on blogging… blogging on

I’ve been reading about blogging today – trying to follow one thread in the loosely-woven fabric that makes up social learning techs.

Quite high-falutin’ claims are made such as Farmer & Bartlett-Bragg (2005) “through the use of blogs, it is suggested that teachers  and  learners  are  becoming  empowered,  motivated,  reflective  and  connected practitioners in new knowledge environments” (p. 197). Actually I don’t doubt the potential for this, just see it as quite challenging to get started, maintain and sustain. And as in any teaching, to have it work for all the learners in a class.

One point these authors discuss is the benefit of setting up class group blogs so that they aggregate – you can go to one place and see all the blog entries that your classmates have been posting rather than having to track each one down individually. This sounds really useful – it would make commenting much less time-consuming.

A article by Stephen Downes from 2004 was useful for its emphasis on the advantages of blogging as a way to get students to both read and engage with readings assigned by teachers. Thin on techniques for actually doing this though. A couple of questions raised:  First if we require blogging by making it an assessment is it real blogging? Is it a failure if students don’t do it past the end of the course or the submission of the relevant assessment? I’m finding in my reading that a lot of teachers say that they have to make blogging and commenting an assessment component if they want to get students to do it. Downes points out (something we all know from experience) that we can lose interest in assigned tasks and they can lose a sense of authenticity partly because the assessor is the main audience.

Downes cites the words of a teacher “if a student has nothing to blog about, it is not because he or she has nothing to write about or has a boring life. It is because the student has not yet stretched out to the larger world, has not yet learned to meaningfully engage in a community” (p. 25). I think this may reveal an unrealistic expectation. We engage in many communities throughout our lives and a particular course is probably for most a waystage in a much longer journey. A reluctant blogger may be active in a number of other communities. Can we expect class activities that we set up to engage most students? If so what are the strategies that hook them in? I’ll have to track down so more recent  articles on this.

Downes, S. (2004). Educational blogging. EDUCAUSE Review, 39(5), 14-26.

Farmer, J., & Bartlett-Bragg, A. (2005, December 4 – 7). Blogs @ anywhere: High fidelity online communication. Paper presented at the 22nd ASCILITE Conference: Balance, Fidelity, Mobility. Maintaining the Momentum?, Brisbane.


4 thoughts on “on blogging… blogging on

  1. This post makes a lot of very interesting points. I tried to set up a blog on Moodle last year as part of an assessment, but posts were visible to everyone else in the course and I did not feel I had the right to put them on the spot (especially given they are Level 3 learners). An alternative process (setting up a gmail account etc – a process similar to what we have done for this course) that would allow them to make a more private posting was just too complicated in terms of the technological demands on my learners (and myself at the time!). I gave up the blog option and they submitted their response via Moodle’s journal function, which does allow me to set questions based on reading etc. It is compulsory, so all students do it, and I am the only person who can read it. They start out tentavively but feedback I provide is tailored to their individual comments (and literacy needs) and this encourages them. By the end of the course most agree the journal is their favourite assessment.

    I agree that writing only for the assessor takes something valuable out of the process, but my learners seem to need the privacy to play around with developing their academic voice.

    On the other hand, if the work is not assessed, and is suitably general, they seem more willing to engage. I tried a discussion forum recently on Moodle as students were asking for ‘homework’- I set a very general topic. It was not assessed and about 15 students engaged enthusiastically; the topic was ‘hot’ for about two days (I dipped in a couple of times, making comments to spur them on). This showed they had plenty to say, and given the nature of the topic (an opinion response) they were not shy or too worried about being seen as ‘wrong’. However, half the class did not participate and it fizzled out.

    These early forays, using Moodle only, have shown me that they do write more if it is assessed BUT if a topic is general enough and aligned to their lives, they will participate enthusiastically (albeit briefly). I am still grappling with how to prolong the engagement….

    Anyway, my experiences were not (yet!) related to blogging and it is something I am keen to try. As an aside, I spent most of yesterday reading blogs by others- and chasing up attendant links etc. What started out as a day for writing my own blog became a whole day of pursuing information. It was all very interestingand valuable for my learning, but hugely time-consuming. I felt like I had left the planet and spend the entire day in ‘blog-world’.

  2. “What started out as a day for writing my own blog became a whole day of pursuing information. It was all very interestingand valuable for my learning, but hugely time-consuming. I felt like I had left the planet and spend the entire day in ‘blog-world’.”

    Yes, I know what just what you mean! I had a day like yours yesterday and overall am finding info search and reading on the range of topics relevant to our course very time-consuming – there are the background educational theories (haven’t focused much on these); the range of practice issues to pursue (most of what I’ve been doing) and then I panic because I’m not upskilling on the technical uses of the tools themselves.

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences on working with students – the public/private one is a biggie for teachers to think through. It’s encouraging to hear that you had some success with optional discussion comments. We don’t work within a course format so any student blogging or collaborative discussion we do will have to be opt-in.

  3. @Susie great comment @caroline equally great post.

    The unfortunate reality of our education system is that it is heavily skills and capability based hence assessments become mandatory. If you Google Ken Robinson, you’ll find that he along with others have lots to say about how the educational system no longer suits the world we live in.

    Should assessments only measure a students’ skill and capability or can it serve a bigger purpose?

    If we look at assessment as ‘assessment for learning’ then there are lots of ways we can be creative. This believe is were the social tools are most effective and hence the comments from Downes. The student doesn’t only get guidance from the teacher, he/she may seek support from peers in class (Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal development and socioculatural learning). I found this article really useful in understanding where social technologies fit in the equation : Borthick, A. F., Jones, D. R., & Wakai, S. (2003). Designing learning experiences within the learners’ zones of proximal development (ZPDs): Enabling collaborative learning on-site and online. Journal of Information Systems, 17(1), 107-134. As such, I find that the design of the assessment (and the allocation of mark) holds the key to how students engage in the learning process. Another reading you might find useful is on Laurrilard’s Conversational Framework.

    If we look at assessments as ‘assessment of learning’, I would then argue where is the learning. Feedback is critical to learner development.

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