Blogging for Success

When Futurist Alvin Toffler published his theory of “The Third Wave” in 1980, he identified the current wave of technological influence to be one of Information (Laureate, 2010b).  Society had entered the age of the computer and the person who harnessed information could find success in business and society.  Dr. David Thornburg hypothesized that with the advent of the Internet, we had entered the “Communication Age,” where “collaboration and social constructivism” ruled (Thornburg 2010a).  Unfortunately, our schooling system, with its method of “dividing students by age group and content area,” still mimics an Industrial Age “assembly line” (Thornburg 2010a).  So, we as educators have some catching up to do.   To bring classrooms up to speed with the world at large, teachers must move toward the model of collaboration and social constructivism that Thornburg explained is the hallmark of the communication age (Thornburg 2010a), and one way to do that is to harness the positive aspects of the read/write internet  by creating a blog for students. 

Teaching computer graphics to high school students is a perfect match for a class blog.  Not only is it an excellent forum for students to display and showcase various project they are working on, it provides a natural forum for critiquing and commenting on work.  Computer graphics students are already creating his and her pieces of work on the computer, whether she is using Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, or the web animation software, Flash, she has the capability to instantly create a web-ready image or animation.  And with the ease of “sending an e-mail” and without “[requiring] any knowledge of code or FTP” (File Transfer Protocol), a student can publish his work to a class blog (Richardson, 2009).  

After a work in progress has been posted to a class blog, classmates now have the opportunity to critique  one another’s posted work.  Any Art teacher who routinely involves students in the practice of critiquing can attest to the difficulty of getting students to think and speak critically about one another’s work, beyond vague comments of a piece being ‘nice.’  The problem is not that students are too harsh, it is typically that they do not want to say anything at all.  The advantage of requiring blog comments is threefold: first it allows students time to sit and observe the piece and organize his or her ideas into a thoughtful reflection.  Putting students on the spot in a group setting where there is pressure to ‘come up with something’ quickly often leads to non-committal responses.  Secondly, the veil of relative anonymity that the internet provides can encourage students who are less likely to verbalize an opinion in a group setting, to showcase their thinking and writing skills in a less intimidating arena.  Finally, requiring published, written responses is an opportunity for a teacher to emphasize the difference between the casual internet voice, and the “proper etiquette” voice used for answering a scholarly question (Laureate, 2010a). 

One thing that a teacher of Art, especially computer graphics, focuses on is building skills that are applicable to students in their lives as adults and eventual workers.  Teacher and blogger Kathy Martin asks, “what do [her students] need to know for the future?  What are some skills they’re gonna need to have in order to be successful?”  (Laureate, 2010a). This very valid question is one that every teacher should ask.  In Art class, we build problem solving skills, develop creativity and through critiques, show students how to give and receive constructive criticism.  Learning to accept direction and advice, as well as how to give it with respect is something that a student will use for the rest of his life, no matter what industry or society he chooses.  These are life skills, not art skills or computer skills.  And a blog that students are excited about is the ideal forum for nurturing these, “new literacies” needed to navigate “an ever-expanding information society” (Richardson, 2009). 

Beyond the advantages of being able to post artwork, a class blog can enhance lessons in exposing students to visual resources that they may not have been able to find themselves.  As a professional artist and teacher, I can provide students with a framework of inspiration and historical references that they do not have the experience to know about on their own.  There is a whole world of ‘bad design’ out there on the internet, where objects of value and substance are presented with as much frequency as those without.  It is a teachers job to guide and sharpen a students eye for recognizing quality work, and posting examples of great design is one way of accomplishing this. 

It is not enough for educators to try to catch up with the present, we must look to the future.  Laureate’s presentation “Avin Toffler’s Wave Theory” puts for the question, “how do  we prepare our students for the next wave of history and beyond?” (Laureate, 2010b).  First, we must know what the next wave will be.  Dr. David Thornburg projects that the Age we are entering, or at least headed towards is the Age of Creativity (Thornburg, 2010a).   Author Daniel Pink supports this idea in his book A Whole New World: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, explaining that computers have automated so many of the processes that people used to perform, and “abundance” has enabled people in first world countries access to just about any object they could ever want.  So the man or woman who is creative enough to develop services that recognize and fill a need for society will be the most successful in the future (Pink, 2009).  So, to really prepare students for the future, we have to give them skills that are creative and adaptable.  To foster creativity, problem solving skills and versatility, is to prepare a student for anything.  And since none of us really know what the future holds (did any of us see the ubiquitousness of text messaging coming?), we must arm our students with 21st century skills, and a digital classroom is the first step. 

References

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010a). Spotlight on technology: Blogging in the classroom. Understanding the Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society. Laureate Education, Inc.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010b). Alvin Toffler’s wave theory. Understanding the Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society. Laureate Education, Inc.

Pink, Daniel. (2006). A Whole new world: Why right-brainers will rule the future. Riverhead Trade.

Richardson, W. (2009). Blogs, wikis, podcasts and other powerful web tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press.

