Monthly Archives: October 2007


I've heard more than one teacher say that schools would run perfectly if it wasn't for the students. Leaving aside the obvious point that without the students, the school itself wouldn't exist, it also shows another belief that many, many teachers have. That belief runs something along the lines of that if you are involved in schools and you don't have students in front of you on a daily basis, then life is a lot easier. That means anyone in leadership or administration have got life easy - after all, they don't have a class to teach!

fencesitting.jpgBeing in this role of Coordinator over the past five years has been a real eye opener for me. Although it is officially a first step role for official leadership in schools, it does open new perspective of the so called advantages of being a leader. I've been sitting on the fence, not in an indecisive way but in terms of that I still have a foot in both camps. I'm still a classroom chalkface practitioner for 3/4 days a week with my own bunch of 30 individuals to teach, assess, build relationships and manage in that time. But the rest of my role involves budgets, crystal ball gazing, planning and implementing, reacting to and juggling requests and crises, and doing a bit of leading out in keeping our school moving forward towards their "up-to-date- technology" vision (new vision coming soon!) whilst keeping everyone informed.

So I'm going to point a few things I've learned by being on both sides of the fence - some things that my colleagues who've chosen to stay in the classroom aren't or don't want to be aware of.

Classroom perspective: Leadership gets paid so much more than us, so they need to earn that money.
Leadership perspective: It's not as much as you think. My leadership salary is 4% more than I was earning as a full time classroom teacher - I can tell you for a fact, I am working much more than 4% harder than when I started this gig.

Classroom perspective: Leadership doesn't have to worry about dealing with the students.
Leadership perspective: Leadership do have to deal with students but quite often end up dealing with the time outs, the yard behaviour problems, the suspension re-entries and as a special bonus, the irate parents. Granted, the latter also accost classroom teachers as well but they seem to save their biggest heads of steam for the principal!

Let's not forget the late or missed lunches, the covering for classes when relievers don't turn up, having a huge pile of work to get through that gets bigger as the day goes on because one urgent issue after another pops up, the speaking in front of the staff when everyone wants to go home, the default "you'll chair this meeting" mindset in committees, being the person who gets glared at when something on the network doesn't work first up, and the "Have you just got a minute? My computer's playing up."

Not forgetting that the latter example often happens on the days I'm on the classroom teacher side of the fence.....



I really enjoyed catching up with Alan Levine and Michael Coghlan over some fabulous Malaysian food in Gouger Street last night. Despite his virally ravaged throat and low energy levels, Alan was great to trade ideas with and I would love to have been able to make it to tomorrow's presentation that has him here on behalf of the Australian Flexible Learning Network. In between roti and peppercorn chicken and other great dishes, we traded Web 2.0 edutalk and the tool that kept popping up regularly was twitter. Alan made note of this in his post but I want to tie this to something I noticed earlier in the day.

I checked in on twitter mid afternoon and saw a tweet from a fellow Aussie teacher, Russel Montgomery. He'd just posted on his blog and was using his twitter network to ask for some feedback. Russel wrote:

What I want to write about it is the rate of change that I find myself caught up in. It is meteoric.  …. and for my life perhaps is becoming catastrophic. I am not sure.

Anyone who's got on the online treadmill of late will notice that things seem to be getting faster and faster, new stuff, can it be applied to education, how do we get others on board, they're getting further behind .... hell, I'm getting further behind! Russel's post concluded with the following query:

Anyway I am curious as to how the rest of my education network is coping with all this. How do you maintain a healthy balance between the various elements of your life? How do you manage the passion for reform over against the necessities of living a semi-normal life?

I can really relate to this - in fact, this issue is probably the cause of my rant against hype. But I reckon I have a few pointers to give to Russel and even some of his commenters in terms of keeping things in balance - in fact, it's only one real pointer. I remarked at one stage to Alan during the evening that twitter was only as good as the network you had assembled with it. To me, that's the key to the balance of this whole unreal exponential trip that we self styled and self identified edubloggers have embarked. Build your network with care, adding names that can help you get to grips with any tool or issue so that you don't have to rush around like a headless chook trying to try everything.

