planningbloggingBlog/WebLog: a web page containing brief, chronologically arranged items of information. A blog can take the form of a diary, journal, what’s new page, or links to other web sites. (Link to “Weblogs in the Classroom)

Blogs and blogging are one of the most prominent of social networking technologies. They allow bloggers to centralize content in particular places (posts) and then have others comment on the post’s subject matter. In essence, while the authorial voice is still projected by the blog’s owner, the owner can receive near instantaneous responses and feedback. In containing topics to particular posts, and by preventing viewers from altering the original text, the poster retains some of the authority that traditional authors hold, though bloggers’ ‘strong’ voices are diminished/enhanced when posters contribute their own thoughts, ideas, and challenges to the posted content.

As classes increase in size, and as students are increasingly drawn to online discussions, blogs naturally emerge as a technology that can assist educators connect with students. I want to briefly address several of the possible advantages to using blogs in post-secondary education, some of the challenges to deploying them, and conclude by posing a series of questions that educators should confront before using blogging as an educational tool.

Possibilities

  • Can be used to provide instructional content/provide large-scale clarifications if many students are clearly having difficulty understanding particular elements of the course’s contents.
  • Can be used for class announcements/provide an easily accessible online syllabus/
  • Can be used to direct students towards online resources that cannot be covered in classes.
  • Using RSS readers, students can keep up-to-date on course updates without needing to check a course web page on a daily basis.
  • Can be used to provide a more detailed outline of what particular classes are going to be about – the space limitations in a regular 1-2 page course syllabus prevent this.
  • Provides a relatively informal environment where students can work with one another to develop shared understandings/clarifications of readings and assignments. Moreover, if a series of students begin blogging about the class it is possible for them to get to know one another and teach one another by holding discussions across their blogs. Mireille Guay put it best when noting:

    The conversation possible on the weblog is also an amazing tool to develop our community of learners. The students get to know each other better by visiting and reading blogs from other students. They discover, in a non-threatening way, their similarities and differences. The student who usually talks very loud in the classroom and the student who is very timid have the same writing space to voice their opinion. It puts students in a situation of equity. (Link to blog post entitled “Uses of Blogs in Education”)

Challenges

Most of the challenges for incorporating blogging really relate to how *not* to use them – blogs are intended to be easy to update, and commonly used to facilitate micro-conversations. As a result, they really aren’t well suited to the following:

  • As discussion boards, listservs, or learning management systems.
  • For group projects – while there are some successful group blogs, many of them fall apart very quickly. Most group blogs are either shared by people who already know one another, or who have come to respect one another.
  • As a way of forcing participation – you can’t really force someone into blogging. If you try, they may contribute posts but they’re unlikely to genuinely blog.
  • As web pages that students have to manually check to see updates – focus on RSS, and let them bring the content to themselves! (Blog post entitled “How NOT to use blogs in education”)

The most significant problem that stems from blogging is info-cocoons. When individuals find like-minded blogs they tend to read them and post back and forth. This reinforces their own views (with minor shifts in their viewpoints that rarely cause significant normative changes in their outlooks) and typically leads towards disregarding or casually dismissing contrasting opinions – as this happens, individuals create an ‘info-cocoon’ around themselves, where the information that they receive from the blogosphere largely reinforces their own beliefs and positions. Cass Sunstein, in his book Infotopia, examines the problems of info-cocoons at length, suggesting that bloggers intentionally link to, and seriously and critically engage with, other bloggers that hold significantly different views. This may mitigate the possibility of entering into an info-cocoon. Long-time bloggers usually recognize that blogging helps to hone ideas, and arguably the best way to do this is by reflecting on contrasting (and well-articulated) opposing points of view.
I’d like to finish this post by providing a list of questions that educators should address before they implement blogging in classrooms – I think that without critically reflecting on the use and reasons for using new technologies that they tend to be misused, often to the detriment of students for the sake of faculty members’ novelty.

How do we best use blogs in classrooms? Should professors use them to lecture? Should students be required to keep blogs for particular courses? What are the features of a good, course-related blog? What is the overall educational potential for this new communication method? What are the particular rhetorical demands and strategies of blogs? What type of interconnected discourses do blogs create because of linking? The issues range from the pragmatic to the philosophical. (Links to post, “Blogs and Higher Education”)