Konrad Glogowski writes about a major shift in his eighth-grade students' blogging activities on the blog of proximal development. With a blog name like that you know there's going to be some high-flown edspeak, but Konrad gets down to Earth in describing the students' experience.
While the class had shifted two years earlier from passive receivers of knowledge to writers, the shift that Konrad is intrigued with is a shift from individual writers to participants in a writing community. He says:
While certainly aware of the community around them, they continued to write as solitary writers. Then, one day at the end of April, it all changed. They started linking to each other’s work because they found other entries meaningful and relevant. No, I do not mean that they linked to entries that explored the same topics. No. They started linking to entries that helped them expand their own understanding of issues that they were struggling with. I began to see semantic relations.
I noticed that Student A, writing about genocide in Darfur, started following and linking to the work of Student B who was investigating current human rights abuses. Student A did not learn anything new about genocide from Student B, but she did learn a lot about efforts (or lack thereof) to stop hatred, violence, and discrimination. Entries about human rights abuses taking place all over the world (including the so-called developed nations) were helpful in expanding her understanding of why violence erupts, of “why we are not effective at stopping it.” Both continued to pursue their own topics but relied on each other to gain a better understandoing of human nature, of discrimination, of official responses to these issues.
There are a variety of academic names for this type of educational experience: "progressive discourse," "intentional learning," and more. But what it boils down to is, "Students read, commented on, and linked to each other’s work because it helped them understand their own work and develop their own ideas," says Konrad.