The Art of Blogging

It’s natural, I suppose, that like seeks like. (A part of me contends that opposites only attract in turbulent youth and can probably be explained away with hormones bouncing toward each extreme.) It’s human nature, however, to smile and nod and think oh so wise thoughts when we hear someone espouse the very beliefs we hold dear.

The role of the scholar, of course, is to say, “Yeah, but…”

But this blog is simply documenting my journey, and it’s only Day 10, and I’m quite content in my guilt of thinking oh so wise thoughts.

Photo credit: Chelsea Sioux

All that to say: Dr. Punya Mishra‘s comments on blogging speak to so much of what I hold to be true as an English teacher. Truisms that withstand scrutiny, particularly in this cynical world, are hard to come by – which make them all the more essential in my mind. When spoken by someone we respect, these words take on an even more special meaning; I, for one, scribble them down (or, as the case may be, type furiously away), as if they must be captured, precious elemental sprites that will quite disappear if I haven’t a record somewhere.

The discussion in question dealt with blogging and voice and audience and all of those concerns that plague the conscientious scholar. Advocating for finding one’s voice as an academic writer, Punya offered the idea of blog as a way to not only experiment with voice but as a place in which one can wrestle with ideas. In the writing of a post, he said, “I know what I mean after I write it; you arrive at an understanding of your understanding.” That’s powerful stuff.

And it’s true. In the composition of a piece, I often come to know what I mean during the course of writing it. In fact, it’s within the revision stage, when I concentrate on the fine-tuning of words, ideas, phrases, that I’m suddenly struck with what it is I believe. In a way, I come to know meaning through the very construction of it. In education jargon, we call this “writing to learn” — and, indeed, I included this idea within my MSU application:

…through the many drafts this very paper has gone through, I have honed my purpose, developed my research goals more thoroughly, and solidified my dedication to this program. Without this act of writing, my well-intentioned but less than stellar articulation of goals would be, quite frankly, pathetic. The power of writing, then, is not something we can allow to be limited to the lucky few. It must be harnessed, examined, and taught to all of our students, regardless of socio-economic background or field of study.

But Punya goes further. He offers the idea of blogging as a purposeful way to engage dialogue, enter the discourse, and explore meaning. In fact, he claims that blogging is a third space. A place between informal classroom discussions and Academic Discourse. And it’s in this place, this place where formalized thought is still taking shape, that meaning is made.

There are ideas, of course, that I’m still wrestling with: audience and purpose, transparency vs privacy, the vulnerability inherent in honest, open dialogue. But I am hopeful.

And smiling and nodding and thinking oh so wise thoughts.

Why I Selected MSU’s Educational Psychology & Educational Technology Hybrid Ph.D. Program

Embarking on a new adventure requires a certain amount of risk-taking, determination, even hubris. Being a part of the newly minted hybrid Educational Psychology and Educational Technology PhD program through Michigan State University‘s College of Education engenders an excitement born of the summit view.

Not that I compare to the brilliant Brad Bird, writer and director of The Incredibles, but there is that moment when one stands among giants (in his case, Pixar‘s co-founder John Lasseter, among others) and hears the benediction: write what you’ve always wanted to write; create what you’ve always wanted to create. Here at MSU, I, too, have received that benediction. And, thus blessed, I know that my knowledge, tech, psyche, and educational frameworks and abilities will be stretched to new limits. Transformation begins with giving one’s self permission.

So, why did I choose this program in particular? It’s quite simple, really. I’m sure you’ll agree 🙂

Top Five Reasons for Choosing the Hybrid EPET PhD Program:

