Teachers at Work
A column about teaching
Bud Hunt writes the respected blog Bud the Teacher, a website for "inquiry and reflection for better teaching." He puts his ideas for innovative education to work as an English teacher at Olde Columbine High School, an alternative public school in Longmont, Colorado. To Bud, inspiring teaching means bringing Internet technology into the classroom. Bud explains:
VT: Why did you put your students online?
Bud: I got tired of students writing wonderful things that only I got to read. So a year and a half ago I piloted the use of blogs as an education tool. I'm interested in finding audiences for the work that my students do, to motivate them so their writing becomes as authentic as they can make it. For example, our school newspaper is a blog -- entirely online. We don't put out a print publication.
VT: No printed school paper?
Bud: One of my frustrations with a print publication at the high school level is that it's a monthly publication. So by the time it gets published, the news is two to three weeks old. You can look at it but it's not something you can build community or conversation around. I like that our online newspaper is really interactive. You can comment on stories, link to other places, and we also publish audio and video. [Check out www.oldeschoolnews.com]
VT: How have students reacted to the online newspaper?
Bud: We have about 100 students in our school. I used to print 80 to 100 copies of the school newspaper and throw away 30 to 50 of them a month. Now we have about 4,000 visitors to our site every month from around the world. One of my favorite things is showing my students the statistics from the site and say, hey, look at where people are coming to us from. They realize very quickly that their writing is part of a larger fabric, and that's huge.
VT: Can't that be a little intimidating?
Bud: To be honest, it scares some kids into silence for a couple of weeks. They now have access to, literally, the entire world, and my students are oftentimes people who are ignored. But the potential is, if they do good work, they get to showcase it.
VT: So that helps their self-esteem?
Bud: Let me give you an example. One of my students who doesn't connect very well to other students spends most of his time online playing a game called World of Warcraft. So he decided to do an entire project, with the help of his mom, dad and brother, using this World of Warcraft game. It was neat, and the best part about it was when we showcased it on our website, 10,000 people checked it out! Here was a student who was a bright kid but very shy and reserved who suddenly was the talk of the World of Warcraft community. This had a tremendous impact on him.
Keep in mind, too, that he did all his work at home. The game is blocked from our school's Internet access. This allowed us to honor his personal space and also honor our academic space in a unique way. And it was really helpful for other teachers to see an academic use of the Internet outside of school.
VT: What about safety?
Bud: I wouldn't do any of this if I felt I was putting kids at risk. One of the first things I do when I put a student online is protect their identities. We don't use last names on our site. All of the students that are quoted online are first name, last initial and I also create screen names for my users. We talk about what is okay and not okay to put online.
When we first started blogging with students we spent a lot of time figuring out what was appropriate and what wasn't for a school space. What's really neat is how many other teachers have picked up on those rules we created. We looked for rules but we couldn't find any, so we created them. [To check out Bud's rules for blogging in school, click here.]
VT: What advice to you have for teachers who want to introduce blogs to classroom?
Bud: The first thing is that they have to have real reasons for doing this other than "it's neat." Neat is not a pedagogical reason. So anybody who says they want to do a blog for a blog's sake needs to reevaluate their motivation. But if they do want to move forward, there are a ton of options that I think match different teachers' comfort levels.
I don't think every teacher would want to put their students in a non-administered space. For our newspaper, for example, I approve everything before it goes online. This also gives me an opportunity to do editing with students. On other spaces, though, I've allowed students to use blogs that I don't moderate at all.
VT: Besides the online newspaper, you started an online community. Tell us about that?
Bud: I recently introduced an online community platform to our school through something I call Oldeschoolspace.org. We're competing with Myspace. I want my students to choose an academic online social network instead of some of the less academic ones. Eventually, I hope, it'll become a place for students to publish book reviews, recommendations -- a place where they can exist online and communicate with each other through the written word.
VT: What's the incentive for students to use Oldeschoolspace instead of MySpace?
Bud: It's my hope that students will choose it because that's where their teachers will be, and they'll be able to find information that isn't available in other places. For instance, our guidance counselor will soon publish information about credit nights, college nights, scholarships -- things that are really interesting to juniors and seniors.
VT: What prompted you to launch your own blog Bud the Teacher?
Bud: When I started it in January 2005 I thought this blogging thing would be really interesting for my students. But before I introduced it to my students, I thought I better learn this thing myself. My blog has become a place for me to talk about my practice, explore opportunities and ask questions of other educators. It has been really fulfilling to me both personally and professionally to contribute to some of the larger questions of the day.
I feel like there's a real community built around teachers' blogs that have opened doors and opportunities. Teachers as a whole don't have a lot of voice professionally and blogs are a great way for that to happen. That works locally for the school community, as well as internationally. I now collaborate regularly with folks in Canada, Australia and the UK who I wouldn't have met otherwise. They're doing really interesting things in their own classrooms.