Summer reflections – transparency, blogging and life

We’ve been blogging here at the GenYES blog about 6 months, so it’s time to look back and reflect. Every summer we re-evaluate our tools and read the comments from our students, teachers, and the partner-teachers who work with the GenYES students. Based on these comments, we upgrade our online tools, change the curriculum, and update our web resources. All those improvements will be announced soon. But today I was thinking about the blog.

We started the blog in reponse to a survey we did last year with the teachers involved in our programs. (About this blog | Welcome Post #1) For years, we’ve sent out weekly emails to our teachers with resources, tips, links into the curriculum and ideas for connecting students and teachers to great content and projects. The overwhelming response from our teachers was that they thought a blog was a good idea. Most said they would read it, and a slightly smaller percentage said they would contribute.

It hasn’t quite worked out the way we expected. I suppose that in hindsight, history should have taught us that everyone intends to do things, but it’s always harder than you expect! Participation by our teachers has been pretty limited. The vast majority of comments and reactions have been from educators who aren’t working with our programs. There are probably several reasons:

  1. Blogs being blocked in our schools. We had assumed that since our schools have to whitelist our domain to use the tools and online curriculum, the blog would get through too. But it turns out that the subdomain blog.genyes.com gets blocked anyway.
  2. The blog engine we chose (WordPress) is great, but it’s more complicated than we thought to run a group blog.
  3. Group blogs just don’t seem to resonate with people. Many other group blogs are seeing this same reaction. Blogs seem to work better as personal expression and seem more cohesive with a single voice.
  4. We’ve ended up doing twice as much work. We still send out the weekly emails, and use the blog items to populate it. But if we just link directly to the blog, teachers can’t access the blog at their school. So Megan tends to do the emails, and I do the blog. Dennis has been really busy with his Liberian school and writing a book.
  5. The collaboration between our schools seems to work better with deliberation on our part about who would make good partners. We take time to match new GenYES teachers up with veteran GenYES teachers. They can email each other or talk on the phone. We hook up classrooms for collaboration projects, but get out of the way and let the teachers work out their own interaction. It seems to work – should we push something high tech just to prove a point?
  6. No one out there has taken us up on the offer to be part of the blogging team. Guess they are busy teaching GenYES kids how to take over the world. Actually, that’s more important.

Another reflection is that I’ve taken over the blog. It just happened, not sure why. We meant it to be a group blog, and it’s just not working out that way. I feel bad about that, because I know that the more it becomes “my” blog, the less likely it will become a platform for collective thinking and collaboration. Yet, the topics that generate the most traffic are my personal thoughts on ed tech. As time goes on, I’ve felt more comfortable writing posts that are more personal and reflective rather than just resource posts. The posts about my experiences with Second Life have gotten enormous traffic and links (well, for us, anyway.) The traffic analysis also shows that people are searching on my name. Not what we expected at all, but it seems to reinforce the idea that people like to read blogs that are personal. Guess I’ll have to accept my new *grin* celebrity status. Watch here for further head-swelling.

The GenYES blog seems to be more succesful out in the wide world than inside our own schools. So,  at the very least, it appears to be a nice way to introduce people to our ideas about student empowerment without hitting them over the head with “sales” tactics. The traffic continues to improve, and we are now ranked 110,052 of all blogs on the Internet by Technorati. That may not sound great, but we started out ranked in the 2 million range!

Generation YES (the company) started out as a way to take one person’s good ideas (Dennis Harper) about how to empower K-12 students with technology and create materials that schools could invest in–invest time, and yes, that awful word, money. When Dennis started this, the idea was that an inspirational message was good, but that people wouldn’t really change their practice without longer-term support or a way to do ongoing research on the impact. So instead of paying for a one-time workshop or keynote speech, they could pay essentially the same amount for training and materials that supported their own change process. In a way, the blog supports that same idea, because it can reach more people than a keynote. Still, it’s obvious that reading a blog is not “doing” — but simply one small part of the process of changing mindsets about authentic student participation in K-12 education.

So, what’s the verdict? Not quite what we expected, but it still seems like a good idea. Six months is a lifetime on the Internet, but a small blip in school-time. I know that many of our teachers, despite seemingly endless announcements, still don’t know about our blog. Today we had a meeting and talked about maybe trying Google Groups or something like that. Not sure what the answer is…. but we’ll just have to keep trying!

Sylvia

4 thoughts on “Summer reflections – transparency, blogging and life”

  1. Hey I read your blog, and I even link out to it from Twitter. I do that for anyone I follow in Twitter out of respect. I figure if I follow them I’m getting the nod about a post before it hits my reader, so thanks. I have my own blog, but I am also a member of a group blog at http://scasl.wordpress.com
    That one began as a groups blog with supposedly four authors. We have added one additional author too. But I am primarily the caretaker and the person posting the most content. it wasn’t supposed to be that way. I think its because I have a more vested interest in it. I “make” time for it. Oh well. Thanks for your twitter comment today about my rant. I now feel like it was an over-reaction. I thought 24 hours was enough time to wait, but apparently I should have given it 48 hours. Anyway, your supportive tweet, along with others makes me feel a little better.

  2. We’re using Google groups in a 9-12 setting and have been very happy with it. (Though it may be an issue if sites are blocked.) We also use Blogger which dovetails pretty nicely with the Groups and allows multiple authors if you need.

  3. Hi Cathy,
    Rants are good! Really, I think that this medium allows people to rant, and then what happens next happens in public. If you had that thought, so did others, and by making your thoughts public, the answers got posted in public. Seems to me like a win-win for everyone.

    Kern,
    Google groups does seem like the way to go, and like all Web 2.0 stuff, it’s easy enough to get started, and easy enough switch if something better comes along.

  4. Plus Sylvia there is something to the fact that Google ‘isn’t going anywhere.’ I mean, I worry about recommending services to people only later to find out it’s joined TechCrunch’s deadpool. It’s the only reason I hesitate to recommend something like PBWiki to my staff. They have a terrific service, but they only have three guys working on it and if for some reason the company went under, many in my staff wouldn’t understand why one day all their stuff just disappeared. Good luck!

Leave a Reply