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What I Gain By Sharing My Mistakes

posted: 3.8.11 by Traci Gardner

253412963_224c3e8248_mWe all make mistakes. As a beginning blogger, I decided I didn’t like post titles and wasn’t going to worry about them. It didn’t seem to be a big deal, but years later I realized my mistake.

Around 2003, I shifted from using flat HTML files for my blog to using the Blogger site to publish my posts. In my flat-file system, I simply dated the posts, but the Blogger entry form had a field for titles.

It sounds absurd now, but that little title box on the Blogger form caused me endless anxiety. I didn’t feel capable of writing titles. Nothing sounded smart enough. My posts were simple diary entries or journals then. Choosing official titles for each and every one seemed silly.

I silenced the perfectionist in my head and decided to ignore the title field. I didn’t title posts on Blogger unless I had some compelling reason—and I never thought about that decision again until a year ago when I was trying to add a calendar widget to my blog, which now uses WordPress.

When I tried to use the newly installed calendar, I discovered that most of my old entries were missing. I was terrified that I had accidentally deleted them. After a few panicked moments, I realized that the problem was the missing titles.

The calendar widget couldn’t link to those old, untitled Blogger posts. The entry title should have been the text for the link. Since there was no title, there could be no link. It would be similar to writing hundreds of untitled poems, deciding you want to publish your collected works, and then realizing there was no workable way to list them in the index.

When I tell students this story, there are a few mumbles of “oh no” and a number of looks from the geekier students who wonder how I could make such a stupid mistake.

Inevitably, someone will ask, “But it’s all fixed now, right? You’ve got it working now, don’t you?”

That’s when I have to confess that I still have close to 400 blog entries that have no title and are nearly impossible to find without administrative access to the blog. Google doesn’t even know where to find them.

Some students go away thinking I’m eccentric for telling stories. A few have told me in whispers that I shouldn’t admit mistakes like that because it makes me seem less knowledgeable. Some probably think I have the technology know-how of a gnat.

I don’t worry about any of that, though, because I know how my story will shape the rest of the semester. In the days that follow, students will find it easier to discuss mistakes with me. In fact, many students will begin their conversations by saying, “You know how you didn’t put titles on those blogs? You’ll never believe what I did.”

One simple story will open up discussions about everything from computer issues students need help with to recurring grammar errors they can’t quite resolve. Occasionally, students will even tell the stories of their own mistakes in their papers.

So what do I gain by sharing my mistakes in the classroom? Enough positive response from students to make it all worthwhile!

[Photo: Free Giant Macro Pencil and Pink Eraser Creative Commons by Pink Sherbet Photography, on Flickr]

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Categories: Teaching with Technology
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