In a recent Master’s of Education course I taught at the University of Calgary, blogging was a required assignment for the students. The program coordinator (my boss) urged me to have the students blog as part of their course. She let me know that the students were enrolled in a graduate certificate program and that the course I was teaching was the first course of their certificate. She said that the certificate had been set up so that students would blog throughout their entire learning experience, as part of every course in their certificate.
The course I taught was on incorporating technology into educational practice. As an avid blogger myself, I was excited by the prospect of incorporating blogging into my teaching practice.
Most of the students were teachers themselves and some of them were technology leaders in their schools, but only one had her own blog.
After having incorporated “blogging for learning” into my teaching practice, here is what I learned:
1. Recommend a blogging service.
We (meaning the course coordinator and I) did not restrict what blogging service the students chose, but we recommended a few (including WordPress and Blogger). We recommended free sites and suggested that students not pay to register their own domain (at least, not to start).
2. Show students the nuts and bolts of how to set up a blog.
I spent approximately 30 minutes in one class, showing students the “behind the scenes” of my own WordPress blog. Using an LCD projector, hooked up to a computer with an Internet connection, I took my students on a virtual tour of my own WordPress dashboard. I showed them how to choose a theme, write a post and then publish that post. They appreciated the demo and it gave them confidence to get started.
3. Give them time to set up their blog.
One student reported that it took her two hours to set up her blog. This included familiarizing herself with the dashboard, selecting a theme and figuring out how to post. Even for those who are into technology, setting up your first blog can seem overwhelming until you get the hang of it. The students needed dedicated time to figure out the practicalities of their blog.
4. Link the blogs to the course content.
Emphasize that the topics that students post on need to relate to the cours content. Topics covered in class or questions raised during class were some suggestions. At times, I would encourage students to think about their blog by saying in class, “That is good fodder for a blog post.” This helped them to think about what a learning blog is and what topics make for good blog posts.
5. Assign a certain number of postings.
In our course, students had to publish a minimum of four posts throughout their course. Their instructions included “keeping up-to-date with postings throughout the course”. About half of the students were able to do this. The other half waited until the end of the course and then published three or four postings at once. Many students admitted to having their blogs in draft form, but did not feel ready to publish them.
6. Assign a minimum number of words for each post.
In our course, students’ blog posts had to be a minimum of 200 words. This meant that writing was part of the assignment. It was not enough to post a graphic or a video without a reflective response.
7. Encourage multimedia.
In addition to the 200 words, I encouraged students to post videos, graphics, Wordles and other multimedia to their blogs. Since our course was about incorporating technology into inquiry-based learning, this was appropriate. Some students were able to incorporate media quite easily, but others struggled with this.
8. Encourage students to include a blogroll.
Students were expected to read and comment on each other’s posts. To help them with this, we had each student post their blog address in our online class Blackboard site. I encouraged each student to include a blog roll on their own blogs, so they could easily access each other’s blogs. Not all the students figured out how to do this, but most of them were able to set up a blog roll. This helped them to keep track of each other’s blogs more easily.
9. Include commenting and interactivity as part of the assignment.
Part of the learning task included students commenting on their classmates’ blog posts at least twice. These comments counted as part of their grade for the assignment. Students were asked to post thoughtful and reflective comments that went beyond “Good post!” or “I liked this”. This proved to be problematic at the beginning, as some students had difficulty figuring out how to approve comments. Until they did, their peers’ comments did not show up on their blogs. Once the students figured out how to approve each other’s comments, this went much more smoothly.
10. Talk about blogging in class.
Not only did I highlight topics or questions that would make good blog posts, we also talked about the process of blogging in class. One student was excited to announce that someone from another country had read her blog post and “liked” it, using the “like” button in WordPress. Until then, she had no idea that anyone outside our class might read her blog posts. Knowing that another educator, whom she did not know, read and liked her post gave her great inspiration to keep writing. Her story also inspired the other students to think about how blogging can help them connect with others on a broader scale.
11. Differentiate between a personal and professional / educational blog.
Not only did I provide written instructions on the course outline, I also supported the written instructions with an in-class demo and ongoing discussions in class about blogging and how to use blogging for learning or professional teaching purposes. A couple of students had trouble figuring out how blogging for class differed from personal blogging. We talked about how a personal blog might include more family photos, recipes or other personal information, while a professional learning blog would include topics more focussed on work and our professional lives.
12. Help students find their blogging voice.
I made it clear that since the students were also professionals and teachers, that their blog was an extension of their professional selves. Some students initially found this a bit diffiult and said that they did not know what tone of voice to use in their blog. We had a conversation about language register and how a learning blog was one step down from a formal research paper and probably one step up from very informal conversations. By the end of the course, most of the students had found a happy medium.
Overall, the process of working with these adult learners (who are also teachers) in helping them learn how to blog was both challenging and rewarding. In the beginning, I had assumed (incorrectly) that since they had high levels of technology literacy and many of them teach tech as part of their professional practice, that they would find it easy to blog. In reality, it took time for them to learn the nuts and bolts of how to blog, to learn what topics made for a good blog post and to learn how to find their voice as a blogger.
In the end, they did extremely well with their blogs and I have subscribed to all of them. I am excited to see how they progress with blogging in thier next course.