Here's what I mean. I know hardly anything about Second Life - I made an avatar once and I think I need a software upgrade to get back in - but as Sean Fitzgerald is part of my network (whether he like it or not!) I don't need to be. Mobile learning? Try Alex Hayes or Leonard Low. Classroom pedagogy - Konrad Glogowski, Chris Harbeck or Jo Mcleay. I have my design experts, open source sources, higher ed, international schools, all on my network so I don't have to an expert in any of it. I just need to find them when I need them. That way, I can go to bed at 10.30 pm every night knowing that something I miss will be archived, that in my aggregator someone will review that new cool tool. And I can just focus on what I'm best at and be that node on someone else's network.


Leigh Blackall's excellent post To facilitate or to teach is a great platform to tie together several ideas that I've been pondering. I really admire where Leigh is trying to go in his battle to lose his "teacherly" voice in the running of his online course. He explores the tensions between his perception of facilitation and the differing expectations and frustrations of his students as they grapple with the expectations of self directed networked learning. Because he is willing to open up his practice and expose his own developing thinking, the resultant comments are as informative and insightful as the post and something that can be applied to any classroom situation. Leigh outlined his own personal guiding beliefs in his introduction:

The biggest challenge I am finding is the expectation for a teacher or instructor while everyone talks about a facilitator. I don’t think someone can be both, primarily because a teacher inherits a significant amount of power and traditional roles that counter act the more neutral and passive presence of a facilitator.

His battles are interesting to me because he points out that "almost everyone who is involved has experienced this type of schooled learning". The way things have always been done are a significant factor in Leigh's situation. And the battle between enabling learners rather than instructing them can be applied to any classroom situation, not just the uniqueness of facilitating an online learning community.

But in the comments section, we find that not everyone thinks that teacher/facilitator is a either/or scenario. Derek Wenmoth points out:

"... I think that much of the discussion leading to the idea of a teacher—facilitator continuum stems from perceptions of teaching activity that, for many people (in the areas I deal in at least) are no longer really the case (ie teaching activity that is already quite facilitative and less didactic)."

Konrad Glogowski, a Canadian middle school classroom practitioner posted an excellent comment where I found the following to be particularly meaningful:

"I realized that losing the teacherly voice has nothing to do with losing the voice of an expert. You see, I’d thought that, in order to be a co-participant and a co-learner, I had to learn along with my students. Nonsense. I discovered that they need a figure of authority, someone who knows the topic well, who is an expert and can offer advice, support, and assist them as they engage with the material. The facilitator still needs to be the content expert. That is why people come to us - because they want to learn from us, not with us.

And so, the challenge is that when I try to divest myself of my teacherly voice I need to remember that this process is not about losing the voice of the expert but about losing the voice of the authoritarian.

I admit, this may have very little relevance in your class, with a group whose expectations, career goals, and age are so vastly different from my group of 14-year-olds. I do believe, however, that what everyone looks for in a teacher or an instructor, regardless of the type of educational setting, is that they be an expert and project that air of confidence and expertise. They do want to learn from us.

And that’s why this whole process of building communities of learners and losing the teacherly voice is so hard. It is hard because we tend to think that what we need to create is the impression that we’re all in this together, that no one really is an expert in the classroom. The students won’t respond well to that. They pay their fees because they want access to experts, because they want to be taught, not because they can’t wait to be part of a virtual community of inquiry.

So, what do we do? I believe that it is important to lose the authoritarian voice, the controlling voice, but not the voice of an expert who chose to teach because of his passion for the subject. The students need to see that the instructor is someone who lives and breathes whatever it is that they’re studying, that they have in their midst someone who has a wealth of expertise. They are in that classroom because they want a piece of it."

The other voice I struggle to control when working with my class is the ''Guess what the teacher is thinking" line of conversation. That is so limiting and doesn't give any scope for my students to develop their own thinking or to describe their own processes but it is so easy to slip into this default mode. I like what Konrad describes in his classroom and it is directly applicable for my own situation because my students are similar in age range. Another interesting factor is that my students have to be in my classroom - they don't have the option to walk out if they feel my style and their learning needs don't gel. Leigh's working with adults who (presumably) have chosen to be part of his course and have the option of bailing out if they find the coursework is irrelevant or inaccessible.

