A Blog Buffet

April 6, 2008 at 7:31 pm (blog)

I called this the post a blog buffet, kind of like a potluck, because there are many different ways that blogs can be “served up” in teaching and learning. 

1. Class Portals and E-Portfolios communicate class information and archive course materials such as the syllabus, handouts, rubrics and completed assignments creating a digital filing cabinet and e-portfolio for student reflection.  Students can use it to find out their homework or print another copy of a class handout; assignments never go missing and students can always find out their homework, particularly if they are absent.  It also provides an outlet for communication between school and home, including extended family as blog updates can be subscribed to using an RSS feed. 

For some of the student benefits to come to fruition, all students would need to have regular computer access.  Not all students have computers at home so lab time would need to be provided.  Ideally, one-to-one laptops would make a paperless classroom a more likely outcome.  I don’t think it would be possible with only limited lab access.  A blog portfolio does provide the added advantage of being searchable if students know how to tag their posts. 

2. Collaborative Space

Blogs provide a collaborative space not only for interaction between students and their teacher but allow experts to come into the fold whether it is a historian, scientist, writer or mathematician.  It is not limited to core subjects as musicians and athletes could also interact with students via individual student blogs, a class blog or a school blog. 

I like this real world example of blogging as a form of peer review.  A professor posted sections of the draft of his latest book for praise and criticism.  The authors he critiqued shared their thoughts which, in the end, will improve the book.  Further,

Comments I might have brushed aside, not fully understanding their import, instead became the starting points for exchanges that revealed significant issues I must address in my revisions.  [my emphasis]

Blogging provides the benefit of time-shifting as commenters of all ages can do so “on their own time, in their own way.”  Because of the comments, the blog leads to better writing.  This strategy is not for everyone as some would prefer to read the whole book at once rather than reading it discontinuously; because books are a different format they may not serialize well into a blog. 

Will Richardson quoted the following from a response from Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees, who followed the student blog discussion of her book.  The part I italicized exemplifies integration of technology that leads to liberating social interactions as well as a learning experience that is mutually beneficial for the student and the teacher, or in this case the author-mentor (Subramaniam, 2007).

What fun for the author to listen in on your discussions and see the wonderful and provocative artistic interpretations that you’ve created.  The experience has opened my eyes to new ideas bout my own work! (25)

Richardson summarizes by saying “…blogs are a collaborative space, as readers become a part of the writing and learning process.”  Further, “…the blog…allow[s] us to build a community around collaborations, and…enhance[s] the depth of our curriculum” (25). 

This doesn’t happen by accident.  As Konrad Glogowski summarizes in a blog post dedicated to moving Towards Reflective BlogTalk,

…when we talk about blogging, most of us focus on writing.  We tend to ignore the fact that a class blogging community provides teachers with a valuable opportunity to use informal instructional conversations to engage our students as thinkers and writers.  These conversations can help our students immerse themselves in the rich tapestries of voices that characterize blogging communities.”

Glogowski constructed a Ripple Effect sheet where students can analyze and discuss characteristics of a post they select as having been particularly successful, identifying what make it appealing to their peers and the impact it had on them.  This assists students to look discerningly at their work and seem themselves “as a member of a larger community of thinkers.”  Peers take on “readerly roles” as well as role of editor.  One student, for example, came to their own realization upon reflecting on their work and the comments of others that their work would benefit from proofreading. 

This is a very important realization for a thirteen-year-old student.  It’s a realization that I could have tried to drill into his head by printing and then underlining or circling all the careless mistakes that he had made in his entry.  I did not do that.  But I did not abdicate my role as teacher either.  I merely adapted my presence to work within a class community of writers.  In other words, I chose not to say anything.  I chose not to directly address Terry’s carelessness because I knew that the community I had helped created would step in and make Terry aware of this problem….I believe…that creating a  community of reflection and support that the student can depend on for timely and accurate feedback that can replace, or at least complement, the role of the teacher is more important and effective than maintaining my authoritatian voice of the expert.        

This is something that has evolved in my own classroom through peer feedback and peer editing followed by reflection during Writers’ Workshop.  I like how blogging can be a further extension of community that is already established. 

The Ripple Effect sheet also allows for individuals to reflect on how the posts of fellow bloggers impacted them by answering the following questions:

  • What did you learn?
  • How did you respond?
  • How big a ripple did this cause in your own understanding of the topic?
  • Was there a ripple effect in our community? 
  • Did people respond?  If so, how? 
  • Did this writer help you grow as a thinker, a writer?  Why?  How? 

3. Professional Development and Knowledge Management

Blogs provide a way for colleagues to

  1. Communicate internally within a subject area, department, grade level or committe
  2. Archive minutes
  3. Promote the continuation of the discussion beyond face-to-face
  4. Incorporate links and attach documents
  5. Identify and share best practices

4. The benefits of using a blog as a School Website or School Library Website include:

  • updating easily – each time the site can be reinvented
  • increased communication with parents and community either by visiting the blog or subscribing through an RSS feed; doubling as a tool for advocacy
  • post pictures and student work with permission
  • include a yearly calendar

Even though there may be many contributors, Richardson maintains that there should still be one person that oversees the site.  The school website helps to build, support and maintain the ties of the school community like Dr. Charles Best Secondary School Online or one of the many school library blogs listed at the Blogging Librarians Wiki and the accompanying blogwithoutalibrary (or is it the other way around?), a blog dedicated to what libraries can do with blogs.  By engaging students in the design it is more likely that students will visit rather than the librarian only posting for themself.    

5. Blogs As Resources

While blogs exist on every topic imaginable, it is critical that students learn how to evaluate them and determine if the author is someone who is trustworthy.  Richardson suggests three things:

  1. Who is the author? – profession, title, level of expertise? 
  2. What is there reputation?  The more an anonymous blogger is linked to, the more reputable they are.  While 100 links is a good guage, blogs with fewer links may also be reputable and those with more than 100 links may not.
  3. Who’s on the blogroll?  Who does the blogger follow?  Who comments on the blog? 

I don’t know how I came across this post but I thought it provides an interesting take on uncovering untruths.  When making introductions during the first class of an economic course, a professor indicated that every meeting he would weave in one lie.  The students were obviously taken aback by this and, initially, the misinformation was easy to identify.  Over the duration of the course, the untruth became less and less obvious.  The blogger reflected on how engaged the class was in the content, which tended to be somewhat dry, because they had to listen and review content with a critical eye.  I think this same story could be shared with students and provide a perspective for them on not only blog reading but reading of all types and not just on the internet.  People may not knowingly share falsehoods.  Rather, they could be the result of not taking a critical stance in the first place. 

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