The Kremlin Ate My Homework

As anyone who knows me, or who follows me here, on Twitter, or on LiveJournal (ssh!), will know, I make my writing students write blogs. I have sound reasons for doing so, both pedagogical and idealogical: blogs force students to consider their audience, create a sense of community outside the classroom, and expose weaker students to the work of excellent students. I also believe strongly that we as educators have a responsibility to expose students to the medium that is already ubiquitous and is likely to become only more and more important over the next decade.

I did not realize that we would also in a small way be carrying the flag for freedom of speech.

My students post their blogs in LiveJournal. LJ is the blog I learned to use first – when I started blogging six or seven years ago, LJ was the “cool” blogging platform. Now the cool kids are on Tumblr and the “real” bloggers are on WordPress, and when LiveJournal got “sold to the Russians” a whole lot of people jumped ship to DreamWidth, an LJ clone, or at least set up mirror blogs there. But there’s still a core group of loyal LJ users: writers, artists, members of various fandoms, interesting people. My friends are there.

I put my students there because it is dead easy to use, free, and, when I first started doing this, advertisement and spam-free. Sadly, those last things are no longer true. The ads have come in the way ads have come on almost all the social software sites these days. And the spam has grown along with a huge and mysterious user base of … Russians. Which brings me to the Kremlin.

Over the last couple of weeks, LJ has been down a lot of the time. People complained, muttered, set up DreamWidth blogs, muttered some more. And LJ announced that it was fighting denial of service attacks. And we all thought “huh – serves them right for starting those stupid games, trying to be like Facebook.” And then we heard that it was likely that the ddos attacks were coming from the Kremlin, and everyone’s attitude changed.

Apparently, LJ is not only the most popular blogging platform in Russia, it’s the only blogging platform in Russia. And it’s being used not only by a bunch of Russian teenagers writing about Twilight but by those who would speak out against the mass corruption in the Russian government.

That’s why it’s under attack.

And that’s why we need to keep using it, help keep free speech alive.

And if one of my students is late with a post? What a perfect excuse!


Some Shakespeare News

Three links make a post, as they say…

First, from Twitter, the news of the Shakespeare Quartos Archive Very early editions of Shakespeare’s works will be available in electronic format, starting with Hamlet.

From Shakespeare Geek, riffing on the subject of my post from this past weekend about luddites, Shakespeare Had No Blackberry.

And from Bard on Film, coinciding with the 40th Anniversary of Sesame Street, Shakespeare and the Muppets including clips from YouTube. Great stuff!

Thinking About Audience

One of the reasons I make my students keep blogs is that it forces them to consider an audience. If they write a journal on paper or in a Word file, they know that I am the only person who is going to read it; write that same document in a blog, and they know their peers will see it too, and conceivably anyone who stumbles over their work. Heck, Neil Gaiman or Stephen Fry might find their blog, who knows! For most of them, this tends to change their work, to “up” the quality – isn’t it interesting that they’ll write better for an audience of their peers than for me 😉

So I shouldn’t be surprised that in this blogging challenge I find myself thinking about audience more than usual. I’m publicizing the challenge; I could be attracting a new readership to this blog, including my own professional peers and other members of the college or wider teaching community. And even though I’ve always had an audience at the back of my mind, as you have to when writing a public blog, all of a sudden that audience has become more immediate and real. Has it changed my writing? You bet! I find myself much more conscious of spelling and grammar – heaven forbid that someone catch me out in an error. I’m taking care to preview my work, and am being more scrupulous about my writing. Because I’ve linked my Twitter feed to the entry publicizing the challenge, I find I’m censoring my tweets just a bit more than usual, and limiting the personal content a bit: writing less about what I had for breakfast and more about what I’m reading while eating it.

I’ve been blogging for six years, and blogging really seriously for four. I maintain two regular blogs: this one, and a “personal” blog on LiveJournal. Although my LJ blog is theoretically public, I’m reluctant to attract a readership beyond the chosen circle of “friends” there, and will never link to it from a more public blog. I’m realizing that in the blogging world, as in “RL” – real life – I monitor the information I divulge depending on the level of friendship. I have very close friends, close friends, acquaintances, and random meetings online, just as I do in the “real” world. What it can be difficult to remember sometimes, though, is that conversations at the level of “to a very close friend” can be seen and responded to by those I’d put in the “random” category. Is that going to stop me from revealing myself in my personal blog, or on Twitter? No, but I may be more careful. You never know when Neil Gaiman might stop by.

November Blogging Challenge!

Help me and my students raise money for the United Way!

November is writing month, and many people around the world are taking part in challenges to write every day for thirty days. The best known of these is NaNoWriMo, but my English 152 (Creative Nonfiction) students and I have agreed to try Nablopomo: National Blog Posting Month, and in the process raise some money for the United Way.

I have pledged a certain amount to each student, and I’m hoping each one will individually match my pledge to him or her. We’re all going to try and write every day. My posts will be here; my students all have accounts in LiveJournal. I’m not going to link to them all because some are not comfortable with the world watching them do their homework, but I may link to some of them individually here, with their permission. I’ll post updates on how we’re doing, and you can follow along here, or on Twitter.

Help us out! Make a pledge in the comments; later on, I’ll post the easiest ways to send us donations.

Wish us luck!!

Getting the Hang of Twitter

I have to confess that I thought Twitter was a bit silly when I first signed up for it (I can’t remember exactly when that was, though it seems a while ago now). In the first year or so, I hardly used it at all. While I could see the point for people with equally computer savvy friends and family to keep in touch with each other, I still thought that “real” blogs were a much better way to connect and communicate online.

