Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Blogs and Learning

This is really the nub of the issue for many of us. How can blogs be used to help learning and teaching? Last year I tried to use my discussion board on Web CT to stimulate discussion among my first-year students. Each week I would post up a question such as 'What do you think seminars are for?', 'How do you take lecture notes?' or 'What do you think makes a good essay?', and encouraged the students to post up answers. My hope was that thinking through answers to questions like these would help them to make the adjustment from school to university expectations and norms. It worked to some extent, but I was rather disappointed that the students tended to direct their answers towards me, rather than getting into debate with one another. I was still pleased enough with the experience to try again this year; but the problems with Web CT at the beginning of October were such that I just gave up and haven't tried again.

I still think that something like this could work, but I increasingly feel that the rigid and clunky structure of Web CT doesn't facilitate good discussion. (And here's one benefit of this course already for me: I hadn't realised quite how clunky Web CT was until I saw how much more straightforward and user-friendly a blog can be.) So perhaps it would be easier on a blog. But encouraging student participation would still be a challenge.


  1. That's still a challenge face to face!

    However, I think at least you'd have the advantage with a blog that it's at the interesting end of the learning tools spectrum (for a while, at least, until it becomes commonplace). I suspect that many students are not as comfortable as you might imagine with some of this technology (borne out by JISC's 'Google Generation' report). Certainly, when I showed wikis to a class of AmCan students a few months ago, not a one had encountered them before...

    Which means that success would depend on giving the students at least some coaching in their use and - this is key - building communities through the technology.

  2. I've been putting this wiki together of late and I want to focus on these very issues - scroll down a little to 'blogs and education' for relevant links (hopefully, your web 2.0 colleagues will also make some useful suggestions as we go along).

  3. You can set up team-blogs. Just set one up for a seminar, and ask the students to post about their experiences with the seminar on there. Or get them to do short assignments, eg answer brief questions in a blog post, and then comment on other people's posts. If you make the blog non-visible to the general public you've got about the same as WebCT, only better.
    The students will probably feel more positive, as blogging is 'cool', discussing stuff on WebCT is clunky and boring.