Sometime week before last I posted a little screen capture from the Blogs at Penn State admin dashboard showing some basic system stats. I published the screen capture without comment — I wasn’t really sure what the numbers really represented — what is an “Active Author” for example? Take a look at today’s stats below …
Last week I was lucky enough to give a guest lecture in my good friend, Bart Pursel’s, IST 110 class. I used to teach IST 110 nearly every semester while I was at the College of IST. As a matter of fact, I had a big hand in the design of the course — my team built the first hybrid offering of the course that took full advantage of the web, a problem-based learning approach, and new ways of thinking about how faculty and students should interact. Let’s just say I feel very attached to the course and the kinds of students it attracts. This class was no different — 50 or so very smart students all wanting to talk, engage, and discuss nearly every point I tried to make. Bart is doing a great job with the students … introducing them to all sorts of technology — from blogs and wikis to podcasts and virtual worlds. He is taking a week by week approach to ask them to work and interact with different technologies throughout the semester. Each time I said, “do you know about X” they would all say yes. It was nice talking to students who seem to be in the know.
When I got to blogs I was trying to make my point that these tools are really personal content management tools and not just there for random thoughts. I showed a slide that has little thought bubbles that list all sorts of opportunities for using a PSU Blog … things like ePortfolio, note taking, team work spaces, and more are represented on the slide.
Bart stopped me and asked the class if any of the students had posted since the lessons on activating and using the blogs — not a single person raised their hands. Not one. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised. Either was Bart … he wrote about it late last weekend and I left a comment there. It has me thinking more about the whole situation and I am wondering how others feel about a couple of fundamental questions.
The first question that hit me over the head is related to something I started to think about recently — can we honestly expect them to “come over to our stuff” just because we build it? This isn’t the same old issue with them showing up with accounts at Blogger, FaceBook, MySpace, and others … this to me is about giving them a real reason to use our tools. I am continuing to attempt to rebrand the blog and when I have a chance to really talk the concept through with people they do get it. I am just not sure how to make the message clear without having to deliver it … that one is confusing me. In my opinion the thing that needs to happen is that students must be asked to integrate the technology into their classes in a meaningful way. I saw a great site created with the Blogs at Penn State the other day from a woman who runs the PSU Alumni Magazine … she used the Blogs as a tool to track her journey through Alaska. It is a wonderful example of how a blog tool allowed someone to create an experience — in this case it had nothing to do with anything other than the content … and that published content was born out of the need to share.
The second question I have is related to getting people engaged in this idea of how we drive adoption in the “blogs for ePortfolio” space … my post last week about it seemed to capture a little mindshare among more than a handful of people and it served as a great basis for a discussion (and the emergence of an opportunity) today during a lunch meeting. The idea that we could get faculty and students really working together to create a plan that helps track intellectual and personal development was little more than a pipe dream for me last week. After today’s lunch meeting I think we have at least two opportunities to make this real. The first came from a colleague in the College of Education who has been committed to ePortfolio for much longer than I have been thinking about. She will find a way to make it all go because it all makes sense to her … I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get others to consider this form of portfolio space. Today’s opportunity will be a step towards the larger goal of getting new people interested in how we do this. It won’t be a huge project, but both opportunities could prove to be tipping points.
Can we do it with big numbers? I have no idea, but that question brings me back to where all this started … what’s in a number? Does counting … count? If turning 1000 students out of 45,000 into people who care enough about their development that they are willing to use our stuff to store, manage, and reflect on their stuff are we being successful? And if I look back at my slide pasted up there would 1,000 using it for portfolio, another 1,000 using it for note taking, another 1,000 for sharing videos they’ve made, another 1,000 using it to manage teamwork, and so on really matter? When that adds up we have something to report. Until then, can it be classified as a bad decision to pursue this opportunity? Not in my book — by any measure progress is what I am after. And looking at my little system screen capture tells me we have made progress already. If you’ve read this far, you might as well leave a comment with some thoughts.