January 30, 2007

Today's Chron of Higher Ed: Caveat about Blogging

In today's Chronicle of Higher Ed., Kara M. Dawson (Assoc. Prof. of educational technology at the University of Florida), reflects on "Blog Overload" in her classroom.

I would be interested to hear your reflections on Dawson's key contention that students are overwhelmed and/or bored by classroom requirements to blog, and her tips for how to make blogging more likely to yield the learning outcomes we seek.

Kara Dawson's Tips for better classroom blogging are:
1. Keep a Blog Yourself

I have a blog. I just don't use it. I am too busy reading other people's blogs, responding to student postings, and writing for outlets that may one day secure me a full professorship. How can I expect my students to devote time to something that I don't find important enough to do myself? So if you're going to require students to create a blog, you should probably have an active one, too.

2. Recognize Individual Learning Styles and Preferences.

I find it funny that I would have to remind myself of that, given that I am expert in pedagogy. Before blogs came along, I offered my students multiple options for demonstrating their knowledge. Some created concept maps, others audio-recorded their thoughts (prior to podcasts), many kept individual journals, and others created movies or presentations. All students were responsible for demonstrating their interaction with class content from week to week and sharing the results. In retrospect, that is not such a bad plan. I can simply offer blogs as another possible option.

3. Encourage Bloggers to Produce More than Just Text

When I included a requirement that all students integrate at least three forms of multimedia in their blogs by the end of the semester, I envisioned creations like podcasts and Gliffy concept maps. What I got was links to YouTube videos and pre-existing podcasts and images. Clearly, the use of blogs has unintentionally decreased the way my students interact with course content. I need to recognize that. I need to be more explicit in my expectations for the use of blogs.

4. Recognize the Nature of the Beast

The most effective blogs provide important and cutting-edge information (e.g., Tech Crunch), communicate deeply personal experiences through narrative (e.g., the Cancer Blog), or write to a specific audience (e.g., chemistry teachers). Most people with successful blogs are deeply committed to posting, for personal reasons, such as a passion for their subject, the satisfaction of reaching a wide audience, or the ego boost associated with having others find their narratives important enough to read. Many people with successful blogs also have an innate slant toward the writing profession.

I need to recognize all of those facts, and redefine my expectations and purposes for using blogs in the classroom.

5. Don't Forget "Old" Technologies

Since the advent of blogs, I had moved away from online discussion forums. I viewed them as clunky, passé even. Now I realize they still have merit. It is very difficult to have an extended conversation within blogs. By their very nature, they position one person at the helm of all activity. The threaded format of discussion forums allow for multiple interactions among multiple individuals. It also allows subtopics to flow from a broad topic.

6. Don't Be Afraid to Punt.

I should have ceased -- or at least modified -- the way I used blogs last semester. I asked my students for their opinion on the topic but few responded. I am very open to student suggestions but know that is not true of all faculty members. My students may have feared retribution. They may have just not cared enough to comment. So from now on, blogs will be a socially negotiated addition to my coursework.

Kara's Conclusion
While some readers may take my comments as an attack on the merit of using blogs in teaching and learning, I still believe they have a definite role to play -- especially given what we know about the importance of metacognition and social interaction in the learning process. My hope in sharing these insights is merely to help others consider what that role might be in their own classrooms.

January 23, 2007

Readings: Blogging, L/CMS, and E-Portfolios

Following from Mark's recent post on blog readings, I offer a link to an EDUCAUSE piece from 2004 entitled "Educational Blogging." In addition, those of us participating in the initiative will benefit from another EDUCAUSE article on learning/course management systems; this one, "Managing Courses, Defining Learning," is from 2006. Finally, Mark and I have been discussing the features of e-portfolios, a component of the technology initiative that we will come to later in the semester. Here I recommend "An Overview of E-Portfolios," a 2005 report from EDUCAUSE. As you can see, I think well of EDUCAUSE, an entity with which we should all be familiar. Another fine resource is the Pew Internet & American Life Project, whose products are timely and substantive.

January 22, 2007

Readings on Blogging

Several of the instructors have asked about readings about blogging practices. This issue of Reconstruction: Studies in Contempoary Culture offers some excellent fodder (blogder?) for discussion and reflection on the role of blogging. Here are some of the articles I recommend:

This essay begins with the epigram:
There's something about this medium that convinces us that our merest flights of fancy, our wispiest free-floating musings, are Revealed Truths, outtakes from Thus Spake Zarathustra. . . . the chattering class's presumption that it must have something, anything to say about everything? (Joan Didion famously said that she left New York because she didn't have an opinion about everything.)
Mark Dery blog (September 27, 2005)

All of us can appreciate this article on the gossipy-hazards of blogging by faculty memebers. this essay examines what happens when the public disclosure of the blogging worlds meets the professional environment of academic publication.
In this curiosity cabinet of bloggers, your students will find folks who blog for all sorts of reasons from the expected exhibitionism to the desire to rant to various other academic goals. I asked my student to read three of these and post their comments.

