Thursday, February 23, 2017

Rummaging in the cyber past

I retired over 11 years ago. After all these years of teaching English I found I was missing the discipline of writing - for when I set essays, particularly to senior classes, I tended to write one myself. It was something I liked to do, to contribute to the discussion, as well as believing you shouldn't ask people to do something you weren't prepared to do yourself. At the time, blogging was pretty new - and it was really the only shared form of communication, the first step in what we learned to call Social Media. My sons were already blogging. I was seduced.

And it was in that first year of blogging that I began to meet people outwith my own circle (there - Blogger doesn't like "outwith" any more than it ever did), several of whom were (another new word at the time) edubloggers. Some of them were Scots, so that I met them physically in Glasgow ("You're Blethers, aren't you?"); some were much further away. And one of the more distant edubloggers I also met, and it's a good story.

I can't remember the exact sequence of events, but it was in November 2006 that I blogged about my input into the classroom work of Anne Davis - allowing her to use my photos as a classroom resource for creative writing, commenting on some of the pupils' work, thoroughly enjoying that little bit of teaching again. Three months later, we met - in San Francisco - thanks to Ewan's social engineering. We were on a month's tour of our American friends, one of whom had just dropped us off at our SF hotel. The cases had just appeared, when the phone rang. You don't expect anyone to phone you in a strange city - but it was Anne, also in town for a conference. Could we meet for dinner?  And we did, and you can read a short blog post about it, though it doesn't mention my recording a podcast for her pupils.

But I must tear myself away from this nostalgic wandering among the archives. The reason I'm doing it appears in the photo at the top: Anne sent me this book that she and a colleague, Ewa McGrail,  have written (and it costs a fortune to send a book from the USA) and it has the most lovely dedication on the front page and several references to me, all wonderfully flattering, scattered throughout the text. I'm delighted to get it, and to relive that time - which in many ways feels like another life. Even this blog post, full of links that take ages to find because I keep reading what I'm rummaging among, reminds me of that era.

Now, of course, it's all short-form communications. Social media rules, and the most unlikely people turn up on Facebook. Blogging is much less of a thing. And yet ... I find myself returning to blethers when I want to say something longer than a sentence, or something that I haven't got a proper photo for (because Blipfoto seems to have turned into my regular blog spot, in a strange way - maybe because of the interest of photographers). And when I was reading the book this morning, and reflecting on how I'd celebrate its arrival, I thought about children's writing and the joy of having it read by more than just the classroom teacher - to say nothing about having comments added by outsiders.

Children - and we've been talking primary school pupils throughout this - still love to have their best work displayed on the classroom wall. There is a place for this sort of controlled online interaction - on the much bigger wall, as it were, of the internet. This book, Student Blogs, seems to me to cover so many of the areas that might worry the cautious teacher - everything from accessing photos to Creative Commons and beyond - as to encourage any teacher to have a go.

Unless, of course, no-one can write more than 140 characters at a time these days. Just like The President ...

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