I chuckle when I see yet another tweet or blog comment disparaging veteran teachers as technophobes resisting the use of social media in the classroom. What would these stereotypical thinkers make of the grand dame of educational use of social media: Dixie Goswami?
In 1984, along with people like Ken Macrorie, Nancy Martin, and others who transformed the teaching of writing in classrooms around the world, Dixie co-founded the Bread Loaf Teacher Network (BLTN). On the pastoral campus of the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College in Vermont’s Green Mountains, they launched what would become one of the pioneering and longest running educational social media networks.
Dixie, who is still active in the network herself notes, ““We like to think that the core of teachers who are members of the BLTN now are among the country’s foremost experts on what it means to use social media in an educational context in ethical and responsible ways, and certainly in ways that are linked to rigorous academic programs.” Many of the teachers who were introduced to using social media through Bread Loaf, have remained active in BLTN over the decades, and are playing teacher leadership roles at local and national levels.
I became part of BLTN in 1994, when I entered grad school at Bread Loaf. From its inception, the core of BLTN was teachers and their students collaborating through the use of online tools for meaningful, and usually community-based literacy learning. I’ve written about my first BL collaboration that included several classrooms in Mississippi and one in Soweto, South Africa. The effect it had on my students and all or our learning, convinced me of the potential power of what this then “new” approach.
We did that first with project with one computer, no printer, and a dial-up connection from my house, but it was and has never been about the technology–it has always been about the students at the center of the learning. That’s what keeps those of us in BLTN active and learning, and what really is the draw for today’s teachers (novice and veteran) to embrace use of social media in our work.
Dixie, as always, says it best:
“If we [BLTN] had a motto, it would be: Children are resources to be developed, not problems to be solved. The BLTN teachers view young people and children as their allies and partners when it comes to school change, social change, and classroom practice….We are banking on the collective involvement of large numbers of children in improving their own education and communities; to really change things in a big way…..not to be clients that are served. And it is the most powerful, engaging idea on earth.”