  1. Social Network: The value of one’s social network (and the technology that promotes it) is undeniable. I learned about the program through Troy Hicks, a National Writing Project colleague. Because I trust and value the National Writing Project, these energies transfer to the people I meet through my ties to the organization. And, of course, once you meet Troy, you cannot help but treasure him based on his own characteristics: dedication to the education profession, warmth and genuine nature, commitment to entering and participating in the edtech discourse, and his many professional accomplishments.
  2. On-line Presence of TPACK: I was also able to research that which interested me. The many articles, resources, and blogs (check out Punya Mishra‘s, especially) available on-line that illuminate the TPACK framework are impressive. Because of this, I was able to evaluate and assess the program based on my personal interests.
  3. Contemplative Discussion: Another critical component of my decision to apply to this program deals with the open and honest discussion of the potential pros and cons of the program as a whole and the affordances and constraints of the hybrid program in particular.
  4. Hybrid: The format is incredible: in this one program we have the blending of the best of both worlds. It is completely doable by the successful educator who loves her job. It also attracts a very unique subset of educator: the one who is not only a master of her field, but also one who is vested in the world of academia and wishes for the intersect of practice and research.
  5. Faculty Response: And finally, the response of various people associated with the program to questing emails was phenomenal. This open offering of warmth and friendliness gave the assurance of a program focused not only on the human element but also on the energizing possibilities inherent in such a progressive endeavor.

Photo credit: Bill Shubert

Like many views from the summit, this one reveals yet a higher, more complex, more enticing one. The next four years will be the journey of a lifetime…I’m looking forward!

More than Code-Switching

The art of transitioning into a new community or a foreign environment has an often subtle skill set. The ability to observe, assimilate, and reflect (both internally and mirror-like) are essential requirements if one is to actually integrate. Most vital, however, is the acquisition of discourse.

If discourse is, as John Paul Gee argues, an “identity kit,” a way of “saying-writing-doing-being-valuing-believing,” then it envelopes the idea of self, values, beliefs, traditions, identity, relationships, even body language. For example, the Academic Discourse not only includes jargon unique to the field but also a way of delivery that is measured and precise in a manner that allows for ambiguity and vagueness. The coin of the realm, of course, is new knowledge.

Other components of discourse allow for the creation of status, a way to include or exclude, and the leveraging of power. The presence of superficial “tests” (like grammar or clothing or jargon) provide an easy way to distinguish between the imposter and the member.

More confusing to the outsider, then, is the addition of context. The same group members, the same discourse, but a different context adds yet another layer (and, seemingly, another test). Thus, in our example of Academic Discourse, taking university faculty members who speak the same discourse and placing them within the context of a backyard BBQ creates a new set of rules, acceptable behaviors, and expectations. To the outsider looking in, it seems like a gaping gulf to span.

Photo Credit: theautumngreen

Identity issues are inevitable in a discourse conversation. Fortunately, adapting a new discourse is not the negation of self. In fact, I would argue that one of the main purposes of being alive and human on planet Earth is this very act of becoming more than we are. Taking on a separate discourse makes us neither wholly this nor that; instead, we become fuller, more complex, richer in content and depth, and we are provided with a wider lens with which to view the universe and each of our experiences.

Each of us, as we continue along our journey of personal development, acquire various discourses. And, of course, we each must give the appearance of embodying the identity belonging to the discourse in question at the appropriate time and place; it is the game we play as groups of human, striving to survive, thrive, and protect ourselves from outside threats. Even if we feel the need to compartmentalize our various selves (e.g. my family self from my gaming self from my hiking self), ultimately, these moments unite to define us. And just as there is some truth in the old axiom that you can never go home again (Reminds me of Heraclitus: No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.), so there is truth in the fact that we are better people today than we were yesterday — and tomorrow we shall be better than today.

Deliver us from Technology?

Most of us live where the ubiquitous invasion of technology into our every day lives is either accepted without second thought or bemoaned as a necessary evil.

In his article “The Overdominance of Computers,” Monke argues that perhaps education needs to re-think the full-armed embracing of technology — and specifically computers — at the elementary and middle school levels. Far from being a Luddite, Monke proposes a gradual introduction of technology as abstract thinking capacities emerge; that by high school, technology should begin to take a more dominant place within the classroom as both a tool of learning and a tool to learn about.

The power behind his argument is that our job as educators is to illuminate “what it means to be human, to be alive, to be part of both social and biological communities” (338). Thus schools should be the place where we restore the balance, focus instead on the goal of creating a more humane society. Indeed, we must teach our students what is moral and what is authentic.