While I don’t think 140 character tweets will necessarily replace the long, thoughtful, blog post, I am liking it more and more as a kind of “command central” for other social software networks, and as an information gathering device. I wish that all my Facebook friends and relations were on it, as I find it a much cleaner and more efficient interface – all the benefits of the Facebook update without the “Mafia Wars,” “Gifts” and intrusive advertising (though Twitter’s new terms of service include the announcement of ads).

People complain about the banality of Demi Moore’s or Ashton Kucher’s posts, or the opportunism of Ellen Degeneres or Oprah. Well, you don’t have to follow them! If I discover that someone (that is, some celebrity type person) is only using Twitter to announce upcoming appearances or publications, I fairly quickly “unfollow.” And, unlike in Facebook or other social software systems, you can quietly “unfollow” without drama or offense. I prefer Neil Gaiman’s blog to his “tweets,” which mostly link to his blog or repeat much of the same content. On the other hand, I like Stephen Fry’s tweets better than his blog. I follow Margaret Atwood, who does announce book launches and appearances, but also links to other things that interest her; and I have to confess to rather enjoying reading about her visits to places in England.

I find it useful for keeping track of people whose blogs I read but who use a system I’m not immediately linked to; I am on LiveJournal primarily, and it’s easy there to see when my friends have posted. When others are on an assortment of platforms, I can collect them on Bloglines or Google Reader, but it’s one more place to look – I really like it when someone whose posts I enjoy reading is on Twitter and tweets “new blog post”!

I am getting into the habit now of linking my favourite Flickr uploads, my activity, and my Goodreads updates to Twitter. I feel that I’m connecting them to a wider cross-section of my online network (and isn’t that what it’s all about?). Of course, that requires that all or many of my online friends are on Twitter – I wish they were! – but at least the connections are building. The more popular and all-pervasive one of these systems becomes, the more effective it can be.

Here’s a recent example of the power of Twitter: I follow Susan Orlean (author of The Orchid Thief, who approaches Twitter as a writer. Her quick observations of her own life are always cogent and interesting. She is developing a syllabus for a course in non-fiction writing that she is going to be teaching; yesterday, or the day before, she put out a call for everyone’s choices of best writers of non-fiction. Now, through the magic of hashtags, you can find a wonderful reading list.

My own tweets tend to run to the posting of links, or of updates to my other social software activity rather than personal updates. My interest in personal updates of other people tends to diminish in relation to how well I know that person. I really enjoyed reading the tweets posted when a friend of mine recently spent some time in Washington DC, but I have less interest in some abstract person’s updates about their children or their recent purchases, and feel somewhat diffident about posting such things myself. As for those compilations of recent tweets on LJ or elsewhere? Sorry, but I don’t read them.

Something that greatly pleases me in Twitter’s new terms of service is a requirement for attribution – acknowledge the source of your material, or risk having your account suspended. This is an extremely positive step towards what I think will become the “new” global model of information gathering and sharing, and the ethical use of information.

By the way, if you are interested in following me, I’m @debbieg.

Extend the Discussion with Blogs

As I wrote in an earlier post, if I had to choose one Web 2.0 tool to use to enhance my classroom practice, it would be the Blog. Today, I’m giving a presentation on Blogging for some of my colleagues at the college, which has led me to put some of my thoughts into rather more focussed points: what exactly are the pros and cons of blogging in education?

You can find the outline of my presentation on SlideShare

You might recognize some of the points in my “reading” and “writing” pages for students and instructors as adapted from a matrix created some years ago by my friend Scott Leslie. I am constantly enriched by the activities, both online and otherwise, of my local cohort of ed-tech gurus, starting, of course, with our own Clint Lalonde.

A very interesting article from The American Historians Association
debunks some of the myths surrounding blogging.

Blogs Mentioned in Presentation

Cabinet of Wonders
Science Blogs (a blog that also lists and links to other blogs)

Recommended Blogging platforms:

WordPress I like WordPress for its clean, professional, look. It is not the most user-friendly of the blogs, so I might suggest it for more advanced users. It also does not lend itself quite so well to community or collaboration as does LiveJournal.

Livejournal is unfairly dismissed by the ed-tech elite as too “cutesy” and “teenage angst ridden” – like any of the blogs, the content determines the quality. There are as many thoughtful and serious writers in LJ as there are on any platform, and LJ is without parallel for its aggregation tool – the built in “friends page,” which allows a one-stop shopping place for students to find each-other and for you to find them.

I don’t recommend allowing students to choose different blogging platforms, as it becomes too complicated for commenting. Thus, I have tended to choose LiveJournal for student work and I maintain my own “professional” blog here on WordPress.

Edublogs is a WordPress type blogging service set up for educators.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned Blogger. I find it the least user-friendly of the top three services, and don’t find it as customizable as either LJ or WordPress.

Camosun Online Blogging Carnival

Help us celebrate our 2nd Annual Conference, Walls Optional, promoting excellence in teaching and learning through technology.
Have you ever taught or been a student in a class where technology was used in a creative way?
Tell us about it!

Write a blog post, before April 30, that describes any really effective teaching and/or learning experience you have had. For those who may have lots of experience with educational technology, write about the MOST effective tool or activity you have encountered. Submit it here.

The completed Carnival will be posted to coincide with our conference date of May 6. Look for it in our blog after May 4.