OK, I got a little passionate tonight, and thought I'd better share it. Here's my response to yet another post by a prominent edublogger questioning the value of our Classroom 2.0 network...

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This line of thinking continues to mystify me.

I spoke to a group of 200 educators on Saturday about web 2.0, and four of them raised their hands when I asked how many were blogging. The early adopters seem to forget 1) that the great bulk of educators aren't like them and aren't going to be so proactive to go out and do all the things you have done to get where you are, and 2) that most educators don't have the time to do all of that. So, if you really want them involved in the energizing effects of Web 2.0, it doesn't make sense to play the "when I started blogging I had to walk 2 miles each way uphill in the snow" game.

There's a reason that MySpace gets 375,000 sign-ups A DAY: it taps into the ability to get yourself up there and get attention and feedback quickly. It doesn't mean that you are stuck there. It doesn't mean that you can't start your own external blog someday. It's not a prison.

Please come to Classroom 2.0 and stay long enough to do more than just leave your URL and try to drive traffic to your blog, Miguel. I felt like that showed a real lack of respect to those who are there. Listen in on some of the conversations of educators who have NEVER EVER done anything like this and who have been AFRAID to put themselves out they, are now they reading and writing and are so excited by how they are feeling.

That the edublogger "old guard" has been publicly disdaining (too strong a word?) of the Ning network is a mystery to me. I have to imagine that those prominent bloggers who have audience and keep questioning the value of Ning, but not really exploring it and especially not even getting involved in the dialog, are actually making it harder for the thousands of non-blogging educators who read them to feel comfortable taking a baby step by going to Classroom 2.0.

The edubloggers keep saying that they wish there was a way that the edublogosphere wasn't such an echo chamber, with just a few edubloggers being read. I hate to say it, but it makes me wonder if the flat nature of the social network, which really doesn't seem to devolve into a hierarchy, isn't a little threatening to those voices that are most public. There are educators in Ning who are taking brave steps, speaking up a little, getting supported and encouraged, making connections, and finding new friends--and all in matter of a few days--that would never get that kind of mentoring in the regular edublogosphere.

Interesting that I feel so passionate about this. Hmmmm... It's the Tom Hoffman in me.

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Steve
I think your points are right on the mark and very valid.
Thanks for creating this space for conversation and exploration and experimentation.
Kevin
OK, so Miguel responded to my comments on his blog.

"Steve, Ning isn't threatening...but it's not blogging exactly, either. I'm into blogging, not social networking a la Ning or MySpace. It's too easy to make friends via social networking. It is less about clicking a button "Add a friend," more about reflecting deeply about others' writing, then sharing your response...while that can happen in Ning/MySpace, blogging satisfies the need. I don't think you have to be well-known to get that benefit. After all, are you blogging to learn, or are you blogging to get name recognition?"


The friends comment is interesting. I think we have struggled here to understand that as well. However, a couple of times recently brand new members have expressed how welcomed they felt when people tagged them to be a friend. That was unexpected for me, but it makes sense. If you have little to no experience, and come into a foreign land, that does feel like a welcoming gesture.

While blogging satisfies the need to read and think and write, you *do* have to be well-known to get the benefits of attention, feedback, and dialog. Blogging to learn in a vacuum is hard, and it's not reasonable to expect the other 96 out of 100 educators to get really excited about it.

"At Ning, like other social networking, the focus seems to be on getting your name out there. Maybe that has a wider appeal."

I don't know that "getting your name out there" is the focus of Ning. Being part of a community, yes. Not feeling alone, yes. Quickly engaging in conversation, yes.

"I read Classroom 2.0 everyday...the posts are interesting, but I think they would work just as well in an individual blog."

This just seemed to miss the point entirely to me. 1) Many of the posts would never have seen the light of day because of how hard it is to start your own blog and speak to the empty room, and 2) even if they did get to an individual blog, they wouldn't have been seen by anyone.

"As to the lack of respect portion of your comment, including the get more hits to your blog, I'm going to ignore that comment. It's unworthy of the conversation we're having."

