If you have read any or all of my previous posts, you may have picked up on the fact that I tend to stray a bit from the typical Academic Technology Blog contribution tactic that many of my colleagues take. Sometimes I still find myself seeking to take the student role here at the College, especially here on the Blog. A lot of times, I catch myself issuing more opinion in my delivery rather than focus on content in posts … and I’m okay with that.
William & Mary Blogs: A Good Place for Ideas
I find that my ability to dissect ideas, practices, or new technologies in the form of opinion to be an interesting way of expressing understanding. And where better can I do this on a blog, on WM Blogs! On a blog I can post pictures, add external links, and even make the website format meet my expressive needs, intellectually.
Now this wouldn’t be a proper Academic Technology post if we didn’t take the idea of the blog one step further. Bring the idea of a blog, or the practice of blogging, into your course, and you now have all of the tools and resources of a Blackboard discussion board along with tons of additional features. The blog (to me) adds so much more to the course for students, and can really aid in creating a real sense of community outside of the physical classroom.
Basic Tips for Setting Up a Course Blog
First and foremost, creating a course section blog where multiple individual student blogs can feed to is a must! This generic hub blog helps students find their peers who are in the same class, as well as see posts appear from others as content is created.
Think of this course blog as your blogging home. All the things you want and need will and should end up here for the course. This also works great for the instructor, as the instructor does not need to go to 28 potential custom URLs to view each student’s posted material. Instead, instructors can access each student’s contribution from the main course section blog. This can be done with a little bit of effort and an RSS plugin. For more information about installing and setting up a plugin, head over to lynda.com (sign in with your W&M credentials — tutorial here) and check out some of the WordPress tutorials offered.
Also, check out some other steps and concepts to think about when setting up a blog for your class here!
Students Can Create a Custom Blog
Now ask students to create their own custom blog. Encourage them to make it look and feel as they like (appropriate of course). I find a class related blog can add just the correct amount of ME to the mix for the student, and by doing so can really spark interest for other students involved with the blog. In an age where I can find out more about you from your Facebook page than I can from you in a conversation, the blogging format can really embody the online presence many students seek to have.
In my experience, I have seen this occur almost instantly, as usually our first post is a brief (maybe 700 words or less) “About Me” post, that incorporated at least three pictures, a brief bio, and external links that relate to the course content. Followed up by a peer commenting requirement of at least 2 other students, student to student relationships were consequently built on the first day of the course blogging assignment.
Label, Explain, Example, or L.E.E. Posts
Like said above, a good About Me post can really ease a student into the blogging format; after all, this entire ordeal is about getting them to express their proof of understanding through emotion and opinion. Once you’ve decided to shift into more course material beyond the About Me post, I also find that keeping that expressive feel and aim is easily accomplished through the L.E.E. practice — that’s short for label, explain, example. Typically I find that having a 1000-1500 word count requirement is best here, as you will now challenge student to first label the key concept being described from the course or text, explain such a concept in their own words, and then be able to relate that concept to a life experience, a hypothetical situation, a case study, or anything else that a student can really show understanding through. Of course asking or requiring students to add pictures and external links to the assignment will again make blogging a worthwhile and unique experience for them.
As far as the meat and potatoes goes 4… I find that this format works. Obviously there are many others you can try, or make up on your own, so feel free to explore!
Encouraging Students to Interact Across Blogs
BUT DONT LET IT END THERE!!! Blogging and writing can just be opinionated rambling sometimes, and by asking students to review and comment on each others blogs, you not only keep ideas grounded but open the playing field for further examples and contextual relationships to built. For this I recommend asking students to read/comment on two other student blogs, and provide their own context example for the comment. Also asking students to avoid their peer’s blog if it already has three other students commenting on a post (keeps friends from always going to friends).
As far as assessment goes, I would simply look at how the student conveyed the idea or concept and how they related it to an example. Again, always remember a blog is way less formal than a thesis, but is also better than just getting the course textbook repeated back to you in synonymous text. If a student is not gaining a full understanding of the concept, provide your own (the instructor) example via a comment, or ask them to reevaluate their thoughts in a revised edition of their blog; after all it is on the Web for all to see.
Blogging can be a really fun way to reach a student and alway the various different ways that we all think to come together in a collective effort. What I love seeing and hearing is that a student linked another student’s blog if the course curriculum is linear, or another student referenced his peer’s blog in class after reading. Blogging opens the doors for students to see themselves as theory and concept scholars, and watching such things unfold through a blog will be rewarding not only to them, but also to you as an instructor.