Monthly Archives: June 2011

Educational Blogging: Course Blog or Student Blog?

I’m in the midst of reading a great deal of blog literature to help me understand some of the data we analyzed from the PSU blog platform last summer.  A question many faculty ask when they are thinking about leveraging blogs in a course:

“Do I create a single course blog, and give my students access to write on the blog?  Or should each student create his or her own personal blog?”

Personally, I experimented with both of these methods and found that a course blog, where all my students have access to write entries and comments, typically generates more discussion.  If one of your goals is to generate a sense of community, I definitely recommend a single, unified course blog. 

Some of the research focused on engaging students in computer-mediated communication (CMC) indicates that a single, student blog is a better approach.  The reasons provided include a sense of ownership (Tolmie & Boyle, 2000) and reduction in anxiety when participating in an online communication environment (Pena-Shaff et al., 2005).  Personally, I don’t know how much of an issue anxiety is, particularly with our current cohort of undergraduates that use, and update, Facebook multiple times a day and likely use other forms of social media.

Ownership, though, is worth thinking about.  Depending on your goal for the student blogs, you might want to use the blog platform differently.  If you’re trying to generate discussion and a broad sense of community, the single blog with multiple authors is likely your best option.  But, if you’re asking students to individually reflect or author specific articles around content, a single student blog might be the way to go. 

Remember, if a student wants to use his or her blog as evidence for potential employers to review, it’s much easier if their writing is all in one place (their own personal blog) compared to scattered across multiple course blogs, where other students are also authoring content.  Make sure you think carefully about your goal for using blogs in your course, then decide what approach fits the best for you and your students.

What Citation Software or Services Should I Use?

Emily, via the TLT Diigo Group, posted a great resource from Library Learning Services: Choosing a Citation Manager. This is a great resource, especially for graduate students that might be new to citation software and trying to figure out what to use throughout their graduate student tenure.  I’m guessing most of us that use citation software on a regular basis, and have for years, are still using EndNote.  Judging by the features on the resource page, it might be time to look into some of these other services.  I’m currently giving Mendeley a try, and already tried Zotero.  I really liked Zotero, but when I experimented with it I had trouble saving citations that were behind Penn State’s authentication…hopefully that is now remedied! 

Happy Citing.

Khan Academy and Flipping the Classroom

I’m part of a working group examining lecture capture from a pedagogical standpoint, primarily thinking about things like how lecture capture will impact face-to-face, blended and online learning at PSU, best practices, implementation and adoption issues and so on.  As our group passes around resources, someone posted a TED Talk by Salman Khan.

Khan is the creator of Khan Academy, something that started out as a tutoring service for his cousins and has now turned into a non-profit organization serving up 2,200 videos to over a million students each monthVisitors to the site view approximately 150,000 videos a day.

I highly recommend watching the 20-minute video, as it explains the design loop in great detail and how instructors across the world are now helping in the design of instructor dashboards, where you can track, in precise detail, what your students are doing with the video content, what they are watching the most (‘focus points’) and what they are struggling with in terms of the Khan-developed assessments.

A phrase that comes up a lot in our working group here at PSU is “Flipping the Classroom”, an idea I really like but am skeptical because it is little more than a nuanced way to explain active learning.  The definition, from Connected Principals:

Flip your instruction so that students watch and listen to your lectures… for homework, and then use your precious class-time for what previously, often, was done in homework: tackling difficult problems, working in groups, researching, collaborating, crafting and creating. Classrooms become laboratories or studios, and yet content delivery is preserved.

The idea here, from a pedagogical perspective, is right on the money.  But doing this is not a trivial effort for faculty.  Aside from all the detailed work that needs to go in to watching the videos and building the classroom activities, this is simply a massive, 180-degree shift for many faculty.  Change is hard, especially when it’s not incremental. One of the things we hope to do in the Schreyer Institute is work with a few faculty once PSU has a lecture capture system in place, and experiment with this concept of flipping the classroom on a smaller scale, for instance one week out of a semester. 

Is this something you would be interested in trying with one of your courses?

Using Diigo

I started using a service called Diigo along with PSU colleagues, mostly from Teaching and Learning with Technology.  Diigo is basically a social bookmarking system, similar to Delicious, but it also allows things like highlighted quotes, commentary, discussion and sticky notes. 


For a free tool, it seems very effective…if you can get a relatively active number of users (somewhere around 5 I think will do the trick).  That seems to be the difficult aspect of testing and evaluating these types of technologies for work; they all require active users to get any accurate evaluation of the technology.  Whenever I get invited to test out something new like Diigo, I typically give it two weeks of active participation, then evaluate the usefulness of the tool.  I admit that most tools don’t ‘stick’ after those two weeks, but Diigo lasted over a month and still going strong.

I started a Diigo group for the Institute where a few of us are sharing articles and resources that align with our mission.  If you want to join the group and check out some resources, or if you just want to check out Diigo, go ahead and join our group.   I’m very interested to see what someone new to Diigo thinks of the service.

Rhetoric and Civic Life (LA101H): A Teaching & Learning Exemplar

I recently heard about some of the outcomes of one of our Schreyer Institute Teaching Support Grants (TSG).  Veena Raman (Communication Arts & Sciences) and Debra Hawhee (English, Rhetoric) received a grant to conduct an assessment of the innovative interdisciplinary course that integrates elements of Effective Speech (CAS 100) and Rhetoric and Composition (ENGL 15/30) to “develop students skills in composing and delivering purposeful and effective messages, orally, verbally, and digitally” (cf. proposal).  The purpose of the TSG project was to assess the effectiveness of the course material and engagement strategies.

Based on feedback gathered from students, instructors, and the Faculty Senate, the College of the Liberal Arts is now pursuing two linked courses for first-year students, which they propose be required for aspiring Paterno.Fellows and Schreyer Honors Scholars.

The Faculty Advisory Committee of the Schreyer Honors College got just a taste of the course content and activities, but it is impressive.  A couple of things stood out for me, including that this project serves as a great example of:
1) cross-disciplinarity–the project deliberately crosses boundaries that do not support the desired student learning and skills development
2) good pedagogy–by regularly reviewing and tweaking instructional practices to benefit students and instructors. 
3) integration of technology–the course requires students to explore rhetorical writing and thinking using a variety of technological media including blogs, formal writing, videos, podcasts, and speeches.
4) humanities assessment–the project has explicit objectives and the assessments are solidly founded within the ethos of the humanities.  Good examples of assessment practices in the humanities are relatively rare, primarily because Student Learning Outcomes Assessment is new to these disciplines.  Models from disciplines with longer histories with SLOs (engineering, health professions) do not tend to translate well to the humanities.  This project will no doubt help other faculty move from the possible to the actual in humanities learning assessment. 

Kudos to Veena and Debra and to SITE for supporting their efforts.  And I cannot help but note the fluency with which both of these professors use the language of assessment–this is a remarkable accomplishment in just a few years time. We look forward to hearing more in future!