine, students read and write more frequently when they are part of active exchanges. The actual BreadNet exchanges are the tip of the iceberg. Most of the learning activity related to an online exchange takes place in the  individual classrooms: reading, discussing, writing, interpreting, analyzing and presenting.”

“At its best, BreadNet presents an alternative to commercial programs that deplete resources and ignore good practice…One thing is clear: exemplary (and busy) rural teachers who form the Rural Teacher Network will not spend time, money, and energy on technology that does not provide them with some personal satisfaction and their students with opportunities for connecting and communicating that pay off in improved skills and understanding.”

From “Going to the BreadNet Project Library” Summer 1998

“Partnerships and exchanges give young people a chance to step back and look with fresh eyes at their own communities and cultures as they connect and cooperate with distant classmates about other places and histories. Networked communities such as BLRTN have the potential, at least ot promote critical thinking and culturally engaged teaching and learning.”

Rocky’s observations underscore many of the enduring principles that I believe we would do well to carry forward as we re-examine and update the toolkit supporting the professional connection that is BreadNet. We base our work in shared scholarship, in personal relationships, and in contexts where teacher and student diversity are assets. We recognize “connected teaching and learning” requires constant and careful written and spoken conversation, often growing into multi-year relationships as teachers practice together with technologies in summer, and learn together with students during the school year. BLTN teachers who move into leadership and advocacy roles often do so based on the findings they make, as students discover their voices through authentic, distant, and respectfully critical audiences.  The student and teacher work showcased in this digital journal testify that even (or especially), in the age of instant communication technologies, BreadNet–as digital home for the School of English and the Teacher Network–remains vital.

Rocky Gooch’s humility, too, remains a hallmark of our network. To the extent that BLTN and BreadNet are shaped by actual teacher practice and by real student and teacher needs, BreadNet will remain on the vanguard of connected practice.

The final issue of the paper version of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network Magazine, “Networked Teaching and Learning,” (Spring 2002) contains the following dedication to Rocky:

Rocky Gooch was Telecommunications Director for the Bread Loaf Teacher Network, and a Trustee of Write to Change, a non-profit organization promoting greater literacy in communities and schools across the United States. Rocky trained hundreds of teachers and students to use technology that enabled them to form informal learning networks and intentional learning communities. All who knew him were guided by his wisdom, patience and kindness. Rocky died on September 30, 2001.

3 Comments to “BreadNet: The Enduring Vision of Rocky Gooch”

  1. Lou Bernieri says:

    Rocky was a hero to all of us in the early years of the Network. BLTN wouldn’t be what it is today had he not been working tirelessly to connect our members in authentic ways through technology. The quotes listed above ring truer than ever in 2013. His groundbreaking work on using technology to create community among teachers and students who live great distances from each other is at the basis of Andover Bread Loaf’s international projects. Rocky, my brother, we owe you a great debt — you will always be with us.

  2. Vivian McGarrity says:

    Tom, thank you for this tribute to Rocky Gooch. Here in his own words evidence of his wisdom and foresight and of the relevance of BLTN today, which he had such a hand in shaping.

    In the last two decades, I have written scores of reports, designed breadnet exchanges with teachers in my building, in my county, and in other states. I have struggled to describe how six weeks each summer have equipped me with what I needed to enter my classroom every fall with the desire to be there and with the belief that my students and I were going to get smarter about many things.

    At Bread Loaf and with BLTN, I found a community of learners who cared deeply about art, literature, writing, drama, social justice, the environment, the disenfranchised, poetry, language. I was challenged—by the professors and the other students who congregated there—to bring my very best self to the table. I was not only to receive but also to contribute, and this sense of community, which can never be adequately described or overestimated, compels those who experience its transformative power to replicate it in their own classrooms. And once you do, the classroom becomes alive with ideas and passions and motivated students who, like you, look forward to coming to class, which somehow doesn’t really feel like a classroom anymore.

    On a personal note, I met Rocky at the exact moment I needed his great mind, his urgency, his humor, and his gentle guidance. He was my friend, faithful and just to me.

  3. Lillian Reeves says:

    Big thanks to Tom McKenna
    for thoughtfully reflecting on Rocky’s contributions to the Bread Loaf Teacher Network and to the teachers and students BLTN supports. I think Rocky saw the democratizing potential for technologies before most
    people did and he thought it best to place its future in the hands of
    teachers and students. A few of the many lasting characteristics of Rocky’s work, some of which I am also currently exploring in my dissertation and will always try to emulate in my teaching and thinking, was Rocky’s absolute faith
    in the abilities of teachers and students. I think that is why he chose a
    professional path which utilized technology to connect teachers and
    students in collaborative and purposeful ways, while cautioning against
    types of online instruction which would eliminate dynamic
    teacher-student relationships resulting when one teacher instructs 50 or 100 or
    more students without any dialogue or face-to-face interactions. As Rocky said, the hallmark of great teaching is in the act of building lasting partnerships and inquiries between teachers and students; incredibly, that has been at the center of BLTN’s work since 1984. Rocky
    was wise and of course, so very wonderful. It is an incredible gift
    that Tom and others are able to share his legacy. Thank you.

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