Media and Instructional Technology Manager at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), Ken Ronkowitz is also one of the two bloggers behind Serendipity 35, an excellent blog about Instructional Technology, EdTech, and Learning.
1) You’ve been blogging at Serendipity 35 since last February. Why did you decide to blog at that time? Can you tell us a bit more about your experience with blogging?
The Serendipity site originally was created as a way for Tim Kellers and me to try out open source blogging software for our division at NJIT. This particular blog uses Serendipity software and our division at the university is #35, hence the title.
The first few entries were really just tests and I never intended to keep it going except as a demo site. I have a poetry site called Poets Online and I was already blogging for that using Blogger. I had also started a site within our department website at NJIT on Emerging Instructional Technology where I intended to keep information on products and services we were testing. Unfortunately, I was never able to keep up with that website on a regular basis. However, blogging is easier (and I find more enjoyable) so that Serendipity 35 has replaced that website as my way of keeping the NJIT community aware of new products, services, trends and the pedagogy of using them.
In addition, it has taken on a life of its own and gets many more views than the EIT site ever did and from a much wider audience than just NJIT. Getting comments from readers is an important part of the blogging experience too.
2) You blog a lot about new media (blogs, social networking websites, podcasting, etc.). What impact do you think these new technologies are going to have on higher ed?
Iâ€™m glad you ask what impact they are â€œgoing to haveâ€ because, unfortunately, I donâ€™t think they have enough of an impact right now.
I see more penetration of Web 2.0 applications in K-12 teaching than in higher ed. It may be easier to implement some of these things at that level because you have districts, schools, grade levels and departments that can require their use through mandated curriculums. Thatâ€™s rare in universities. â€œRequiredâ€ and â€œfacultyâ€ are not words that go together easily at colleges. Youâ€™ll hear the much used (and abused) phrase â€œintellectual freedomâ€ in response to attempts to require faculty to do many things. Iâ€™m not talking about having every faculty member have a blog, but itâ€™s tough to get every faculty member to post syllabi online for each of their courses.
I think that students may be the drivers for the use of these applications as they have been in their desires and expectations to see course materials online, podcasting, 24/7 access, wireless campuses etc.
I canâ€™t see many educators being opposed in theory to the read and write version of the Web that is being called version 2.0 and wanting to have students remain merely consumers (readers) of the web. All the tools like MySpace, blogs, video sites and other things that I write about have wide acceptance with students at all grade levels already. They wonâ€™t abandon them when they enter college, and theyâ€™ll be surprised and disappointed if they are not being used in their college classrooms and used or at least understood by their teachers.
Many faculty members were opposed to using email ten years ago, but those few who still are have to be seen as dinosaurs, and if they look up, they will see that an asteroid is headed towards them.
3) How is your blogging received by your administration and the rest of your campus community?
My director, Bill Reynolds, is always very enthusiastic and supportive of the department jumping in to new technologies. For example, I wanted to pursue podcasting with faculty last fall so we jumped in and created our own podcasting site for NJIT and produced â€œcoursecastsâ€ for the fall and spring semesters. When we realized it was going to take off and that we needed greater support and infrastructure and heard about Appleâ€™s iTunes U, we applied. We have been accepted and are building our site to launch this summer.
Our divisionâ€™s Associate Vice President, Gale Spak, was the person who originally asked Tim and I to put together a day-long seminar on podcasting, wikis and blogs because she thought it had great potential for our academic community and for corporate clients, like those in NJITâ€™s own Enterprise Development Center. We did offer that day of workshops this past spring, but Tim and I actually ended up presenting the section on wikis using our open source wiki project.
Iâ€™ve heard nothing but positive comments from those on campus who have looked at the blog, though Iâ€™ll be first to admit that a large portion of the NJIT community still doesnâ€™t know it exists. A number of faculty members who read it have asked to have blogs for their courses. Weâ€™re also looking at open source course management systems like Moodle which is offering blogging tools within a course itself. We have a web redesign project for the university that started this summer and they are using a private blog to keep the many team members up to date on developments and to get feedback asynchronously.
I see our blog as narrowcasting rather than broadcasting. The audience for what we write about is not the general public and thatâ€™s fine with us. I can tell by the site metrics that we have far more readers than those who actually comment on the site. In fact, just to illustrate the newness of this with educators, I have to say that I have been really surprised at the number of them who have emailed me comments about a piece rather than posting them on the blog itself. Itâ€™s not a question of being anonymous (you can do that on the blog) but more that they donâ€™t quite get what a blog is all about.
Though blogs have been around for years, in education I think we are at a tipping point this year, and that weâ€™ll see much wider acceptance and use in 2007 and beyond.