I am thrilled that Edna Sackson, a self-confessed "teacher and learner with a passion for technology" at an IB Primary Years Programme school in Melbourne, has asked me to head out her "learning in different contexts" series of guest posts. Edna is a highly repected A-List blogger and a prolific Twitter Tweep, offering sage advice and thought-provoking reflection. My words below are crossposted on What Ed Said
EFDA-JET in the UK to become a volunteer teacher at SISP, a small social project for the poor in India. I wrote CliveInIndia for eighteen months and then continued with CliveInSriLanka when I moved to help improve basic computer literacy amongst teachers in the south of the island. I thought blogging would be a good way to keep in contact with family and friends, to let them know I was still alive, to share little adventures, things that amused me, cultural differences, and perhaps to keep contact with people I could discuss ideas with, or ask help from. Another reason was that I’d been warned about volunteer-loneliness so, I thought, blogging might be a possible way of countering the isolation.
I was pretty diffident about my writing skills and didn’t want to offend anyone or look a complete wazzock by rabbitting on about stuff I clearly knew nothing about so I kept my first blog for subscribers only - a few friends and family - and sent a sanitised version to my old workplace.
It was great at first. People liked what I wrote and said kind words. But, as time passed, interest dwindled. By and large my readers didn’t use an RSS aggregator like Google Reader and so would only look when they remembered. Lives moved on. A few faithful folk continued with me but I began doubting my blogging abilities and purpose.
I decided I should be happy just writing the blog for myself. It was OK - I could keep it as a personal journal of things to look back on when I’m in my dotage or with grandchildren or just to flick through occasionally. And besides, I quite enjoyed the activity of writing about my thoughts, little tales and occasional rants. Pushing thoughts out to the world somehow made them a little more real and helped to reflect and clarify them. As for countering loneliness, I'm sure it helped.
However, one thing which had bothered me right from the start was the nagging, perhaps conceited, notion that there might be unknown people who’d be interested in what I had to say or might find my anecdotes of life in India useful. Writing for myself was all very well but how much better would it be if others benefited too? I decided the only way to know for sure was to remove sensitive things and then make the blog public for all to read. It didn’t help that Google failed to index my India pearls of wisdom but at least I’d grown enough in confidence to let it.
When I came to Sri Lanka I was working with a whole new demographic - teachers and not children. In India the school hadn’t been able to get a decent Internet connection so I just taught with client-based applications. Here my office was wired and my role was to help local teachers communicate electronically with their overseas counterparts to support the organisation’s programme of cultural exchange. It opened up a world of possibilities. The first thing I did in Sri Lanka was to introduce collaboration through Google docs. Not only did it win me friends in the organisation but it also helped me organise my own time more effectively by allowing my colleagues to book teachers into a Google spreadsheet timetable.
The pressure was on to efficiently produce a curriculum and learning materials. I felt I needed to tap into the online community so I subscribed to blogs and got going with Twitter. (I haven't exploited this fully yet - I still wonder if there might be people willing to help me develop a general learning resource for teachers or volunteers in developing countries.) I was very fortunate to quickly find people who went out of their way to help me grow my Personal Learning Network. This had an unexpectedly positive impact on my blog hits. Unexpected because I didn't think my posts as an amateur would be of much interest to any qualified teachers, and because I was trying to introduce local teachers to Web 1.0 when Western teachers were talking Web 2.0 minimum. But feedback from a few teachers and children has informed me that some of my photos have helped kids in their studies, and some of my tales have been of interest to new readers. This is great encouragement!
So there you have it. Ten reasons why I blog:
- To keep a journal for myself
- To keep in contact with family and friends
- To inform and share
- To counter isolation
- To crystalise thoughts
- For the pleasure
- To reflect
- As an aide-mémoire for my fallible and failing memory (did I mention this above?)
- To let off steam
- To develop and benefit from my PLN