I'm wondering if learning as Leigh describes it being "individually responsible and self motivated" can be more successful in his adult learner setting if his clientele had experienced more learning in that vein throughout their primary and secondary schooling. Now, I'm still not sure which side of the fence I sit in regards to the concepts of "deschooling" and "reschooling" (or even maintaining the status quo) but in the hands of progressive teachers there are models that can work in terms of giving students opportunity to be more in charge of their own learning. I like to think that are structures in my own classroom (and many others) that certainly reduce the "authoritarian" and get away from the "one size fits all" model. South Australian state primary schools have composite year levels that force the teacher to cater for individual needs as you just can't follow "grade level" curriculum - it needs to differentiated because of the age and ability range in any group of primary age kids. They start school poles apart anyway in terms of whether there is a culture of reading at home, where they sit in terms of their sibling order, whether English is a secondary language amongst their family or just plain maturity levels. I'm in awe of how our best junior primary teachers handle these little people and work hard to engage them and keep their progress moving in laying the foundations for literacy, numeracy, thinking and social responsibility.

The concept of student-initiated curriculum is an important one in the middle years of schooling but can be very badly implemented at only a lip-service level. Inquiry learning also has much to offer in offering students opportunity to follow their own path through particular concepts or skills – but again, as Artichoke has pointed out in the comments section here on my blog before, is something that requires a lot of work on the teachers’ part and can be easily mismanaged for minimal gain. But both approaches (and sometimes in combination) are a powerful option for the teacher to step out of the instructor role and into the facilitator role. Then the students hit high school and quite often, it’s all thrown out the window in the name of subjects that must be kept pure, lines that must be followed to lead to certain options like university courses. They’re all timetabled into fixed time blocks and the plasticity and ability to explore and discover is severely throttled back.

I’m aware it sounds like I’m blaming high schools, which is not true but their very structure ultimately creates the adults that demand the teacherly voice when they front up for Leigh’s course. Of course, there are plenty of primary school teachers who step up and command their class’s attention from go to whoa, centring themselves as the foundation of all knowledge, making sure that the teacherly voice is the only one their students will hear for the entirety of their formal education. But primary schools here in this part of the world have that flexibility where the teacher can consciously step out of the role of instructor and create exciting learning opportunities for their students, with or without the help of technology.

Maybe, it’s only deschooling that might produce the learners Leigh wants to interact with in his online community. Again, I’m as puzzled by the problems and potential solutions to really know what I think is the best solution – we’ve certainly heard about the concept of “learning to learn” a lot in our sector here – but it still has a way to go before these self motivated learners become commonplace and demand autonomy in their chosen education.


hype.jpg"Don't believe the hype - it's a sequel
As an equal, can I get this through to you.."
Artist: Public Enemy
Album: It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

This lyric strings together a lot of the online stuff I've been encountering and thinking about over the past week - kind of like a soundtrack in my brain. Public Enemy's plea to be wary of the American media (although of much greater magnitude and significance) can be easily applied to some recent examples and give me a greater appreciation of those edubloggers prepared to go against the grain, to question the "wisdom of the crowd" and to write some unpopular things. Bill Kerr and Tim Holt, for example, have important things to say and more often than not are using their blog as a form of mirror to their own and others' contradictions. Hey, why not? As far as I can see, they are exposing some of the hype.

More of my self-identified hype.

K12 PreConference Keynote Hype.
After not downloading this highly sought after file within the first 24 hours, I noticed a lot of praise laden blog posts filtering through, even a couple verging on gushing. The hype was unbearable - I had to see this for myself. But, I saw a long winded talking head video with overstretched metaphors and plugs for American coffee houses - what was the fuss all about? I didn't get it - an airport, so what? However, the hype made me watch it all the way through just to be sure. My impressions didn't change - but just to be clear, I like David Warlick, I didn't like the keynote. And I did post my opinion over on the K12 blog.

Facebook Hype.
I can't open my GMail without getting friend requests, pokes, questions, updates and general Facebook digital output. I joined Facebook because I wanted to see how this hugely popular social networking tool worked but I didn't bargain on the hype. A great Skype conversation between Sue Waters and Alex Hayes on Wednesday evening eased my mind somewhat - it's a walled garden where I can safely let the weeds grow without sacrificing my precious time.

