Monday, October 17, 2011

Blogging - solid technology for future teaching?

General thoughts on blogging in the classroom

When I was in High School (I graduated in 2006) working with computers in class meant the following: We would hardly even work with any. On the rare occasions we did use them, we would hang around in front of the screens, with no clear purpose, surfing on the Internet, bored to death and going crazy. At that time I did not even know the term “blog.

Obviously, something completely different is possible today, and could have been back then. The first blogs spread in the late 1990s, gaining mainstream popularity only in the early and mid-2000s. “Already” in 2005, Will Richardson showed the great potential of technology like blogs for the classroom. In his article “New Jersey High School learns the ABCs of blogging: Weblogs can create online forums for classroom discussion, and build student skills,” he shows that this ground-breaking technology could and should be used in class. Blogs excite students because—if used properly—they get a “sense of audience,” as Richardson puts it, and they are motivated to read closely and think deeply about what they are writing. In addition, blogs are very useful because students can “post homework, create a portfolio, archive peer feedback,” etc. Another thing that sounds really great about this concept is the possibility to have “experts” and other sorts of “outsiders” attend class discussions, which could really enrich students’ and teachers’ life.

Blogging and the teaching of literature

When it comes to teaching literature this “new” technology can be easily applied. As Sara B. Kajder states in the chapter “Making Meaning” in Bringing the Outside In: Visual Ways to Engage Reluctant Readers, blogs can help students create meaning in literary texts. They represent good tools to help students “organize content” and “construct meaning.” Basically, some of the established concepts can be transferred to the new genre. This could happen, e.g., via a character journal, which means students try to write something, e.g. a diary, from the perspective of a character, an “open mind strategy,” having students visualize (parts of) the text, or graphic notes, like digital stories or audio blog posts. In general, all these new forms of expressing oneself encourage students to reread more often and to discuss. Questions that can arise in such discussion are, e.g., “How do images represent words?” or “How can a writer’s words evoke different images to different readers?” Another big advantage, in this context, is that students can respond to each other’s blog posts easily and fast. Classroom discussion thus does not have to be limited to the “actual” classroom anymore.

It seems like the idea of introducing blogs to class is the right way to meet students’ expectations of future teaching and learning. So: Blogging in class = good. Right?


Consider the following questions when responding to this blog post.

If you don’t share my unlimited optimism: What negative aspects of blogging in class can you think about?

Aren't ideas like inviting experts to class discussions a bit unrealistic?

Which of the concepts of teaching literature introduced by the text (e.g. “two-minute movies”) would you use in your own classes, which not? Why/why not?

What do you think are necessary conditions/requirements that blogging as a teaching tool works? Consider didactic, disciplinary, monetary, and other aspects.

What experiences did you have with blogs in school?

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11 comments:

  1. Marcus, it is evident that you are a supporter of blogging in the classroom, but what seems even more intriguing to me is the fact that you rarely used computers in high school and that you would be “surfing the Internet, bored to death and going crazy.” It seems interesting that you found yourself bored browsing the internet and not wanting to browse the hundreds of websites that the Internet has to offer. Why do you think this is? I think in a way, not knowing where to go can be a bit confusing, but what seems to be so great about blogs is that they are easily accessible to people and that the attract people of a variety of backgrounds, bringing them together. Regardless of whether you are a high school student or a college professor, you may find yourself interested in similar topics that are posted on blogs. It seems that blogs serve as a good meeting place for individuals and offers a way to “communicate, collaborate, and construct in new ways,” as Will Richardson points out. They serve as a way for individuals to learn from one another and to be exposed to ideas that they may or may not see in the classroom.

    I am also an advocator of blogs in the teaching of English and was extremely excited to see that we were discussing this topic this week since I’m beginning to read The Secret Life of Bees with my freshmen next week. I plan to use online writing as a way to communicate and collaborate with one another, making it easy to stay on task with the book’s details and to question stylistic and content choices. There seems to be a community online that allows for all students’ voices to literally be seen on the screen and valued in the classroom. I find that sometimes my students are hesitant to speak out in class but are more vocal in their writing. If I can allow their writing to be shared online, letting others respond to them and take pointers from one another, I can validate my students’ writing and help foster an individual voice. This may sound idealistic, but I think that we need to embrace the technological tools that we have in order to better develop students’ reading and writing skills.

