A few years ago, during a session with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project‘s Summer Institute, I was discussing how we were going to use blogs and a networking space of the National Writing Project for sharing and reflecting and connecting. I went slow and step-by-step. I could see, however, that many in the room — these mostly veteran teachers — just could not wrap their mind around what we were asking them to be doing with technology. I tried to create mental pictures, drew a diagram on the whiteboard and racked my brain for other ways to explain it.
But many remained confused and one person got so frustrated with me, she stormed right out of the computer lab. I was taken aback, to be honest, because the term “blog” had long been in popular culture and MySpace was all the rage in the news. I thought they would have some cultural references to at least get a hook on. (Some teachers that summer did “get it” but not many.)
I was reminded of this because yesterday, I worked with this coming summer’s group of Summer Institute teachers and it was a world of difference. We use a closed Ning social networking site (see above) for our institute and within minutes, with no fuss, we had all fourteen teachers signed up, writing, commenting and changing their homepage themes. Another few minutes and they were registered with the National Writing Project so they could take part in the eAnthology, a wonderful closed writing network tool that connects participants in summer institutes across the country. Before my hour was up, everyone was online and connected and no one seemed overly confused or pissed off at me (I like that).
Is this emblematic of the shift that we keep talking about? Has Facebook made it easier for us to talk about social networking? I think so, although only a few hands went up when I asked who uses technology with their students. But they seemed ready to learn and to be more open to new ideas. I left satisfied that this group might use our Ning site in the month between yesterday’s orientation session and the day when the month-long institute kicks off in July.
Peace (in the shift),
PS — Don’t know what a National Writing Project Summer Institute is all about?
At our site, the goals of our institute are:
- to help participating teachers reflect upon their own expertise as teachers of writing and share this knowledge with their peers;
- to help participating teachers organize and prepare ways of presenting this expertise to teachers outside WMWP;
- to make available to participating teachers the latest theory and research in the field;
- to help participating teachers see themselves as writers.
The Invitational Summer Institute program embodies these four goals, which reflect the philosophy of the National Writing Project. Participants will prepare and present professional workshops, read currrent theory and research in their chosen area, conduct informal action research projects in their classrooms, do their own self-directed writing, and help their colleagues with this writing through writing response groups.