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.


Coach Marino said...

These are great pointers, Geoff,

I don't know if my students are bored or overwhelmed yet. Perhaps and perhaps not. I have been mixing up the styles of the blog posts quite a bit and dictating most of the genres to keep them trying different kinds of posts.

I have also worked revision into my assignments, so that weekly posts are replaced, at times, by revising previous posts.

1. Keep a Blog Yourself
This is a great suggestion if only because just as when we write while our students are writing, the interplay between our at-home thoughts and our in-class work is wonderful.

2. Styles of Learning
I can't help but feel that our computer classrooms afford us something for every kind of learner (of course, including face-to-face contact between humans). I wonder if we won't find that our different technologies (blogs, PowerPoints, web pages) don't appeal to the skills and interests of the students in different ways. In the past, have you found that different students take to different software?

4. Natural Beasts
I am starting to notice that the students who are most engaged with their subject matter are most engaged with their blogging.

5. Old Technologies.
This speaks to me about older technologies such as paper and pen--and older genres as well. Does anyone else find themselves telling their students the same lessons (focus, go into depth, avoid passive voice) that they did in their ordinary 340 classes? A good post is a smart piece of writing. We've been teaching that for years. (This is my
"duh" moment of realization!)

GCM said...

Kara Dawson’s piece is a helpful reminder of the fact that there is always the risk of overwhelming or boring students irrespective of the pedagogy, and blogging is certainly no exception. However, while I am still discovering the uses and benefits along with the limitations of the blogging platform, I can say with certitude (based on conversations with students, course evaluation comments, and most importantly student work) that the vast majority of my students appreciate and enjoy what the medium makes possible.

Coach Marino said...

Kathi, apologies for not paying attention to the by-line on the post! Great stuff.

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