Blogging with Students

By 04/11/2019 November 7th, 2019 Education, Technology Enhanced Learning

Blogging is a great thing. I read blogs, write blogs and you, at the very least, read blogs…well you’re here!

The scope for learning is phenomenal! Anytime, any place access to the blog topic of your choice and there are endless blogs on the same topic, all with uniquely interesting perspectives, and all containing little nuggets of learning for whatever it is you want to read on.

But how do we turn this into a learning experience?

We can of course just launch into it. Ask any writer on any topic and they’ll tell you that the most important thing to do is to write. You can edit later (or mass delete in some instances), but when you write you get your thoughts in order; a process begins in your brain where you assess and evaluate what you want to say against how you actually say it. In the course of writing, the delete button is your friend and your enemy. Write, delete, write, edit, save…ad infinitum!

Blogging for Learning

Blogging as a tool for assessment can be a useful tool for meeting learning objectives, assessing student learning in a written form that is not essay based and for developing student independent research skills. It can develop a positive attitude towards lifelong learning and deepen student understanding of a topic. Rather than regurgitating notes or facts on a given topic, students can focus in on areas that are of interest to them; blogging does not always take a written form, so sharing a tweet, video or a link to a relevant web page can all count towards content shared on a blogging platform.

Writing takes time, effort and research.

Writing on a blogging platform refines the voice of the author. Irrespective of the chosen topic, a blog gives the writer an opportunity to share their knowledge, develop their own understanding by explaining their topic through each post and become an authority in their field of expertise.

Reasons to Blog

The image above is a stock image I got from pexels.com, I reason I chose it is, I have the exact same typewrite at home. My wife bought it for me as . a birthday present many years ago.  I don’t use it anymore, but I have fond memories of it and I love the tactile feeling of typing on it. Say what you will about modern keyboards -it can all be good – but none of them compare to that feeling. When you typed on it, you felt it! It actually means something to push the keys and see a physical mark on the page.

And this is why I believe we should all be writers – it means something.

It should mean something when we write. The same feeling I had of the key making contact with the page is the same effect we should have on people who read what we write. It doesn’t have to be Shakesperean – many would argue that definitely shouldn’t be Shakesperean! But it should be authentic to the individual – a colleague of mine is writing about her journey with Endometriosis. It’s honest, straightforward and a whole lot more honest than my posts are – I stick to topics, education and theory. My point is, I see her blog is crucial to the human experience, mine is just another platform to talk about learning. But both of us need to write about our areas of expertise.

Both may have different audiences.

Both have a purpose.

Both have meaning.

Both are bloody awesome (if I may say so myself).

Some Key Questions Before Implementing a Blogging Programme in Your Course

The following five questions are posed by Dixon (2016) as key questions that are designed to get the teacher thinking about the context in which their students will be blogging. In my academic career as a student, I have been involved with blogging as a means of assessment. The first instance was when studying HNC Interactive Media and the second was when I studied Applied behaviour Analysis (ABA) (Post-Graduate Certificate). I will apply  these questions to these two contexts and also to my current writing to show how they have developed my own learning.

#1 Where will they be blogging?

#2 Will it be a solo blog or group blogging effort?

#3 What will they be blogging about?

#4 Who will the blogging audience be?

#5 How will the blogging be assessed?

While studying Interactive Media, we had to complete a module on the History of Art. It was interesting, but not exactly why we signed up! But, you can’t understand where you’re going, unless you know where you’ve been! For our assessment, we had to keep a weekly individual blog (#2) that worked through the history of art – each week was a different type of art (#3) – cubism, impressionism etc. and how this could be applied to modern interactive media. The blog was public (#1) and accessible by anyone, but in reality, the audience was only the other students in the class and the module lecturer (#4).

Dixon (2016) advised that it “may be safer for students to only use their first name or a pseudo-name…. [and be made aware of] how to use the moderation features in order to filter out any spam or offensive comments.” Neither of these pieces of advice were given, but in the defense of the lecturer (and to be completely fair), social media life wasn’t as harsh as it can be today and the issue of trolling might not have been as prevalent. At any rate, I can’t imagine being trolled or verbally abused over the history of art!

When studying ABA, the ‘blog’ was more a discussion board forum, so technically while not a blog, we were documenting our answers to prescribed questions and providing responses to other students’ posts (#2) on specific topics within Applied Behaviour Analysis (#3). The tone was formal, followed proper academic referencing conventions and each post, whether it was an individual answer to the set questions, or a response to another student, had to be at least 200 words (#5) as we were being assessed on each post over a 10 week period. This equated to 2000 words and was in place of a written assignment.(#5) As this was on an internal discussion board (#1), we did not need to worry about external viewing and so using our full names was a necessary part of the conversation for the students and the assessment process for the lecturers (#4).

