writing and learning
Did you know Thomas Edison’s notebooks ran to three and a half million pages? He wrote down ideas, plans, possibilities, drew sketches, visualised his thoughts and wrote about his colleagues’ work. He used words like if, might, would, could and try very frequently and didn’t bother to write correctly. Obviously his note-taking was productive: in 1882 alone he submitted 107 different patent applications. His notebooks have been published and there’s probably lots about them online somewhere, but I’m dialling up from an expensive hotel so no links today.
We’ve been talking about writing and conversation as tools for learning at the university pedagogy course today, and it’s so utterly relevant to blogging. Edison’s notebooks were cited as an example of “thinking writing” (perhaps there’s a different word commonly used in English? the Norwegain is tenkeskriving), which is experimental, exploratory and usually just for yourself. Here the writing process is important because that’s where you learn. Presentation writing is the kind of writing where your main goal is to communicate something you’ve already learnt to other people.
Blogs are in between. Three and a half million pages of notes doesn’t sound that much to a blogger (I printed out all my archives when I’d been blogging for a year, and the pile of paper was a lot thicker than my PhD thesis). Blogging is definitely a place for thinking, exploring, trying things out and learning, and I wouldn’t be surprised if analysis showed that bloggers, like Edison in his notebooks, use if, might, would, could and try more frequently than writers in other genres.
Olga Dysthe, the writing and learning specialist, cited dozens of interesting-sounding studies it’d be fascinating to read and relate to blogging. And she gave a lot of examples of writing exercises to use in classes. Writing is a really good way of learning, and especially writing where you write full sentences rather than just words (apparently that activates more cognitive processes or something, empirical studies show, and I think full sentences forces you to contextualise things more. I’ll have to find that study!). Now, I’ve hardly done the empirical studies, but following that it does seem likely that full on blogging, with its full sentences and linking would be a rather excellent learning tool.
Using weblogs with students I initially thought of the writing as something that they’d do at home or after class. Classroom time should be spent “learning”, I imagined, and writing would happen outside. It didn’t take long to realise that most of the students didn’t blog when we kept blogging and writing out of the classroom. Once we started blogging in the classroom, more writing happened outside of the classroom too. In retrospect it’s obvious: if you think blogging’s a good way of learning, you need to demonstrate that by trusting it enough that you spend classroom time on it. In addition, most people don’t “get” blogging instantly. They need time and experimentation to see whether and how it can be useful for them.
I need to complete this pedagogy course to get a permanent teaching position at the university, and for my final assignment, which has to be done before the third meeting, in October, I’m going to write an article about weblogs, writing and learning. I want it to be a practical sort of an article, the sort of article someone who was wondering how to use weblogs in teaching could pick up and think, ah, that doesn’t sound too hard, I’ll use that, and that, but I’d rather do that this way. I’ll start by posting blogging exercises I’ve used, and ones I think I might use, here. Not just now though, it’s dinner time!