Monke’s premise is seductive: who can argue that part of our elementary education should be devoted to the strengthening of inner resources, contemplating the consequences of actions, and reflecting on outcomes?

I must admit my bias: much of Monke’s argument resonates with my belief system. But this journey from teacher (who gleans what she can from articles to apply to classrooms) to doctoral student (who must contemplate, consider, then add, “yeah, but…”) requires a deeper response. Therefore, my thought is this: to argue that technology “is increasingly becoming not the solution but the problem” in regards to understanding what it means to be human feels like an argument that could be used against almost anything that embodies change.

Photo Credit: larrysul2001

For example, as a resident of the Pacific Northwest, someone who spends her life in the rugged outdoors, I sometimes feel precisely the same about urban life, about cities, about concentrations of population. This sense, this emotion, does not make me right. And I wonder what Monke would say if I argued for a de-centralization of human centers — that the high rise or the skyscraper imprisons the human soul, making of us only a series of ones and zeros in a complex and frantic matrix.

Ultimately, I can only live the life that is right for me. And while I’ve friends who would atrophy, literally waste away before my eyes, if they lived where I do — I know that the experiences that feed my soul are those that take place thousands of miles away from the latest human achievement. Technology, however, allows me to connect to those who live in the midst of it. Technology, indeed, is the link that brings us together.

Day 1: Why a PhD?

We haven’t yet met face-to-face officially, but we are drawn together, we flock of PhD birds, recognizing each other from our ning avatars, the textbooks we carry, the look of hopeful anticipation. We congregate in the sitting area adjacent to the coffee cafe long before class starts. We’re not even of a feather, we of the Educational Psychology and Educational Technology (EPET) hybrid cohort.  But we are all birds, and we all flock, and we will soon find out if we can complement one another. I have a hunch we can and we will.

The question we are asked to consider before the end of the day is one that no doubt will frame many of our conversations over the next four years. Why am I pursuing a PhD? Well, let me first start with my public answer. If someone asked me, I would say that I haven’t the faintest…and I’d probably brush them off, since I’m keeping it a secret. Bizarre, perhaps, but I am a public school teacher. Ninth grade English, to be exact. And, correct or not, my perception is that many of my peers would look down on me, view me as presumptuous, as if I were attempting to accomplish some ‘holier than thou’ status. I’ve little desire to upset the apple-power cart. After all, I’m one day into this adventure.

I’m certain I’ll grow into the title.

For me, then, a PhD becomes a kind of personal validation that I may choose not to share w/ others. It’s the desire to push myself – to my personal and professional extremes – in a field that not only interests me but also has the potential to radically alter education, if not of the US or the World, then at least of my own classroom.

That last bit holds my attention. I have a grave responsibility – and obligation – to ensure that Theory and Practice flirt, court, engage, and walk down the aisle together at least in my classroom.

Although such an endeavor could be terrifying (such an endeavor being defined as a hybrid program), I take great comfort in the people who are involved in this project. The energy and commitment from the faculty involved, those who support, even those who watch from afar, is inspiring and motivating. I can’t help but embrace a positive attitude in this environment.

It also occurs to me that since we are, in fact, guinea pigs, there will be careful watching, supporting, nurturing, mentoring. This is comforting. I do not want anyone to hold my hand. But I rather do like the idea of guard rails, protecting me from plunging to my death but not necessarily from a scratched knee or scuffed palm.

This bird is stretching her wings.

Hello MSU World!

Transformation of any kind tends to be violent on some level. Even the gradual wearing away of rock by the gentle wash of water involves gritty, grinding disintegration on a microscopic level. How then, can I expect the process of earning a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology to be any less intense?

Thus begins the documentation of my transformation: I expect it to be messy. I expect — demand, even — to be broken down, disassembled, assessed, analyzed, and re-created. It won’t be easy or simple or painless; but it won’t be a masochistic adventure into needless torture, either. This process will be purposeful, thoughtful, measured, intentional. Thankfully, it will be mentored and guided by capable and nurturing MSU professors. And the end result will be a professional, a leader, an educator worthy of the title Doctor.

Join me on my journey. It should be entertaining…