Twitter Tool Hype.
For all its great networking value, twitter tends to help breed tool hype of the most mouth-frothingly kind.
UStream - I Scream. (Yet some people call it life-changing!!)
Skitch? Don't bother unless you're a Mac lover.
Chatcast - call and your online friends will come running.

I do believe that Darren Draper has captured twitter hype perfectly in this post.

Don't worry - I've generated plenty of my own hype on this blog - just that no-one seems to want to take it any further!


From Twitter:

Graham Wegner grahamwegner Is it me or do blog posts seem to be taking more effort - or are there more distractions like twitter and skype? 09:26 PM October 04, 2007 from web

Chris Lehmann chrislehmann @grahamwegner I think the new network makes short blogging less relevant, which means blogging has to be more substantive, which is harder. 08:07 AM October 04, 2007 from twitterrific in reply to grahamwegner Icon_star_empty 

Graham Wegner grahamwegner @chrislehmann. You're dead right - who wants to read about the latest tool 20 times - personal insight is rarer and harder to capture.

Chris Lehmann chrislehmann @grahamwegner I'm slowly getting o.k. with blogging less and longer. I still feel like I should write more. 08:16 AM October 04, 2007 from twitterrific in reply to grahamwegner Icon_star_empty


Lots of edubloggers have been plugging this so I'm probably another echo in the aggregator but the second annual K12 Online Conference starts very soon. I'll cut'n'paste the blurb so you get the gist if you haven't already heard about it:

The K-12 Online Conference invites participation from educators around the world interested in innovative ways Web 2.0 tools and technologies can be used to improve learning. This FREE conference run by volunteers and open to everyone. The 2007 conference theme is “Playing with Boundaries”. This year’s conference begins with a pre-conference keynote the week of October 8, 2007. The following two weeks, October 15-19 and October 22-26, forty presentations will be posted online to the conference blog (this website) for participants to download and view. Live Events in the form of three “Fireside Chats” and a culminating “When Night Falls” event will be announced. Everyone is encouraged to participate in both live events during the conference as well as asynchronous conversations.

K12 Online Conference is a special event because last year I got to present amongst the cream of online educators and was pretty well received. I didn't get a guernsey this year but this time around I get to fully immerse myself as participant.

So, after stating elsewhere on the edublogosphere my distaste for lists and rankings, I'll contradict myself and give you five good reasons to check it out.

  1. There is a great blend of innovation from those who promote web based learning and those who implement in the classroom. You'll never get this much talent at one conference - ever, except at K12. The fact that two classroom based teachers, Clarence Fisher and Brian Crosby, are amongst the keynote speakers should warm many hearts, including Mark Ahlness's!
  2. You make connections with new educators. If not for K12, I may not have become colleagues with Chris Harbeck, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Kim Cofino or Chris Betcher, just to name a few.
  3. You suddenly have a huge arsenal of resources that you can use back in your own school without reinventing the wheel. It's all there archived, just waiting for you whenever it suits.
  4. Help desk is included. At most conferences, you've got the workshop facilitator or presenter for a small amount of time and after that, you're on your own. But at the K12, you can easily contact any presenter for help or more information via the comments, linking back to their blog where you can usually find contact details. At any time in the future!
  5. It's free and as far as I know, totally untainted by commercial interests. This makes it an amazing grassroots event - for educators by educators, specifically in the K-12 sector.

Hope to see you there. I think I might stick my name down to host a Skype hour of "When Night Falls."


A vibrant exchange with Al Upton in the comments section here on this blog had me challenged with his point about educators being involved in "rich ongoing online learning that is reflected in their students’ learning." What does that look like in the classroom? My classroom? Any classroom? Al was open about his class's efforts:

[My class blog and the kids’ individual blogs (although often a struggle with the basic aim to provide an initial exposure to online networks … 8 and 9 year olds) is my attempt as a teacher in an open sense. Our explorations of Quest Atlantis - a MUVE … a bit like SL but with built in learning quests and missions for 9-12yo is my attempt in a virtual 3D game like learning environment … in a walled garden sense :]

So while I'm swanning around cyberspace, twittering this and networking that, building up connections near and far, what benefit has it brought the students that I teach? It's time to document my efforts at global digital collaboration for my class - warts and all.