Currently I write this blog on my public website (#1), which is based on WordPress for academic, but non-assessed but professional reasons (#5). I write on topics that are of interest to me and hopefully to the reader also. My target audience is mostly adult professionals, involved or employed in the field of education (#4) and my posts will usually focus on topics in education, learning design theory, technology enhanced learning, computing, pedagogy and andragogy (#3). All my posts are my own work (#2) and I try to ensure that all references are properly listed at the bottom of each post.

Ways to get Started With Students

The EduBlogger (2019) gives 10 ways to introduce your students to blogging. I won’t deal with all 10 as there are some that I am not sure are helpful – not bad, just my opinion. For example, there are many lecturers I know who love and will champion Kahoot! but I’m not a big fan. It has its place and can be useful, but it’s simply not for me.

The first big aspect I will pick up form this post is online safety. This is something that must accompany all aspects of online learning. Were Dixon (2016) comments that we can’t assume that students will know how to blog, we equally can’t assume that students will know how to ensure their online safety. This needs to be explicit.

To follow on form this point, a great idea that comes from this article is a blogging bootcamp. The EduBlogger has an online self-paced bootcamp that will help students get started with their blogs and is a good place to start for students who may not have blogged before and as it’s self-paced, this can aid both types of students – those who are quicker and those who might need a little extra structure to their learning.

Reasons Teachers and Students Should Blog

The above image comes from Kathleen Morris and her post on “18 Reasons teachers and Students Should Blog” expands on all the points in her image. As with the last section from EduBlogger, I’m not going to expand on her points as she does a great job in her own post and this post would become much to unwieldy and broad in what I want to talk about. Her site in general is well worth some exploration! It’s focused mainly on the primary sector, but there is still much to learn from what she writes about!

Is Blogging Fit For Purpose?

Holland (2018) argues that “all educational technology needs to be fit for purpose, and the supposed ‘blog’ tool inside many proprietary learning management systems (LMS) is not.” His reasoning for this is that any LMS is by definition, a closed system and so cannot fulfill the open aspect required of a blog and that “an LMS is a way for an institution to maintain control over who has access to material its staff have created.” As we’ve said, a blog on an LMS platform, is not a blog:

“Blogs are open, public, and networked. They are as such useful for students learning to write in public as they potentially expose the work “not for rarified audiences, but for unexpected ones”…. a blog locked away from the web and not allowed to interact with it can hardly wear that definition at all.

Holland contends that blogging is not what appears on social media, but “Blogging is the whole thing: accepting the invitation, tweeting the questions, creating a clip by asking what is good to blog about later, publishing the step-back explainer, crafting a distribution plan and negotiating for a make-shift guest shot at AVC.com, participating in the comment section….” The LMS by contrast is the antithesis of the blog, closed where a blog is open; available to only those enrolled in a certain course rather than exposed to the wilds of the web. The LMS is the gated community of the internet. A blog welcomes all-comers and all-commenters.

Concluding Thoughts

Blogging can be a powerful learning tool that allows students to express their creativity and become confident writers.  It is also a great way to prepare students for the workplace and to develop the 21st century communication skills that employers are increasingly looking for. Reflective practice will always lead students to improve their skill set and improve their own working behaviours. There are also avenues for professional development and writing careers as many writers present their tutorials, learning resources and content on their own websites.

We do also have to ensure that appropriate procedures are put in place if we’re working with children (I will identify children as those of compulsory school age), but also that for older students, they are aware of the world wide nature of the web and that these posts – like any social media or comments online are visible for all to see. The impact of this for future employers can be positive as well as negative, but should be carefully considered.

As Holland has commented, there are aspects of education settings that might exclude activities as being actual blogs – particularly the closed and open nature of blogs. This can have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to students who may have to reflect on a work placement. The comments may be justifiable, but can have consequences depending on the open nature of the blog and so this needs to be considered in advance of students publishing any content.

While these aspects are all important to consider, the single most important point to take away is that you need to write. Write opinions posts, tutorials, tells stories, but above all, write.

Just write about what interests you and click publish. Let’s see where it takes you!

References

Michael Johnston

About Michael Johnston

Michael is a Lecturer and Foundation Degree Director in Computing for the Northern Regional College in Northern Ireland. He is an avid supporter of technology enhanced learning, instructional learning design and blended learning. Michael has worked in a range of different roles in IT-from teaching roles to running his own web design company, Michael is equally at home working with theory, as he is conducting research, or building a bespoke IT solution.

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