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  2. (Continued...)

    With this being said, I do think that there are some drawbacks to using blogs in the classroom. While blogs have many benefits and allow for multiple voices to be heard rather than that of a printed work that only publicizes the person who is associated with the finished product, as Henry Jenkins points out in Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers, there do seem to be some obstacles to overcome in the English classroom. Will Richardson speaks of the blog that he established in his English class, but he speaks using computer terms, such as RSS and Manila, which may be unfamiliar to many individuals. The end of the article states that Richardson is the “supervisor of communications and instructional technology,” making it clear that he is knowledgeable about technology and knows how to operate blogs in his class. Although I do not know all the computer terms he refers to, I do feel somewhat comfortable incorporating blogs into my classroom, but other individuals might have fears or worries as to how these work and what to do if there are problems (i.e. what we experienced at the beginning of the semester). In addition, Richardson speaks of purchasing blogging software and privacy protection, but this may not be affordable for many school districts. Currently, I am unable to access many websites including blogspot.com and Youtube.com, making it difficult to acquire material and to allow my students to have equal access. Many sites are blocked supposedly for the safety of students but also because our internet subscription is cheaper if we promise to prohibit access to certain sites. I have found myself adapting my desire to have a blog in my classroom to fit the program we are allowed to use: Moodle. Moodle does not look like a blog, but it does offer the students the ability to respond to one another and communicate in a similar manner. In addition, I can limit who sees the site, protecting my students’ privacy. Regardless of what the mode is of posting work online, I do think it is important that such electronic writing is incorporated into the classroom to supplement traditional methods.

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  3. I think there are at least two major drawbacks from the pedagogical uses of blogging. First is the one that Nicole mentioned: access. For many pre-college students, these blogs are blocked, as are many potentially helpful platforms such as youtube. Second is the aggressive blogging voice. I think this is both a positive and a negative. On the one hand, blogging, especially if it is anonymous, can provide a means for hesitant students to test out their ideas in a public setting. On the other hand, the distance that the blog affords can license bloggers to respond overly aggressively and critically to blog posts. While I find this kind of animated debate to be often productive, it can lead to division and animosity. All of that said, I think these drawbacks pale in comparison to the many benefits of blogging, which include writing practice, public spaces for debate, making academic work visible, extending classroom conversations, connecting texts and images, I could go on and on.

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  4. Markus! Ich mag deine Post!

    I love that you have the unlimited optimism about blogging – although I would have loved to hear more about why you feel that way. In fact, I look forward to hearing other students’ opinions and ideas about including blogs into their own curricula. I am ready to try something new with my students, I know that much. Hopefully, answering your questions will allow me to talk through some of my thoughts on how to make that happen.

    Firstly, I have to wonder why, in Germany, you weren’t as exposed to blogs or many instructional uses of the web by 2006. I was using much of the web in most of my courses before graduation from college in 2001 and even had to design a website in Spring of 1999. The divide fascinates me. With new exposure to the blogosphere, were you at all overwhelmed by the shift in conversational medium? For me, my first exposure to blogging was via “livejournal” – everyone on my RA staff in 2000 composed a daily exposé of ins and outs of life. I didn’t – too much drama. My first experience using blogs for information was in 2005 as I was researching Boston. I wanted to hunt for real-life life-in-Boston websites to help with my anticipated relocation in January 2006. I came across universalhub.com – if none of you have looked at it, it is a sort of real-time collection of Boston blogs. I do consider it a news source, actually, even today…think homegrown and local vs. the national news (maybe that doesn’t work, but anyway).

