The breakout session on blogs in education was very much a discussion session. Tama Leaver set the scene by describing his use of blogs at UWA. Examples and experiences from K-12 were given by the attendees.
The benefit to students of blogging outside of the closed environment of an online learning system such as Blackboard or WebCT was highlighted. At the higher ed level, students are asked to engage with the public. There are risks, but they can be managed. Importantly, students learn about how to engage with the external community and students learn how to manage their own risks. An inspiring example of a year 1 class blog was shown. This showed how parents were invited in to the process to assist groups of students in typing up blog posts and formatting them to showcase the work of the 5 year olds. Individual students had their own portfolio blogs for their individual work.
The really exciting thing about this blog, was that an author of a book the students were reading commented on their class blog, resulting in a special set of activities and interactions developing between the class and the author. It was a profound moment for the students when an author corresponds with them on the resource they are discussing.
An example in the higher education arena was a subject specifically about engaging with the outside world from Tama at UWA involved tutorial group blogs. Each student was tasked with guiding a tutorial. The day before the tutorial they had to write a summary of the tutorial topic and some questions that would be discussed. After the tutorial, a reflection of how the tutorial went had to be posted to the blog. The discussion from in the tutorial was able to be carried on via the blog comments, and potentially could be joined by the general public. In addition students had to comment on at least two blog posts from tutorials that they had not led.
Other blogging activities included:
- Creating a webliography of 6 meaningful resources to critically assess. The idea was to take the same critical and analytical skills that students used with library resources to the resources they were finding on the web – something they don’t typically do with web resources.
- Students in an honours course writing curriculum for middle weeks of the course they were enrolled in. This was published under a CC license. They were writing for a wider audience, and the conversation was alive and well outside of the classroom.
Challenges for blogs in the education:
- University web policy may prevent blogs being hosted on site forcing students and teachers to use external hosted sites.
- Using externally hosted sites can place student blogs one click away from inappropriate content and is often discouraged by the school/university – but a secure alternative is not being provided.
- For K-12 there is the challenge of educating parents about what is appropriate content, and also what other schools consider to be appropriate content. Especially where schools in the same region for moderation and comparison of standards.
- Academics may find it challenging if they think that students know more than they do about the medium/genre of blogs. Think about teaching the generic features and skills required for blogging rather than focussing on a particular platform.
- Opportunities with the medium may suit some students more than others – but isn’t this already true of existing genres and media
- Ethical issues surrounding research to be considered
The question of whether academics / teachers should blog.
- Academics are asked for their opinions all the time, they are expected to have opinions about their area of expertise – blogs provide them with an immediate way to communicate their opinions. And as Quiggan mentioned in the panel session, blogging can open up new opportunities for research.
- The risks of blogging where there may be a detrimental effect on careers was highlighted – especially in the absence of academic freedom. Some guidelines and principles on what is considered to be appropriate place and tone would be helpful.
- Teacher’s desire to remain anonymous – keeping their work and private lives separate
Advantages of blogs in education
- Potential to hook up schools in diverse geographical regions – like pen pal programs
- Experience for students in managing risk, and interacting with the outside world
Other topics mentioned were Library blogs engaging students in community and use of blogs by schools to provide newsletters – not many, but some seem to be attempting this.