If you want classroom technology to be used in imaginative and effective ways, you have to let teachers discover those methods on their own. You cannot force innovation.
That’s the mantra I’ve heard for years from educators, administrators, and even technology advocates. And as the author of a new blog on student motivation (I was encouraged, but not required, to launch it), I’m now in a position to appreciate firsthand the wisdom of that approach.
But districts’ expectations of teachers have kept pace with changes in technology, and in some places, that bottom-up philosophy has been replaced by a more top-down approach. The mostly rural school district in Goochland County, Virginia, for one, now requires that all its teachers maintain classroom blogs to improve communication with students, parents, and colleagues.
I can understand a requirement that teachers use e-mail, given its ubiquity, but blogs? Taking a format that first gained popularity as a mode of personal expression and turning it into a district-dictated bulletin board seems antithetical to the Web’s free spirit.
John Hendron, the district’s instructional- and Web-technologies specialist, and the chief advocate of the blogging requirement, says making the blogs mandatory helped bring all educators up to a baseline of technological proficiency.
“It was a small challenge for some,” he acknowledges. “There will always be folks who don’t see [a certain type of technology] as an integral part of their job.” But if left unaddressed, Hendron adds, “the divide between the ones who see it as integral and the others grows wider.”
The blogs also streamline educators’ workloads, allowing them to bypass paperwork by posting class content, notices for parents, and other pertinent information online. Teacher Caroline Long says she uses her blog to update lessons for all her art classes at Goochland High School. She also posts student work on her blog so parents can view it. “I think the blogging requirement is a wonderful idea,” she wrote in an e-mail. “We cannot ignore technology and its uses in our school/lives/world.”
Still, I wonder if forcing teachers to blog is the right approach. If someone at my company had told me a year ago that I had to start a blog, I would have done it only because I had to. My heart wouldn’t have been in it, and my readers probably would have sensed that.
But because the idea for my blog grew up naturally from the grassroots, rather than from a newsroom edict that all writers and editors start blogging, I have enthusiastically moved into the blogosphere. I did this on my own terms, and I think it shows.
Then again, I’m a journalist, not an educator. I do not have to constantly update scores of people about assignments and other classroom matters. And if districts see practical reasons for requiring teachers to maintain blogs, then maybe that’s a natural next step.
What do you think?
A version of this article appeared in the December 01, 2006 edition of Teacher as Thou Shalt Blog