Notes from “Educational Blogging: What, Where, Why and How”

Today, I had the chance to attend an educational technology session at MSU featuring Nicole Ellison, Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies & Media, MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences, and Leigh Graves Wolf, Learning Technology and Culture Programs, MSU College of Education. Their topic is “Educational Blogging: What, Where, Why and How.” Here are some notes from the session:

  • What is educational blogging?
    • Blogging in educational settings: in the classroom, between department members, intra- and inter-university research collaboration
    • We will focus on cases where students maintain blogs as part of their coursework
    • Pew research: 8% of internet users maintain a blog, 39% of internet users read blogs, 57% of bloggers are younger
  • Why blogs and education?
    • Not much work that makes causal claims about how blogs impact education, but that is difficult
    • Focus on critical skill of writing
    • Encourages students to engage with positions divergent from their own
    • Students are invests because their is a larger audience
    • Increases digital literacy
    • Supports peer-to-peer learning and student-to-instructor knowledge sharing
    • Learning becomes less bound by time and space
  • Where to blog?
    • ANGEL — they are protected, but no RSS
    • On your own server — college is in control of the content and can protect it with complete administrative control
    • Edublogs, Blogger, WordPress — differing levels of administrative rights
    • MicroBlogs: Twitter and Facebook
  • What: An educational blogging case study
    • What are the differences among students’ perceptions regarding the educational beenfit of writing a blog entry vs. reading other students’ blogs vs. reading other students’ comments?
    • What are student perceptions of the experience of blogging as an educational activity?
    • Overall perceptions:
      • A new experience and uniquely engaging in ways that traditional papers are not
      • Encouraged a less formal writing voice. potentially eliciting a more authentic writing style
      • Exposed students to different perspective; surprised by range of responses
      • They felt it was most useful to read other people’s blogs
      • “I liked the fact that we had to comment on others blogs. It’s cool to get some feedback on what I’ve written.”
      • ” I felt it was really cool when one of the people actually cited what I said in my blog on someone else’s blog.”
      • “It taught be some things that I didn’t pay much attention to before. It was cool because i was able to see what students thought about things we typically wouldn’t talk about in class.”
      • “[comments] are nice to see when the person really puts thought into them, and sometimes make me think and want to write more.”
      • I think it is more effective using the WWW because anyone can view it and we saw that when Ryan’s blog was commented on by the actual author of the piece that we read.”
  • What: Commenting
    • Not all students saw benefits of reading others’ blogs or comments
    • Uncomfortable giving critical feedback: “Some people didn’t even write what they were supposed to. Plus, I don’t really know how to respond to other people’s ideas, I don’t want to tell them that they are wrong or anything like that.”
    • Technical problems
    • I didn’t give them lots of guidance on how to provide comments, so I would do that differently
  • What: Implications for Practice
    • Students are going to come in with a notion of what blogging is, and students may need guidance on how to reconcile their notions of blogging with the classroom context
    • In some cases, encourage use of pseudonym since this content (if public) will be archived for years to come
    • Consider technical implementation
    • Students need guidance on providing constructive criticism
  • What: Enthusiastic, yet wary and ambivalent
    • Enjoyed reading others’ blogs
    • Expands thinking
    • Didn’t want to sound preachy and start arguments
  • How to blog
    • Different Use Models
      • One to many: From the teacher as a posting to students; from the student to others
        • Provide feedback to a presenter on his/her blog
      • Many to many (class blogs)
        • People can become experts in one area
      • Many to one (RSS aggregation)
        • Use Google Reader to read all of my students’ blogs
      • Experimental Writing
        • Creating an “academic” writing in blogging environment — posts within the blog are tagged and connected as well as external links (Leigh’s example)
      • Issues
        • Anonymous blogging
        • FERPA concerns
        • Intellectual property
      • Other tools
    • How: Assessment
      • Grade for content or completion?
      • Require a set number of posts?
      • Specify timing of posts throughout semester?
      • Require comments and feedback?
      • Need to back up posts
    • How: Practical Advice
      • Blog yourelf
      • Start small
      • Subscribe to RSS feeds
      • Read other educator blogs
      • Virtual University
      • Blogs for Learning

Reflections on Social Networking based on NCTE/NWP 2007

Today’s NCTE Inbox had an official list of blog posts about the convention, as well as Traci Gardner’s commentary about whether and how teachers should blog (for the record, she thinks that they should, although some districts do not). I find this thread of conversation an interesting complement to a few others floating around today, too.

One of the threads is a group of NWP tech liaisons talking about whether and how we should start a national social network of teachers doing great things with writing and technology. This network exists, in some ways, but it is scattered in many places, not all of them “officially” sanctioned by NWP (nor do they need to be). This conversation is important though because I think that it raises one fundamental issue — for all the blogs, wikis, podcasts, social bookmarks, RSS feeds, Facebook groups, Ning networks, and other ways that we have to stay in touch, do we actually stay in touch?

I have been thinking a lot about this lately as I help my pre-service teachers understand the implications of blogs and wikis as well as try to organize such groups for the various professional organizations that I am in including RCWP, MCTE, MRA, and CEE. How to build and maintain a network — let alone if a “formal” network is needed at all — is at the core of what I and four other colleagues are thinking about as we prepare to propose a new interactive website for CEE. There is also interaction in the works for MRA. Yet, RCWP and MCTE have had interactive sites, more or less, for a year or two now and neither of them generate much traffic. So, even if you build the space for the network, it is not a guarantee that teachers will come.

So, what to do about social networks for teachers? I am not sure how to best answer that. We are trying a wiki and Google groups for Project WRITE, and having limited interactions and success with those spaces. Is part of the problem that the idea of social networking is still too new or different from what we are used to with F2F networking? Are we still just stuck in email mode and not ready to venture out to the web to find a network, rather waiting for it to come to our inbox? Or, is it just the fact that a certain type of chemistry, one that can’t be forced, but must be natural, must emerge?

I certainly don’t have any answers, especially not tonight. But, I feel that the questions are worth asking; even if we don’t get to answering them outright, we can begin to understand why teachers (generally) choose not to use these networks. My thoughts range from being busy to not being aware, from being happy within a school-based learning community to simply not wanting to move outside of one’s comfort zones. As networks continue to grow, I think that we need to ask these fundamental questions about why and how they work for some teachers, while not for others, and whether we should be trying to make the perfect network, or rethink what it means to be a teacher in the 21st century.

ACE Workshop Shout Out

Just a quick shout out to all those who attended the ACE Workshop yesterday as a part of NCTE 2007 and have begun to build our wiki. I enjoyed leading the wiki writing session. Thanks, too, to Rob, for organizing the event.

Lots of teaching and grading still to do this week before the turkey… I wish you all a wonderful holiday weekend.