Sunday, June 14, 2009

What is the purpose of this blog?

A colleague writes in dissent:
Twitter is not democracy. Your statements about Twitter and Iran and education certainly seem far removed from what you say is the purpose of this blog. I thought this blog was about paperless classrooms. What's Iran got to do with it? What is the purpose of this blog?

I've thought a lot about that question over the last few weeks.

Back in February when I wrote my first post, I never thought it would all pan out like this. I figured I'd have an audience of a handful of colleagues and would post occasional updates about cool things to do in a paperless classroom.

Guess things changed.

In the past two or three weeks I've written about social media in China, the politics of online textbooks in the California budget debate, the legitimacy of Twitter as an educational tool, and now about the need to teach via social media in light of the protests in Tehran. I've had conversations with leaders in the alternative textbook field, argued with the representatives of major corporations, and been invited to report at the NECC convention.

In that same time-period, I managed to give final exams and perform all of the duties of a classroom teacher. And a father of three.

As for what it means in terms of this blog... I don't know.

All I know is that this blog has taken on a life of its own. I don't ever have to wake up in the morning and worry about whether there is going to be something to write about.

There's always something.

And so, I say to you, colleague: you are right. Twitter is not democracy. Twitter is a means of access to information. Information is step one in producing democracy.

You are right: A lot of what I've written here seems out-of-line with the stated purpose of this blog.

But you are also right: This blog is about helping teachers build paperless classrooms.

It's just that my thinking over the last five months and 350 posts and countless conversations both in real life and online has altered for me what this 'paperless classrooms' thing is all about.

Because it's not about saving paper.

It's not about replacing paper with technology.

It's about looking at the world in a new way and actively taking part in it fearlessly, wherever that may lead. And it's not about using or not using a sheet of paper. It's about realizing that we are now living in a world where the dominant human-driven media are divorced from the top-down mode of corporate leadership that earned its keep in the Paper-Heavy World of the 20th Century.

The 20th Century is over.

Now we live in a Post-Paper World. Meaning we live in a world where text and information is dynamic, immediate, and immediately redactable. We live beyond the anomaly of mass-produced printed matter. We live beyond the static version of top-down knowledge as best represented by that dusty set of encyclopedias sitting forlorn in your local library -- miserably wondering what went wrong in the shadow of the computer bays bringing the democratized word of Wikimedia to everyone lining up to receive it.

Whether we like it or not, we live beyond the old modes of knowledge that paper represents.

We are all paperless teachers. And our students need us to be.

So I leave you, colleague, with a question: What is the purpose of this blog?


  1. As a new reader of this blog, I've enjoyed the various topics--all of which seem to fit into the idea of a paperless classroom. To me, it's more of an attitude than specific techniques, though those are helpful, too. As an old Latin student, I also love it that a Latin teacher is helping to lead the way. I spent many hours translating sections of the Aenid in Latin IV!

  2. I think most of us who blog have similar experiences -- we start out in one direction and then after while look around to see where we are. I don't think that a blog has to have a purpose beyond the blogger expressing his/her ideas about whatever seems important. Even a blog with a stated purpose like yours is bound to grow and develop as the blogger grows and develops. If not, there is something wrong!

    You said it perfectly: "It's about looking at the world in a new way and actively taking part fearlessly, wherever that may lead." If you are trying to do that, you are fulfiling the purpose of the blog as I see it, anyway.

  3. While looking at the world in a new way, we can find great sources for primary source, unfiltered information - as you have shown with the Iran Tweets. But I do think there is going to be a period of time where students will need to live in paper AND paperless worlds. Learning how to find authentic and valuable information among the torrent that is raging around them in the paperless world of Tweets, Facebook, and blogs is a skill students don't even know they need. The vast majority of students don't recognize bias and subjective information without some excellent examples to use for comparison. Frankly, right now many of those examples are in print for the vast majority of students because of access.

    Access and equity are large, complicated issues. Not everyone has access to Web 2.0 tools, even if they have computer access. Not every student has access to a computer. (One -to-one computer initiatives across the US would help!) Not to dull the cutting edge for you, but some respect has to be paid to those issues in the greater scheme of things. Moving to a paperless teaching environment will take years and some kind of administrative motivation beyond saving the trees.


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