These readings do not all focus on academic blogs, but I found that my students enjoyed reflecting on the relationship between the author/personal and the blog. These reading helped them consider their own blogging aesthetics and expectations especially as they began to craft their first posts and mission statements.

I contributed to the post by Writer Response Theory in "Part 1."

Are there other readings you are using?

Blogger Trajectory in My VAP Course

I'm using Blogger in both my Visual and Performing Arts courses this semester and for the moment I'll share some things I'm doing in the former course, about which I'm excited. My VAP course is currently writing an essay which is a non-fiction narrative about their introduction to the arts. We are reading, of course, examples of this genre. One of their first assigned posts will be to upload a version of this essay with some carefully chosen embedded images and/or (links to?) sound/video files. I've given them the following specific expectations (in addition to having relied very much on a version of the files Geoff sent around on email recently). They are to...

--add approximately one sidebar link a week (for a minimum of 14 sidebar links by end of term, and...

--post a minimum of six times unprompted (in addition to posting for specific assignments) over the course of the semester.

In addition, they will be responding to some occasional prompts from me, such as (but not necessarily in this order): Using images and hyperlinks...

  • Introduce us to the best arts-relevant website you can find and argue for its stature/longevity/usefulness. Consider focusing on a site related to your own artistic practice.
  • Introduce us to an artist or arts movement you like and about which we might not have heard. Tell us why they are interesting. How does their work fit into your vision of art/s? What do you identify with? etc.
  • Write a review of a performance or piece of art in a gallery, etc.
  • Comment on Three of your Fellow Students Blogs: a one-two para thoughtful response. Can agree or disagree but do it courteously an with great respect. Can also send them and their readers to other places on the web. How do you identify with their ideas? Can you expand on them? etc.
What are others doing with Blogger this semester?

About FERPA and Student Names

Just wanted to share with you a moment from an email discussion I had with another member of our Tech Initiative team, in case it might be useful:

My Question:
When you post your student blogs on BlackBoard, do you do it by
student name (does FERPA apply within BB?) and can students use
their first name or first name and an initial or last name and an initial
(just not their full names) on the blogs?

You can have your students use any screen name that they (or you) prefer on their blogs, as long as it is not their full first and last name. As to Bb, when I build the page with links to the blogs of all students, I use their last names (I am not an expert in FERPA, which has many "gray" areas, but because Bb is a password protected site, my understanding is that full names are acceptable within that environment).

January 18, 2007

Blogger Templates: Boundaries?

I have asked my students to limit their Blogger templates to either Minima Stretch or Minima Lefty Stretch. These two extend the horizontal text space and allow for a wider post area, as opposed to the narrow column that one finds in other templates, and are thus more readable and, I think, more professional. In addition, I have proscribed gaudy background colors and ostentatious fonts for the reason that these would detract from the professionalism (not to mention the readability) of the blog. So far there have been no objections, but I wonder how all of you handle these issues with your students. By the way, are any of you familiar with Solution Watch? It is an interesting site. Another site worth visiting is SupportBlogging!, which has some good resources.

January 15, 2007

Course Management Software

During our initial meeting, I brought up alternatives to Blackboard. While the current system is quite useful, as you have no doubt found, there are alternatives. This is semester, I will be using a free, Open Source course management software named Moodle.

According to their site, Moodle has over 150,000 users, speaking over 75 languages. Another academic institution in Westwood has adopted Moodle for it course management software.

(The following draws some notes from a Humboldt study)
Why use Moodle instead of Blackboard?
Better for individualized feedback on assignments
Better for tracking individual student activity
More tools available
Can be customized to add more features.

Why use Blackboard instead of Moodle?
The students already use it in their other classes (for now)
Better gradebook
Easier to differentiate "read" and unread messages" on discussion pages
Announcements more prominently displayed"

Moodle 1.5 compared to WebCT 6.0, Sakai 2.0
In a study by Idaho State, Moodle far outranked these others when rated by students and faculty.

If you would like to hear more about Moodle, please let me know. But know for now there are options out there that might be better suited to your needs. Moodle may require a bit of a learning curve on your part, but the freedoms it affords can be well worth the effort.

Alpha: A First Post

My hope for this blog is that we, the technology initiative participants, will use it as a forum to share our ideas and experiences throughout the semester.
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