What the ning is a blog, you twittering wiki?

I've spent more time in the last two months online–searching for, learning about, testing, investigating, and evaluating different sites–than I have in years. My guiding question when looking at Twitter, Ning, various wiki sites, blogs, and the many different applications available on Google was: What is the problem for which this particular application is the solution? Twitter seemed largely to be a way to tell everyone "following" me that I had posted a new blog (about content on the English Companion Ning or my website). It seemed so self-referential.

On December 5th, in between papers, I created a social network for English teachers on Ning.com. It took me five minutes. Literally. Then back to grading papers. I checked in the next day: 100 people had joined. Now there are almost 3000. I feel like I am watching a hive construct itself.

I am asking myself what the implications are for my teaching, for my books, for our profession. I have experimented around with incorporating (as one of several options) Twitter, Facebook Groups, WetPaint Wiki, Blogger, and Ning into my class curriculum.

Somehow, no matter how many new applications there are out there, regardless of the latest cool site (which seems to be VoiceThread judging by discussions at a recent conference), I can't see my work as much different than it has ever been: to teach students to think, read, write, and speak about important ideas and arrive at conclusions or assertions they can communicate effectively and efficiently using the most appropriate means and medium in light of their purpose and audience.

I'm sure people writing messages for carrier pigeons went through the same composing process as people today do with Twitter for their 140-character messages. In the end, what mattered then was what matters most now: was the message meaningful and effective?

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6 Responses to “What the ning is a blog, you twittering wiki?”

  1. So do you tweet? I’ve found it a good way to ask quick questions to a large group of people, which usually means that someone’s around to answer. I’ve also found it is a good way to “get out of the classroom” and keep in touch with other teachers at school. Doesn’t replace face-to-face but great for feeling connected even at the busiest times.

  2. I am going to second Meredith. It’s a good way to get answers to quick questions and generally network with other teachers. Lots of the people I follow share links they might not necessarily blog about, and unless I am scrupulous about checking their Delicious or Diigo feeds, I miss them, so I find the sharing valuable. I really didn’t get the point of Twitter either before I tried it, but once I did, I really did find it informative and valuable.

  3. I like this idea. I have a Twitter account (englishcomp) but aside from setting it up when investigating it I have not posted anything. Thanks, Meredith and Dana. Of the learning of things there is no end…

  4. Can these tools make us less effective as teachers when we attempt to take on too many of them? Then do we spend too much time teaching the tool and not enough time on the content?
    I found myself wanting to use them all and mastering none…then I decided use the ones that work for me: blogs and wikis.
    A teacher friends loves voice thread/podcasts.
    I am more effective teacher using the tools/methods/novels/resources that “work” for me. Right?
    Don’t want to be the one still using the carrier pigions, of course!
    Thanks for this post…I agree with you wholeheartedly!

  5. I appreciate Tammy’s comments: it’s all about what we purchase with our expense of time and the extent to which it makes us a more effective teacher. I started setting up all these different wikis, nings, etc for my seniors to try out recently for a unit and realized I had spent much of the day being a digital assistant to myself and not thinking about the books and ideas at all, which can hardly make me a better teacher! Thanks, for the comment, Tammy.

  6. Good points, Tammy. I think a lot of it depends on which tools give you energy. I have found Twitter is a real source of energy for me. I love the EC Ning but felt guilty for awhile because I would see these great conversations going on but not feel like I had time to respond. I’ve decided to read there during the week and post on the weekend.
    I agree that we are most effective when we use methods that work for us. However, I also think one has to push through the “technology frustration” that sometimes accompanies learning a tool.
    I like Jim’s idea of asking “What is the problem for which this is a solution?” Sometimes it’s a problem I wasn’t even aware I had and sometimes I realize that the tool isn’t really solving a problem, I was just attracted by the “shininess” of it.
    When thinking about tools/methods, I imagine a graph with utility/benefit on one axis and energy/frustration on the other. If something requires a lot of energy, it needs to be very useful for me, but if it doesn’t require as much energy then my standard for how useful it must be to make it worth it for me is lower.

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