Obviously a fan of blogging myself, they’re a nice place to start in considering how web 2.0 technologies may be useful to my teaching context. I’ll group my thoughts into a couple of main categories – facilitation of teaching, including limitations of the blogging medium for this, and professional representation. I was thinking to stick with this format when considering other technologies too in future posts, but I don’t think any other tools would have nearly so much application in terms of the second category; I can see nothing so powerful in representing yourself as putting your own words, images, and multimedia upon your own website, and sharing the lot with the world. Even published books would not have such potential reach, and all for free! Anyway, more on that later.
Facilitation of teaching
Blogs as a teaching tool seem an indirect method to me. They’re not specifically designed for this at all – they are, first and foremost, a personal self-publishing medium – and I think any teaching benefits would result from firstly the sharing of information, and secondly, to a lesser degree, the potential for encouraging your students to engage in blogging for reflective learning themselves. Whilst there a few ways to provide a lot of course information upon blogs, I think overall to use a blog as one main medium for course facilitation would be clumsy at best and deleterious to the student experience at worst, and one obvious limitation stems from the temporal focus of the blog: all information is displayed according to date of posting, making it too difficult for students to find core information within the blog proper. It is possible to provide static information upon subordinate pages, as I have done on this blog by summarising posts for each GCTE course I do (see here and here), but as these are still formatted as pages of a blog rather than flexible web pages one must re-jig the entire thing when you update it, a hassle I experience everytime I update those pages with my blog posts. Blogs are better suited as an adjunct only to a course facilitation tool such as Moodle or Blackboard, both tools in which the entire course, from announcements to assignment submission, student discussions to documents and course information, can be accessed from the one site and without too much bother. Whilst it could be used for course announcements, and the reverse dating of post order would suit that use well, these would be available anyway from their Moodle.
What is important to remember with all these web 2.0 goodies is that students have enough on their plate without adding extra extraneous cognitive load, and that every time we ask a student to go to a different website to access different core facets of a course or to use any 2.0 tool that is exactly what we are doing. The best option is to embed such tools into more central web pages if possible, so that everything may be reached from one spot. If such things cannot be embedded then the percentage of use of separate standalone tools such as blogs, wikis, etc. should be directly related to the amount of time students need to spend there, and what they can actually achieve and gain whilst there – there must be a cost/gain analysis. For example, students cannot interact directly with blog content, only indirectly by reading posts, posting comments, and by responding with their own blog posts. By comparison, on a wiki they can have editorial rights to add and edit information, and directly and in real-time participate in social learning by collaboration on assignments and in creation of the wiki itself.
All things considered, here are my ideas for use of blogs as a teaching tool:
- An ‘added extra’ that teachers produce to encourage deeper thinking around a topic, such as by posting about interesting research relevant to each week’s coursework; eg, if the weekly topic is “assessment and management of head trauma patients”, then an article considering a new neurological assessment guide would throw different light on the the matter and have students think more deeply about why we do such things the way we do, and the need to constantly be looking to improve our practice.
- The blog could be incorporated into tutorial sessions by posting early questions on what is upcoming in the tutorial, and then following the tutorial, post a discussion piece on what was covered. This could reinforce for students what parts of the course material were really important to learn, and helps them to learn it by simply presenting it to them again in a different way, or summarising class discussion that was had.
- Part of the course requirements could be to engage in reflective learning through a blog. Many of my paramedical science courses require posting a weekly discussion of only around 300 words or so in response to a question around each weekly topic. Instead of submitting these the usual way, either sending only to the lecturer or posting upon a discussion board, these could be posted to a student’s personal blog. This would establish an instant blogging community comprising the student cohort, and students can easily catch up on others’ posts without traipsing around many websites by utilising an RSS feed that the teacher could establish and link to. Part of the assessment could include the need for students to embrace this community of blogs by commenting on their peers’ blog posts.
- Blog pages could be used to provide course documents and information for download. As mentioned earlier these static pages are more awkward to update, but if they are established early in the course and are put there only as a second reference location for students then they may not need too much editing. The benefits of this could be that if students are reading something on your blog and want to relate it to the course profile, or assignment task, they may access these on that site rather than heading back to Moodle.