    I like how you point out the advantages of blogging assignments and mention how “students can respond to each other’s blog posts easily and fast.” I would also add that without being put on the spot in class, I think students are more apt to a) pay close attention to the point they want to make, and b) retain their honesty. I bet students’ contributions are much more thoughtful and reflective within blogs than when they are asked in class. Also – only because you posed the question, I thought long and hard about what negatives blogging might bring to my typical student or classroom. Rather than come up with negatives (oops!), I went with what might be needed to turn the drawbacks into opportunities. Students would need discussion guidelines, of course, but also a model or example of a method or process. They’d need strict guidelines at first. Maybe to involve them in learning this we assign mock ups of potential blog posts in class, we encourage them to think about “what would be a good way to start discussion on this?” with say a piece of text or criticism – on, say, post-its – and they “post” to different discussions. Then, at least, they have some model to go by and they can “see” blogging within the classroom before they participate from their own homes.
    (to be continued...)

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  5. (continued...)
    In thinking about what concepts I’d use in my classroom, I first wanted to think about the benefits Kajder mentions that arise from her students’ graphic notes: “Not only do students tend to read deliberately and reread more often during this assignment, they also tend to jump eagerly into classroom discussion” (90). This caught my attention because these are things I myself strive to get from students – clearly her experiments are working and maybe I should try, too. In thinking about the multiple uses of digital storytelling from last week, I certainly have thought about adding this to my students’ work. The Character Journal, too. This journaling gives students a lens (which I seem to be all about lately) through which to think about texts. They could think as characters, but also as individuals on one side of an argument. Instead of looking at arguments as separate from who they are, students could actually involve themselves within the arguments – sure, we call this a debate, I know – but my students aren’t yet familiar with debates really and this could be a fun and interesting introduction.

    And further, just to comment on bringing blogging into our curricula – I suddenly see a way to address the disconnect in writing Mike Rose discusses in “Writing for the Public.” He talks about the problems presented to “academic writers” combined with, or perhaps heighten by, the fact that “the length of stories is shrinking” (286) according to the 2008 media report he references. Then he further asks if the 600-700 word opinion piece becoming irrelevant? (290) What do we do with this? I almost wonder what might happen if we utilize blog posts to juxtapose artful and concise pieces of writing with the longer examples of academic assignments, i.e. the argumentative essay complete with lengthy MLA citations. Maybe, just maybe, students will come to know value and appreciate the differences between the two, and therefore learn to write in the form of both. Whatever the case, students’ blog posts might include early beginnings of big ideas they can work with and “get behind” even further. I’m willing to try it.

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  6. The past two weeks have pretty much been "hanging out in the land of Ian's Futuristic Techno-Fetish", so I'm going to go ahead and nod me head with you Markus.

    First though, I'll date myself.

    I graduate high school in 2001. This is back in the wild, wild, west days of the internet. I know I'm being a bit overwrought in my nostalgia but let's just pretend. Blogging wasn't something that was bandied about in the public vernacular, though LiveJournal and the such was bursting onto the scene.

    I didn't have any interactions with blogging in school, and no one text messaged, and we hadn't thrown any elections yet. It was a halcyon time. A glorious epoch.

    Anyways.

    So I personally didn't get to blog, but I really do believe in the medium.

    First though, it’s worth discussing the drawback to blogging, and it has already been pointed out. Access. Subjects such as technology can reveal socioeconomic problems that may not be obvious at first glance. Working in a summer program this year, I was astounded at the amount of kids who didn’t have a computer, let alone a printed. My naïve coddled suburban brain couldn’t comprehend it. There was twitching and a lack of computing.

    Blogs can and do work for a lot of people, and it is for a variety of reasons. Perhaps the most important season is that it allows students to see their work in a tangible manner. There is an instant access to something they created. I know a teacher who started a blog for their creative writing class. The students were thrilled that their content existed.

    On the internet, for all to see!

    Older scholars and teachers may not take them seriously, but kids take blogs seriously. Very seriously. So when they can say they’ve been placed on at school, it carries a resounding smile-inducing thud. I think I’m mixing metaphors.

    The second reason I think blogs work, is because they are tied into a network of technologies that lead to differentiated instruction. There’s a buzzword again! As Markus wrote about, it is part of a conduit of ideas that have students experiencing their content divorced from its usual medium. Students drawing pictures to capture narrative points of view. Watching clips in class.