My class is part of a primary school ( the North American equivalent is elementary) covering from 5 year olds to 13 year olds. We call ourselves middle school students because the school is divided into learning teams - junior primary, middle primary and the Middle Years Learning Unit (MYLU). Basically we form part of a 4 classroom block - usually made up of Year (Grade) 6/7's but as all classes are composite (multiple year levels) and Australian classrooms are funded to be class sizes of 30 from Year 3 onwards, that's how why I'm co-teaching a 5/6 combination with slightly younger kids mixed into my class.

Anyway, MYLU classes collaborate on several levels and co-plan for cross-curricular units of work. This past term's over-riding theme was Communication and I floated the idea of covering this by setting up class global partnerships where they could actively work through the process of communicating about their respective parts of the world. Of course, I had to lead the way - both because my online networking and Web 2 tools skills would be required plus it was my turn to "lead out" on the unit of work. I knew it was important to convince my MYLU teaching colleagues that I knew what I was doing (even if it wasn't true) and to be able to model some options as they got going with their classes. I turned to one of the educators I trust and respect the most, Doug Noon, to see if he'd be keen to work with me and to see if this concept could work.

We both figured a wiki would be a good rallying point for our collaboration and so SpinTheGlobe was created. There's been several well publicised global wiki projects around that have been very successful - the Horizon Project wiki , initiated by Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay, was one where I tagged in for a minor role as a peer review classroom - but I was keen to take a different approach and deliberately wanting to work in a low key and grassroots orientated way. This suited Doug as he also wanted to forge our own collective ideas rather than follow an established blueprint. He pointed out in one of our early e-mail exchanges about the possible gains for his students being that "These projects will involve my students and (hopefully) lead them toward a more global consciousness. That's my larger goal. For Alaskan kids, especially if they've never lived anywhere else, the larger world is a big unknown."

So, with the main idea being communicating how each other's parts of the world works, it was time for me to "lead out". I started the wiki, embedded some eye candy widgets to show location, time and temperatures of both locations and then got the class to brainstorm out what they already knew about our global partners a "spin of the globe" in Fairbanks, Alaska. It turned that they didn't know a lot - but we documented that on the wiki as a starting point and Doug got his kids to do the same. Then the tricky part of making collaborative decisions about which way to go came into play.

There are quite a few hurdles to be overcome in order to get a global project (even a grassroots one!) off the ground. The first hurdle is timing - my class were well settled with half a year of school under their belt and used to my "let's do this" approach to technology based learning while Doug was starting his school year with new kids, a new grade level and kids who weren't necessarily tech-savvy in the way required to be using the web and Web 2.0 tools in an efficient manner. The next hurdle was time - finding the time to commit to the project, then filling the time between waiting for Doug's students' next contribution with related work that maintained the interest and purpose. Another hurdle was our own communication patterns - ironic that the people who may learn the most about effective communication may be the teachers involved! I totally forgot to make Doug a wiki organiser at the start which created problems when he wanted to get his kids signed up. One of us would fire off an e-mail asking crucial questions or suggesting important changes in direction and the time differences or workload requirements would get in the way of a speedy and useful response.

But we got started. My class started posing questions on the wiki and Doug's started tagging Alaskan websites of interest in a account. Then my class started the same and using the Network feature both classes could look easily at each other's sites as a way of "frontloading" the students on a part of the world they know very little about. In this way, both groups were introduced to the power of social bookmarking and an image on one of the sites has become my reference point for demonstrating possibilities to my class. More on that shortly.

