Social Writing and Learning: Using Class Blogs to Enrich the Student Experience
Many of us access blogs in our daily news consumption, learning and entertainment processes. Some of us maintain or contribute to blogs for creating, sharing and expressing ideas.
For our students, blogging also can be a rich environment for deepening and sharing their individual and collective learning. Two different blogging assignments—one private, one public—gave me a glimpse into the educational potential of this creative tool.
Since they are social spaces and generally user-friendly, blogs offer a flexible setting for students to create resources that can be shared with others. Blogs also foster opportunities for interaction with their audiences. In the case of private course blogs, those interactions are with classmates and their instructor. When the class blog is publicly accessible, the audience is quite literally global.
Writing for others heightens the value and the importance of the assignment for most students (engagement theory). It also extends the learning experience when those audiences respond and students interact with them.
Why add a class blog? Here are some of the educational advantages that the platform offers:
- It provides a space for students to create original content and extend not only their own learning but also that of their peers and other readers (especially valuable in survey-type classes where broad topics are covered quickly).
- While the typical blog entry is written-word, most platforms also support video, photography and occasionally audio entries. This enhances the site’s interactivity and the potential to for students to adopt creative approaches to content creation and sharing.
- The blog environment creates opportunities to comment, respond and learn from those reader/author exchanges. The chance to interact with audience members (peer or public), respond to questions, to share additional insights from their research extends student learning.
- It facilitates development of new, transferrable communication/writing skills that students are likely to encounter in the contemporary workplace.
- It provides a user-friendly environment for collaboration. For example, student teams can be assigned larger topics for exploration, then collaborate to identify specific subtopics of interest to target audiences, write posts, offer peer reviews, etc.
- It offers opportunities to reflect, collectively and individually, on learning experiences. For example, a private class blog can be used to post and respond to reflective summaries of unit activities, replacing or supplementing individual learning journals.
Incorporating a blog into a classroom setting does require a willingness on the part of both instructor and students to embrace not only the technology but also a different way of working and learning.
First, while blogs are pervasive in contemporary online life, students may not yet have experience writing for the genre. Blogging requires a more conversational style that can be quite unfamiliar—and occasionally uncomfortable—for individuals used to traditional academic modes. Students must tap into a different way of communicating, especially for a publicly available blog, and the learning curve can be steep for some.
Second, some students may balk at having their work subject to public (or at least class) exposure and critique. Knowing that the potential for hostile reaction exists may create anxiety.
Third, the potential fallout of plagiarism increases exponentially when the student’s work is posted on a public blog. Not only might the instructor discover intentional or incidental copyright infringement, but the original content authors and others might as well.
Even with these major challenges, a course blog offers significant new ways to interact and create group learning. To foster a successful experience for all, a blogging assignment needs:
- A sense of how blogging is different as a communication medium (specifically, how the writing is different) and support for making the writing transition
- Tools and structures to support success and relieve student anxiety (e.g., how-to videos, style guides)
- Mechanisms to not only reinforce and avoid plagiarism but to check work before making it public
- A network of peers willing to read and respond to public student posts (my Twitter friends were a crucial audience for my students).
Author Perspective: Administrator