    Blogging riffs on that because of the dynamism that the format promotes: there’s so many forms of text that can be housed in a blog post. The more different ways we can offer students into the material, the more likely they are to learn those frameworks. Understand the curriculum we’re so worried about them mastering.
    Blogging is one of a multi-pronged approach towards teaching through emergent technologies. They all compliment good, basic instruction. They all add different ways of experiencing and presenting material. But they also present potential hurdles like Nicole said. It’s a matter of jumping those hurdles with our students. To get them access to the differing ways of access of the content.

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  7. One problem with using blogs is that of ‘authorial control’. Once a blogger’s words or ideas are posted to the Internet anyone out there has the option of taking, improving, adopting, manipulating or destroying it. While this can lead to a spread of ideas it can also infect ideas with misunderstood opinions, which are also spread and discussed as if ‘correct’, ‘true’, and ‘important’. This is why we have a fear of our students using information solely printed on the Internet. Even if our students are posting and discussing legitimate ideas, once those words are posted their “authorial control ends and theirs [the bloggers’] begins”(Jenkins 187).
    While blogging can be a useful tool there is the very real fear that things will ‘get out of control’, both with the intention of a blog and the direction a blog takes. I think back to my brief experience with blogging and it is very easy for discussions to tangent off in a non-productive directions. I remember back in college I posted a note (Facebook’s equivalent of a blog) about gay marriage. I had recently changed my relationship status to ‘married’ with one of my roommates and I was posting the note as kind of a joke on my new status. In a very short time I was bombarded with responses from friends and friends of friends vomiting up their opinions on the subject. While I discovered the people I associated with are surprisingly narrow-minded, I also experienced just how quickly a blog can get out of hand.
    While I sit here playing the devil’s advocate condemning blogs, I actually think they can be quite useful in the classroom, seeing as I use one in my own class. Blogging is a great way to show students that their voices matter. As Kajder says, “It matters what they bring to the text. It matters what they see. It matters what they take away”(86). By providing students a place to express themselves freely, their thoughts and experiences are given credit and value and they begin to see learning in a whole new way.
    This does not mean we should give full range to our students, to blog whatever they want. This is where being a good teacher comes in, setting boundaries, creating educational discussions, and limiting the number of nameless bloggers who can contribute. Technology can easily become an unnecessary danger, distracting students from the knowledge to be gained. This is why we must be careful, doing as Kajder has suggested and only using technology that “ allows us to do something better than what we could have accomplished without it”(94).

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  8. Marcus, your treatment of Richardson got me thinking: why are students working with digital mediums “motivated to read closely and think deeply about what they are writing” when they have a “sense of audience”? What about the anticipated audience of technical-oriented work gets students readily involved? I think it is because this “sense of audience” is a more tangible notion when these students consider internet readers as opposed to readers of books. Perhaps audiences of the book, in the physical sense of “rotting tree flakes wrapped in dead animal skin,” is less concrete for students because, for many, the act of reading text embedded within a physical book is a chore, an assignment. Perhaps the act is not pleasurable, but more importantly, perhaps these students think they aren’t meant to be pleasurable. Reading on the internet is related to a more enjoyable experience, a hobby, something they do for fun while interacting with friends.

    I must admit, even teaching classes with the use of technology, such as board work done through a laptop and an overhead projector rather than analog chalk and erasers, is more fun. Yet, does technology shift the experience of teaching because we avoid the drudgery of analog classroom activities by incorporating the benefits of technology? Because I enter class discussion data into a laptop rather than physically writing it on the board does not make my job anymore automaton-like than had I used chalk. I still have to respond to student questions and concerns, I still have to listen and react--technology by no means mean auto-pilot for teachers. The bottom line is, technology is as fun as it is a tool for production.