I also started my kids playing with FlickrStorm as a way of creating photogalleries of the topics up for discussion. That also produced important discussion as some kids were able to use the tool to stay focussed on the task at hand and others got distracted by the power of the tool. I even used this example in a comment on Doug's blog:

Working on the wiki for our “global partners”, I talked with the class about the idea of using photography as a way of communicating ideas about the Australian way of life. I let them loose using FlickrStorm to create a photo montage on a specific idea like Australian food, or money or sport. They had so much fun working out how FlickrStorm worked, using key words, adding images they liked to the download tray and then generating the final hosting page of images, that very few thought critically about the images they were choosing and what message they would send about our way of life. Reviewing these back in class as a group was very useful as we (the class as a whole, not just me) realised that the photo collections needed checking for validity and accuracy. Check the difference between the collection of Australian money images from one child who was able to keep the end goal in mind in contrast to the other student who got caught up in the moment. The class discussion when viewed on data projector was invaluable. What conclusions would someone draw when the US dollar features in the pics? But when I send the students back tomorrow in the computing room to review, fix and link in their image pages, I reckon the results will be much, much closer to achieving their goal.

We still haven't decided whether these galleries are a key ingredient in this project. Another major frustration is when a tool with potential turns out to have issues related to the school environment. I started playing with VoiceThread the other week and immediately got excited - in fact, I was convinced I had found the key to the next part of our collaboration. To set the scene, I focussed my trial example on an element of an image from one of the Alaskan websites showing an inukshuk, which I had never seen or heard of before. I grabbed images from FlickrCC for my VoiceThread, then recorded questions with each image. I saved it and then the next day, caught Chris Harbeck on Gmail Chat during my recess break. He, too, loves VoiceThread and offered to check out my example and add a voice comment. He did, even ignoring my mispronunciation of the word inukshuk, and I was sold. I started imagining South Australian and Alaskan student voices posing and answering questions via VoiceThread then writing up what they had learnt from their primary sources back at the wiki. I was so excited I showed my class my VoiceThread up on the interactive whiteboard. "I can't hear your voice very well, Mr.Wegner."

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="480" height="360" wmode="transparent" /]
Then it came to a grinding halt. My original example had been recorded at home and I soon found that VoiceThread doesn't work well from within our school environment - the images wouldn't upload and the record button took too long to activate and it basically bombed. I did find out from Chrissy Hellyer (during a chatcast for Kim Cofino's parent Web 2.0 presentation in my lunch hour) that she had similar issues at her school but they were solvable by unblocking a specific IP address and a certain port on the server. She also emphasised the worth of pursuing a solution as VT has a lot of great collaborative potential. So that is something still to work on.

But it does bring up another thing to consider when "going global" in your classroom - don't assume that your access to web technology is the same as your partner's. Doug's class hit the issue of student emails in order to create unique identities for student work on the wiki. At my school all students from Year 3 have an email address that is packaged up with their internet logon. Not so at Doug's school. There may be other bandwidth issues to consider. Certain sites may be blocked or filtered at one end but not the other.

Still, I'm pretty pleased with our progress so far with our grassroots global collaboration. Why do I refer to it as grassroots? Well, both Doug and I are committed public educators (he's a bit more vocal about it than me) and we weren't shooting for any high concepts that seem to be the topic of flavour 'round the edublogosphere. Just because an issue is high priority in the networks doesn't mean that our age students will be all that engaged. What they are interested in is themselves and how they might be perceived by others. So, if all Doug and I do is raise some awareness that yes, your way (the students) of acting and thinking isn't the only way and to debunk some misconceptions about our respective parts of the world.

We now know there are no penguins in Alaska !


socialrank2.jpgName the second hottest elearning blog on the web.

You're reading it.

Now before you choke on your Weetbix, coffee or whatever you happen to be consuming at this moment, bear in mind that this is the opinion of a new "service" on the web called Social Rank. I won't link to it here right now because experience has shown that not all new services casting edubloggers in a favourable light are what they appear to be at first glance. Anyone remember the OEDb list of Top 100 Education Blogs that caused a bit of controversy late last year? This blog was in that list too.

Don't worry - there's plenty of talent in the list - but where's Stephen Downes, Josie Fraser, Dave Cormier or Leigh Blackall? My blog isn't even focussed on the topic of elearning and certainly is a grabbag of educational allsorts that defies logical categorisation. Hmmm.. if I wasn't so cynical, I'd be flattered. Instead, the odour of day old prawns seems to waft off the screen at me when I'm looking at the Social Rank elearning site, Learning Signal. (No link - try Googling it if you must.)

But can anyone apart from SocialRank themselves explain how this "service" is supposed to work? And how does TGZ rank so high (for the moment)?