I'm not sure why this is unworthy of the conversation. Trying to draw people outside of the social network and saying that he'd rather see each Classroom 2.0 member with their own blog doesn't respect the value of what is going on inside of Classroom 2.0. Again, he has a large voice, and I don't think it's out of line to ask him to be responsible for the impact of what he says. If Miguel, one of the most prominent voices in the edublogosphere, says to the 96% of educators who are not blogging, "Classroom 2.0/Ning is not really good enough," then he's put them in the same voiceless bind they were in before. His forum post gave *his* blog address and then said: "Feel free to drop by and join in on the conversation!" That felt condescending to me--to all those who are already having a conversation in Classroom 2.0.

I didn't feel that Miguel really addressed the issue of how to mentor or help people into the conversation--or even understood that it matters.
Steve,

I'm not sure I get all that being said, but I want to validate the importance of this site. And we've only seen the tip of the iceberg here, with all things being possible. You have established a classroom of teachers and educational thinkers who are working towards similar ends, and the network seems healthy, seems to be thriving, in fact. The power of this is substantial. This is pioneering work, for you, for us, for other bloggers, for educational-network-formers. It's a model.

It's kind of like Ellis Island, in an ideal sense. This is an entry point to a new culture.

But does that mean only beginners should be here--no, emphatically no. We need mixed ability groups, mixed ages, mixed educational positions; great diversity of people working towards common purpose. What is the purpose? Nothing less than development of a new educational system. That's big work. To accomplish this, we all have to play multiple roles: we have to be the guides, the scouts, the coaches, the learners. We can ask good questions (and dumb ones, too), and pool our resources for answers--and more questions.

I would like to thank you for Classroom 2.0. It's professionally uplifting and very valuable as a learning tool. It's delightful and growth-producing to be connected to thoughtful educators who are learning things together.

Oh by the way, I'm not particularly fond of the comment on the articles that speaks of "letting baby Ning birds fly". That sounds patronizing; it creates an us/them viewpoint of "more experienced" and "babies" which is counterproductive. Isn't this supposed to be a learning network? Doesn't everybody bring everybody along? There is plenty for the "experienced" to learn by working with educators who are changing the nature of education! We need committed thinkers who contribute in a positive, ongoing way. Everyone--at every level-- has a lot to learn.

I found Classroom 2.0 by reading Will Richardson's site, particularly that article that points out similarities in what's possible in with advanced degrees (such as University of Michigan's Social Computing Masters Degree) to what's possible with Classroom 2.0. Seems like we're in action with our own informal advanced degree program--free! Thanks, Steve.
Thanks for reminding me, Connie, of the value of "community." I'd forgotten that salient aspect of Classroom 2.0 in my desire to defend our network. :) I do think that Classroom 2.0 potentially is building a engaged, organized group of educators who can quickly discover, discuss, and mobilize around issues. Yes, that can happen in a looser way in the more general edublogosphere, but I think the network can give us, and others, a tangible sense of being a defined community.
Personally, I think this debate is like gazing at the inside of your navel. What I mean by that is--while people who are "super bloggers" may be debating the usefulness of the site, or questioning it's purpose--to the mainstream classroom teacher, that debate doesn't even matter.

IF they find this useful, they'll use it, which I think more and more teachers obviously are. If they'd rather blog they'll blog. IF they'd rather facebook or Second Life-it, they'll do that. Do we have to judge the site or debate it's worth?

Isn't any tool that gets us participating online worthwhile?

Do we go on Myspace and argue that Facebook is better? Or go on Facebook and argue that teachers should be using Ning instead? To each his own tool.....that's what we want for our students so shouldn't we want that openness for our own profession?

Maybe I only have time to drop in here once a week--even so , I have learned something every time I've been on here, met teachers, found some new blogs, learned about some new web 2.0 tools, and I read a fair amount of blogs as well.

I also think you're right, that when you are first blogging, you feel like you are talking to empty space, and it takes time to develop your network. For people who aren't interested in doing that, or interested in more immediate dialogue, sites like this are useful.

Lastly, I'm starting to use Ning to set up smaller private groups for discussions within and without our campus with smaller groups, which I think will be useful.

Anyway, I haven't even finished reading the posts on this subject, so pardon me if I'm being repetitive.