    Still, whether we read or write through analog mediums, i.e. ink and paper, we have to inevitably do the same work with literacy as we do with digital mediums. As teachers, when we assign a project that relies on technology we still expect the same amount of thought and energy to go into digital form as we would analog form. So why are students so jazzed about work with digital mediums? It’s because it does not signify drudgery, chores, assignments. It reflects what they do for fun, for personal and professional gain, and something they do on their own, in their own time. Yet, if students believe that digital mediums require less work, this is only an illusion. I am left wondering what really about digital projects gets students engaged in the activity? Is it the illusion alone?

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  9. Brendan,
    In response to your extremely important questions that you have posed, I think that what it boils down to is the level of authority that is given to a student. If a student feels that reading a text via digital media is less work, well it’s because it is, in my opinion. Work, when enjoyable, is not work after all, right? I think in this case the “illusion” can be advantageous for students. If we show them that, Hey! You’re doing as much work via digital mediums as needed for analog mediums, then something could click with them. I think the reason students get so amped about using digital media is because it is not only fun but it is primarily how we communicate. The internet is so immediate and personal to us, just as we are immediate and personal to the internet. The level of authority in this case seems to be more apparent when using digital media as tools for reading. We need to give students choices for the most appropriate medium and to hold them accountable for the choices they make. As reader’s we cannot have authority over a text unless we understand why are able to. The same goes for digital tools.

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  10. Marcus,

    I like your idea: "...a diary, from the perspective of a character." It reminds me of Jake Sully, from the movie Avatar, and his digital diary (of course it's supposedly 140 years from now). I think it's awesome because you're able to clearly see his emotions. It's hard to misinterpret a person's diary if you're viewing it. Also, you get tone, something I believe can be underrrated (not possible on facebook). That would be something worth considering. It's seems as if it's going to be available sometime in the near future.

    I have a positive and negative view on blogging in the classroom setting. The positive view is that students will be able to discuss topics that they might feel comfortable sprouting in cyberspace. Most youngsters feel comfortable with the internert in general. It seems they are more confessional online than in the classroom.

    A negative drawback is that students might be more vulnerable to censure from their peers. Cyberbullying is also a serious issue. Many students in high school are judged by their opinions. I'm not sure if blogging would be comfortable for the students to engage in. Many students would like their correspondence to stay in between the teacher-student dynamic. It makes their social life less brutal.

    Rose claims: "The second issue involves the increasing influence of an entertainment orientation on news and commentary. The length of stories is shrinking, as is their informational content" (3). I totally agree - Fox 25 airs more "talk" on celebrities than they did years ago. Would online blogging prevent students from getting in depth with their discussions? I'm not really sure. I think they might take their discussions further with proper instruction and attention. I have gmail chatted with numerous students successfully, but that was because we went back and forth with our responses. With blogging the students need to be respectful towards each other and give constructive criticism. I don't think that would be the case with most high school classrooms.

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  11. Markus, great post! I'm going to start by answering your last question: I have no experience blogging in class (until this class), so it is hard for me to imagine what it would be like in a high school setting. Like Ian, I finished high school many years ago and we did not even have computers in our classrooms. The computer lab that we did have was used to teach typing, and the computers were not even connected to the internet. In fact the only time I ever used a computer in school was for typing or playing "Where in the world is Carmen San Diego" so my perspective is a little bit limited. I also did not have a home computer until I was in my early twenties, so I think the question of access is an important one to consider when thinking about whether or not students will be able to participate in online activities. I object to Richardson's assertion that blogging is an inexpensive activity for a school to set up resources for, in New Jersey as well as here. There are schools in New Jersey (and all over the country I'm sure) that do not even have enough money for books, (in the high school English class that my friend teaches in New Jersey she has 15 books for 75 students) let alone money for designating a server for school blogs. (Sorry for the digression, I really want to teach in low income areas so this is a point that is really important to me!)

    All that being said, if the school has the resources for students to blog while in class or in the school library than that might be a great way to spark discussion. I know for some students it is more difficult to speak in class, so blogging might be a solution. I think the most important issue that Kajder raises "is that the use of technology is encouraged as long as it adds to the intended meaning of the project" (87), and I think it is up to teachers to give students the skills they need to navigate technology and assess whether or not the technology is contributing to the value of their work.

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