small successes


During the ten days I spent in Seattle, I was surrounded mostly by people who qualify for the label "technical elite." And too many of them, I fear, are beginning to forget that their worldview is not exactly representative.

This was particularly obvious when someone (Rael Dornfest?) asked the teen panel at the Social Computing Symposium whether they ever listened to podcasts. Their response? "Huh?" That didn't surprise me at all, because it's been clear to me for a while that podcasting has a pretty narrow band of followers and enthusiasts (almost all of whom, so far as I can tell, have lengthy commutes).

But what would probably surprise this group even more is how many people still don't see blogs as anything more than a fringe phenomenon. I teach in an IT department at a technical university, and most of my students still don't recognize the potential professional value of blogs.

This quarter I'm trying to change all that by really teaching about blogs and their uses in technical contexts. And based on the midterms I'm finishing grading today (yes, very very very late), I'm making some progress. Take this excerpt, for example, which I found particularly gratifying:

As I mentioned earlier, I am seeing the importance of blogs in the work place. A co-worker and I want to start a blog to make others in our group aware of available upgrades for the software tools we commonly use or any new functions or ideas that one of us may be working on. We may also use it to keep our common procedures in one place. A good example of how this would be of benefit is by providing annotated instructions on how to install or upgrade a piece of software. And, as of [this Monday], a blog will prove especially important for our group; our pointy-haired boss will be splitting us up along application lines (our web apps, client/server apps and mainframe apps) as opposed to what function we provide as a group. So we'll be working for different mangers, depending on which applications we're working on. (I will continue to refer to us as a 'group' in this paper.)

A weblog will then be a great way for us to communicate because of its interactive nature. It will also be a great tool to "advertise" what our group does. Others will surely want to check out our blog simply from a curiosity standpoint. Then perhaps other groups will have blogs of their own and the proliferation of information flowing between groups will be mind-numbing (right!).

Or this one:

This class for example has exposed me to the opinions and insights of a community of learners, where we all take turns at being lectures and listeners, all from the comfort of my home. Even as I search the web for the answers to the weekly questions I find that many times the freshest perspectives on the subject matter to be in weblogs. Unfortunately it seems like I spend more time sifting through the weblog to find the gem I was looking for. Since working full time and raising a family, it has been difficult for me to travel to campus at least three times a week taking traditional classes. The weblog has been an excellent way for me to learn, while at the same time putting a little extra time back in my day for my family. I was a bit apprehensive about taking a distance-learning course, but I find that I have learned as much from the format of this class as I have from the content on the on-line chats and reading assignments. This class has exposed me to a new method of study I would have never considered.

Maybe they're just trying to tell me what I want to hear--or maybe I'm actually making some progress. I prefer to believe it's the latter.


I think it is all to easy for people on the leading edge who also spend a lot of time in a cohort of "leading edge" people to assume they are representitive. This doesn't happen jsut with technology of course. I am reminded of a comment by a liberal blogger after the election who remarked that ne found it hard to beleive that Bush had won as he (the blogger) didn't personally know anyone who had voted for Bush. The task for the observer then becomes how to stay current with the trailing edge or at least the middle of the movement.
As for your students, you probably are making progress. But of course choosing to believe that lots of progress is being made is how good teachers make it though the harder times. :-)

Alfred's example works as a comparison, but it wasn't a liberal blogger writing about Bush, it was Pauline Kael writing about Nixon.

I would have to say you were making progress. I for one (being a former student) have continued my blogger ways and tend to praise their worth where ever I go. True that many still have not yet recognized the value that can be added to a company by using blogs as a communication/correspondence tool but I do think progress is being achieved. The popularity of the weblog homepage continues to grow, but it is only inching its way into common business practices due to corporate blog pioneers such as Adobe/Macromedia, HP and MSDN to name a few. I have created few prototype blogs for my company, and have found that it is easier to sell a $5,000.00 training series compared to a $400.00 blogging implmentation.

As for EDU, I have noticed that many instructors have been mentioning the blog to their students. Just recently I was approached by a professor of mine from the undergraduate days who has been using blogs in his discussions as well. I am even pleased by the number of my friends (who are not computer savvy) that now know what a blog is (partially due to my yapping).

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This page contains a single entry by Liz Lawley published on May 1, 2005 1:53 PM.

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