Thornburg, D. (2010a). The third wave [Motion Picture]. Understanding the Impact of Technology on Education, Work, and Society. Laureate Education, Inc.

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About Megan Boyd

Teacher of Graphic Design I & II as well as Digital Photo. I live in Room B207.
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7 Responses to Blogging for Success

  1. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for this post, Megan.

    Just recently I responded to a teacher & friend’s blog post & I took my time on writing my response. I wrote for a while. I read what I wrote. I edited for some hours throughout the day. I kept coming back to it. The experience had me asking myself,

    WHAT DO I REALLY WANT TO SAY?

    This led to more decisions in word choice, editing & self realization. I was sculpting my voice in written words while at the same time discovering what it/I had to say.

    I completely love the idea of using blogging in the way you descibe. It provides a spaciousness that can be tailored by each student for her or his needs. And there is more potential for quietly looking inside rather than being bombarded by comments verbally in a critique setting, or as you mention, sitting in a silent sometimes awkward room.

    This reminds me of cooking. Asking a tomato to be sauce immediately doesn’t really work – you have to let it simmer & marinate with all the spices.

    You write,

    “Learning to accept direction and advice, as well as how to give it with respect is something that a student will use for the rest of his life, no matter what industry or society he chooses.”

    & later

    “To foster creativity, problem solving skills and versatility, is to prepare a student for anything.”

    These important skills remind me of dancing & the ability to make space for oneself & others. Both are so important to life & the approach to any problem. To approach “direction” (offered by peers or authority) or “problems” with creative flexibility is absolutely a valuable gift.

    Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I am currently working on my masters & the themes you write about in your post indeed apply to a variety of relationships I am currently having.

    • Megan Boyd says:

      Jennifer,

      I absolutely LOVE your analogy of asking a tomato to become sauce immediately. I feel the exact same way, that to rush a person to become something or to grow too fast is futile. But this is something I had to learn. When I first started teaching high school students, I was under the ridiculous impression that they’d be able to jump right into written and verbal critiques. I was under the impression that they’d be able to look at something, formulate some thoughts and express them. But what I didn’t understand is that those skills of observation, analysis and expression have to modeled, taught and practiced. So, when I started talking through things with my students and showing them how I approached a piece of art, and like you said, write, read, re-read and edit, they began to learn, and in beginning to learn, began to understand.

      I really appreciate you reading my thoughts and commenting on them. You always provide such a dedicated and thoughtful perspective, and believe me, when you’re thinking and talking, I’m listening.

      Your friend,
      Megan

  2. Michael Thomas says:

    I like the idea of having students critiquing others peers work. By allowing this to happen, it helps students develop their own opinion about certain paintings or projects and express how they feel. This gives students the opportunity to correspond to students they not talk to. The problem may come when a student post something inappropriate or student not contributing to the blog critique. As the teacher, you would have to monitor everything response that is posted and that may take up huge amounts of time. Overall, blogging critique is a great way for students to get involve in class without talking to the teacher.

    • Megan Boyd says:

      Michael,

      Thanks for taking the time to respond. I agree that it “helps students develop their own opinion,” as that is something that is so important to me. I used to tell my students that if the person who spoke before them expressed an opinion that they agreed with, they were open to agree, but they had to add something original of their own too, to elaborate on a point, rather than just saying, “yeah, what he said.”

      I agree about the pitfall of inappropriate comments, too. But the beauty of a blog provider like WordPress.com is that they allow comments to be monitored, and I can even set things up in such a way that comments aren’t visible until I approve them. In fact, remember last week when we had to post on an education blog? I started to get nervous when my comments weren’t appearing, and it turns out that they have to have their comments approved and I had to wait a few hours!

      Thanks again for your thoughts, Michael.

  3. Jennifer C. says:

    Everything you have said about building transferrable life skills, not just art or computer skills, is insightful and thought provoking. Teaching Computer Graphics must be professionally rewarding! Students posting their work and using their digital classroom as a place for analysis, reflection, and critique among themselves automatically forces students to give greater thought to their writing. Their reading and writing skills are regularly practiced and strengthened in an exciting way. And, as you said, students who may not normally participate in discussions have another arena in which to verbalize their opinions and thoughts. I feel like your class is successfully making use of the Internet as a positive read/write educational tool.

  4. Megan Boyd says:

    Thanks, Jennifer, teaching computer graphics is the greatest job in the world (next to taking care of my adorable and chubby 7 month old!). And maybe I take my job too seriously, but I truly believe that I want my students to leave my classroom in June, not just better artists, but better people. I want them to have learned something about how to work hard, or self-correct, or solve a problem, and apply it to their lives, not just computer graphics! And may I say that I just love your term “transferrable life skills,” I think that sums up what I was trying to describe much more accurately and succinctly! Thanks! !

  5. shameen says:

    Megan,
    I like your idea of Computer graphics, especially when students use photoshop, dreamweaver, illustrator.I always belive that students are very creative and we as teachers should encourage and bring out their talents preparing them to be the global citizens.

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