Blogs and learning

What do I see as the role of blogs for learning as integrated in formal learning environments?

Reading Katherine Schulten’s article about microblogging almost brought me to tears. One of the teachers, Erin Olsen, shared a reflection from one of her students, saying “that the class had given her voice.” Our voice is paramount in creating who we are, and it is one of the primary purposes of blogs for learning. Think about the impact on a student’s learning when s/he knows that their work will be posted on edublogs just like in Mr. Borges’ class. I like the quote that goes, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself” (unknown). These students have an opportunity to create who they are via blogs. Blogs also serve to enrich discussion and create a text trail for in-class conversation, exemplified by the “circle in a circle” lesson used by Erin in her classrooms. I’ve been trying to convince my colleagues to incorporate this style of learning in their classrooms, and I now have a clear conception of how to use Web 2.0 tools to make this happen.

What do I see as the role of blogs when self-initiated and informal (i.e., outside bounds of any insitution/formal classroom), especially in the context of learning?

Call me dorky, but I used to competitively play Magic: The Gathering. By competitive, I mean I read all the related articles, playtested for hours, and traveled to every major event in PA, MD, NJ, and NY – as a middle schooler. My desire to compete was self initiated and did not involve my school work at all. Though not exactly blogging, I would say that self-starting bloggers probably experience the same sense of drive and excitement that I did while cardflopping in tournaments. To further my point, the acute learning that took place was richer and more invigorating than the kind taking place in the classroom. On my own volition, I scoured every website that had an article about the metagame, which is the competitive environment and how to successfully play in it. Not all articles were quality. Similar to blogging when someone posts their ideas and supports them using links to other Internet resources, for example, I critically evaluated the relevance of the information from the gaming websites. Stephen Downes’ blog models this level of screening in his blog when citing articles from The Washington Post and The Guardian when providing background information on his post involving cloud-based services and privacy of information. In total, when internally motivated about a personally meaningful topic, learning is instantaneous and exhilarating. So are the rewards of winning that event, or in the case of the blogger, receiving that coveted feedback.

What do I see as the most important aspects to consider in using blogs for learning?

When posed with the idea of using Web 2.0 tools in their classrooms, my colleagues, who are weary of letting go of the reigns of didactic instruction, guardedly ask, “How will I maintain control and ensure that students are on task?” One of the most important aspects to consider in using blogs for learning is their proper usage. Setting clear expectations and modeling appropriate use are essential to their success in engaging students in on-task learning. Talk about the idea of a “digital footprint” and the realities of public posting on the Internet. Be present on the boards or blogs or Twitter hashtags, maintaining a presence as a way to monitor student conduct. Require students to include their names (or alias) in their posts – no anonymous posting to hold students accountable, as well as the positive side of creating a sense of ownership.

What better way to wrap up than with a podcast interview with my colleague, Pat K., who teaches students Spanish and currently pilots the social media service, My Big Campus.

6 thoughts on “Blogs and learning

  1. Phil

    On the privacy front (question), here’s a quote from researcher danah boyd that resonates with me because it attempts to see privacy in a more nuanced way

    Privacy Is Not Dead. People of all ages care deeply about privacy. And they care just as much about privacy online as they do offline. But what privacy means may not be what you think.

    My take on this is that teenagers, if we can even view them as a homogenous group, view and approach privacy differently than their parents or people of older generations. In the same way that new, emerging technologies ask educators to re-think how they view and approach teaching and learning, so also do these social, participatory technologies challenge us to re-think how we define privacy. (As a brief aside, danah boyd was also a keynote speaker at a previous PSU Teaching & Learning Technology symposium, and is well respected for her insights on this issue, so if you’re interested in researching this further, I definitely recommend reading more of her work.)
    boyd. Making sense of privacy and publicity
    boyd main

  2. Phil

    @Justin – good choice to include your Magic: The Gathering experience. Self-directed learning represents a big part of what we’re talking about in this course. Did your teacher(s) ever give you an opportunity to connect this passion-based learning with what you did in the classroom? Is this an experience that informs your current work as a teacher? On a different level, I’m curious as how it might shape your view on assessment (e.g., high-stakes testing)?

  3. eimpagliatelli

    I agree with you Justin about avoiding letting students think that there are no consequences for things they post, share, and comment. Since I graduated with my undergrad, Facebook has become a crazy unprofessional mess. I remember learning about what is inappropriate to post and share on a social media site while studying at WCU. It is very difficult for people (of all ages and walks of life) to realize that using these sites have consequences, not only socially, but also professionally. As an educator, it is imperative that everything shared on blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc. has been filtered and is acceptable for students and parents to possibly view.

  4. cnb135

    You are completely right. Life is about creating yourself. And instead of fearing blogs and my digital footprint, I should be educating myself and my students on how these decisions can effect you later in life. Instead of telling them not to blog or put themselves out there online, we should be teaching them how to do so correct and in the way that they will want to be portrayed in future years.

  5. Justin Montgomery Post author

    @his105 I saw a video of a guy responding to comments on one of his YouTube videos. He mentioned something very eye-opening regarding the way we put ourselves out there on the web. In reply to negative comments, this man retorted by saying that they are a reflection of who they are, and that the negativism merely mirrors their internal state of being. He was going very deep and spiritual, but I think he is right: what we say and do on the Internet reflects who we are, so we must be careful not to be fooled into thinking that the Internet is some distant place where there are no consequences.

  6. Hannah Inzko

    I could not agree with you more on the importance of dealing with out digital footprint head on. Along with the opportunity to create our own voice on the big-bad-world wide web, there is a lot of responsibility that goes along with it. Talking about what a digital footprint is with your students and guiding them with clear expectations and appropriate use is SO critical.
    Students are going to create a footprint right along with that voice and the more they understand what that means and how to make good choices early on, the better.

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