Again, more power to anyone going online and trying any web 2.0 tool and being willing to engage and learn.
I would also like to point out the difference between blogging and discussion. At least as far as I understand it so far. When you blog - you write a whole lot about what you think and then people tell you what they think about what you think. It is more like a monologue with response, than a dialogue. On many blogs, especially the "big" ones, if you leave a comment or a response, you will never hear from the blogger about your comment. They have moved on to the next thing they want to tell you. This is not to say that blogging isn't awesome. I've just started and I'm getting a lot out of it. And, having people come to read my blog is not a bad thing.

Discussions on the other hand are conversations. I can bring up a topic here on the discussion board and know that I will get lots of advice, answers, help and suggestions. And it isn't a one-way conversation. If I bring up a topic, I will check back and respond to what other people have said and people respond to each other. A blog is much more hierarchical, it belongs to someone and they control it. In a discussion, one person might throw the ball, but it is up to the group to keep it in the air.

So far, this is the power of Ning for me. I am listening to so many voices and contributing my own. I think it is a shame that some of the more "famous" (and if you've read my other comments, there ain’t nothing wrong with craving a little fame) educators don't seem to be participating here. Maybe they like holding their own court and don't want to just be part of the masses (ok that was a little mean, sorry about that).
Elizabeth:

OK, you've made me feel a little better about my own acerbic comments. I'll now agree to resolve to be much more positive. It was a moment of weakness. :)

Steve
As an employee and Classroom 2.0 advocate, I appreciate the potential unity that a site like this offers, as well as the aggregate content provided at classroom20.net. The more scattered the discussion (i.e. blogs), the more difficult it can be to begin to get an idea of what this movement is all about. If we don't provide an entry point (or even multiple scaffolded entry points) then many teachers might just get overwhelmed and quit before they get far enough to see how powerful the tools and ideas (especially the ideas) are.

The conversation between Miguel and Steve illustrates to me part of the challenge behind the Classroom 2.0 movement. Many educators do ask themselves, "Why do I choose a wiki, over a blog, over a discussion forum, over something like ning which has a little bit of all of it". Communication can happen in widely disparate ways and blogs are great for reflection and some types of communication. Collaboration however needs some central space in order to generate shared momentum and that is what I view the this Ning site and the classroom20.net. In the end I think the existence of central shared spaces like this will ultimately benefit the blogosphere as a whole. In other words maybe I will say something here that will lead somebody to say, "Hey that guy has a point, that's a pretty good idea" and then he or she might go check out by blog and read something. Then again, they might just say that I talk too much :)
I'm appreciating all the comments and conversation stemming from Miguel's post. I too have fallen into the trap of wanting people to visit my sites, and the idea of discussions that can be read by many is very appealing to me. I just can't find the time to say all the things I want to say, really I barely have time to think them, I don't have time to read all the wonderful thoughts, and I don't have time to comment.

But this network is valuable to me as well. As much as I'd like people to visit my sites I really only use it for my students and their parents (and I barely get any of them to read what I write!) so I joined Classroom 2.0 because I need to see what all of you are doing. I don't consider myself a noob but that's just my ego. I learn a lot from new users and those who've been blogging and social networking for years. I am a social learner and do not think up great things on my own. I get most of my ideas from what others are doing and have done. That's why I'm here, to learn from all of you.

So thanks Miguel for stirring the pot and thanks Steve for shaking the pot! And thanks to everyone else for showing the many glorious shades of gray that make every topic so interesting!

Al G
Great phrase: "akin to learning to play the violin in public." Very, very descriptive.
Agreed!
I agree with you in part; it is definitely a good thing to have a support system of teachers who have a similar perspective on education, and who are interested in trying new things.

But I think it's also important to hear new ideas as well. This is something that can happen in a discussion, but reading blogs offers more of a shmorgish-board of ideas that can spark something new. I read about Classroom 2.0 on Dana's blog. I started thinking some more about by book clubs on Cindy's blog. And I rethought my entire approach to education on Karl's blog.

That being said, I can agree with some of the concerns about blogging posted here. I've been blogging since fall of 2006, and while that's one year less than Miguel, it gets distressing post after post without any readers or comments. Some would probably point out that I'd have more readers if I posted more often - but I'm not going to write to a brick wall either. I know I have some readers, but not enough to generate the kind of feedback that will help me really think about my teaching.

Anyway, I think Carolyn makes a good point above. If it's helpful, we'll use it. If it's not, we'll find something else.

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