As part of the public school system here in South Australia, I have access to numerous resources and tools that help to measure my capabilities as an effective educator as well as provide essential data for possible future initiatives and directions. One tool that I've recently used is called EdCap (the Cap being short for Capability) which is a thorough survey tool that gets teachers to rate themselves in various facets of elearning and the embedding of ICT into their classroom practice. Of course, Edcap reveals as much about my department's priorities as it does about any educator's skills and attitudes level. There are 35 questions divided into ten sections which give the participant a "grade" into ore of four segments on a continuum. I finished up my Edcap survey the other day and one section that stood out in my mind was in relation to my participation in online learning. There were ten statements that I had to rate on a gradient of five starting from Never to More Than Weekly. I couldn't help but think about blogging when I came to the final statement - I engage with my peers in on-line communities.

And the reason that this statement seems to be an important one to me is because of the whole idea of communities online which could and does take many shapes and forms. For me, it's the process of blogging that has connected me with the most amazing array of educators worldwide and it's still the process that is most powerful in providing new and relevant leaning for me. It's become really important for me to tune into voices that I've come to value and respect, that challenge and redirect my own point of view. I keep adding new voices to my Google Reader and I have some of the other network tools to blame for that. I'll follow someone on Twitter and they'll post a link to their latest blog post - I'll go and read it and wonder to myself why I'm not subscribed to their blog and bang! Another node on my network.

A recent voice that I've really enjoyed is Clay Burell (I've been aware of his work for a while but hadn't really crossed virtual paths before) and his recent post that pitted blogging against newer forms of online community like Ning fits right into this exploration. Clay says:

Before you read it, don't get me wrong. I think Ning is a great thing - but, at the risk of sounding like a prig and a purist, I don't think it's in the same ballpark as open blogging. And I worry that teachers who mistake these walled blogs (or social blogworks?) for "open range" blogging will never learn the crucial role that Technorati, tagging, hyperlinking, and such play as the "ligaments" of the connectivity that is real blogging. And thus never be able to introduce their students to that experience.

I find that Ning is a bit of a walled garden, a captive audience drawn together on a common theme and it is a very useful tool, providing an online community starting point for those educators new (and sometimes experienced) to the interactive online world. It's a pre-packaged way to link up and network with others - it provides so much in one spot that it's tempting not to go any further or look at other possibilities. Even allowing for the fact that some of these Ning sites have large numbers of members (Classroom 2.0 has over 3000 members) you are effectively limiting your network by seeing this as the solution to your online learning community needs. Where Clay is alluding is that there is more power, more control in the practice of blogging where you actually become the architect of your own learning network, creating your own unique learning community. It's been argued before that it takes time to build up your audience and gain meaningful feedback via comments but I have found that taking that path reaps a lot of unexpected rewards.

Using other network tools can help fast track newcomers and get them noticed quicker than a couple of years ago. An example of this is when Darren Draper's video "Are You Paying Attention?" went viral and edubloggers wanted to know where this innovative thinker's online home was. His blog, Drape's Takes was born out of that particular avenue. Another blogger who caught my notice earlier this year was Kevin Sandridge who used twitter cleverly to add key people as his friends and in a short amount of time gather valuable attention to his blogging. He also worked out the power of Skype as well and leveraged that by seeking out voices he wanted to interact with to participate in conversations and quickly built a network that may have taken much longer even twelve months ago.

So, I would hope that if we think that giving our students the skills to sort through the information overload and become meaningful contributors to the world is important that we don't model the easy option to them and have just "joining a community" as our way of engaging with the network.  If you read and reflect , you want your ideas as open to as many people as possible.

Although I'm not much of a handyman (my wife will vouch for that!), there is a great deal of satisfaction in creating something for yourself as opposed to having it provided for you with all of the amenities provided. Building your own network from blog posts and comments, twitter connections, wiki connections, skype name exchanges in chatcasts means you have personal investment in what you have constructed. As cool as Ning is, I could abandon it tomorrow without a second thought. I couldn't do that to my own online presence - I have built up so much collegiality with people worldwide, invested too many hours in my own writing and resources and gatecrashed too many Skype chats and other impromptu sessions or webcasts to turn back now.