A few weeks ago, I got to teach a workshop for students in the Upward Bound program at UNC-CH. This is the same program (not the same students or location) that I worked in last summer. I had approached the director of Upward Bound at UNC for a couple of reasons: (a) I want to be involved with the program in whatever ways I can and (b) I work at UNC-CH so if I am going to be connected to an Upward Bound program it makes sense that this is the one.
Turns out, they offer workshops to the students at least one Saturday a month during the academic year. I suggested we do a workshop on blogging – just an intro – and he thought it would be a great idea. I got two other people to join me, both doctoral students, and one who has an amazing reputation as a blogger.
I was told there could be about 50 students between grades 9-12. I sent out a survey to the students in advance to try to gauge their knowledge/experience/interest about blogging and got zero response. So when the three of us sat down, we pulled something together out of the atmosphere.
First Thing’s First
I was very pleased with the workshop. We didn’t concern ourselves with getting students blogging as we knew that not everyone would want to adopt the practice. Instead, we focused on why students might want to blog, the benefits of it, and had students examine some blogs closely to see what they liked and did not like about them. We also shared our own blogging experiences and highlighted what we liked about some of the blogs we read.
We managed to uncover a few students who did blog, and one had a great blog on wordpress. That student is a painter and does an amazing job sharing her own work and talking about it. We were able to convince her to let us use it as a model and talked through it together as a class. I later learned that some students were interested in getting a blog started.
What I Learned
Last summer, my class didn’t focus very much on tech skills. It was a very low-tech environment. I may have used some technology in my own delivery of certain things, but the students rarely did. So I had no real insight into how good they may/may not be with technology.
In my blogging workshop I learned that most are not very good at what I would consider basic tech skills.
For example, all students had received an email with our powerpoint in it. The act of getting them to open up their email, access the PP, and then navigate to the correct slide caused major confusion at first. Our PP was somewhat interactive. There were links embedded within it that required students to click on them in order to engage in whatever we wanted them to engage in at the moment (anything from completing a document on google to accessing other blogs to read and analyze).
Having a device was not the issue. If they did not have a device then they were provided with a lap top for the session. Doing the above was the issue. And we didn’t even try to have them start a blog. I cannot imagine what that would have entailed.
What I Wonder
I do think that this particular workshop has merit beyond the one time we did it. As instructors, we discussed the possibility of offering an extended workshop for teens that were interested in blogging. We thought there could be real potential to develop this and offer it as an ongoing event somewhere – either connecting with a school district or a library. This has great potential for students to learn about writing (and writing for an audience!), develop technology skills, and learn about appropriate use of social media. We haven’t done anything yet, but it’s a thought being twirled around.
What do you think?