- Teachers could use the blog to comment on student blogs and assignments. Recognition of work is a strong motivating factor, and the teacher may also demonstrate to their students the benefits of blogging and their online community by mentioning excellent points made on student blogs and essays. It can also be used to address questions raised by students, such as further discussion around a more tricksy clinical matter raised in student assignments; eg. were an essay on a student’s choice of respiratory ailment, one issue that may come up in those done on acute pulmonary oedema may regard the use of salbutamol in such cases. By reflecting student work publicly it provides instant value for them that extends beyond the achievement of a grade in the coursework. This brings me to my next point..
- Learning engagement theory. Setting student blogs as an assignment task ticks many of the main facets of learning engagement theory:
- Relate: Collaboration is not direct, but social learning opportunities are fostered in establishment of a community of student blogs, and
- Create: Creation of a project with real-world value beyond university coursework
- Donate: Student work is available worldwide upon the web, and may also be linked directly from a student page on the faculty website. It’s a nice idea to link to students’ public work and again encourages the establishment of a community of learners in the online environment.
Academics are meta-professionals, engaged in many concurrent activities and the owners of many skills. Experts in their field, researchers, teachers, authors, administrators, and miscellaneous (website coders, multimedia producers, student counsellors, etc etc!), they have a lot going on and a lot to share! The blog is an exceptional tool for online professional representation, and can form the basis of one’s outgoing connections to other academics, industry groups, students, and employers. From our readings last term, Segrave, Holt, & Farmer’s approach to academic professional development championed the importance of “the three C’s: communicating, collaborating, and community” in the area of professional capacity enhancement, and the need for storytelling and sharing with other academics one’s tales of teaching successes and challenges. The potential of blogging as a main tool for professional representation is enormous, and I’ll brainstorm some main points here:
- It is YOU. You, on the internet, your chance to put yourself out there! Use your blog to tell the world who you are, what you do, and how you do it. Whilst a website might take more time to set up and organise, it takes mere minutes to sign up for a blog and to publish your first post, and so is very accessible for even the most pressed for time!
- Putting a bit of yourself out there also makes you much more accessible and relatable to your students; to them you will gain further dimensions than just that of their ‘teacher’, as they may see that you are additionally a researcher, future colleague, fellow student, and human. Providing some history also will give context to your teachings and shared experiences.
- By providing the ability to share and champion the importance of your work and discipline, blogs assist you to more firmly establish yourself as an expert in your field, and provide a venue to engage in social and commentary aspects of your work such as publishing opinion pieces on emerging research or news relevant to your industry or discipline.
- Whilst research may be published in journals, a blog and website permits more conversational discussion of your work, with additional scope to inform the world of your current research undertakings and upcoming publications. This would be especially beneficial for those who have published several related articles covering a specific matter.
- Connecting with other academics both within and without your discipline to share war stories, all kinds of news, to discuss teaching strategies, or to seek advice from the collective pool of experience, and so on. You can share your blog and find others in your discipline on sites such as Edublog, who also have a blog hosting service and have yearly awards for excellence in educational blogging.
- One excellent example of a blog used for professional representation is that of Stephen Downes. On his blog Stephen makes daily posts on technology in learning, lists his published articles, provides information on upcoming and past presentations and keynote speaker roles, details his professional affiliations. Stephen’s blog is also available to read as a daily newsletter via RSS feeds, making his contribution even more accessible.
- Readership and reach may be expanded by use of RSS feeds, and those who do achieve wide readership may also generate revenue by publishing on the Amazon Kindle Store!
The workload and time consumption of blogging may be as much or as little as you please, but it is best to publish regularly to retain readers, ideally establishing a set schedule. Collaborative blogs written by two or more authors create a stronger voice with a wider range of opinions and less individual workload, but can dilute authorship. A collaborate blog is however very suitable for a group such as your faculty, and would be a great way to represent the school, to share news of research (and potentially recruit research subjects!), and to engage students and working professionals whilst sharing the workload around the staff. Some collaborative blogs / websites such as Faculty Focus encourage reader submission of articles by established professionals, and contributing to sites such as this is another excellent way to use blogging as a professional development tool.
Segrave, S., Holt, D. & Farmer, J. (2005). The power of the 6three model for enhancing academic teachers’ capacities for effective online teaching and learning: Benefits, initiatives and future directions. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 21(1), 118-135. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet21/segrave.html